second draft

Moe as a Two-Dimensional Paradigm

Recently the term “moe” has been getting a lot of press, and I’ve been thinking about it. As I see it, the cornerstone of the notion of “moe” is that moetic characters are deliberately rendered as two-dimensional; that is to say, their two-dimensionality is capitalized on and extended from the realm of visual design to that of characterization, background, and personality. Two-dimensionality becomes the cornerstone of the “moe” character in every respect. This is most importantly manifest in standard “moe” characterization, where the third dimension of depth is sacrificed, but a purity and simplicity of character is gained that is seen as a desired end in itself. Reducing a character from a complex set of values, motivations, traits, quirks and perversions to a simple two-dimensional caricature lends naturally to the creation of archetypal forms, and set relations to them, that in the past several years have become standard in works of a predominately “moe” nature.

Moetic simplicity of character is seen as an asset because it removes ambiguity on the part of the viewer in how he should relate to the character he is consuming. Complex characters demand complex emotional responses; simple, guileless, pure characters demand simple, guileless, pure responses, and these generate what may be termed as an ideal form of happiness by those who adhere to moetic doctrine. What others see as insipid, formulaic, and childlike characters, the moetic aesthete percieves as uncontaminated by ulterior motives and worthy of admiration. For this reason “moe” characters are often children, as they lend themselves naturally to this sort of two-dimensional “reduction” and ease the suspension of disbelief critical to the appreciation of moetic fiction. It should be noted that while this reduction is a necessary prerequisite of moetic characterization, it can also be seen in a variety of other settings not typically thought of as “moe;” in these cases it is most often used for secondary characters to offset the changes exhibited in the protagonist, or in other sorts of narratives where two-dimensionality of character is desirable (i.e. pornography, which deserves a separate treating and will not be considered for the purpose of this installment).

A Moetic Taxonomy

As it has emerged over the past several years, moetic doctrine has coalesced into what I see as seven concrete character archetypes, each with its own discrete traits and set of responses evoked (demanded?) from the viewer complicit in the moetic relationship. This relationship between the consumer of “moe” and the object of his consumption also deserves a much more thorough treatment and may be dealt with in further installments of this discourse; for now we concern ourselves with the various characterizations inhabiting the moetic conceptual realm. Presented in no particular order, we have:

  • The Moetic Hedonist. This character is solely absorbed in her own wants, and will do nearly anything to satisfy them. She is selfish and egotistical to a fault, but is also irresistably cute. The moetic hedonist provokes one of two archetypal reactions in the protagonist/consumer, based on her perception of him: either submission to her constant demands, or incessant doting/spoiling her as the object of her affections. Famous moetic hedonists: Komugi (Nurse Witch Komugi-chan Magikarte), CBD Rena (Hand Maid May), Mayu Miyuki (Ai Yori Aoshi).
  • The Moetic Villian (Comic). When you see a character standing in silhouette atop a tall building, flanked by subordinates and laughing behind her hand, you are looking at a comic moetic villian. Known for using flamboyant tactics against the protagonist that wind up as equally spectacular failures, as often as not by the end of the narrative the comic villian will be working along side the hero toward some common goal. Despite a flashy show of strength initially, moetic doctrine dictates that the protagonist enter a dominant relationship with the comic villian as her plans are undone and her weaker, sensitive side is exposed. Famous comic moetic villians: Koyori (Nurse Witch Komugi-chan Magikarte), Akiko Natsume and Chieko Shirakaba (All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku), Sumire Kanzaki (Sakura Taisen), Pao (G-on Riders).
  • The Moetic Villian (Tragic). The tragic moetic villian often has noble aspirations, but an unfair twist of fate has placed her at odds with the protagonist. She is fundamentally unhappy, and either masks her despondency with anger and a brittle power that once broken reveals her as weak and pitiful, or accepts her fate and graceful defeat at the hands of the hero. In either case, the way to the observer’s heart is through pity, sympathy, and the desire to help her escape her tragic fate. Examples include: Alyssa Searss and Miyu Glea (Mai Hime), Suigintou (Rozen Maiden).
  • The Moetic Invalid. Sick, weak, or disabled characters with tragic physical or mental limitations fall under the classification of the moetic invalid. She has a core of hidden inner strength that gives her purpose and provides a good measure of her attractiveness, but is otherwise dependent on the protagonist for support. Famous moetic invalids: Uruza Planais (Rance VI), Misaka Shiori (Kanon), Fukami Misato (Kokoro Library), *controversial* Ayanami Rei (Neon Genesis Evangelion), Dorothy Wayneright (The Big O).
  • The Moetic Heroine. Perhaps the most common manifestation of “moe,” the moetic heroine gains her appeal through her energy and determination to accomplish whatever task is at hand. She is a vibrant, joyful character character who never gives up, trying her best at all times, even against impossible odds. The moetic observer has no choice but to enter a supporting role, to cheer her on, encourage her in her endeavors and comfort her when she meets with failure. As the default moetic archetype, the moetic heroine embraces many different characters: Sakura Kinomoto (Cardcaptor Sakura), Sakura Shinguji (Sakura Taisen), CBD May (Hand Maid May), Misaki (Welcome to the NHK), Tokiha Mai (Mai Hime), Aoi Sakuraba (Ai Yori Aoshi), etc. etc.
  • The Moetic Trickster. This primarily comic character exists to make the main character’s life more interesting and/or difficult. Her ability to do this is often mysterious and seemingly supernatural, even godlike in extent; because of this, the viewer-as-protagonist can only regard her with a worshipful fear and hope she doesn’t get too far out of hand. Unlike the moetic hedonist, the trickster has little discernable motivation aside from her own boredom and amusement at seeing the main character in a bind. Examples include: Ichigo Morino (Onegai Teacher, but especially Onegai Twins), Guu (Jungle wa Itsumo Hale Nochi Guu), Cheko-chan (Pugyuru), Daisy (Guardian Hearts), Dokuro-chan (Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan).
  • The Yamato Nadeshiko. The gentle yet strong, nurturing yet uncompromising Yamato Nadeshiko is one of the ideal forms of the Japanese woman that has endured since antiquity. This is a more mature character than the others, who is made beautiful by the weight of a few additional years of experience resting on her shoulders. The natural inclination of the moetic observer is toward regression to a childlike state, succombing to the temptation of ministration at her capable hands. Famous Yamato Nadeshiko: Belldandy (Ah! Megami-sama), Kazami Mizuho (Onegai Teacher), CBD Mami (Hand Maid May), Mariel (Hanaukyo Maid-tai), and any other character voiced by Inoue Kikuko.

Note that there can be multiple iterations of any one of these characterizations within a single narrative (especially the moetic heroine, which despite connotations of singularity frequently exists in higher numbers). Also, within the course of a narrative a single character can switch between multiple archetypes (Koyori is a moetic heroine by day and a moetic villian by night in Nurse Witch Komugi-chan Magikarte).

Another thing I should make clear is that when developing these archetypes, the focus was not put on particular characteristics shared by the characters they incorporate, but by similar responses to the characters generated by their consumers. Thus,

  • The consumer’s response to a character -> Defines this type of moetic relationship
  • Submission/Doting/Spoiling -> Moetic Hedonist
  • Domination/Forgiveness/Rehabilitation -> Comic Moetic Villian
  • Pity/Sympathy/Rehabilitation -> Tragic Moetic Villian
  • Support/Sustenance/Protection -> Moetic Invalid
  • Support/Encouragement/Comfort -> Moetic Heroine
  • Worship/Fear -> Moetic Trickster
  • Submission/Regression -> Yamato Nadesico

This lays what I see as the groundwork of moetic theory, but it is far from complete. In the future I wish to address (among other things) the difference between “kawaii” and “moe,” the relationship between the viewer and the moe character (including a clearer breakdown of archetypal interactions/reactions/responses, and the significance of exceptions to them), why “moe” characters are typically female and their consumers male, and the pornographic uses of two-dimensionality. I also want to deal with the problems involving the conflation of a moetic narrative’s protagonist with the consumer, and the differences that exist between their positions and sentiments vis a vis the “moe” character. As a work in progress I welcome feedback from all quarters as well – I think the taxonomy developed above is reasonably comprehensive, but I would be happy to be proven wrong.