Operation 21ST Phase Two: Moé As an Aesthetic

This article is part 2 of a 5-part series on moé as it appears in anime community discourse.

Probably one of the most recognizable aspects of moé is the aesthetic. Though different artists and character designers have different ways of representing it, the moé aesthetic can almost always be immediately identified.

Example of a generally “moé” art style.
Example of an art style that is not generally “moé.”

Of the many facets of moé, moé as an aesthetic has the most of a “know it when you see it” quality to it though, interestingly, is also probably the least hotly debated.

Most anime fans can discriminate between a “moé” character style and a “non-moé” character style, even though the array of possible styles on both sides is so vast to be nearly infinite, and even though some styles may straddle the line between the two.

Simply-put, there are a great deal of different character design elements that are considered to be part of the “moé aesthetic.”

A character’s eyes can tell a lot about a character in a moé aesthetic. Here, Kotonoha’s eyes curve downward (The term for this is “Tarame”), signifying that she’s a quiet, gentle person.

Large, expressive eyes are an example of one element that’s almost universally pervasive within the moé aesthetic. Other elements like “puni plush” and some uses of the “super-deformed” look also qualify as moé aesthetic elements.

Ladies Versus Butlers! uses an exaggerated “puni plush” style. The “puni plush” style puts emphasis on a character’s curves, creating a softer, youthful look.

Although moé as a visual style needn’t necessarily be connected to the emotion of moé or moé as a type of appeal, it often is. However, because it exists on its own, separate from moé as an emotional response or as a type of appeal, both of which are much more personal in nature, moé as an aesthetic is commonly agreed-upon and commonly used as a default, baseline definition for “moé” as a general term.

Some anime with a moé aesthetic (Particularly comedies) will periodically distort a character’s proportions for laughs, creating a “super-deformed” look, like this “wideface” from Hidamari Sketch.

Albeit superficial, the use of the moé aesthetic as a generally-agreed-upon baseline definition for moé is valuable in providing a basic context for the moé discussion to begin from. Both moé fans and the Anti-Moé Brigade can, at the very least, come to the agreement that the aesthetic is a big part of moé. It’s easy to accept and acknowledge without investing oneself in, unlike emotion or appeal.

Loli has a close relationship with the moé aesthetic, as the moé aesthetic is almost universally inclined toward young or youthful characters. Keep in mind, however, that, while most loli is moé, very little moé is loli.

The superficiality of the moé aesthetic is not necessarily a bad thing. By itself, it could make an interesting discussion, though not as well as other aspects of moé might. In addition, the sheer nature of looking at moé as a component of an artistic style can provide a unique insight and the kind of level discussion that other aspects have yet to reach. However, its superficiality does minimize the discussion that can be had about it compared to other aspects of moé, and it’ll be impossible to have the moé discussion focusing only on moé as an aesthetic.


Next, we’ll look at moé as it appears in character personalities and show elements.

Next phase: Moé as a series of tropes.






Let’s discuss:

How big a role does the aesthetic play in moé?

What are elements of the moé aesthetic?

What is the extent of the moé aesthetic? Where does the aesthetic begin and end?

What aesthetics would you consider “non-moé?”