Moe VS. Harem

Moe is the feeling of love toward a fictional character. This concept is highly associated with slice of life shows like K-On!, Kinmoza!, Love Live!, and Tamako Market (which missed the memo about exclamation points). These anime have been labeled as “moe shows” because of how they are designed to provoke moe, especially for their intended heterosexual male audience.

That same audience is catered to by harem anime, the protagonists of which are often nondescript, lacking in unique personality or visual quirks. This is for the intended purpose of allowing audience members to self-insert themselves into the fantasy of being fawned over by multiple 2D women despite having no actual appealing qualities.


Clearly, the only the most logical conclusion has been reached by the characters of the harem anime, Infinite Stratos.

“Moe shows” provide a similar vehicle for this same fantasy. All the girls in the show are assumed virgins, upholding stereo-typical constructs of the feminine ideal such as youthfulness, innocence, cuteness and naivete. With little to no other men in the show, there’s no competition for the girl characters’ attention, and the viewer is able to fantasize about a show’s cast as a pre-made harem for themselves. Declarations of “waifu” or “best girl” and pornographic fan art for these shows only attest as proof that this fantasy taking root.

But sometimes these declarations and artistic creations come from female viewers, who actively participate in the sexualization of female characters. Since it’s girls sexualizing girls it’s immediately seen as a subversion of gender roles, as self-proclaimed “otaku journalist” Lauren Orsini puts it in a post about Love Live:

“Joke’s on them though, because this is the Bechdel Test in overdrive. And even if they have zero male romantic options, I just ship them with each other—and I’m certain I’m not the only one. Tell me you don’t see the chemistry!“

Her idea of Love Live as a triumph for female representation in media merely because the show passes the Bechdel Test isn’t very reassuring.

Many of these slice of life shows are enjoyed by a female (and sometimes male) audience for nonsexual reasons. These shows have a broader appeal than harem anime because they focus on female relationships rather than fighting over a man. But the idea of a group of high school girls never mentioning boys among themselves is unrealistic, and undeniably feeds into the pure 2D fantasy of moe.


Female fans of love live and similar anime, can also legitimately appreciate the homoerotic (under)tones of a show and the further exploration on the themes by derivative fan works. This could be on an individual sexual level or it could be used to take note of the issue of representation within media and the groups lacking there of (which the Bechdel test is meant to help identify).

But shipping the girls with each other doesn’t subvert any kind of the creators’ expectations or that of Japanese society.

Youthful homoeroticism is just another feminine ideal the Love Live characters uphold. In Japan, one of the challenges faced by homosexuals is convincing others that it’s a legitimate sexuality and not “just a phase”. In youth it’s expected for relationships among your own sex to be more important and fulfilling, and this doesn’t inherently imply that these relationships are romantic or sexual in nature but that idea is not excluded either.

Yuri fans are familiar with the class S story line where schoolgirls confess their love to one another and then merely hold hands, implying a romantic/sexual relationship that will disappear with maturity. Love Live knowingly implies the same kinds of relationships for shippers to feed off of. The least subtle being the character that molests her underclassmen for kicks.


Aww, isn’t sexual assault adorable?

Love live carries aspects of the class S formula despite none of the characters actually becoming romantic partners.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the lesbianism in Love Live and other “moe shows” is a performance meant to titillate, and inspire fans, particularly doujin writers (male or female). It’s not meant to be a true representation of lesbians, bi girls or any realistic version of a women. It’s meant to feed into that same 2D fantasy that frames these characters as mere sex objects meant to be manipulated for the viewer’s pleasure. Even if you are a woman consuming the fantasy, it doesn’t change the implications of the fantasy.

“Moe shows” in a way have innovated the harem genre by allowing the viewer to self insert themselves in any form rather than just as a cookie cutter boring teenage boy. Thus opening possibilities for its audiences to grow beyond more than just one gender and one sexuality. This only contributes more to moe’s growing palatability among those who don’t fit into the cliche image of male otaku.


Related Posts:

Understanding the Connection Between Eyepatches, Chunibyo and Moe

[This post was originally posted: Aug, 17th 2016 on the Otaple 1/2 Tumblr]

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