(Note: I don’t have the necessary experience to discuss this topic myself, so I’ll be doing a meta-analysis on what has been discussed already)
A video by Geoff Thew (Mother’s Basement) called, “Avatar is an Anime. F*** You. Fight Me.” went to the top of r/anime today. But the focus of this video wasn’t really about Avatar: The Last Airbender as it was about discussing the changing definition of “anime”. I highly recommend watching it, but what the video discusses is the growing problem with defining anime as a “Japanese produced animated series”. Geoff starts his argument with Shelter, which is a music video that challenged the integrity of the definition in a way that has never been challenged before. Can we call the work of an American music producer (Porter Robinson) collaborating with a Japanese animation studio (A-1 Pictures) an anime? Moreover, what about the fact that what most people would consider anime are actually produced in Korea or China?
Digibro acknowledges this dilution of the term but makes a point that having a distinction is convenient for discussion. r/anime certainly agrees in having the distinction as it exists to “focus on the discussion of anime”. So then, the question is, “What Is Anime?” We’ll come back to this after we look at moe.
In his video, “The Evolution of Moe Anime” (which was posted just 2 days ago), Lewis (Anime Everyday) defines moe as pertaining to both a genre and an aesthetic, where moe is a certain characteristic and art style used in anime. My interpretation of this is that moe is a device used to invoke feelings of ‘cherishment’ and love towards what the moe aesthetic was applied to. Lewis suggests that this moe aesthetic has pretty much always been an element in anime, as far back as Astro Boy: the focus on facial expressions, the emphasis on innocence, and the marketability of creating characters that live beyond the screen. Lewis highlights the introduction of lead female characters in anime which led to an increase in female viewers in the ’70s, thereby pushing anime productions to include moe aesthetics to appeal to both male and female viewers.
Digibro has also released a video in which he discusses moe. Digibro, however, is more concerned about how the word moe has been used and makes a clear distinction that initially, moe referred to neither a genre nor an art style, but was a word to describe a feeling. Thus, in its initial usage, otaku would use ‘moe’ to describe the feeling they had for anime characters — as in, they would feel moe towards a character that they wanted to see do well and succeed. This is different from how moe is presently understood as “something that triggers your protective instincts”. Digibro concludes by saying that moe is a dead term that only exists now to be used derogatorily to describe bad “cute girls doing cute things” shows.
What I think is interesting about all of this is the lack of Japanese perspective on these terms and their usage in Japan. But, understandably, the focus of the discussion is the cultural landscape of the international audience of anime. After all, we are using the word “anime” instead of cartoons to describe the predominantly and initially Japanese medium in our discussions. The definition of moe seems to be continuously debated and disagreed upon, but I think that as language evolves and definitions change, moe will largely be referring to the aesthetic of cute character designs.
Geoff and Digibro agree that, as time goes on, the distinction between anime and other mediums will be impossible to make. Geoff concluded in his video that anime is a movement and that it influences the American anime that we see today (like Avatar), and that the future anime creators are being influenced by the what’s popular now. As I’ve said before, one of the reasons why I watch anime is because it allows me to affectionately revisit the cultural attitudes and feelings of my upbringing. What I think will be interesting is to see how the specific cultural values and relational hierarchies that exist in Japan and thus in anime will translate to other mediums.