Operation 21ST Phase Three: Moé As a Series of Tropes

This article is part 3 of a 5-part series on moé as it appears in anime community discourse.

Moé characters are often described archetypically. Taiga Aisaka is a “tsundere.” Belldandy is a “yamato nadeshiko.” C.C. is a “kuudere.” The archetype- and trope-driven nature of moé goes two ways in discussion. On one hand, the moé fandom can look at character archetypes as a way to easily describe a given character’s personality in a basic way. On the other hand, the Anti-Moé Brigade often looks at tropes and archetypes in moé as a negative thing, creating a rift between the two subsets of the anime community.

There are two things worth pointing out before we discuss moé in terms of the tropes involved. The first is that all creative works utilize tropes in some form or another. “Originality” only goes so far, and all works are derivative in some form or another, whether they take inspiration from an entire work or group of entire works, or whether they take bits and pieces of inspiration many works. The second thing worth pointing out is that tropes are, primarily, a construct of the audience. It’s easy to recognize patterns between works of media, and the temptation therein is to classify them. From there, we get “tropes,” where similar creative elements in different works are classified together. While it is true that some creators of media are conscious of tropes and deliberately use certain ones, that could not have happened without the audience first observing them in action in previous works of media.

Moé tropes are rooted in a simple, core group of concepts: Wish-fulfillment, escapism, and love. They expand from there. Not every moé trope involves all three, and not every moé trope involves just one, but the vast majority of moé tropes are rooted in at least one of these concepts.

A cute girl with otaku tendencies: Wish-fulfillment for many male otaku.

Haruka Nogizaka of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu embodies elements of the wish-fulfillment aspect in the tropes involved with her character. She falls into a “female otaku” archetype, which, not to be confused with the “fujoshi” archetype, pins her as no more and no less than a female character with otaku tendancies. Since otakuism (Again, we’re treating fujoshi as a different subset of anime fandom in this case, though I personally consider them just as “otaku” as moé fans) is, for the most part, a male-dominated thing, it becomes a wish of many otaku to find a girl who “understands them,” while still remaining feminine.

“Iyashikei:” A soothing type of anime where nothing really happens, but in a good way.

To see the escapism aspect at work, one needs to look no further than the “Iyashikei” style of anime. Often criticized for having little to no real overarching story, iyashikei anime serves a much different purpose from normal, storytelling anime. The term iyashikei, which translates to “healing,” describes a type of anime whose purpose is to have a soothing, therapeutic affect on the viewer. It’s a type of “escapism plus” that not only encourages the viewer to flee from the trappings of daily life for twenty-four minutes at a time, but immerses them in a calming, healing environment through the medium of anime. Because moé can have a very calming effect on viewers (More on moé as a feeling next article), moé characters often show up in iyashikei anime.

By becoming more like the visual novels they try to emulate, series like Amagami SS and Yosuga no Sora avoid the trap of having an indecisive male lead.

Harem shows are often criticized for having boring, undefined, or “milquetoast” protagonists. Even though this trend is slowly fading, there’s a clear reason for this, which ties into all three core aspects. A lot of harem anime are adaptations of visual novels. In a visual novel game, the protagonist acts as a stand-in for the player. The player plays the game through the protagonist. The protagonist has no personality past what the player gives him through his/her choices in the game. In the past, when adapting a harem VN to anime (Barring certain adventurous titles), the anime ended up being a hodgepodge of scenes from all of the heroines’ routes, with no clear resolution. This is however, as I said, a dying trend, and we’re starting to see anime push out of that hole with titles like Amagami SS and Yosuga no Sora.

Ren Mikihara from Full Metal Panic?: FUMOFFU, an example of the Yamato Nadeshiko archetype.

The Yamato Nadeshiko archetype is one that embodies all three core concepts. In a nutshell, a Yamato Nadeshiko is a character who is feminine, graceful, and, arguably most importantly, very devoted to the one she loves, which invariably ends up being the otaku-stand-in protagonist. She is wish-fulfillment in that she not only in love with the protagonist, but devotes herself to him. She is escapism in that she embodies an ideal that is long-outdated, but still seen as desirable by some. She is love in that her love for the protagonist is strong enough to overcome any obstacle, and she loves him unconditionally, despite his hobbies, how he looks, any inexperience with women he might have, etc.

Kotonoha Katsura from School Days is a particularly creative example of a Yamato Nadeshiko character.

There are a plethora of other moé tropes, but they can generally be boiled down to the concepts of wish-fulfillment, escapism, and love. Combined, they breathe life and love into moé. Though moé’s use of tropes is often criticized, it’s important to remember than all creative works make use of tropes, and that those tropes are, at their core, a construction of the audience, rather than something internal to the work.

There’s some value in discussing moé as a series of tropes, however, I think it’s worth mentioning only to explore the archetypes and literary elements present in moé. Like the moé aesthetic, the moé family of tropes only really exists on a superficial level as far as moé goes. It is, however, important because the concepts at its core form a basis for the deeper elements of moé. While the moé aesthetic almost exists separately from the moé feeling and moé as a type of appeal, the moé family of tropes, while superficial at most in terms of its capacity for discussion, does inform the other aspects of moé to a certain extent.


Next, we’ll look at moé as it occurs within a viewer. This will begin our look into the deeper aspects of moé.

Next phase: Moé as a feeling.






Let’s discuss:

What moé tropes are prominent right now?

Do any moé tropes fall outside the three core concepts of wish-fulfillment, escapism, and love?

To what extent are moé tropes in modern anime deliberate? Does this extend outside moé?