Moe has become a familiar term for many anime fans, not just in Japan, but also in various parts of the world. But the meaning and uses of the word is often assumed uncritically in ways that narrow the understanding of it to certain character types. This can be seen, for example, in how often the term “moefikasi” (“moefication”) is used to describe anthropomorphic personification of things as bishoujo or cute girl characters, as if implying only cute girl characters can be moe.
But further investigations to the uses of moe can lead to interesting alternative perspectives. One of the more interesting inquiries on moe that has significantly affected how I understand moe is Patrick Galbraith’s observation on the practice of moe-banashi (“moe talk”) among fujoshi, or female fans of boys love (BL) and yaoi, fictions that depict romantic and/or sexual relationships between male characters. I have summarized Galbraith’s findings in a different article, but to reiterate, moe-banashi here refers to the fujoshi discussing affective relationships between male characters to trigger moe, here defined as euphoric response to fictional characters.
One of the points that makes this use of moe in the case of fujoshi that Galbraith describes interesting is that not only do they find moe from male characters, but also from reading relationships between characters. For me, this is a refreshing alternative perspective to the discourse of moe as character types. The fujoshi put much care into patterns of interactions and situations between the characters. That’s why they can intensely discuss not only which characters should be paired together, but also which one should be the seme and the uke in the pairing. Arguably, different combinations of characters, and different ways to combine them in BL relationship formulas produce different relationship dynamics, and from there, trigger different moe responses.
From here, there can appear to be a divide between male otaku and female fujoshi in eliciting moe, where the male otaku feels moe from single characters while fujoshi feels moe from relationships. Tamaki Saito (2007) also bring that up in his argument that there is asymmetry between the desires of male otaku for bishoujo characters on one hand, and yaoi fans for relationships between male characters on the other. And it does seem that there is some truth to that. Arguing which character is “best waifu” or use of support tags like #TeamRem or #TeamEmilia seems to imply that bishoujo fans focus more on their preferred bishoujo characters than on with whom the characters are to be paired with and in what way they are paired the way fujoshi do with their seme x uke formulas.
But I wish to avoid essentialising that asymmetry, to avoid reifying “this is what boys like, that is what girls like.” Galbraith (2009) thinks that difference has eroded with the popularity of nichijou-kei works among moe otaku, which typically emphasise on relationships among a group of cute girl characters with minimum presence from male characters, somewhat similar to how BL focus on relationships between male characters with minimum presence from female characters. But I wish to consider another case that may potentially be a site of convergence for moe for character relationships from male fans and female fans: oneshota.
A portmanteau of onee-san and shota, oneshota encompass various depictions of relationships between cute young boy characters (shota) and older female characters (onee-san), ranging from pairing those types of characters from popular anime, manga, or games, to original works that mainly focus on such relationship. I think oneshota indicates more than just moe for single character types, but for relationships formed between those characters. It’s not just the shota and it’s not just the onee-san, but having them together that triggers the moe response. And according to the author of the manga My Boy (Watashi no Shounen), Hitomi Takano, although oneshota is “a culture aimed at men,” (2018) it actually also interests women readers to. This opinion is echoed by a number of recommendation articles for oneshota manga. The thought that men and women can indulge in the same kind of idyllic relationships between specific types of characters (even if they do so separately) could pose a fascinating challenge to gendered notions regarding engagements with media.
There are probably other examples where moe for character relationships from male fans and female fans converge, such as how there are men, straight or gay, who also enjoy reading BL. But to make it brief, how moe can source from character relationships rather than just single characters, is an interesting side of moe that, whether we realize it or not, may actually have been prevalent among fans across genders, and could be explored more in discussions on moe.
- Galbraith, Patrick W. (2009), “Moe: Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan,” in Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies.
- Galbraith, Patrick W. (2011), “Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among “Rotten Girls” in Contemporary Japan,” in Signs, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 211-232.
- Saito, Tamaki (2007), “Otaku Sexuality,” (trans. by Christopher Bolton) in Christopher Bolton (ed.), Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).
- Takano, Hitomi (2018), Afterword to My Boy, Vol. 1 (trans. by Kumar Sivasubramanian) (New York: Vertical).
By Halimun M | The author has been an enthusiastic consumer of anime and manga for 10 years while reading whatever that discuss interesting things about them