A big strike against moé that the Anti-Moé Brigade pulls out is the “checklist mentality” of moé fans. They posit that moé fans operate on a mental checklist, and evaluate the quality of shows based on whether or not a show satisfies a shopping list of tropes they find enjoyable. That, actual show quality notwithstanding, moé fans will watch anything that includes enough of their favorite tropes.
The problem is, either checklist mentality is not at all congruent with how moé fans think, or it’s something that can be applied to more than just moé.
The “checklist mentality” argument is commonly used by the Anti-Moé Brigade to make moé fans seem indiscriminate and lacking in critical thought. This breaks down, however, when you look at some of the shows that are popular with otaku. The checklist mentality argument is often coupled with how “shallow” moé characters are, how they’re just “piles of clichés and tropes,” but if the checklist mentality were actually a factor, shows like Madoka Magica would never have had a chance of becoming popular, when pitted against your average harem or slice-of-life show.
One problem I see is that, despite their “intellectualism,” the Anti-Moé Brigade seems to have fallen into the trap of only thinking of characters in terms of archetypes. What I mean by this is, when someone sees a character and immediately categorizes them into a particular character archetype, it becomes easy to see all characters as archetypal. For example, Kotonoha Katsura from School Days seems like a character meant to portray an extreme of the Yamato Nadeshiko archetype, but because of that, she’s simply considered a Yandere. While archetypes are not a negative thing, the Anti-Moé Brigade uses them as a crutch in their arguments, claiming that moé characters are nothing but archetypes, when, for the most part, that stance is formed through a failure to look past whatever archetype that character falls into.
A second problem is that the “checklist mentality” is simply not how moé fans think. To a certain extent, there is a “this work of media has things I like in it” kind of appeal, but that’s extremely basic and can apply to anything. Past that, production quality, execution, story, and other criteria not solely based on basic content, factor into a moé fan’s enjoyment of a show.
Using myself as an example, I really like the “cute girls with guns” aesthetic. I love Strike Witches, Upotte!!, and Gunslinger Girl. Going by checklist mentality, I should have loved Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino as well, but I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t like it at all, despite it 100% satisfying my checklist of having cute girls with firearms.
The checklist mentality can’t explain why I liked all those anime, but not Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino, despite the basic content being the same, but looking past the checklist, it’s easy to see why:
Strike Witches has fantastic, expansive worldbuilding, beautifully-choreographed aerial combat, charming character interaction, all wrapped up in a fun, alternate-reality WWII that’s only as serious as it needs to be.
Upotte!! has a mixture of very funny slice-of-life interaction mixed with surprisingly intense action sequences, as well as very well-informed fact about guns presented in a cute, hilarious manner.
Gunslinger Girl has intense, visceral combat coupled with absolutely beautiful animation and scenery, and a very unique art style.
On the other hand, Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino’s combat has no bite to it, the overall visual quality has taken a considerable drop, and the art style is a great deal more generic.
Checklist mentality die-hards might say that appealing art style, good animation quality, charm, and humor are still part of the checklist, but that’s reaching, at best. At that point, everyone has a checklist, since everyone looks for appealing story elements, an aesthetically pleasing art style, and good production quality in their anime.
The checklist mentality argument is just another way the Anti-Moé Brigade seeks to make moé fans look like mindless consumers and make themselves look like connoisseurs. Fact is, moé fans have just as discerning tastes as everyone else does.