Whether we want to admit it or not, sometimes we all succumb to popular culture and pop icons. From women flocking to get “the Rachel” hairstyle to men buying magazines with the likes of Jennifer Lopez or Jessica Simpson on the cover to virtually everyone caring about everything Kim Kardashian-West does/buys/wears, it gets to each of us at some time or another, and we all have our favourites. Unsurprisingly, the world of anime and manga is no different, which brings us to today’s word, moe.
The word itself is somewhat of an anomalous and generalized term. For example, for those looking for basic understanding of moe, it can be simply defined as a strong interest or attraction towards a character (particular anime/manga character) or a thing and implies an image of someone burning with desire; on the other hand, unlike the Jennifer Lopez/Jessica Simpson example above, it also isn’t overtly related to sex appeal. Essentially, it’s the anime/manga version of having a massive crush on Gabriel Macht’s character (Harvey Specter)in Suits.
Etymologically, though the term is thought to come from the late 1980’s/early 90’s, the exact origins of the word are unknown, with several different hypotheses offering explanations. One theory explains that it emerged from the names of prominent anime/manga characters which developed large fanbases, like Hotaru Tomoe or Moe Sagisawa. A second suggestion is that the backstory of Sailor Moon character Hotaru Tomoe inspired the term. Finally and most logically, there is the explanation that the term stems from the Japanese word moeru (萌える), which means to bud of sprout’, and can also be taken as a homophone of the word moeru (燃える), which means ‘to burn (in the sense of a desiring heart)’.
Regardless of the term’s origin or how it can actually be defined to the individual, one is certain: it’s quite a popular (and profitable) phenomenon. For a niche market that has only existed for 30 years, moe media, by 2004, had already achieved a value of 88 billion yen, or one-third of the overall 290 billion yen otaku marketplace. The emergence of social media has also had an impact, spawning moe tournaments, ranking contests, awards, and even leagues, with the first being conducted by Japanese textboard site 2channel in 2002.
While everything moe seems to be growing, there is a downside: companies seeking to profit from it more quickly and easily have started developing characters specifically targeted/marketed to certain viewer fetishes, instead of allowing viewers to develop preferences naturally. Still, though we’re talking about anime and manga, there’s always the constant battle between natural progression and instant gratification: in other words, stand by your moe.