A Response to “Moé, Misogyny and Masculinity: Anime’s Cuteness Problem–and How to Fix It”

Preface

A recent post was made discussing the topic of “Moe” within the anime industry. You can find a link to it here.

This post, while interesting in itself, has sparked a response from multiple camps of critics and fans of anime alike, with opinions of all kinds surrounding the article. Given the nature of the post, and its submission on a feminist positive blog, there has obviously been some blind emotion on the topic. However, some have come forward to give their feelings, critique, and attempt an actual conversation about the topic. We thought we might do this as well.

Since our website is run by three different people who each have relatively different views, we figured it’d be best to add to the conversation individually, noting our personal feelings on this subject. None of these will be an in-depth analysis on the topic, and one or all of us may do something like that later, but for now, here our thoughts on the post specifically and what it talks about.

General Tofu

So first and foremost, I want to assert that this article, “Moé, Misogyny and Masculinity: Anime’s Cuteness Problem–and How to Fix It,” is not the work of the devil; it is not a heap of mindless drivel; it certainly is not a piece that should elicit death threats, or any permutations thereof, aimed at the author (because, frankly, nobody should have to be the target of aggression like this in the first place simply for writing a post on the internet). Much of the negative backlash for this piece has stemmed from select toxic fans and fanbases, those especially who want nothing to do with the discussion of anime, and especially moe, in a critical capacity.

That being said, critical discussions about moe should absolutely be encouraged, considering the veritable stranglehold it seems to have on the anime industry these days. Further, these critical discussions should absolutely be made accessible to those who are completely new to the anime scene, those who are veterans of the discussion, and everyone in between who is even remotely interested in looking at anime in a critical capacity. With critical discussion comes a greater capacity for understanding and the exchange of ideas as opposed to screaming into the void with no discernible point aside from “this is my opinion; take it or leave it!” By this point, it should be fairly obvious that I’m entirely in favor of articles such as this examining moe in a critical capacity. That being said, I do take issue with the ways in which this particular piece attempts to make its point.

One particular point about this piece that rubs me the wrong way is how much of the argument seems to be centered around a single source, titled The Moe Manifesto. There is nothing inherently wrong with the source itself—it gives a great deal of insight into how moe is perceived and talked about by people directly involved with the production of anime and the industry at large. However, the source is never actually corroborated by any other sources or any specific examples from shows that fall under the moe genre. Instead, a few quotes are pulled from the book, the points that are supposed to be made through the quotes are only implied, and the post calls it a day. One source that has quotes dropped in from it does not make a critical discussion—critical discussion should be part of a larger discourse, which implies the presence of other sources and voices. It is somewhat disappointing, then, that there are no other sources, scholarly or otherwise that are provided in addition to show how moe is being considered critically, despite the fact that other sources in numerous forms (academic/scholarly journal articles, AniTwitter conversations, forum discussions, etc.) are available, to varying degrees.

That being said, I realize that the text is not supposed to be a long-form, dissertation-level discussion of moe. It should be fairly clear to anyone who actually followed the link and read the post (instead of screaming about the post despite reading none of it, save for the title) that the post’s mother site, The Mary Sue, is a website that works to write for its readers about pop culture through a feminist lens. To quote, the site “pride[s] ourselves on being an inclusive, feminist community of people who not only love what they love but care about others who love it and have an intense passion for those who create it”. This isn’t an academic journal or database like The Feminist Review or JSTOR, and you know what? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Making feminism, geekdom, etc., accessible to whomever wants a piece of either is laudable. This does not have to be done in such a way that you might have to pick up a thesaurus to fully understand what is being read, and the site acknowledges that.

The thing about The Mary Sue that is worrying with regards to this particular instance is that it does not dabble in talking about anime anywhere near as often as it does other forms of popular culture, such as North American movies, North American television shows, and feminism-related news (we’re talking about maybe a post about anime per month that isn’t a Sailor Moon episode recap post). Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with that. However, as the post in question itself indicates, “I am sure most TMS readers will understand…,” there is clearly an intended reader-base/audience in mind. With the reader-base being those who might not interact with anime on even a remotely consistent basis, it could be quite easy for readers that are not deeply familiar with anime (potentially even those who have next to zero experience with the medium) to read the post, see that it has a published source with quotes from interviews with industry pros, and think that it is gospel. This can be especially damning when some of the quotes picked center around the wish-fulfillment for an ideal girl (one quote noted is from an adult game character designer), playing into an established stigma for regulars of the site who may not realize that these few quotes are 3-5 voices out of a veritable sea of opinions on moe, why the genre itself is beloved/hated/etc. This lack of evidence can get even more muddied by the fact that despite giving screenshots from shows that have been deemed moe, the piece does not go beyond that as their inclusion. In a post which is supposed to be about a genre of anime, no specific examples from the medium and genre in question are actually given or discussed, which, again, should be a red flag for potential critical discourse.

These issues with regards to support for the piece’s points don’t all hinge on the site’s reader-base alone, though, and I do not mean to make it appear as such. In reality, this lack of example through anime itself, coupled with a lack of any variety in sources for the argument being made, can be disastrous for any potential audience reading the piece. Any potentially uninformed reader could come across this piece and, with a single source and a stark lack of examples of any actual anime given in the piece to go off of, potentially leave unaware of the multitude of perspectives that are present regarding moe. Beyond those mentioned above, however, a piece like this can (and as has been seen, has) elicit a number of different responses from those that consider themselves fans of the genre, or at least knowledgeable with regards to it. This is especially important to consider, because despite what industry titans might have to say about anime itself, I can guarantee you that the community is going to have numerous voices speaking for or against those points for still numerous reasons. The voice of the active community is important, and excluding it and any discussion of the shows that the community has formed around will most likely be met with some resistance (though, again, I stress that civil forms of discussion regarding these opposing viewpoints is what we should strive for, not the kind of inexcusably disgusting backlash that this piece has unfortunately garnered from some among the community).

The thing is, posts like this are something that would be wonderful to spread to a broad audience, and to get them informed and in discussion about anime in a critical capacity, but the way in which this piece attempts to foster discussion leaves me disappointed. More than anything, it is disappointing that the lack of deep research, the exclusion of any potential in-show examples, and the inclusion of only a single source is left to potentially be seen by the uninformed as gospel on the part of this piece, and this is especially so, as the piece is meant to inform and foster further discussion.

Owningmatt93

I definitely agree with the main idea behind this article. Bringing some of the more negative aspects of “moe” anime and manga to light while encouraging a critical discussion surrounding the topic is a wonderful idea and I would also encourage everyone else to think in a rational, critical fashion about the anime and other media that they consume. However, while I feel that this article was written as a good-faith, critical examination of the topic at hand, the article itself has some weak points which may have led to some of the backlash behind this piece. The points below are ones that I felt were the weakest, and I have attempted to explain my reasoning as to why.

Although the article does give a relatively broad definition of “moe”, the actual term has hardly been clearly defined by a number of sources, both academically and non. The term “moe” entirely takes on a different meaning depending on the context and where the term itself is being used, similar to the term “otaku“. Attempting to give a single, even loose, definition to a widely used and broad term such as “moe” could easily cause the reader-base, whether that reader-base is The Mary Sue or other anime communities, to misinterpret the wide connotation that the term itself holds. “Moe” is a nuanced term, and can hold various meanings to different people depending on their background and what communities they may regularly visit.

For example, 4chan commonly uses the terms “moe” and “moeshit” to talk about the post-Haruhi/post-K-ON! era animation style that developed because of those two influential anime. Some users have a more narrow approach, using those terms to define the slice-of-life genre of shows, and others even further narrowing it by only using it to refer to “cute girls doing cute things” (CGDCT) shows. Meanwhile, Reddit has had several threads in attemps to define “moe” similarly as to this article does, but have all resulted in the users being inconsistent as to what that definition is, since their definitions also widely vary from person to person.

All of these definitions may contain similar elements in what creates the grand picture of “moe”, but the exact problem with defining the term stems directly from that line of thinking. The term itself is used so loosely that no one can firmly know what part of “moe” is being discussed with a broad definition like the one given in this article by The Mary Sue. Therefore, anyone that potentially has watched an anime that they consider “moe” or having “moe” qualities, could easily be misrepresented by this broad generalization of the term definition.

While “moe” could be debated for decades without having a concrete definition, the actual concept remains the main discussion point of this article. Discussion can still be carried on without a formal definition of the word, as there are a multitude of ways to define “moe” through particular qualities that an anime can display. However, just because an anime has “moe” aspects, does not mean that those aspects are necessarily a bad thing.

There are many anime and other mediums that use “moe” qualities to actively create unique situations and settings to express a wide variety of emotions. Sometimes those qualities help form a relaxing environment for someone to relax to after a hard day, serving as a therapeutic measure (Flying Witch and Non Non Biyori). Other “moe” qualities may help create a dissonance with the audience to make it a jarring offset to a horrific story (Gakkou Gurashi and Puella Magi Madoka Magica). Although the article may be attempting to make this point in some of its positive hinting about the concept of “moe”, it lacks description of some of the other ways “moe” could be used outside of catering to a male fantasy.

At a glance, it would be easily to mistake the Love Live! franchise as exactly the type of anime this article is speaking out against, as it does seem like the sort of show to have many “moe” qualities that one could see as harmful to the images of female characters and easily sexualized by a male fanbase. Appearances can be deceiving though, as the Love Live! franchise itself has a near perfect 1:1 female/male ratio and a wide demographic that extends to ages 10-50+ in the West. While this does not exactly prove that it’s without problematic “moe” qualities, it does prove that it has a low enough amount of problematic “moe” qualities that parents and their kids can equally enjoy the anime and both be fans of the show. So much so that it was even green-lit to be aired on the Disney Channel in Japan. While I’m unfamiliar with what sort of shows air upon the channel in Japan, I doubt they’d broadcast Love Live! to children if the content was riddled with sexualized cinematography or harem-oriented comedy.

Furthermore, the original concept creator and writer of the School Idol Diaries is a female writer, Kimino Sakurako. Her writing within the School Idol Diaries goes beyond that of the anime and heavily focuses on some of the real problems and struggles of high school girls trying to balance their school lives and friendships with each other, while also dealing with their activities as school idols. While you could argue that this is still catered towards the 50% of the male demographic or the hardcore idol fans, it has a wider base of appeal in the West and also refrains from many of the more problematic “moe” qualities that many other anime have on a regular basis. In the context of this article, Love Live! could still be an offender of the “moe” qualities that are being spoken out against, but is a very weak example from many other anime that could have been used to make the same point.

While these are the main problems that I have with this particular article on the subject, the critical lens being used to analyze the concepts of “moe” and “moe” qualities is definitely something I encourage within the community. Each discussion piece encourages more discussion, and despite whatever the topic may be, or if people agree/disagree with particular points, this critical outlook is something we need more of as a community. However, because of the multitude of information out there, we need to be sure that we, as a community, are making sure that our content is as accurate as possible and clearly representing what we want it to. Otherwise, we’re doing a disservice to the same community that our discussions reach.

We’re all in this together, so if you disagree or have something to contribute about a topic, please do so in a rational and polite manner. Being disrespectful does not help anyone out and is not an acceptable way to treat anyone, no matter what the circumstances may be.

Mythos

As far as the subject of the article, I absolutely love that someone is taking the time to put this out here. The fact of the matter is that the anime industry has its problems and not many people have really gone out on a limb to try and publicly dissect those issue, bringing to attention the inherent sexism of some aspects of the medium. *cough cough the harem genre cough cough* So for the author, kudos and congratulations on approaching this topic in an attempt to point out flaws. However, that said, I do feel some issues arise out of this article that weaken its effectiveness. To limit how long I’ll be talking (there are two other people on this post), I specifically wanted to mention two issues that stuck out to me.

The first issue I had while reading was that the article reads as “moe is for males”. While at the beginning the author outlines that women are able to also find endearment in their favorite characters (like any human would, obviously), this is pretty much ignored for the rest of the piece. The fact that there is moe for women isn’t really talked about, which is rather unfortunate, as there’s a lot to be said not only on the subject of several shows (such as Free!, Ouran High School Host Club, Hetalia!, and many more), but also their impact on the industry and its attempts to address the growing female audience. There’s also a lack of discussion on the habit of sexualizing and feminizing male characters to conform to Japanese normative homosexual roles, something that is also very prevalent in fujoshi circles and another side of the objectification coin. To talk about the female side is also to better represent the full definition and description of moe as it stands in the anime industry.

It is good that the article has a centralized focus, but to ignore the other side of the coin without so much as a small mention, it feels as if the article is missing a larger picture. That said, obviously given the popularity of certain types of shows every season over others, we can see that the female side of things is not nearly as prevalent or as overtly questionable as the issues that have arisen in using moe to cater to male fantasies. I mean, this coming season has Keijo!!!!!!!! for crying out loud. And they really want you to check it out given how many damn exclamation points they put in the title. However, lacking the full description of what moe is has led to the post seeming skewed, effectively not giving the reader the whole story and ignoring important information that at least needed a small bit of addressing to not seem biased or negligent.

Overall, though, I think the largest issue I have with the article is that moe is a tool, not an end goal. To say that moe has been used as a device for misogynistic reasons is correct. However, just like any tool, the tool itself is not the evil one here.

As an example, throughout this article, pictures of Love Live! are shown. It’s a bit odd to point to this show as a great example of moe as misogyny when the show itself is in no way more sexist in its presentation than My Little Pony is. If the argument is that “younger and cuter means misogyny through endearment”, then why does a show such as MLP get a free pass? Sure, the characters are ponies and not humans but the show itself follows a very similar idea. You have the rowdy one, the shy one, the bookworm do-gooder, etc. Each character is an archetype intent on being cute, but relatable. Also, the art for the show is done specifically to be cute and sell; Hasbro wouldn’t have it any other way. Not to mention, both shows are watched in large numbers by all genders and both share the message of “friendship”. Why is MLP heralded as a feminist strong platform when Love Live! is not? What is the major difference in their basic messages that is somehow being misconstrued? Is it the show or is it the person watching it misconstruing?

Now, in fairness, Love Live! does have the typical figures and poses shenanigans that appear for collection outside of the content of the show. However, the show itself has nothing of the sort whenever it comes to its characters within the anime. Yes, the characters are endearing in their own right and made to be endearing, but that endearment is not necessarily for the sake of the male gaze and only the male gaze, nor for a sexual purpose. The community at large has been shown to be pretty fairly equal on the side of gender if you look at polls and discussions of fans out in the wild. Moe itself is not evil or inherently sexist, as cute characters can be any gender or representation, but how it can be used is the problem. Whether its for selling figures or for only selling a show, how the tool is used falls both with the industry and also with the community that asks the industry for what it wants. In my personal situation, what I want from a slice of life moe show like K-On!, Amanchu!, or Sweetness and Lightning, is to be able to wind down after a stressful day and simply watch a drama-less show. Full of unrealistic archetypes, yes, but in no way more fantastical than a pony that farms apples or a dragon that is the embodiment of chaos.

Once again, I’m glad this article exists and I’m very happy that its creation has caused such as stir because now people are openly talking about the issue of moe and its use. However, I feel that this article could have been strengthened a bit better so that it fully represents the big picture and gives a better insight into the issue of moe as a tool to either endear us to our favorite shows, or immediately turn us off due to failures of the industry to represent correctly.

Closing

We’d like to point out that just like everything on this blog, these our only our thoughts and views on this subject and we want to encourage people to have their own feelings and opinions. In fact, if you want to share that with us, absolutely do! The point of discussion is that it’s not a one-way street, and more lanes means a better roadway for everybody.

Without any discussion, there would hardly be an anime community in the first place, after all.

Critical analysis on anime and media is something we’re heavily interested in, so feel free to share your opinions and thoughts, no matter how little you have to contribute or how much they agree or disagree with ours! The more discussion we have about a topic, the more everyone learns about that topic being discussed.

And that is something that we most definitely want to strive for within the anime community.

4 thoughts on “A Response to “Moé, Misogyny and Masculinity: Anime’s Cuteness Problem–and How to Fix It”

  1. i dunno…not trying to be overly harsh, but it feels like saying “it’s good that it starts a discussion” is like saying “we really wanted an excuse to talk about this”. there are better ways to start discussions.

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  2. Well, to be honest, all three of us have talked about the viewpoint of the original article at one point or another but never in a public setting. Mostly through chat and Google Hangout calls to each other. We had just never made a post on the subject.

    However, when this post hit, it forced a lot of people to bring up the subject, including us. It’s maybe not always in the best of light but people are definitely talking and so we’re now seeing a lot of open discussion on the subject. That’s great! In it’s own way, that was the purpose of the author’s original post and it’s working to a varying degree. We’re all three happy that somebody decided to do that as we had just never thought in great detail about posting on this subject, and the author’s perspective was an interesting viewpoint deserving of being said.

    The reason we decided to write our own feelings on this subject, though, is that we felt the original author’s standpoint wasn’t strong enough, having weaknesses in its armor that made the piece seem more skewed and misguided, even if the concept itself was strong.

    So yes, we had thought about the topic but someone else, the author of the original post, was smart and jumped on the idea of writing about it, opening the floor for us and other people to talk about the subject.

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  3. MLP gets a pass because it’s not Japanese

    There a latent “oh those wacky Japanese” Western snobbery with it comes to Japanese fiction. This happens even among people who are familiar with the medium.

    Yes, I am insinuating that the TMS are influenced by racist sentiments

    unfortunately it’s an issue that you really can’t talk about the because the discourse about moe is fucked. Especially now since death threats have manifested

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  4. […] Personally, I liked the article. I thought it introduced an otherwise murky and nuanced conversation within anime fandoms in an accessible way to people who don’t know about it at all or don’t pay too much attention to it (like me–of course I’m aware of moé and all the talk about how it’s a great escape or it’s the death of anime, but I haven’t been an active participant in the discussion). Others weren’t so keen on it and resorted to harassing the author, which honestly just proves feminism’s general point that conducting a feminist analysis or critique on any sacred cow will inevitably draw visceral reactions from those who drink the milk of said cow. Thankfully, there’s been some mature critique of the article. […]

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