Moé and the Land of Escapism: The Reality Factor

by eternal on March 24, 2009


It’s very, very hard to get a good picture of Rika.

It all began while I was rewatching Honey and Clover. It’s a beautiful show, really, and I can guarantee that I’ll post on it at some point, but the painfully real relationships of the cast aren’t the focus of this post. Instead, I’m going to talk about a thought that crossed my mind with relation to one of the characters: Rika Harada.

What does this have to do with moe, you ask? You’ve probably already started drawing conclusions in your head, but I’ll spell it out for you – just as long as you click on that enticingly blue read more link below.

Rika Harada is not moe. She can’t be, really, because H&C is a josei series aimed at older women. Hagu is a loli, technically, but I doubt the show would attract any sort of lolicon following because of it, just as I wouldn’t expect Yoshino from Clannad to attract fangirls. The target audience is one of the most important aspects of escapism, because if you don’t know who you’re targeting, then how are you supposed to help them escape from reality?

That’s why, as common sense dictates, the frail, wounded girl named Rika, whose eyes have grown cold from her pain and whose sorrow has overcome her longing for her deceased partner, cannot be moe.

…But wait. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?


Well, you probably weren’t, and my bias is quite obvious, but listen for a moment. Shiori Misaka is an emotionally wounded girl who is forced to face a bleak future that no human being should ever be forced to face, let alone someone of her age. She tries to act strong, and she doesn’t want the people around her to worry about her, but the reality of the matter is that she’s suffering. And, given the circumstances, who can save her?

Only you.

You, the reader, are meant to project yourself into Yuuichi and protect this innocent girl from her fate. Even if you’re just a human, even if there’s nothing you can do, you still have to try – because she needs you, and at the end of it all, you’ll discover that you need her. Your feelings will be enough to shatter the chains of her cruel fate, and when a miracle happens and her life is saved, you’ll be by her side.

It’s perfect, right? A girl that relies on you, a girl that needs you – and at the same time, a girl that can be her own person and make you smile. My attraction toward Shiori is obviously personal, but I think we can agree on one basic principle: that the characters of moe anime are written to appeal to the viewers.

And following that logic, one would assume that Shiori Misaka in real life would be my idea of a perfect girl, right?




I’m not sure if this train of thought is common or not, but when I witnessed Rika’s weakness for the second time, when I saw her damaged body and even more damaged mind, when I saw how she didn’t want Mayama to get hurt and how she couldn’t forget the pain of her loss…when I witnessed the spectacle that is her character, I realized something.

I realized that, in every sense of the word, she should be moe. She should be the girl that the viewer want to protect, that he wants to be with.

But she isn’t. Because the cruelty of her situation is far too severe to be made a mockery of using cute catchphrases and excessive snow.

honey-and-clover-rika-harada-2The snow in this scene was really quite beautiful, though the giraffe doesn’t help.

When it comes down to it, my point – and the lesson that I learned – is very simple. Moe is not as impossible as people believe it to be. It wouldn’t be strange for a girl to be dying, or for a guy to meet and befriend her by chance. People get divorced and remarried, so the concept of a half-sister isn’t at all impossible either. The likes of the Ah! My Goddess and Shuffle! cast might not be possible in the real world, but by and large, the scenarios and personalities that otaku around the world praise as moe are not at all impossible.

It’s simply that they’re not appealing in the real world.

In Kanon, Nayuki is your sleepy, clumsy younger cousin that doubles as your childhood friend; Ayu is the playful, innocent girl that will never leave your side; Makoto is the same, bar the innocence. Mai’s appeal lies in her silence, because of the mystery and depth of her character, and Shiori’s situation in itself beckons the reader to protect her. It’s a perfect world, isn’t it? A perfect world in which the reader, you, get to live the life on your dreams, developing a relationship with one of the five girls while learning of the tragedies in her past.

But what does reality have to say about this? Makoto would be annoying, Mai would be boring, Nayuki would be illegal, Shiori would be hospitalized, and Ayu would make you look like a pedophile. Not so fun now, is it?

At first I was afraid of the fact that I was attracted to Rika, but it didn’t take long for this very obvious truth to sink in. Of course, I’m in no way against moe: I’m quite the visual novel fan, and I’ve seen my fair share of VN anime as well, so I’m definitely not criticizing. However, as someone who has grown attached to the various characters in said visual novels, and often times longed for such scenarios to develop in the real world, I can understand better than many that moe is both more real and less possible than people generally believe.

Because really, wouldn’t it be possible for one of you to be living with your non-blood-related little sister? But if you are, and if you grew up together, then you probably don’t see one another as anything more than friends. If, by chance, she did develop feelings for you, you’d probably be afraid to step forward and ruin your relationship as family; if you developed feelings for her, she might not even return them. And if by some miracle you like each other, then I suppose you’ll be happy, so long as you ignore the criticism from your classmates – but that hardly matters, because by that point, the fact that she’s your non-blood-related little sister won’t matter, and it’ll be just like any relationship.

honey-and-clover-rika-harada-1Sadness is only beautiful when there’s a solution.

The bottom line is that moé, of the emotional variety at least, is not about childhood friends. It isn’t about tsundere, either, or loli or dojikko or mukuchi. It’s about the fantasy elements, about the purity and innocence of love, without the hindrances of words like “relationship” and “marriage” – it’s about the feelings that the viewer wants to feel, not about the characters portrayed on screen.

Because when it comes down to it, it wouldn’t be all that impossible for a glasses-wearing transfer student with a ribbon in her hair and a weakness in her heart to show up at school one day, but unless the guy has harem lead powers, that seemingly perfect scenario isn’t going to develop like a dating sim – it’s going to develop like real life, where scenario =/= result.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

JD March 24, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I have met a girl in real life that was the shy, flat-chested, bookworm type who wore glasses. This was around 9 or 10 years ago back in high school, years before moe became a regular in the anime lexicon, but even then I had these misguided ideals of how to “get the girl”.

Dating sim world this wasn’t. Long story short: She wanted nothing to do with me or anybody else.

My failure probably had something to do with my lack of “harem lead powers” I’m sure.

JDs last blog post..First Love in my Nineteen


Anonymous March 24, 2009 at 7:04 pm

I have a faint suspicion that you were able to pinpoint what has eluded so many. An comprehensive insight what moe is.


zzeroparticle March 24, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Ever notice how a lot of things considered “cute” (or I suppose in this case, moe) tends to be helpless in some way shape or form? I’m sure there’s a very good reason for that.

zzeroparticles last blog post..Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou Ongaku Shuu “Ito Uruwashiki Mono” – Review


Yamcha March 24, 2009 at 8:31 pm

An interesting way to redefine moe and take it away from the typical archetypes that are so attached to it.

Yamchas last blog post..Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo 09 – A Basketball Filler Would Have Been Better


FuyuMaiden March 24, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Wow, major nostalgia here for me because I’m reminded of one of my first posts on my blog (no link though because I think that post was god awful). Basically I came up with the idea that moe doesn’t exist in reality outside of situations, but reality “ruins” everything just the same. Of course I was much more disdainful about the whole thing being a real life girl and despising the idea of guys wanting real life girls to be moe at all! (Though I wouldn’t mind if other girls were all adorable and moe and could be my friends~)

But you got it exactly right I think. Except I’d add that any guys who wants harem lead power can have it, it’s just not going to work on real girls. They’ll almost never like a guy who’s just nice, at least not at teenage, moe ages. That’s the biggest difference between reality and fiction I’d say. Then again, it’s not like guys do the small things harem leads do either (like helping a girl with her books), but I still stand by my point. The moe-est thing about fictional girls is that they’re nicer than they are in real life.

FuyuMaidens last blog post..Shugo Chara!! Doki – Episode 75


Ryan A March 24, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Nayuki would be illegal … b-b-breaking the law, would!

Interesting that you mention H+C, as I recently commented on anime|otaku that it’s a series that translates rather well to reality (not a far-fetched escapism). So I’m assuming this comes down to moe’, if situationally existing in reality, would be hard to call moe? Though, not impossible.

Off the top of my head, a totally realistic moe might be like Shizu’s attempted room exit in Maria+Holic, episode 06, where she was upset, trying to open the door, but it was still locked D: … MOE!

If moe was more accessible in reality, it may be troublesome since the viewer often forms some kind of attachment to the moe character (expect for Impz vs bakamoe of course), and in reality this would be rather awkward, unmanageable, and ultimately would someone be able to manifest something from it (ie relationship)? If not, then seemingly a bit more escapism might be needed lol. Perhaps its better if we leave it in fantasies, and use sparingly in reality… dunno.



animekritik March 24, 2009 at 10:20 pm

i guess the reason reality destroys moe is because whereas in the stories moe is a one-way street (viewer to character) in real life we ourselves are there to shatter what’s now a two-way street (me to moe person to me). Real moeness fears mundane reality.

You wrote “sadness is only beautiful when there’s a solution”. If there isn’t a solution, is sadness ugly??


OGT March 25, 2009 at 12:24 am

I persist on having what is probably a highly controversial interpretation of the word “moe” (which I treat more or less like a recently-minted Japanese aesthetic term); basically, I see it as the feeling/emotion engendered in the viewer/reader as a result of characterization/character development. A character is not, intrinsically, “moe”; a viewer/reader feels “moe” for them. Characters can be developed towards the result of engendering “moe” in the viewer, or the feeling of “moe” can simply be a by-product of good characterization/development.

A character needn’t have “depth” either–to use Kanon, the characters are archetypes, existing less as “real people” so much as a platform from which to involve the reader/viewer in the emotional experience. It’s strikingly similar to the structure of Socrates in Love–which was published around the time that the Kanon visual novel was released–where the characters’ relative realism doesn’t seem to matter as it simply becomes a vehicle for carrying emotion to the reader.

Using the Honey & Clover analogy here (which I myself am about ready to rewatch), I would say that Ayumi Yamada was “moe” for me–my memory’s hazy and I don’t know if I’d say this now, but I do remember identifying/sympathizing/empathizing with her particular situation to a greater degree than the other characters. It’s usually characters with whom I have significantly high sympathy/empathy with that I tend to call “moe”; whether it’s right or wrong I’ve no idea.

And, honestly, most of the characters, especially the ones I really, really like, in all fiction, I’d never spend time around them were they real. That’s perhaps part of the appeal of fiction: reading fiction should provide a glimpse into the mind of another, either the author’s, the characters’, or, most frequently, both.

OGTs last blog post..Turn-A Gundam: Turning A Fresh Page


TheBigN March 25, 2009 at 12:31 pm

“i guess the reason reality destroys moe is because whereas in the stories moe is a one-way street (viewer to character) in real life we ourselves are there to shatter what’s now a two-way street (me to moe person to me).”

I’d sorta agree with that and continue in that vein, where when the viewer feels that a character is “moe”, we never really get an idea of whether the said character agree with this designation or not. She (or he) just is in the eyes of the viewer, and there’s no-one to really question that. Reality kills that as it would be abnormal for things to be so one-sided in that direction, without the person who’s considered “moe” to question how we see them, and why we feel that way. And more importantly, it would be abnormal if the person didn’t have their own ideas on what the term means to them, and if they want things go that way (if they want our pity/protective impulses/fawning feelings/lustful desires/etc.)in the first place. Life’s not that easy. :P

TheBigNs last blog post..Missing The Point on Marimite S4 Episode 12


M12 March 31, 2009 at 5:18 am

I reckon everyone carries a different definition for moe. It depends on what clicks for you. With me, I like the pure and innocent stuff. But yeah, it’s fantasy. I’ve always thought that moe girls in real life might be kind of annoying.

M12s last blog post..On the Rail – Audio drama


tai April 2, 2009 at 5:46 am

Bleh, don’t get me started on incest.

Are you saying moé is subjective or objective? I’ve always recognized (certain) characters as moé even if I don’t find the appeal in them – I thought moé was just a concept to describe characters with unrealistic yet appealing traits certain people (but not necessarily oneself) would like.

If you’re talking about why moé characters are so appealing, (I can’t pinpoint exactly what about moé you’re talking about, so I’ll just rant…) I think it’s because of compression—they take realistic traits and amplify them so we get the same amount of appeal in a 20-minute episode (or VN or movie or whatnot) as we do in a longer span like we would with our (boy/girl)friends. This amplification is what makes them unrealistic but believable (does that make sense…?)
I would imagine a moé character brought to real life would be irrefutably irritating, of course with the exception to the quiet types, since, well, they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.

tais last blog post..Clannad TV Explained: The Foolproof Plan to Happiness


ETERNAL April 3, 2009 at 5:10 pm

@ zzeroparticle: Indeed, the reason probably stems from the male desire to “protect” and the fact that it’s much easier to envision oneself protecting a clumsy loli rather than a normal girl.

@ FuyuMaiden: Well, in our (or my) defense, the concept of moe is pure escapism and most of us treat is as “comfort food” rather than a real desire for reality. I’d hate to think that girls expect guys to be cool and angsty and to never express their feelings (although that may be true, I wouldn’t know), so I definitely see where you’re coming from.

And you’re right, of course, acting like a harem lead IRL wouldn’t do a thing. I was referring to the harem lead’s “ability” to earn the affection of the girl of his choice without really doing anything. The fact that harem leads are ordinary is also part of the escapism, leading to the delusion that doing nothing can result in a positive conclusion – it would be hard for an otaku to play a VN where the protagonist is actually cool, smart, clever, etc. I guess it comes down to the fact that we all want the easy way out, and some forms of anime choose to capitalize on that wish and provide easier forms of success (within the confines of your TV/monitor).

@ animekritik: That’s a good way of summarizing it. And, assuming that you meant that figuratively rather than literally, sadness in fiction can be good, but (arguably) sadness IRL isn’t something that anyone wants to experience. Of course, that can spawn a whole slew of philosophical debate which would fly over my head, but I think we can all agree that we wouldn’t want to be in Mayama’s or Rika’s position in real.

@ TheBigN: Yep, that leads into my last point as well. A scenario might seem perfect in your eyes, but just because you meet a quiet bare-footed girl sleeping in the library with a book in her lap doesn’t mean that she wants you to wake her up and talk to her (and, unlike in anime, she might not even be single!)

@ M12: Funny you should mention “annoying”, because that’s exactly what Ayu Tsukimiya would be like IRL :P

@ tai: In one sense of the word, it’s subjective as certain types of moe appeal to you and others don’t, but for the purpose of posts like this, I’m treating it as something objective. Basically, the elements of escapism and unrealistic appeal that draw the viewer to a specific character, whomever the character may be.

And yes, many moe types take personality traits in real, such as short tempers and awkwardness with romance, and compress them into something that works, such as tsundere. I’d also like to add that the negatives are usually removed during this process – note that the harem leads never get bored/run out of things to say while talking to the silent girls, and the silent girls never really get annoyed by the conversation. The traits don’t come out of nowhere, but rather, are an exaggerated/romanticized version of the more subtle traits that might be considered attractive IRL.


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