“It’s Not Moé Because I Like It”

Puella Magi Madoka Magica took the anime community by storm when it aired in the beginning on 2011. It was being compared to Evangelion, and, to a certain extent, the comparisons were valid. The two shows are quite different, but the one major similarity they share is that both were popular in both Japan and the Western market. Indeed, Madoka may be the first show since Eva to really hit it big and gain widespread acclaim in the anime fandoms on both sides of the Pacific.

Madoka’s success has raised an interesting question within the Western fanbase, however, and it ties into a common issue among the Anti-Moé Brigade.

So, we have this anime that a lot of people with many varying tastes enjoy and, for some reason, the question on many people’s mind is “Is Madoka Magica a ‘moé anime’?” Putting aside my own disdain for the term “moé anime,” the dispute seems to be mostly coming from people who normally don’t like moé, trying to deny that Madoka Magica is moé.

I’ve seen this happen before with other shows, even with shows like Squid Girl and Lucky Star. I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument as to why these shows aren’t “moé anime,” and when it comes right down to it, it really seems like it all boil down to “It’s not moé because I like it.”

The Anti-Moé Brigade likes to talk about how ill-defined the concept of “moé” is and how there will likely never be a definition for the term, despite the fact that most moé fans can tell moé when they see it. Due to this little detail, any possible deniability that a show is a “moé anime” comes to light when an anti-moé fan likes an anime that would normally be considered moé.

The issue is that these people live by a narrative that says “Moé is always bad, moé can never be good.” They desperately cling to this narrative, and were it to be proven wrong, their worldview would be shattered. Thus, they engage in mental gymnastics that result in denying the moé at work in shows like Lucky Star.

Rather than have an honest discussion, these members of the Anti-Moé Brigade cling desperately to the narrative they’ve chosen, and not only remain willfully ignorant to what the rest of us already see, but actively argue that shows that obviously make heavy use of moé don’t actually make heavy use of moé.

For most people, one look at the art style used by Madoka Magica would be followed by the assumption that it’s a “moé anime,” (Which is to say, an anime that makes heavy use of moé) which is true in this case. That isn’t to say that every show with cute girls in it makes use of moe, or that all shows without that cuteness make no use of moé, but generally-speaking, the assumption is that an anime with a “cute” aesthetic and that focuses primarily on cute female characters is a “moé anime.”

Now, this isn’t to say there’s no value in questioning and investigating the criteria that make a “moé anime,” but that’s not what people are doing here. They’re not looking for a discussion. They’re just looking to dissociate a work they enjoy from similar works that they don’t enjoy, and from a fandom that they hate.

Why? Who knows?


Stay frosty.


17 thoughts on ““It’s Not Moé Because I Like It””

  1. Let’s not forgot that that these people who got into Madoka never even heard or acknowledged Hidamari Sketch.

    If you showed them an image from HS without telling them what it is, they’d probably say it’s “moeshit”.

    1. A lot of that is because a most of them weren’t “into” SHAFT before Madoka, and only ever cared about Madoka. I mean, remember how Denpa Onna gave them a bad taste in their mouth. Even if you showed them an image from HS and told them what it is, they’d call it “moeshit” because they only like Madoka, which is fine, but a lot of them were going “Yay, SHAFT!” without much knowledge of SHAFT’s past works or track record.

  2. The same thing happens in the Strike Witches fandom. They hate the anime with a passion and stick to the light novels. Or they focus so hard on the military aspects of the franchise that they’ll flat out deny the moe aspects of the show.

    1. They’re in denial, pure and simple. Fact is, you take one look at the original character design aesthetic that served as the basis for the entire franchise, and there’s no two ways about it, it’s moé.

      The people who deny the moé aspects of the show are just flat-out refusing to acknowledge the common root of all Strike Witches media.

  3. It’s attitudes like this that show just how much the AMB are grasping for straws. I myself have seen this mindset a lot with Gunslinger Girl fans who refuse to acknowledge that the show is moe unless the subject is Il Teatrino.

    1. Gunslinger Girl was so moé that part of the basis for its story centered around Jose being moé for Henrietta. People talk about how Il Teatrino was bad because it “moéfied” the character designs, but that’s not true. Gunslinger Girl had a moé aesthetic to its designs, but the difference is, Il Teatrino’s designs were a lot more generic, and people tend to only associate that generic range of character designs with moé.

  4. I think the major problem with this is that people assume moe is always bad. I don’t think it’s really the concept of moe that people have a problem with, rather how it’s used. Moe often focuses more on appeal rather than any emphasis on story. So when a story puts a lot of emphasis on story, they assume it can’t be moe because there isn’t as much emphasis on appeal as other shows. However, I’ve seen cases where people refuse to acknowledge any merit to a “moe anime” that does indeed put emphasis on story just because it’s moe.

    1. When it comes down to it, moé can’t be good or bad by itself. It’s simply a different way to get viewers to connect with characters, and that’s it. That’s why I’ve got such a problem with the term “moé anime.” It implies that moé is the only thing in play with any show marked with that label, when moé is almost always one element among several that make up a show.

  5. TsukuyomiMagi99 pretty much read my thoughts on this one. A great example of SW fans who hold strong anti-moe sentiments is this joke of a SW fansite


    What most of these moe-detracting idiots don’t seem to realize is that the term moe is highly subjective and specific depending on the overall taste of the fan. What other people may consider moe, I personally do not find moe at all. I’d rather stick with characters with moe traits that appeal to my senses over what the majority of moe fans would consider moe (Kirino Kosaka, whoever wins Saimoe each year, etc.) It further goes to show that their opinion on moe fans watching the same show with cute characters as moot.

  6. I guess I’m the flip-side of the AMB person who still likes Madoka Magica. Because I’m a moe-lover who hates Madoka Magica with a violent passion.

    Not because it’s not moe — it is. Not because it’s not a good story, or because the animation is bad — the story is good and the animation is fantastic, damn it all. But because I love magical girl shows, and Madoka Magica took all the standard magical girl elements and methodically destroyed and corrupted those elements. And worse, did it well.

    In fact, as far as I could tell, that was one of the main reasons for its popularity, it was moe but it was anti-magical girls. I would assume the AMB is also anti-magical girl for the most part. Of course, I have to admit my blind hatred of the show makes any analysis I would do highly likely to be incorrect.

    At least, if nothing else, this (for me) is an example that shows moe is not enough on its own to make even a moe-lover like myself enjoy a show. Moe has to be a part of something else, something in addition to the moe.

    1. While I think a separate (and very interesting) conversation could be had about what constitutes a magical girl show and where Madoka would fall in that realm, you do bring up a good point. Just as moé doesn’t, by itself, make something good, it can’t singlehandedly make something bad either. The AMB likes to checklist mentality and how moé fans are mindless consumers of cute girl media, but you’ve just proven that, like everyone else, moé fans each have individual tastes.

  7. IMHO the term “moe show” is overloaded (in the programmer’s sense). There are two subdivisions we could make: Shows that merely have moe and shows that exploit moe. So, for example, “merely having” moe would be a show with moe characters, but nothing has been intentionally designed around the fact that moe exists. Maybe the character designer designed a moe character, because of plot reasons or personal taste. This would indicate that the use of moe was an aesthetic choice.

    To contrast, a show that “exploits” moe would be intentionally designed around having characters with moe attributes that can be easily presented to the viewer, perhaps to the detriment of other potential aspects of the show. For example, the character is designed to be moe because it will sell more merchandise, or increase DVD sales among the hardcore Japanese fanbase. In this case, moe isn’t so much being used for the aesthetic, but for marketing reasons.

    The key idea to think of is that a show that has moe exists because the author thought it would be a good idea to have moe, while a show that exploits moe exists because a publisher wanted to have higher numbers on their fiscal reports.

    It’s important to note that these two things are not dichotomous, but a spectrum. Additionally, neither end of the spectrum is necessarily bad – but there is a noticeable trend that “exploitative moe” correlates to “low-value cash-in”. Despite that, you could have a show where the higher ups decided they needed to have an easily marketable main character, but the writers on the project decided to work around that and built an interesting plot regardless. Or they adopted the aesthetic anyway and did something cool with the idea.

    After all, just because you’re adopting a trend to sell something doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to also make something good in the process. Gundam exists to sell model kits, but that didn’t stop Tomino from making some cool shit. And if I were to, say, troll mecha fans by complaining about how the show is really just an excuse to make you put more money in Bandai’s wallet, the argument would be both correct and flatly rejected and they’d be completely right for rejecting it. In fact, a lot of the stuff from outside the moe realm has the same issues with regards to bandwagoning and merchandise peddling, but that doesn’t stop people from making cool shit.

    So, for example, Lucky Star would most definitely sit on the “exploiting” end of this spectrum. I know this because it’s Kyoani, the absolute masters in turning your moe bladders into money mountains. (So when are we going to see that Character Song about Kyon’s mole, anyway?) The show is merchandised out the wazoo, every character has at least five different easily-marketable, memetic quirks, actions, or vocal tics (“Appuepue!”, anyone?), and the first episode starts with them arguing about the correct end to eat a pastry out of, and this goes on for absolutely forever, all so that we can establish some easily marketable character tropes.

    But the thing is: the show actually, on some level, takes the moe aesthetic and runs with it in some really positive ways. The show is self-aware about it’s status and it tries to subvert it in a number of ways, some more successful than others. So I really can’t just throw this side of the spectrum under the bus entirely, because good production teams can, at least hypothetically, work around stupid publishing mandates.

    1. ” correlates to low-value cash-in”

      I pretty much understood everything you said except for what I quoted
      here. Is this referring to present value or price/cash flow ratio? If not could you please simplify what you meant by “low value cash-in”.

      1. If I were to guess at what that means, my guess would be that “low-value cash-in” refers to shows that have little substance other than moé appeal, in addition to only really existing to capitalize on a trend. Stuff like A-Channel capitalizing on the “lighthearted slice-of-life comedy” trend, or Onii-chan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne!! capitalizing on the imouto trend. I could be wrong, but that’s my guess.

        Though, to a certain extent, the “value” or “substance” in a show is subjective.

    2. I think that, while it’s important to understand why things are the way they are for some shows, there a disproportionate amount of focus put on commercial purpose (This show exists to sell figures/models/hug pillows), target audience (This show is designed to appeal to otaku), and altogether what any given show was “made to do,” rather than what it does and how well it does it.

      My problem with the term “moé anime,” even the way you define it, is that it’s infinitely more vague and subjective than even the term moé . Does The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya “exploit” moé or just happen to have it? What about Hidamari Sketch? Or Clannad?

  8. This whole narrative just boggles my sense of logic. If moe show were incapable of being good why would the terms moe exist in the first place? If it were simply a Japanese synnonym for bad why would creators and fans allow it to be attached to shows they make or like?

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