One of the major criticisms of moé is how common and endemic archetypes are to it. Anti-Moé Brigadiers argue that the prevalence of archetypes is shallow and that archetypical characters are built only to pander to otaku fetishes. Archetypes, however, might be a much more natural development than the self-proclaimed intellectuals of the Anti-Moé Brigade would have you believe. I’ll explain.
A heuristic is a technique used to aid in learning, problem-solving, and discovery. They’re based in experience and we often use them unconsciously. To illustrate, allow me to explain what’s called the “Gaze Heuristic.”
The vast majority of human beings cannot do the math necessary for accurate predicting where something will land when it is thrown. Instead, a person will look up at the thrown object, lock their gaze at an angle, and move to keep the object in their view with their gaze locked at that angle until they can catch the object.
A key element of heuristics, however, is that they are often inaccurate. Even the gaze heuristic can’t guarantee a catch. The only thing a perfectly-followed gaze heuristic can guarantee is the object hitting the person in the face. It still comes down to the person to make the decision to go for the catch. Likewise, other heuristics are very often inaccurate when applied to individual cases. Heuristics are helpers. They aid us in making decisions and solving problems, but cannot make decisions or solve problems for us.
Where do character archetypes fit into all this? Easy. Character archetypes are part of a heuristic. They give us a baseline from which we can begin to think about a character. If I were to say that Taiga Aisaka is a “tsundere,” then we already know that she is initially hostile toward the protagonist, but eventually warms up to him. If I were to call Selnia Flameheart an “Ojou-sama,” then we already know that she fancies herself a high-status person and expects to be treated like royalty.
The Anti-Moé Brigade might see these distinctions as shallow, but think about it: If we had to begin every conversation about a character by describing the basics of said character, we’d spend all day describing characters and would have no time for discussion. This is the same reason we have genres. We know that a mecha show will be focused on giant robots, so the conversation can start from there rather than needing to explain the particulars of a show’s mechs.
Categorization is a natural part of human thought processes and, as such, archetypes are constructed by the viewers as categories for characters. Archetypes do not preclude characters from being deep or complex. As a heuristic, the concept of character archetypes is, by nature, not accurate, which is why the conversation about characters doesn’t end at a character’s archetype.
Again, think about it: Kotonoha Katsura is a good cook, has homemaker-type hobbies like knitting, and will truly do anything for Makoto Itou. By this token, she fits into the “Yamato Nadeshiko” archetype. That is, until she loses her sanity and eventually snaps and kills people. That doesn’t break the heuristic, however. Now, she’s a “Yandere.”
Claiming that heuristics are shallow is just as useless as arguing that genres are useless and should be abolished. The fact is we know that characters are more than just archetypes. We’re not dumb. In fact, the use of archetypes facilitates higher-level discussions about these characters because it helps us not get bogged-down in semantics and lets the discussion start from a point of mutual understanding.
Suddenly, it seems like the only people who are making archetypes into a big deal are the Anti-Moé Brigade.