Over the past couple years the word Moe has been thrown around with both amusement and disdain and almost every time it has come accompanied with a picture of a child-like anime girl. It was easy to do some research into what exactly Moe is and why people both fear and love it. Most of the writings on it featured insight on male audiences and the Female Moe character. However, the more I read the more I began to realize there is such a thing as a Male Moe and dammit I’ve fallen under their spell.
Unsurprisingly, very little is written on this character type and how female fans react to them. So if you dare, dive into a brief look at Male Moe with me.
What is Moe?
“Moe” (萌え), pronounced as “Mo-Eh”, is derived from a Japanese word Moeru meaning To Burst or Sprout. This word represents the strong personal attachment a fan feels towards a character. Do you know that feeling you get when your favorite character comes on the screen and your heart catches on fire? That’s Moe.
Because Moe describes a feeling towards certain characters it is important to start this off with a very simple fact. Moe is a subjective term and although in the next paragraph I’ll list out some of the common traits of Moe characters, any anime character can stir up the old feelings-machine. Moe has become a common placed adjective among anime fans, right between the lines of “Cute” and “Lovable” sits the word “Moe.” As a fan I may deem one character “cute” while another fan might not agree. The same terms can be used for Moe, especially in a anime-series full of adorable anime girls.
That said, there are some common personality and styling decisions among anime and manga that invoke these emotions, thus, turning Moe into a character “type” in anime and manga. Generally it is a character who appears overly cute. Certain things from the way they talk, to the basic character design can form a Moe character. Moe characters are designed to look (and to some degree) act very young. This innocence is what invokes fans to want to protect and hug the character, treating them like a treasured younger sibling (or a kitten). Though Moe is often described as a more sibling-type love, there is no doubt that often anime and manga over-sexualize these character types.
For the most part Moe is used to identify female characters that male audiences come to adore. These type of characters are common in romantic comedy’s but they can appear anywhere. Madoka, from Madoka Magica is a great example of Moe, not only is she designed to appeal to the audience but she also resonates with characters in the show as well as someone they want to protect and love.
But this is not just a phenomena strictly reserved for female characters. Male characters can be Moe as well and appeal greatly to a female audience.
The Male Moe
Like their female counterpart the Male Moe are often young and adorable, complete with wide “anime eyes” and a voice that is soft compared to other male characters. Usually they stand out in a group made up of mostly men and their perceived “nativity” of the world not only invokes the audience to have a fierce sense of protectiveness over the character but the other ensemble cast as well. In regards to Harem anime, where there are a group of boys with one female protagonists, there is always one Male Moe character mixed into the bunch. This shows creators and directors have realized that the Moe-type is something that appeals to a large demographic of women.
Some good examples of the Male Moe:
- Prince Arslan: Heroic Legend of Arslan
- Gon Freecss: Hunter x Hunter
- Yuugi Mouto: Yugioh
- Tsunayoshi Sawada: Hitman Reborn
- Italy: Axis Powers Hetalia
- Honey: Ouran Host Club
In the beginning the Male Moe is often established as either a bumbling coward (Tsunayoshi and Italy) or a wide-eyed innocent (Gon and Arslan), however, almost always these characters grow throughout the course of the show. Shedding their innocence and becoming more grown-up by the end of the series. The same can’t always be said for their female counterparts who often maintain their innocence throughout the entirety of a show.
Does this mean they loose their Moe-ness? This question is hard to answer since Shounen rarely shows the main character as a full grown adult. In Hitman Reborn, Adult Tsuna is often obscured by shadows. The only “mature” version we see of Yuugi Mouto is the alternate persona, Yami- who looks significantly more mischievous and taller then Yuugi. On the flip side Honey from Ouran is the one of the oldest characters in the Host Club and still maintains his Moe design. The audience never actually sees any of the following characters out of their high school years, so it could be taken that as adults they are forced to grow out of their child-like ways and become full grown men.
The Male Moe can often be the same thing as a Bishōnen (pretty boys.) These boys are sometimes older (still High School age) and bare a common troupe of “Cute but Troubled” that can invoke Moe in female viewers. Here we see characters like Rin Matsuoka (Free) and Killua Zoldyck (Hunter x Hunter). These characters are not naive but instead stand offish with troubled pasts. Because of this fans yearn to see their rare smiles and feel that protective instinct to keep them from life’s hardships. The “Cute but Troubled” character is one generally seen more in Male Moe rather than females.
Fandoms and Moe
A majority of the Male Moe examples come from Shounen Anime and Manga that are geared more towards boys. These series often have a large cast and the majority consists of male characters, but its important to point out that Shounen is not a genre that only boys enjoy. In fact, popular magazine Shounen Jump finds a large portion of women in its audience. These women are the ones who find themselves pulled into the story by both Bishōnen and Moe Male characters.
If male audiences sexualize female moe characters you should expect that female audiences do the exact same thing. Fujoshi, a Japanese word meaning Rotten Girl, refers to female fans who enjoy Boy’s Love (BL). Moe characters are fan favorites because they are easily pairable with other males in the show. A Moe character likely plays the Uke (bottom) in fantasized sexual situations. The wide eyed look and innocence, seen as feminine traits, puts the character in the position suited for “the female.”
Another interesting thing to note is how fandoms can often make a character from a show appear Moe in fanart and fanfiction. Below is an example of Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist, whose initial design and personality is far from the usual Moe but often in Doujinshi (fan created comics) he is depicted as a stereotypical Uke; with an exaggerated height difference between him and other men and art that makes him appear much younger than his actual age.
Making a character Moe is not something fans do for just anime or manga. It is an art style that is often applied to fan works for shows and movies that do not necessarily have a character who appears fits the Moe character type. However, the art will make the male’s place in his same-sex relationship clear by enhancing features that appear more feminine and innocent. Often Non-Moe characters can be turned into the most endearing creatures with the right amount of roses, sparkly eyes, and cat-ears. There are oodles of fan art that give these features and virgin-like attitudes to characters like Sherlock Holmes, Legolas, even Tony Star. By doing so fans have brought the concept of Moe to live-action “manly” heroes of Western Culture.
The way women feel, react, and bend fandom in regards to these character types is a fascinating topic that deserves an equal amount of recognition when looking at the “Moe” phenomena. It is important that we do not forget that Moe is not a word strictly used for females anime characters. Anime men can bring out the same burning desires and protective nature in women.
Senshi Study is where Cara Averna looks at anime, fanculture, and movies with squinty eyes and tries to gleam the deeper meaning. These articles are her own opinions based of self-research.