There’s something to be said about a show that can draw a genuine emotional response from the viewer. When every element of a show, from the story, to the characters, is working to make the viewer feel a certain way, and succeeds, it’s a testament to the kind of power a well-crafted anime has. At times, moé is a major factor in playing with the viewer’s emotions.
Two anime in particular, Clannad and School Days, have managed a strategic use of moé that, coupled with the show’s story, tugs at just the right heartstrings at just the right time to elicit a true emotional response out of me.
This article with undoubtedly contain hardcore spoilers for both Clannad, Clannad: After Story, and School Days.
Hit the jump and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Clannad was an anime where I thought I knew what I was getting into. I knew Key’s M.O. and I knew to be prepared for some heartbreak. However, after finishing Clannad and Clannad: After Story, it was nothing I could prepare myself for. Clannad really takes its time building up its story and characters, and then dropping the bomb at just the right time to get that true emotional response. After all the humor, happiness, gentle sadness, and heartwarming moments, it harshly reminds you “This is Clannad. Key made this. You will cry.”
Moé is a big part of Clannad’s success as an emotional anime. It’s sad when bad things happen to people you like, and moé is all about compelling the viewer to like characters. It hits much harder when a character you connect with experiences the kind of hardship Clannad brings forward, and when they overcome it, it’s that much more satisfying.
The latter half of Clannad: After Story is a prime example. After building up the characters (Primarily Tomoya and Nagisa) all the way from the beginning of Clannad, things continue getting better, but then the rollercoaster goes downhill. Nagisa dies during childbirth (I cried here), and her parents care for Nagisa and Tomoya’s daughter Ushio for five years while a grief-stricken Tomoya goes through life like a zombie.
Things start looking up when Tomoya finally starts being a father to Ushio. Just as they start to become a happy family together however, Ushio, who was born weak like her mother, comes down with the same debilitating illness Nagisa had come down with at previous points in the series. After being bedridden for days, she eventually dies in her father’s arms (I cried here too).
Ushio and Nagisa are both “moé” characters, and their buildup is important to the emotion of the story. Over the course of Clannad and After Story, all the way up to her death, we see Nagisa and her relationship with Tomoya grow and develop, and likewise with Ushio. The impact of their deaths would not be nearly as effective without the type of loving appeal and connection with character that moé provides.
School Days is a different story altogether. Rather than sadness, School Days made me feel, more than anything else, anger. School Days tells the story of Makoto Itou, who dates Kotonoha Katsura, but ends up cheating on her with every girl under the sun. The thing about School Days is that Kotonoha is pretty much the perfect girlfriend. She has traits many otaku would find very desirable. She’s polite, soft-spoken, and she radiates grace and femininity, a modern Yamato Nadeshiko. She’s deliberately made to be incredibly moé.
School Days sets up the perfect character, so it can knock her down later. As she’s constantly confronted with evidence that Makoto’s cheating on her, she slips deeper and deeper into delusion. It’s painful and infuriating to watch, especially from the perspective of an otaku with no girlfriend. On the one hand, we see Kotonoha slowly go insane, and it’s tough to watch, because of the endearment that moé incites within the viewer. On the other hand, it’s infuriating, because Makoto, who’s initially presented as a character an otaku can identify with, mercilessly spurns her love for him, preferring other girls.
It doesn’t help that we also see Kotonoha accosted from all sides by a group of bullies, the other female characters, and Taisuke (Makoto’s desperate friend). She goes through hell, eventually breaking down (enough to allow Taisuke to take advantage of her). She breaks down so much that even Makoto himself is forced to face the fact that it’s his fault she’s so far gone, leading to them getting back together near the end of the series. We never get to see their relationship flower, however, and, at the end of the series, we’re left with the bittersweet ending of again-crazy Kotonoha cradling Makoto’s severed head.
A true emotional response isn’t something that comes easily. It takes a commitment, an investment in a character that’s not easy to bring the viewer into. While it’s true that the viewer must, to an extent, be receptive to the kind of emotion a show might want to instill, the show has to make a case for itself. This is the reason why I think a lot of the people why call shows like Clannad “manipulative” are uninformed, at best. These emotional moé anime aren’t about “manipulating” the viewer into showing emotion. As will all other forms of media, emotional investment in a moé anime is a two-way street. The viewer must be willing to receive the emotion the show is putting out. Going into an emotional show like Clannad with a cynical, “impress me” sort of attitude is going to make the show seem manipulative. The truth is, no emotion in any medium can survive without the viewer being receptive to it.
To those willing to open themselves up, moé can be a very strong factor behind emotion in anime and games. A genuine caring for a character is a powerful element that can be utilized in various ways, once the bond between viewer and character has been established. After that connection’s been made, clever use of the story’s events and their effects on the character can bring out a range of emotion in the viewer, from the crippling sadness Clannad brought, to the seething anger School Days was responsible for.
Emotion in media starts with the people. Make the characters compelling and the emotion will be real. The compelling characters moé helps create instill an emotion in moé fans hearts that’s too genuine to be ignored.
‘Till next time!