Finish or Fail 6 – Saki – The Meaning of Moe

‘Moe’. Moe, Moe, Moe. One of the most debated, debased, derogatory, yet delightful and potentially deadly terms of anime fandom. There are those who can’t wrap their heads around moe, or grasp it, or understand it, who think it’s a trend or a style or a visual phenomenon. There are those who try to pidegonhole moe, who try and categorize it as a genre, and who try to bash it or warp it. Now, I’ve done a lot of study on moe in the past. Moe helped me grasp my fandom when I almost lost it, I trained myself to learn more about it, and I published a definitive guide to breaking into it as a culture. However, if there is one thing I haven’t yet done, it’s to define moe. Saki has given me the confidence to do just that.

You’ve probably all heard about how ‘moe’ means ‘budding’, and how all sorts of various fetishes can be branded as different types of moe. But what does it mean? Some would say that ‘moe’ described a desire to ‘protect.’ Some consider it a non-sexual desire, whereas others consider it a purely sexual desire, often related to young girls (and considered in conjunction with ‘lolicon’.) None of these is true, and I will explain my meaning of it now.

‘Moe’ is not purely a desire to protect – rather, it is a desire to see the character succeed. Moe is born from the viewer’s emotional involvement in the success and happiness of the female protagonist. Trying to say that it is a desire to ‘protect’ is pidgeonholing the emotion. If we were to take a character like the famous Yui from K-On! there is probably a desire to protect her, because she is SO weak at the beginning. You can see that the odds are stacked against her. However, the moe you feel isn’t purely from your own desire to protect, but from your desire for her to make friends, and to learn to play guitar, and to be happy and have fun and follow her dreams. THAT is moe.

The reason I can say this so confidently is because of something I have seen before in the likes of Bamboo Blade, but saw even more strongly in Saki. The girls in Saki don’t need any protecting. Some may need emotional security – some may need friends – some may need passion – and that can be called protection, but some don’t need any of that. And yet, I can safely say that I felt moe for every single character in Saki. I realized this around halfway through the show. I couldn’t put the emotion into any other words. Did I ‘love’ them all? No, most of them are not the type of woman I’d be interested in dating or marrying. Was I sexually attracted to them? Not necessarily. While Saki’s designs were some of the best I’ve ever seen, Nodoka, for example, I didn’t find even remotely attractive. However, I adored her as a character, not even as one I would want to hang out with ‘in the meat’. What was this feeling? And why did I feel it on such a wide scale?

yuri shippers - it only take one scene.

Before I even decided what it meant, I knew it was moe. I sat and thought, ‘I feel moe for every girl in this show.’ And then I realized that what I wished for more than anything else from the girls in this show was for them to succeed. For them to conquer the odds, make friends, live to fight another day, grow more passionate, and kick more ass. I thought about all the moe I’ve felt. My pure desire for Aisaka Taiga to end up with Takasu Ryuuji. My pure need for all of the Higurashi girls to find a way out of their madness. My pure desire just to watch the Hidamari Sketch characters continue to have fun and enjoy their lives. I want them to be happy, successful, and have fun. That is moe.

(And now I am the most proud I have ever been of myself for writing a terminology definition, lol.)

So, on to Saki. I loved this show a lot while I was watching it, and I can see myself rewatching it in the future, as well as greatly looking forward to a season 2! (Don’t let this be like Bamboo Blade where they show the new opponent right at the end and then go a year and a half with no word of a second season in sight!) As far as the production goes, it was great. The whole thing was very well done, but the character designs and character animation were altogether utterly astounding. I can safely say that Saki ranks among the very top of my considerations for the show with the best character designs. Every character was distinct and lovingly crafted so that no one looked like less time had been spent on them or anything. Each design melded in with the characters’ personalities effortlessly, making them just that much more memorable and easy to appreciate.

Everywhere you look in this show...

Aside from the designs, the directing was top-knotch. I’ve seen a decent number of shounen tournament anime, as well as game anime, and it takes a good director to keep it interesting. It’s a matter of knowing when to cut to the announcers and the audience, when to show whom on-screen, and how to keep the tension mounted at all times. What particularly lent to this effect was that Mahjong is a four-player game which unsuspectingly is what made this show far more intense than most tournament shows. Having four important characters per match upped the tension, the stakes, and even the realism considerably. It also gave more perspective on just who was special for what reasons, and how far that specialness could get them against other special players. Every match was tense like a fucking tightrope, which was glorious.

Oh, and I guess this is where I mention that this is a show about mahjong, which aside from the above reason, is not even slightly important. I don’t know a single thing about mahjong and I didn’t learn anything from watching the show, but you could sub out the tiles for kendo swords and you’d have Bamboo Blade or for boxing gloves and dudes and have Hajime no Ippo without much changing. The matches could not have been easier to follow – the show does a damn good job of letting you know ‘this is the badass bitch-fucking lightning-infused tile apocalypse move from hell’ or ‘this move is fucking with the other players’s heads’ etc. Knowing mahjong wouldn’t make it any more or less badass for me, unless it turned out the rules were entirely wrong (and I’m still not sure I’d care.)

so glorious...

Saki had the same strength that so many shounen action shows do, which is a massive cast of interesting characters. Every girl has her own backstory and personality not only that makes them want to win, but that makes you want them to win. Every girl has their own distinct strategy that keeps them contending and kicking ass. (My favorites were the ‘invisible’ strategy and the ‘hell waits’ strategy, because I always play games more from a psychological angle than a ‘sheer badassery’ one. You should see me play Yugioh LOL.) And these are the reasons that Saki’s ending is so important. Because you know that these girls all of have to fight, but you don’t want any of them to loose. You don’t want to think about them becoming depressed and giving up on their dreams. That’s why they all have to become friends in the end, and why they all have to reach for next year and persist for their goals. The fact that they never give up is what makes them ‘moe.’

I should go over some of my favorite characters… no. That would take too long. What I think is interesting about Saki is that a lot of it is left up to the imagination – we have a shit-ton of backstories that are usually explained rather strictly but without showing much, so that it’s easy to personally interpret everything that happened before the time you saw, and to predict a trend of what will happen in each character’s off-shoot from the story (i.e. easy to make fanfiction and doujins.) So, even though some characters were definitively more developed or had more touching moments than others, the blanks that my mind fills in gives all of them a ton more great moments. (For example, Touka and Koromo will have had a history and future that I can very easily see, and I will like Touka a lot seeing what I know she will do in that time.)

Of course, some characters are going to go above and beyond. I loved Nodoka because of her sheer, unabashed gay love for Saki (it is nothing else, this is THE most blatant non-spoken yuri couple I’ve ever seen) and for generally being lovable in spite of her unwieldy breasts. Yuuki was probably my favorite character in the show thanks to a mix of her boundless energy and her being a perfect role for the almighty Kugimiya Rie. And the tacos! The president and Mako both excelled at being unleaded cool 24/7 and when I saw the president’s playing style (which I had of course been looking forward to thanks to the brilliant job the show did at deliberately hiding it) I just fell head-over-heals. And then there’s the heterochromatic girl with a great personality who falls into my distinct moe for girls with only one usable eye. I loved the ‘invisible’ girl primely for her dialect and her intense gay love for her mentor. And of course, my favorite HAD to be Koromo. She gets the Loli of the Year award, as well as the ‘Shimmering Insanity’ award for being the closest thing anime has gotten to Flandre Scarlet.

Before I wrap up, I really must give a shout-out to this vocal cast, which was completely and utterly incredible. I loved, and I do mean Loved, EVERY SINGLE VOICE in this show. I couldn’t believe the way brilliant performance after brilliant performance stacked up unstoppably. I obviously won’t go making a list, so just take this ANN list and etch all of these names into your mind. Every voice actress (and actor! Jun Fukuyama, Shiraishi Minoru, and Jouji Nakata!!!) in this show deserves praise here.

That’s about all I have to say. I enjoyed this show a lot and would be willing to fork over cash for DVDs if it comes out stateside. I’ll be hitting the doujins hard in the near future, and scoping out as much of the yuri I can find for this show. I highly recommend it.

Saki – Finished (8.6)

Oh, and I guess this is the part where I own up to my post on the first episode from back when it aired. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking when I made that post. The first episode was fine, just like the rest of the excellent series. Let this be a lesson – DON’T. BE. PRETENTIOUS. Never get all fucking ‘oh I’m so cool, I don’t like this cliche moe shit’ because it will just bite you when you miss out on a great show. I ought to feel like one of the people who naysayed Bamboo Blade when it first came out, a group I’ve been raging at for years. You may all crucify me for living such a lie.

23 thoughts on “Finish or Fail 6 – Saki – The Meaning of Moe

  1. ‘Moe’ is not purely a desire to protect – rather, it is a desire to see the character succeed. Moe is born from the viewer’s emotional involvement in the success and happiness of the female protagonist. Trying to say that it is a desire to ‘protect’ is pidgeonholing the emotion. If we were to take a character like the famous Yui from K-On! there is probably a desire to protect her, because she is SO weak at the beginning. You can see that the odds are stacked against her. However, the moe you feel isn’t purely from your own desire to protect, but from your desire for her to make friends, and to learn to play guitar, and to be happy and have fun and follow her dreams. THAT is moe.

    Isn’t this too broad a definition? I mean, I feel the same way for Simon of TTGL after all. These feelings can be felt for any sympathetic protagonist (but not exclusive to such protagonists). Or, are you saying that the object of moe is necessarily female?

    I don’t know man, I feel that the definition is too broad. Perhaps we can qualify it further by insisting that the moe object is significantly powerless, weak, talentless, and/or incompetent. Or, we can qualify moe to manifest in specific moments that have beginnings and ends, as opposed to being a blanket category that applies to a character indefinitely.

    But seriously, I don’t know… I just submit these thoughts to contribute to your thinking on this subject.

    • Many, many women seem to feel moe for the likes of Simon or Shinji Ikari (I suggest reading the blog I Am In Dire Need of a Butler) and I have been known to feel moe for some pretty boys who strike my fancy.

      Now, what I might have neglected to mention is that moe IS an attractiveness thing. I don’t want to say sexual, because it’s more like ‘you feel attached to the character’ which is why you become moe for them.

      But anyway, moe SHOULD be a broad definition because it’s personally independent. The things one man feels moe about are 100% different from what I feel moe about. You can only know if you are feeling it if you truly believe you feel it.

      If the character had to be talentless and weak, Saki would fail because all of the girls start out the series as the best of the best. So that definition just can’t apply.

      • If the character had to be talentless and weak, Saki would fail because all of the girls start out the series as the best of the best. So that definition just can’t apply

        How about if only relative to the other characters in the show (and specific to the focus, e.g. mah jong, music, mecha piloting, etc)?

        • But that’s what I mean, I felt moe for every character in Saki. And Saki herself was a constant god-mod. She could pretty much win a game just by deciding she wanted to win, mowed over everyone, never lost a match she didn’t mean to, and had no weakness of personality whatsoever. She was, like, a fucking Iron Girl LOL.

  2. You’re being blinded by the dual status of Saki as a moe show and a sports anime, like others were about Taishou yakyuu musume. In many, if not most, moe shows, there simply isn’t anything to “succeed” at. I mean, what in the world is Sakuragi Matsuri supposed to succeed at?

    Now this protection thing is related to some sort of fragility that moe character possess. That doesn’t mean they have to be weak or talentless, at all. But they have emotional issues, as all the characters in Saki do (maybe not Yuki, granted, but it’s debatable whether she’s a moe character at all).

    • I’m going to assume you completely and utterly missed this paragraph.

      “Before I even decided what it meant, I knew it was moe. I sat and thought, ‘I feel moe for every girl in this show.’ And then I realized that what I wished for more than anything else from the girls in this show was for them to succeed. For them to conquer the odds, make friends, live to fight another day, grow more passionate, and kick more ass. I thought about all the moe I’ve felt. My pure desire for Aisaka Taiga to end up with Takasu Ryuuji. My pure need for all of the Higurashi girls to find a way out of their madness. My pure desire just to watch the Hidamari Sketch characters continue to have fun and enjoy their lives. I want them to be happy, successful, and have fun. That is moe.”

      The interpretation of ‘success’ here is ‘happiness’. Any good slice-of-life show or comedy or anything you can call ‘moe’ makes an effort to keep the characters happy. The ‘moe’ I would feel for a character like Matsuri comes from my desire for her to become less shy and firghtful and to enjoy her friends’ company more and more and generally be happy.

      • Then the objection of ghostlinging applies, only a lot worse. If you like a character, most of the time, you want them to be happy. It reduces moe to “having a fondness for”, which is an altogether uninteresting concept. I want Yotsuba to be happy (even “succeed”), and I’m “attached” to the character in some sense, but that’s not moe!

        • lol, but like I said, it’s only moe when you FEEL it is moe. You can’t say that every single time you feel attached and want them to succeed it’s automatically moe. It’s a thing that is only determined by you.

  3. What about Hatsune Miku? Or toilet seats? Perhaps you defined for personal usage, but not really for the general public. It’s futile and not a term anyone should be fighting for at this stage.

    • I think the general point of my definition is that it’s so all-encompassing that it can be anything to anyone. I think how people generally feel attracted to Miku doing her best is fucking obvious. ‘Miku Miku ni Shite Ageru’ I mean come the hell on, dude.

        • I felt moe for her design beforehand too, but does that any less mean that I had a desire for her character to be happy and successful? No. It only means that I am capable of having those feelings for something that has no personality or history. It says something about the people who feel moe for it, in that they are capable of doing so. Miku Miku ni Shite Ageru is a projection of those emotions.

          I don’t know wth the toilet seats are. Please show me.

      • I don’t think you guy s realize that I am considering this definition indebatable, perfect, and indestructible. I will not accept that you do not except it as the absolute truth. Considering that it does, in fact, cover everything. It cannot be proven wrong!!!

        • Don’t worry, I’m not criticizing your definition. :) It was supposed to be a clever meta-comment about the “what is moe” debate in general.

          • lol. Of course, I will usually face palm and walk away myself when I see people trying to define moe… but this time, I feel like I’ve got it in the bag. I think having a definition of some sort, even if it’s loose as fuck, is better than not having one, because no matter what, outsiders are always going to want to know what it means, how to translate it, how to think about it, etc., and it’s better we gave them something.

            I do love how the TL notes in the first volume of the Lucky Star manga that I just bought said next to moe ‘I’ve never seen a right way of translating this.’

  4. I’ve always thought of moe as a feeling rather than a genre of anime, even though it’s sometimes convenient to refer to it as a genre if you’re discussing characters who are typically classified as such. Fans usually define a moe character as the cute, innocent, submissive girl in need of protection. While that’s what the stereotypical male otaku is thought to go moe over, like you said, it’s definitely not the case for everyone. Fans could be moe for characters with completely opposite personalities, or for more abstract things like character relationships. So yeah, good points here.

  5. I saw an episode with Koromo because of the Flandre effect you mentioned. What I find hilarious is that she’s kind of like the Superman III evil kryptonite clone version of Tsukasa.

    Your definition isn’t bad, but then what does Kyon mean when he says he has a ponytail moe? Hairstyles don’t try hard, unless we’re talking about Ladies versus Butlers.

    • Like I said in an above comment, there is an attractiveness involved. Having a ‘ponytail moe’ or a ‘megane moe’ means that those properties will birth the attractiveness in you that will allow you to feel moe for the character. For instance, I obviously have a ‘lolicon moe’ which has made it so I am far more likely to feel moe for lolis than anything else. Follow?

  6. Pingback: Saki Episode 1 – Yuri, Otaku Mahjong, Fanservice, Great Animation, Shittacular, I Mean, Dude, What in the F*ck is This?! « Fuzakenna!

  7. i think i get it “Moe” a little now..i think its your Adoration for a certain character
    ..i used to think it was an expression of somesort..hehe..thanks! i really learned alot..^_^

  8. Glad you like Saki [the anime] in the end xD [Lol you have too many post so now I’m just randomly going through post that I think may interest me xD]

    And yuri couples FTW! xD Hisa x Miho~ ;D

    Jyang

  9. Pingback: On the Negative-Second Day of Kurisumasu My Imouto Gave to Me: A Bunch of Shows that Didn’t Air This Year | My Sword Is Unbelievably Dull

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