I should make this clear here and now because the title could be misleading. If you are here to try and wrap your head around how moe culture works and what it all entails, then this is not for you. I can’t answer that question because I’m not very big on moe myself, for the most part I don’t really get why it blossomed into this huge part of anime culture and saturates the market with tons of cute girls shows, tons of slice of life shows with moe influences and the general explosion of moe merchandise. Instead I’m going to discuss why I think moe shows work and why I think they got popular from the perspective of a relative outsider, based on the few moe shows I have enjoyed. There will be scattered spoilers throughout this post, you have been warned.
Let’s start with the basics, anime is a visual medium so naturally shows that look pleasing to the eyes will get some attention. Moe really got big in the mid-2000’s around the same time some studios were finally starting master newer animation techniques and technologies. Shows like the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya exploded onto the anime scene, showcasing what at the time was some of the best use of the cutting edge animation methods. I personally hated the character of Haruhi Suzumiya and by extension the show, but compared to what was airing at the time it looks really good especially for shows in the hum-drum high school slice of life genre that so thoroughly saturates anime today. Going beyond the mini-history lesson, moe shows tend to place a lot of emphasis on pleasing visuals, and I’m using the word pleasing deliberately. Unlike say Gurren Lagann or the Monogatari series, which try to shock the world with their amazing quality and/or style of animation, moe shows tend to settle for a level of animation I would describe as upper-middle quality. Moe shows don’t ever really look bad, but I’ve never thought they were ever the best looking show in any given season either, they just seem to settle for like the third or so best looking show of the season. But more importantly moe shows always have a light and cheery color scheme, lots of bright colors with environments that are almost exclusively full of light, save for star-gazing and camping episodes. The effect of all the aspects of the visual art are shows that, and I have no other way to describe this, look soft and soothing. It’s like looking at early Impressionist art, it’s bright and blurred to the point where it looks soft and vaguely relaxing, though moe shows obviously aren’t blurred. But it is a similar effect, and I think the goal is to give the show a relaxing atmosphere, which brings me to my next point.
As a man who deliberately avoids the vast majority of most slice of life and moe shows due to the sheer volume of such shows released, one thing that does attract me to these shows every now and then is how relaxing an experience they are. I spend a lot of time thinking critically, be it watching anime or movies, or reading books or playing video games. In addition to all the fun critical thinking, there’s all the stress of life and long work days. What this means is that as much as I love to be critical and thoughtful, I need a fucking breaking every now and then. And moe is one of several places I can take a break in. Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka? and Non Non Byori, the shows that really got me to put all my thoughts on moe down, are soothing, relaxing experiences. The drama is silly when it even exists, there is never any real tension and literally nothing important is ever at stake. Moe shows, or at least the type of moe show I enjoy, are shows where I can just shut my my brain off and get caught up in the silly cutesy adventures of some moe girls. Again, the overall experience is a relaxing one, one where the viewer can just go with the flow and enjoy. But more than simply relaxing, I would call moe shows soothing.
While the fact moe shows give me an opportunity to relax my critical mind is a huge boon, the thing that really makes moe attractive is the innocence. See the thing that puts off a lot of people towards anime in general is the fact grown men will obsess over cute, very much underage girls, from anime to figures to body pillows. Granted I’m a bit uncomfortable with some of that myself, however as an adult with a full time job, I can understand to some extent the love of innocence. There’s this book you may have read or heard about called Catcher in the Rye. In it the main character wants to save children from leaving the fields of innocence and charging into adulthood. Now I fucking hated both the main character and the book as a whole, but now that I have to deal with rent, insurance payments, long commutes and all the other headaches of adulthood, I kind of see what that guy was getting at. There’s a certain joy to be found in seeing innocence at work. For lack of a clearer explanation seeing innocence, with all its cuteness, goodness and distance from the problems most us enjoy today, is good for the soul. There’s something soothing, cleansing even about seeing such purity in action, untouched by all the flaws and frustrations of real life. It serves as an escape from reality but not in the traditional power fantasy or harem fantasy sense because with shows like Non Non Byori and Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka? I can remember doing things sort of similar to what they do. I remember getting worried over silly things that had no consequence, of trying to be the reliable older sibling, of living in the middle of nowhere and constantly hanging out with the same few friends and so forth. In a sense what makes moe special is that serves as an escape from reality while also invoking feelings of nostalgia to some degree, both of which are powerful on their own but made even more so by their combined effort.
In summary though what allows moe, the mild adventures of cute girls doing cute things, to work is precisely how little is going on in the story and how much that benefits the mind of the viewer. Because there is nothing really at stake, no great weight to the drama, and not even much of a story really, the viewers can just go with the flow and immerse themselves in the silly, cute story unfolding before us. This in turn allows the viewer to really buy into the relaxing atmosphere, to sit back and bask in their own nostalgia, to escape from reality in its purest form. This to me is the source of moe’s success, aside from just looking pleasant, it provides such a simple, pure and powerful escape from reality, that it makes for an appealing experience, especially for people for whom reality is proving very tough for whatever reason. And given the general negativity aimed at otaku, an escape from reality can be most welcome indeed. And that about wraps this up. Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you in the next one.