Aiming for the Harem End, Or Not – An Eroge Theory

by eternal on January 21, 2010

There’s a certain topic within moe fandom that is rarely broached. Considering the amount of fuss people make over events like Sal9000‘s wedding, you’d think it would have come up, but most conversations skirt around what I have always considered to be the heart of the matter. In essence, it boils down to the following questions:

These points beat around the bush as well, but I think you get the idea. I believe that the often-overlooked “secret” behind moe and 2D complex lies within the exact opposite of what ero-ge is traditionally supposed to be about.

This is a bit of a follow-up to my last post, in which I talked about the art of adding depth to flat moe characters whose sole purpose is to pander to the viewer. My conclusion is that it requires the same level of writing that any other type of character requires; if the character is good enough, the viewers will suspend their disbelief automatically. However, this entire topic can only make sense under one assumption: moe can be appealing from an emotional perspective as well as, or instead of, a physical perspective. When Shin’s comment reminded me of a common point of contention within Moe Theory, as I like to call it, I decided to write a post that I’ve wanted to write for a year.

This also gives me a chance to post a screencap I’ve been wanting to post for a year.

Since this topic is rooted in the visual novel medium, a history lesson might be of value, and this handy article available on Shii’s database might be a good starting point.

As most people know, eroge began as just that: erotic games. The porn was always the goal, and the characters were an afterthought. In other words, the concept of moe appears to be newer than the concept of the visual novel, and it was not until later that VNs became the standard medium to create galge in.

To keep things simple, let’s use To Heart as an example. Though I don’t know from first hand experience, I’m fairly certain that it was one of the earliest examples of eroge that focused on moe over sex. In other words, the cast of characters was meant to be more romantically appealing to the player than sexually appealing. Whether people played the game with this in mind is another story, but looking at how the medium has grown since then, it’s common sense that 30+ hours of dialogue is too much to skip through for a couple hours of sex.

Effectively, the priorities of the medium have shifted. Every VN fan would have realized this by now, but I’m not sure how often the distinction is drawn between the two eras – and I think it’s a very important distinction.

Despite the fact that most visual novels involve sex and most of the heroines are sexualized and fetishized to some degree, I cannot see this as the point of emphasis in any but the most extreme games. You could argue that eroge heroines are not realistic, but this isn’t because the player views them as sex objects – it’s because the player views them as easy targets for a romantic relationship. At its worst, moe is about casting women as doormats for the comfort of insecure men; at its best, it’s about removing the impurities of relationships and focusing only on the emotion at its core. Your description will vary depending on your opinion of moe, but both perspectives agree on one thing: the goal of moe is to provide emotional therapy to the viewer, not physical therapy.

After all, when last have you heard someone criticize a moe show of having too much fanservice? Fanservice is like the antithesis of moe. In fact, non-fans have started describing shows like K-ON as having “moe fanservice” – and that’s accurate for all intents and purposes, but it implies that there’s a difference between traditional fanservice and “moe” fanservice. Shows like Nanoha and Nanatsuiro Drops are innocent at first glance, but because we know that they’re intended for a male audience, we still classify them as “fanservice,” only using a new subcategory. Even the moe-illiterate realize that you cannot use the same term to describe Queen’s Blade and K-ON.

This is relevant, somehow.

Anyway, what I believe I have proven in the last 700 words is that hentai, sex-focused eroge, and fanservice anime have virtually nothing to do with galge and moe, aside from their common origins and target audience. They both pander to the audience in the sense that they portray a convenient fantasy as reality, but they do so for a completely different reason. On one hand you have physical desires, and on the other you have emotional desires. They can be two sides of the same coin, but implying that your average fluffy moe-moe-rabu-rabu galge is about sex is just as nonsensical as drawing a parallel between Tsukihime and Bible Black.

In the end, whether you enjoy moe and visual novels for the physical or emotional aspect is entirely up to you. However, I feel the need to distinguish between the two elements because even though they often go hand-in-hand, they are still two very different things. When you look at moe from an emotional perspective, stories like Kanon make infinitely more sense.

This also ties into what I was originally talking about when I said that Kanon is great because it plays on its cast’s strengths and panders skillfully. My own enjoyment of the game is rooted in the surreal experience of standing in the school’s quad during lunch, having an unusual conversation with an unusual girl. Another person’s enjoyment might rely on their own experience of joining Mai in the school halls at night, fighting demons and solving a mystery.

Moe will always be subjective, but I think there is one truth that we should always keep in mind: escapism in visual novels can be emotional or physical, or both. Most good eroge strike a cosmic balance between the two, but they both have a distinctly different appeal, and they shouldn’t be treated as the same thing. In other words, Sugisaki Ken’s ambition of earning the harem end might be the dream of eroge fans around the world, but it shouldn’t be misconstrued as a symbol of moe fandom.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

omo January 21, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Hmm, I’m not sure I get you. Let me try to paraphrase.

1. Like anime, visual novels and other bishoujo games (galge for short, and perhaps more accurate) have ones that are made to be pornographic, and ones that aren’t.
2. Because galge historically was always pornographic, until the split 10-15 years ago, even the most romantic, female-respecting variety of galge had pornographic portions of it. That tradition continues even today except in the console gaming offshoot of this medium.
3. Because of the split, the appeal of galge today can be said to include interests and motivation unrelated to the more prurient.
4. Despite that notions of moe (there I said it) and romance often overlap with sex, they could also be entirely divorced. Kind of like the id versus ego/superego, to use an analogy?


ETERNAL January 22, 2010 at 2:37 pm

You’ve got it. I’m not sure if you’re agreeing/disagreeing, but that’s basically what I’m trying to say. I also don’t think that there’s anything wrong with today’s galge that combine moe with sex, but they’re still very different things.

If you’re wondering why I wrote all of this when it seems like common sense, it’s because I’m not sure if it is common sense. I also wanted to put it down on paper to make sure it was logical. This is one of those concepts that I thought of without reading anything on the matter, and theories like that always feel flimsy unless I write something on them.


mt-i January 22, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Not sure what omo had in mind here, but I for one have my doubts about the picture being as clear-cut as you make it to be. The relationship between moe and sex is a complex one. Take erodoujinshi for example. People make and read erodoujinshi of characters they are deeply emotionally involved with, and imagining them in sexual situations doesn’t make their emotional involvement any less genuine, nor is it a debasement of otherwise “pure” moe feelings.

I think there is a sexual component to moe, and that recognizing that sexual component (as PC bishoujo games usually do, even though it sometimes comes off as trite) is rather liberating. Purity is certainly an important part of the moe ethos, but that purity isn’t an ideal of asexual asceticism.

Which is not to say that unfettered promiscuity is a particularly moe quality either, of course.


relentlessflame January 23, 2010 at 10:19 pm

The interesting thing about ero-doujinshi in particular is that they tend to be most prominent for works that do not actually feature adult content. In that sense, you could see them as filling a gap that is not otherwise filled.

I think this probably comes down to the fact that, in the average male brain, physical/sexual attraction isn’t necessarily easily-separated from emotional commitment/involvement. So the more emotionally invested someone is in a character, the more they might find themselves drawn to erotic content of that character as well. That is very much the theory at work in the average “story-driven” ero-game. The reader has spent most of the narrative building up an emotional attachment to the character, and arriving at the point where the emotional buildup is consummated physically in the story can be, as you put it, rather liberating. The dichotomy often seen in terms of the tone of the writing and so forth reflects the dichotomy of these two shouldn’t-necessarily-be-connected-but-are aspects of the average male brain. It’s a sort of physical counterbalance to the emotional investment that can be, in a strange sort of way, fulfilling. But it’s not as if the erotic content on its own is necessarily “gratifying” enough to be the main feature — it only works in the context of the “relationship” the reader has forged with the heroine. And this is why you also have works that are “ero-centric” and focus less on the “emotional” content; in those cases, you’re appealing to an entirely different set of “desires”.

So, back to the original point, you can probably expect to see (and in fact we have seen) lots of ero-doujinshi for a franchise like Love Plus that demands a lot of emotional engagement/commitment on the part of the audience without that counterbalanced physical gratification. While “moe~ attraction” needn’t necessarily be sexual in nature, I think it would be rather difficult for the average male to completely separate out their emotions from their physical/”carnal” side. At the same time, I suspect that could be a point that brings guilt/shame to some who may want to believe that idealized “love” needn’t have a sexual component.

So basically, I think I am agreeing with you, just using a lot more words to do so. ^^;


ETERNAL January 23, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Interestingly, I was thinking about this while writing the post, and I intentionally avoided using the word dichotomy because I don’t think the two need to be opposites. This also reminds me of another moe/meta post idea that I’ll probably write in a while, but anyway, back to the point:

You could say that good examples of moe are usually found in stories in which both the sexual and emotional desires are fulfilled (i.e. most good eroge). Key games are also an example of this, and although I haven’t played Clannad, I don’t think ero scenes would have hurt it. However, I don’t think the two forms of attraction are intrinsically connected. They usually go hand-in-hand, but one doesn’t require the other.

I mean, I pretty much fell for Mai Asagiri’s character design at first sight, but I can’t say much about her as a character because she hardly did anything in the Yoakena anime; likewise, I have never felt the need to search for Shiori doujins, although I certainly won’t skip her H-scene in the game.

Anyway, I think mt-i said it correctly: the relationship between moe and sex is complex. Considering how often the two need to be combined to create an experience without any “gaps”, so to speak, it’s possible to go a lot further with the topic. But I still think that one can exist without the other – not for the sake of protecting the purity of moe, but simply because waifu status is rarely about character design, and because English speakers read untranslated ero doujins for a reason.

Draneor January 24, 2010 at 3:48 pm

As someone who has played Clannad (minus After Story), I disagree that ero scenes wouldn’t have hurt it. I think adding ero content would have completely broken the mood and also interfered with the message Maeda was trying to communicate. Some stuff is best left to doujinshi.

Even for games like D.C., I personally found the ero distracting and, in many cases, jarring from an otherwise believable story. There are some games I think do ero well (Happiness), but not Key titles.

Aorii January 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Seriously, the relationship between moe and ero is as complex as the definition of moe itself. I know guys who would love to find doujins of their favorite moe characters and waifus, while others who stay the heck away from anything remotely erotic when it comes to their favorite characters because they feel it’ll soil their perception of the characters, or some who won’t mind the erodoujinshi if it’s set in a romantic atmosphere. It really depends on the person… and how they view depiction of sexual acts: be it inherently dirty no-ifs-and-buts, based on portrayal, or whatever…

Trying to nail psychology in a non-abstract way usually won’t yield much…


ETERNAL January 28, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Well, you can read it more as a theory than a formal thesis, know what I mean? Most of my moe-related posts are just made up of general ideas, but it would feel pointless to write without a conclusion :P

Park Animation January 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I think it’s funny how even the most developed games still have remnants of their pornographic ancestry. Like with the first arc of Fate/Stay night, the sex was comically out of place. Same with titles like the fantastic Sekien no Inganock and the painfully derivative Princess Waltz. Sex scenes in visual novels are like wisdom teeth.

On another note, for me Kanon’s strength lied in its ability to make me actually give a shit about all of the characters, not just one. Even the ones that I initially had no interest in, during their respective arcs, I came to appreciate their stories on a more emotional level. That is the sort of response that, imo, truly inspires the “harem ending.” I’m not saying that it’s necessarily representative of what you call moe fandom, but I think the ultimate goal of moe should be to appeal to people beyond their established preferences. I think if anything, fanservice-type shows rely heavily upon visual appeal, and therefore the audience would tend to be more polarized, thus subverting the harem end. Maybe I’m wrong.


ETERNAL January 24, 2010 at 12:00 am

It sounds like your enjoyment of Kanon is more rooted in the actual story (which is quite good) rather than the moe aspect of it. I agree that good moe characters make you realize their charms even if they’re “not your type”, but it doesn’t happen every time. It’s too subjective to say that a good eroge has to have a cast in which every character appeals to you. That said, I can only list a few tsundere characters that I actually like, and I consider them to be the “best” of the archetype, so I see what you mean.

As for the “wisdom teeth” analogy, it’s applicable to the industry as a whole, but I don’t think it applies to moe. Games like F/SN and, from what I heard, Seiken no Inganock, don’t need ero scenes to get by, and it’s awkward when the writers force them into the story. However, the H-scenes are still a cathartic moment in most normal galge, usually concluding the conflicts and consummating the budding relationship. It’s pleasing from an emotional perspective and a sexual perspective, even if it’s technically porn.


angelsharkbite January 23, 2010 at 4:29 pm

nice post. i think this will add a new perspective to think about the next time i play a visual novel.

>the goal of moe is to provide emotional therapy to the viewer, not physical therapy.

you just said a mouthful there.


balance January 24, 2010 at 11:36 am

the best Harem end was School Days….

I only played FSN, the wasn’t much eroge as the story was more than enough for the readers/gamers to enjoy.

Most of the time when you talk about visual novel, first think that comes into their mind is those dating sim games, and the goal is to see how much girls you can be with at once.

Some eroge/hentai is ok but building a whole game on that, no thank you. If I wanted pron, I could find it much faster lol. Story matters for me :D

and I was just kidding about school days :P


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: