In the first part, I gave you a brief rundown of genres and types of anime and manga. In the second, I gave some terms and definitions about content. Things which can help you understand and evaluate anime and manga. However, it got a bit long, so I am taking two vital terms and giving them their own post. These terms are important, because they are common in modern anime and manga.
The terms are moe and lolicon.
Again, this isn’t a formally researched set of posts, so bear with me. Moe in particular is hard to explain. If something is moe, it awakens in the anime fan tender, paternal, and protective feelings. Moe is used to describe characters who possess traits which evoke these feelings, as well as shows which feature those characters. Often it’s a combination of traits, and it may be helpful to list some which contribute to a character being moe:
- emotional vulnerability
- childlike behavior
- non-humanity: an outsider looking in
- hardship or handicap
Usually I find things easier to explain in stories, so let me give two examples.
You take your girlfriend out on a date. The two of you walk to a nearby river, where you spread the picnic blanket out underneath you. You happily talk to each other as you eat lunch and the river bubbles by.
You take your girlfriend out on a date. You have to push her wheelchair through the rocky path leading to the riverbank, but it can’t be helped. She’s been sickly every since you’ve known her, but she always has a smile for you and never complains. You spread the picnic blanket on the river bank, but you suddenly realize the slope is too steep for her chair.
Blushing, you gently scoop her up from the chair, and carry her over to the spread, where you eat the boxed lunch she spent all morning preparing for you. Her fingers still have the bandaids from all the cuts she inflicted on herself doing so. She’s not all that dextrous, after all. You happily talk to each other as you eat lunch and the river bubbles by.
The latter story has a moe character. She is physically frail, cheerful, loving, and patient. These qualities often provide an endearing effect, evoking tender feelings in you.
Another set of story examples:
Your reunite with your childhood friend, who has grown into an attractive woman. You take her out on a date for some coffee.
You reunite with your childhood friend. She’s a cat-eared robot who has been languishing forgotten and alone in an old shed for decades. When you visit the shed, you find her and accidentally turn her on, and soon she’s a part of your life, acting like nothing has ever changed.
But there’s sadness, though. She’s unable to reconcile the differences between the old you, and the adult you. She also never really got humanity to begin with, and is the only one of her kind in existence. She feels profoundly alone. So you get her a hat, tuck her ears inside of it, and for the first time ever, take her to the big city to act like a normal girl. You take her out on a date for some coffee, but why can’t you budge her from the window with all the wedding dresses?
Again, traits that endear you to her, and awaken more than just simple love. It’s not always something that affects all fans equally-many Japanese fans find girls in maid costumes very moe, but it doesn’t do much for me. But the effect-the warm fuzzy love towards a vulnerable girl-usually is the same.
Moe also is expressed in visual style. For example, Kanon:
…honestly, if you want a near-perfect introduction to moe concepts in general, watch Kanon. The visual style though is pure moe. These are all high school girls or older, save for one of them, but the usual big-eyed anime style is exaggerated to create a childlike appearance. Moe in art emphasizes childlike vulnerability and cuteness over sexiness and strength, and strives to create a somewhat wistful or playful tone. For contrast, here is the very not-moe opening to Bubblegum Crisis 2040
See the difference? For one thing, realistic proportions: heads smaller, eyes smaller. More emphasis on action, and character designs that may be cute, but aren’t childlike one bit.
Now to the problems. There are many reasons why I felt the need to describe and explain moe:
1. It dominates modern anime.
If a show isn’t moe in concept, many times characters are, to appeal to the fanbase. There’s too many to count, and if you are a fan, you’ll encounter it unless you never go beyond the most popular anime.
2. It can affect a fan in unsuspected ways.
Moe can be effective if done with skill. Kanon creates a very emotional, endearing story that is both sad and yet uplifting. But Moe is an idealization of only one side of a woman, and can lead to a dramatically unrealistic view of them.
A moe girl is endearing, all the time. She rarely gets mad in ugly ways. When she is sick, it is cute-sick: there is never any of the gritty realism of being ill, or none of the problems that psychological damage or estrangement from reality or humanity can have. She is patient, but a person who suffers is not always patient; they can be needy, angry, lashing out, and act in ways that is very not cute at all.
Real women also aren’t childlike, or impaired. Many are even more successful than the men, and aren’t apt to be put on the pedestal. They may resent you rather than admire, or they may have their own dreams and life and not fixate on you. In many ways, moe girls are purely artifical and have little to no bearing on real women.
The reason why this is dangerous is because moe girls also hit guys HARD. The popular illusion is that guys are only visual creatures. Give us curves in the right places, and we are set. But there are strong emotional needs that men have too, like the desire to protect, the fondness and love for someone dependent on us, and noble self-sacrifice. Moe girls and stories peg into this often neglected emotional side, and to certain men, they can become addicting. When you hear of a man marrying a videogame character in real life, this is the fault of moe and the illusion of a perfect girl.
3. Moe traits can be sexualized, leading to a very bad thing: lolicon.
Lolicon is a combination of the words “lolita” and “complex.” It’s the fetish for underage, prepubescent girls, and sadly it can be found quite easily in anime and manga.
Lolicon essentially is what happens when you remember that not only are guys possessed of the emotional traits I mention above, but that they also have sex drives. The qualities of moe, like innocence and purity, and the paternal kind of love isn’t always harmful in themselves, but they turn deadly if a hint of sex is in the air.
Lolicon isn’t just a sexualization of moe though, but it’s a quirk of Japanese fan culture. I’m honestly not sure of all the ways it may have been birthed, nor do I really want to be. But it’s there, and if you are serious about liking anime, you are going to encounter it in some way or form.
What you encounter I would compare to the idea of the Bratz dolls. The Bratz dolls in the states drew heavy fire for sexualizing toys meant for young children-their clothing and physical designs were inappropriate and trashy. Most lolicon treatments in the states sexualize underage characters by showing nudity or over emphasizing inappropriate or sexual tone. It’s mostly tone, and in many cases it’s something you know it when you see it sort of thing.
If the character is a 500 year old vampire, but looks like she should be learning her times table in school, and gets her clothes blown off by magic at least once every few episodes, chances are you have a loli.
If you have ten or twelve year old “high school” characters in a romantic anime, you have what is called the “token loli,” a character introduced to pander to the lolicon fans.
Usually in the west, lolicon elements are minor, although still often cringe-inducing. Sometimes they kick it up a notch to actual pain. Dance in the Vampire Bund is an example of “actual pain” level lolicon, to the point of where Funimation was worried about legality issues. The dark side of anime is that there are some radical cultural differences between us and Japan that lead to the production of works like these and worse, and this isn’t something the engaged fan can ignore. It can creep into works which are otherwise wonderful in their own right, and it’s something Christians should be warned about.
All I can say is to look for reviews first for any series you might be interested in! My goal isn’t to start a huge debate about this, but warn the Christian that it exists. In part four I plan on engaging what a Christian may consider when watching anime or reading manga, and spiritual pitfalls in doing so.