“Moe” is one of the most well known and divisive subject in anime fandom in the 2000s era. I have known the term for over seven years myself and even had written multiple times on the subject. But even then, surprisingly, I still can discover intriguing experiences related to moe.

One such experience just happened after a recent event. After the event has finished for the day, the crew takes a break, and I overheard some of them having a conversation. They talked about a couple of recent anime and one of them spoke about the characters in those anime and why he thinks they are moe.

Listening to the talk made me stunned. The person was able to explain his reasonings for considering those characters moe in such vivid details, confidently and smoothly without an ounce of hesitation or denial. This immediately reminded me of the psychiatrist Tamaki Saito’s comment about otaku:

Otaku are extremely clear about their desires. They know precisely what they want and, as we see in discussions about moe, they can express this in vivid detail.” (Interview published in Galbraith, 2014)

So, the conversation had provided me a real life demonstration of what Saito said. But there’s still more to think about from this. Often, people associate “moe” with shallowness; a fascination with flatly cute characters rather than with the depth of story. But even then, the detailed explanations about what makes a character moe that I heard showed that moe can produce extensive meanings for the people who talked about it.

Talks about moe can be very extensive and lucid
Talks about moe can be very extensive and lucid

Patrick Galbraith (2011a) once written that “otaku consumption is somewhere between losing control and exercising control.” Since Galbraith also wrote there that “otaku tends to consume information,” we can also look at the moe talk this way. Talking so extensively about the moe of certain characters may appear like out of control behaviour. But on the other hand, the speaker is clear and certain on his reasonings, implying a sense of control or mastery on what he intends to say. Perhaps, otaku are not necessarily cluelessly lost in their obsession, but can be well aware and have a good understanding about themselves and what meaning they take from anime and their characters, and use conversations with fellow otaku to enhance that understanding?

And this phenomenon is not limited to just male otaku, of course. Galbraith (2011b) has observed how groups of fujoshi discuss about elements of moe they found in fantasies of yaoi relationships to build a sense of togetherness among them (ittaikan). In a bit of personal note, I’ve even know some women who can explain in detail why anime like Haikyuu!! is moe for them. Saito and Galbraith may have written based on their observations of Japanese otaku and fujoshi. But it’s interesting to see similar situations can also emerge on its own among foreign anime fans.

The passions for certain characters, can simultaneously be personal and shared experience
The passions for certain characters, can simultaneously be personal and shared experience

I feel like I can understand why Jun Maeda (in Galbraith, 2014) said that “for some people, moe is the reason to live.” Perhaps we can think seriously of how for some people, moe and talking about it with colleagues can help them build and share social meanings; and think of what meanings they produce through such activities.

Notes on Sources

  • Galbraith, Patrick (2011a), “Otaku Consumers”, in Parissa Haghirian (editor), Japanese Consumer Dynamics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Galbraith, Patrick (2011b), “Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among “Rotten Girls” in Contemporary Japan”, in Signs, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 211-232.
  • Galbraith, Patrick (2014), The Moe Manifesto: An Insider’s Guide to the Worlds of Manga, Anime and Gaming (Tuttle Publishing)

By Halimun Muhammad | The writer is a graduate from the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences of Universitas Indonesia | Sources of images: Three Leaves, Three Colors; Shirobako; Haikyuu!!

This article is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the opinions and views of KAORI Nusantara and The Indonesian Anime Times.

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