More on The Cult of Moe

Moe magnet Sasami Masaki Jurai
Moe Magnet Sasami
"She looks like she has an elementary school girl's head on a woman's body," my father, a child psychiatrist, commented on one of the first pieces of manga art he ever saw. That was 10 years ago, when I'd just started working at VIZ and very little manga was available in English, but if he'd said the same thing in 2009, I could have shown him the elementary school girl's body too.
- Jason Thompson

Jason summarizes the moe phenomenon in his ComiXology article, which he traces back to 70s lolicon and fan art that fixated on the young female protagonists of Hayao Miyazaki, and forward to today's otaku subculture. I first tried to tackle the moe subject matter in my Yotsuba&! post. Whereas I concentrated more on the paternalistic attitudes behind the more "pure" expression of moe, Jason covers the larger issues of traditional male chauvinism, prurient sexual fetishes, the graying of Japan's population, and the wish-fulfillment traits of fandom.

What's interesting is how successfully the cult of moe has been mirrored outside of Japan despite manga's relatively late popularity in the West. My own first recollection of moe would be with fan reactions to the female cast of Tenchi Muyo!, in particular the prepubescent Sasami*. For others it may have been Sailor Moon. While others might claim Neon Genesis Evangelion as their first encounter with moe. Whatever the case, the current success of Haruhi Suzumiya, Lucky Star, Moon Phase, et al. demonstrates how much the concept has been embraced by Western fans. That would seem to indicate that despite the Japanese origins of the term, the underpinnings of its appeal are no longer purely Japanese. It could be explained as a response to recent common trends/social changes found within industrial countries. Or perhaps moe simply reverberates with something older and more traditional? It's not as if paternalism and chauvanism are exclusively Japanese attitudes.

*Referred to at the time by Carl Horn as The Sasami Effect