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The Problem with Moé 
28th-Dec-2008 01:13 am

Torpor isn't cute!

Nothing like starting a post with a flamebait subject line, but let's be clear: I am not talking about "moé" in the sense of an emotion (that overwhelming urge to huggle something unbearably cute to death). I have nothing against the adoration of the cute, whether three-dimensional or two-dimensional. Rather, I intend the object of discussion to be a certain genre of Japanese media--especially bishoujo games, anime based upon those games, and some manga--that English-speaking fans are wont to call moé. Spoken of, of course, in the most general of terms; this is a structural analysis.

Let's segue into the issue indirectly with a seemingly unrelated question: What do Broadway musicals and porn videos have in common? And I mean this question in all seriousness; the answer helps us understand the problem with moé. The answer to this question is fundamentally quite simple: When you watch a Broadway musical or a porn video, you are not watching primarily for the plot. You are there, rather, for the singing (musicals) or sex (porn).

For this reason, both Broadway musicals and porn videos have a similar narrative structure. Plot, such as it is, exists solely to take you from song to song or sex scene to sex scene. If the story is imperfect or improbable, if characters are not as well fleshed out as you might want in, say, literary fiction, no matter! It was never the point in the first place! And whenever we get to a song or a sex scene, the skeletal storyline grinds to a halt, and for several minutes at a time we are forced to surrender our rationality and let the music/porn control our emotions, to wallow in an eternal now.

The moé genre is like Broadway musicals and porn videos in that it shares the same basic narrative structure--but instead of songs or sex scenes, we get cute scenes. See where I'm going with this yet? One of the reasons for this (and the reason relevant to my discussion here) is that moé is an offshoot of lolicon, which is in turn *ahem* porn. Although "real" moé is not pornographic, its creators are often expert only in porn. Ditto its Japanese fans. And herein lies the heart of the problem.

You see, even in light of their structural similarities, there is also one significant way in which Broadway musicals and porn videos differ: Broadway musicals are also secondarily judged on the quality of their storylines. Porn, by and large, is not--and neither, due to its lineage, is moé. Unfortunately, cute scenes are probably closer to songs than sex scenes in the magnitude of their visceral power. They are just not emotionally "orgasmic" enough to disguise any one ordinary example of the genre's lack of well-constructed, well-paced narrative arc. Yet moé, like porn, has a marked tendency to wallow in that eternal now when it should be getting on with the plot, and because of this, it's terribly boring!

Obviously, this is a problem that need not persist. I highly recommend to any aspiring moé creators that they carefully study the narrative construction of classic Broadway musicals and/or horror movies (storylines built around chills). As long as so many prominent examples of moé have cuteness and nothing else--you know, like an interesting story or compelling characters who develop over time--to attract viewers to them, moé will always be a niche genre derided by anyone who doesn't automatically feel overwhelmed with passion when they see something cute.
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