The Moeblob vs. the Strong Female Character

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about anime, but this is something that really annoys me about anime’s popular female characters. Some vocabulary before we start:

moeblobMoeblob, via urbandictionary: “A character who is moe to the point of lacking almost any other definable traits, physically or character-wise. Cuteness taken to an unappealing level.”

Strong Female Characters, (as opposed to strong female characters), also via urbandictionary: “A hostile, violent, and shallow female character based around what a cynical male writer thinks is “female empowerment”. Such characters usually dress in some kind of fetish outfit…” These are best illustrated by Kate Beaton, from whom I’ve also lifted the capital letter-wielding nomenclature.

kate beaton strong female characters sexism is overOkay, so now that we’re all up to speed, here’s the thing that grinds my gears about popular female characters in anime: they’re almost guaranteed to be a moeblob or a SFC. And while both of these types have some positive aspects, neither of them constitutes a realistic portrayal of a female character, and both perpetuate irritating mindsets and stereotypes.

First, let’s look at the Moeblob character: she usually shows up in moe anime (shocker), which are known for their minimal conflicts, large focus on female friendship, and archetypal characters (the adorably clumsy one, the adorably tsundere one, the adorably dandere one, the adorably yandere one, and the adorably tomboyish one). Anime like K-On have popularized the genre, and nowadays it’s nigh on impossible to escape the brain-meltingly adorable moe-ization of literally everything (there is an anime about personified moe assault weapons, I shit you not).k-on-k-on-20132940-2560-1440Why am I hating on a genre that is all about female friendships? Well, where a show like My Little Pony or Super Best Friends Forever shows complicated and realistic relationships between developed female characters, moe anime doesn’t do that. Instead it reduces the female characters to childish, infantilized caricatures of girls, instead of complete characters in their own right. These girls (who are usually of high school age) are so childlike that they’d probably need babysitters if they were real people.

These aren’t any better for female portrayal in anime than the ubiquitous Strong Female Characters are. Strong Female Characters argue that strong women are hypersexualized and hypersexual, and this turns them into sex objects for male viewers.

Neither of these are doing any favors to female characters. The pendulum swung too far away from the SFC, and we got the Moeblob. The former perpetuates the concept of women as sex objects, and the latter emphasizes the idea that women are best when they’re childlike and innocent and pure and so cute it’s cavity-inducing.

Can we just take a step back from both of them and introduce some shocking variety in the form of a popular female character with a real character? When the Moeblob and the Strong Female Character square off, no one wins.

22 thoughts on “The Moeblob vs. the Strong Female Character

  1. I’m curious as to what you consider some good examples of female characters in anime? I mean, they can’t all be at the extremes. I think that characters like Sango from Inuyasha and Kaoru from Rurouni Kenshin are good examples of characters who fall in the middle.

    • Better question is why are you calling realism into anime. Seriously, it’s the genre that has children running around with weapons of mass destruction, tentacles, and in the instance of say Pokemon, a guy who really should be in his mid to late twenties by now with a pikachu that really should be able to level nations by itself, but apparently hasn’t aged a day in the case of the boy, and can still lose to pokemon who have no way of being its level.

      No gender is portrayed accurately in anime. that’s life. stop bring realism into it, or the universe will kill more catgirls.

      Think of the catgirls. Please.

      • Well, all fiction has a level of realism in it: if anime didn’t relate at all to real life, no one would be interested in watching it. The realer something becomes, the more interesting it tends to be. So, I would argue that its more interesting to watch a character who resembles a real person than one which consists of a smattering of traits with a few eccentricities thrown in. Even in the case where a character possesses ridiculously superhuman powers, the creator can still develop that character such that he or she resembles someone we know–basically, renders them such that we can relate to them. (Very difficult, but I assure you it can be done even in anime.)

        I do agree that most anime ought not delve too deeply into realism: the ones which are most fantastic are often the most fun. But, that surreality ought to be tempered when it comes to characters. I mean, how often does one find oneself preferring a secondary character to the super-strong, genius, strong-willed, and beautiful main character?

        So, time to reduce the population of catgirls. 🙂 Himari Noihara can stay though.

        • Sorry, but I can’t support your genocide of catgirls.

          Honestly, it really just sounds like someone who watches a show (anime or otherwise) complains because some mundane fact (like the existence of a tomato) makes it wildly inaccurate, but completely ignores the one hundred foot tall dragon breathing fire all over the place. Or, to do an anime example, it’s like complaining that Orihime is too moe and thus insulting to women, while ignoring the fact that she exists in a universe filled with spirits that can level entire cities without even trying. 😛

          Because clearly the issue is the fact that there’s a ditzy, big-boobied girl with a moe personality, and that’s unrealistic (despite the fact we’ve all met girls like that) but the fact that there’s godlike spirits with supernatural powers of the charts is completely not worth noticing on the “unrealism” meter.

          • let me put this into perspective. You get an anime about a relatable male character doing adventures with other developed male characters and you get an awesome, entertaining romp. But, where are the relatable developed female characters for us female viewers to enjoy? Yes I can name a bunch but for every one good anime with decent female characters, you get hundreds of terrible ones in addition to the hundred of anime that only give you good male characters. I just want an anime (that I haven’t already seen) that has a female character that not only keeps up with the male characters but drives the story through her own struggles and development. There are already so many good anime that do this for male characters, why can’t we get some that do it for female characters?

      • It’s really not complicated: If I wanted real life I wouldn’t be watching moe anime. This is like an article talking about how cappuccino should be banned because it’s not like real coffee.

    • Hmm, well, basically all the ladies in Fullmetal Alchemist and Fairy Tail are pretty awesome. Sango and Kaoru are also great, I agree. Seras Victoria and Integra Hellsing from Hellsing, Lizzy from Black Butler, Haruhi from Ouran Host Club, lol the list goes on.
      And on the other side of it, you can do moe or provocatively dressed women and still have well-rounded characters – Sora no Woto is a super moe anime that hits most of the stereotypes, but it also has real conflict and character development. Shura from Blue Exorcist and Yoko from Gurren Lagann are both super-sexualized in their character design but they also have developed backstories and motivations.

    • Aoi Myamori from Shirobako. She’s a competent, working adult, who struggles and works hard to get better at her job (production assisstant at an animation company), earns respect in the workplace and becomes a critical part of her organisation. She drinks with her friends during downtime, competes with a production assisstant from another studio when they’re both driving around collecting and delivering materials to contract animators, and makes her fair share of mistakes. She has childhood inspirations, an interest in the tales of her colleagues and senior figures in the field, and often demonstrates an ingenuity for helping her colleagues (most notably the Director, when he runs out of ideas and panics she’s often the one to either directly supply ideas or give a new direction for the creative team to work from, which is met with great respect after she first demonstrates a good intuition for a particularly challenging directorial decision). Her main internal struggle is one of “What am I doing with my life? What do I want to be doing with my life? Why do all my friends seem to be acting with purpose when I don’t know if I even want to be here?” which she tackles head on. She asks for help when she needs it, gives advice when it’s needed, and has a way with people that allows her to excel outside of her job. There’s an amazing scene towards the end where one of her friends has a career breakthrough and she breaks down watching it, which is the payoff for the entire show’s building up of the friendship of the two 3D characters.

      In fact, Shirobako is full of characters which, despite not getting as much screentime as Myamori, all have very real personalities and actually behave like real people (for the most part). The show has a habit of breaking into quasi-surreal metaphorical scenes unannounced, but ignoring those and only inspecting the “real world” shows that every character is a complete person, with hopes and dreams and histories and skills and relationships and homes and interests. It’s one of my absolute favourite shows because it makes the effort to not romanticise the workplace, it’s not afraid to show the ugly side of how hard people need to work in media production (like the time an older gentleman is asked to pull three 18 hour days in a row because he’s the only animator left who can draw what a particular shot demands properly, a shot which the director adds in only a week or so before airing, and absolutely nails it, then has to take time off to recover), and most importantly it knows its characters, male or female, are people and shows them doing people things in people ways that are the result of people decisions. It’s an absolute masterpiece and I’m enormously sad that they only made one season. Go watch it, I promise it’s worth it!

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  3. My wife disagrees with you that K-on doesn’t portray good realistic female friendships. I’ll say it. K-on doesn’t fall into the moeblob definition. But somehow, My Little Pony is now the gold standard of friendship shows? Come on.

    As for “SFC,” I find it harmful that women are out there arguing that women who wear sexy clothing or fetish-type outfits are just brainless sluts who can’t be taken seriously. Double standard here? I believe the correct message is don’t judge people by their clothing. This message against SFC types seems to be the same sort of thinking that blames women who dress sexy for “wearing ‘asking for it’ clothing.”

    • I dunno, K-On is certainly a cute show, and your wife is entitled to her opinion, but I disagree. Yui and Co have relatively stock-character personalities and never face any sort of real conflict. I hold up MLP as a gold standard of female friendship (with a grain of salt, because I don’t disagree that it has its problems) because the characters’ personalities are nuanced, they don’t always get along, they face realistic conflicts with themselves and each other, and they maintain friendships despite having a variety of interests.
      Here’s the thing about the SFC issue: if a real woman chooses to dress sexily/wear revealing clothing, then I am not going to ever judge her – that’s her choice. But fictional women are creations, and the person dressing them may have an ulterior motive. I don’t say that these characters are brainless sluts – I’m saying that, regardless of their intelligence or the amount of sexual activity they engage in in their world, they are not choosing their character designs for themselves: someone else is designing them, usually with titillating a straight male audience in mind.

  4. It would seem that you don’t have a good grasp on what “moe” actually is. It’s a combination of individual character traits and the narrative or context in which they are expressed. To simplify, it is “youthful innocence” or propriety, but this loses the nuances of the term. It ties in with nostalgia, blooming sexuality, adolescence, fragility, mono no aware, etc. Moe as a concept is a confluence of traditional Japanese aesthetics and contemporary otaku fetishism.

    It is not a catch-all term for “cute girls.” It’s not even exclusive to girls.

    Cute characters are not the moe appeal. The appeal is the symbolism behind them–the implications. The girls are exaggerated for this reason; the images are vehicles for this dynamic. This dynamic is implicitly understood by the viewer resulting in the emotional response called “moe.” Even you should know that fictional works rely on exaggerations in order to emphasize themes or ideas.

    If you’re going to use the term, actually look it up and stop using inane buzzwords like “moeblob.” It hurts discourse due to the self-contradictory nature of such a term. Moe RESULTS FROM identifiable, discrete character traits (visual or personality). A character cannot be moe at the expense of “definable traits” because the traits themselves are responsible for the moe. You simply don’t like these particular character elements. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make them “bad”, it just means you can’t appreciate them. (There’s something to be said here about the SUBJECTIVE nature of moe…you know, as an emotional response? The traditional usage of the term?)

    Moe and character/narrative depth are not mutually exclusive, in fact, one often complements the other because moe results from the interplay between them. It involves empathic response, thus a deeper character/narrative has more potential for moe. Sympathy for a tragic heroine ties into the moe response. It’s a common pattern. Look at Chuunibyou for a recent example.

    Now there is something to be said about the discordant, endlessly self-referential moe symbolism of modern anime, but you are not saying anything like that. You’re simply regurgitating another flavor of “I don’t like this because it’s ‘moe’.” That phrase is a contradiction in itself.

    Now regarding K-On.

    K-On didn’t popularize shit. There have been publications dedicated to moe manga since the early 2000s. Moe characters exploded due to NGE’s Rei Ayanami and even then it has roots as far back as Urusei Yatsura and its inclusion of “kyara.” What’s funny is that your argument would be better directed at UY–it would still be misguided, but it would be better directed nonetheless.

    if you think K-On doesn’t have character/relationship development you either haven’t watched the show or don’t know what “development” means. The show is literally about girls who become friends and graduate high school. Surprise. You need to develop relationships to make friends. As for personal development, it’s much more realistic than the majority of anime out there. In one or two years, how much do you actually change? It’s the nuances that this show focuses on–nuances that you have obviously missed.

    Try applying Plinkett’s character test to them. You will find that each main character has a discrete, easily identifiable personality and considerable depth with regards to their relationships with each other and their time at the school. A “complete character in their own right” as you say. You will also find that not all of them are helpless, infantile caricatures–in fact, none of them are. Each displays strengths and weaknesses and each struggles and overcomes them in some way. Ultimately, they are high school girls with high school girl problems (like making friends or graduating and leaving friends behind). They are exaggerated, of course (often for comedic or moe effect), but they are not the shallow stock characters you make them out to be.

    You are hating on characters for essentially being developed characters in a character-driven show. You have also ignored the purpose of moe characters in a moe show. It’s like criticizing a comedy for having jokes.

    Why you are even expecting realism in a predominantly escapist medium is beyond me.

    I’m sorry if I sound harsh or rude. I’m just so fucking sick of people ragging on Show X because it’s “moe” without any knowledge of what the term actually means. They don’t realize that the criticism can be applied to practically any show because the terms they throw around are either misused or devoid of actual meaning.

    Please notice how you’ve provided no evidence to support why moe anime is bad other than the fact that it’s moe. (“Moe” in this case being a presumptuous redefinition meaning “narrative-degrading infantilization of characters”). This is circular. It’s bad logic, it’s bad criticism, and worst of all, it’s degrading the language and discourse as a whole.

    What you’re doing is irresponsible.

    Rant over.

    • Moeblob, via urbandictionary: “A character who is moe to the point of lacking almost any other definable traits, physically or character-wise. Cuteness taken to an unappealing level.”

      Otakus will watch shit like K-On! just because the girls look cute, the “real moe” sentiment you’re talking about doesn’t matter.


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  7. I think this is just a very specific version of the “Madonna/whore complex.” You have the hypersexualized Bond Girl you want to bang, and then the sweet innocent blob you want to be the mother of your children. It just comes from many straight guys being unable to reconcile the idea of a woman being both sexual and nurturing.

  8. The art in K-On is a moe-blob, the characters are extremely good – they did start with conventional character cliches, including the rich girl with the villa, but then they built out from there.

    I would say Yui is the most moe and she’s a very realistic depiction indeed of someone with actual ADD. It’s almost a clinical portrait. And it includes huge self-esteem issues and a terrible reputation in many areas that she doesn’t deserve – like being lazy, stupid, irresponsible, and a clumsy loser. and that clumsy nature isn’t played for moe appeal or laughs, she’s genuinely miserable about her inability to change anything. Since she’s not a bad musician, on balance, and she brings real joy to it, they treat her like a combination of a mascot and an idiot savant.

    Moreover the whole point of the show is that the light music clubs there – theirs and their teacher’s – don’t want to be part of the actual Japanese music process, which is like American Idol taken up to the max (Japan’s where America got it). They’re an extremely realistic indie band, actually. Complete with exhaustion, amazing support from the indie band community (or at least the girl-band part of it), financial issues (until the rich girl waves them away), and real disappointments.

    I have to give credit to my little pony, by the way, because Twilight Sparkle in one episode was as obviously about being OCD as Yui in K-On! is about having ADD.

  9. Some people like their steaks rare, others, well done.

    People who don’t like steaks rare will do themselves a big favor by not ordering theirs rare, and not walking around condemning other people’s choices.

    As if a 2D character can hurt anything in the 3D world. As if people liking moe or SFC characters hurts your life. Projecting much?

    Stop being a thought police.

    • A person’s beliefs are heavily shaped by their surroundings. Women are depicted as sex objects in media all the time, so people who watch these types of media will begin to subconsciously see women as sex objects, unless they consciously resist doing so. TV shows which objectify women ARE causing harm, because they are conditioning men to objectify women in real life. So, you don’t get to say “it’s just a matter of taste” when someone’s taste causes someone else harm.

  10. “My Little Pony”
    Err MLP is essentially moe anime except the characters have been turned into horses. You can even spot which anime stereotype each character was based on. Everything you criticized can apply to them, too. (Except the quality of writing is sometimes slightly better than your average moecrap. Though not always.)

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