Lentis/Moe Anthropomorphism

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In Japan, the affection for two-dimensional characters in lieu of physical attraction to any human being is known in slang terms as the word moe, derived from the Japanese words for “burning” or “budding” in terms of a romantic relationship. [1] An ideal moe relationship consists of a man freeing himself from the burdens and expectations of ordinary human interactions and expresses his affection and attraction for a chosen character, free from judgment or rejection.[1] Moe is commonly defined as a character’s ability to instill in an audience an irrational affectionate desire.[2] Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human shape and personality to non humans. Moe anthropomorphism involves applying moe characteristics to non-human objects and concepts and is commonly used in Japanese manga and anime.

Background Information[edit]

Anime culture is a lucrative and important part of Japanese society. Consumers are estimated to spend $18 Billion dollars a year on anime and related products [3] The market for anime sales alone has been estimated to be $1.5 Billion. The majority of this content is produced in Japan and comprises over 60 percent of worldwide animation. [4] Extreme fans of anime are referred to as Otaku, which means a person with obsessive interests. Due to Japans affluence the Otaku lifestyle of extreme consumption and fandom has become one of many popular alternatives to the once dominant focus on attaining a stable career in a large corporation. By 2009 Approximately 1/3 of the Japanese public self identified as an Otaku. [5]

Approximately half of the $1.5 Billion market for anime is made up of fan produced work called dojinshi created in Otaku communities called dojin. Dojin are niche online fan communities who produce art and fanfiction about copyrighted works. Some of the most prominent Dojin communities exist on the websites 2channel, Pixiv and WirePop. Contrary to the approach of many U.S. entertainment companies Japanese firms encourage these communities to keep fan interest alive and maintain a pool of talented artists. The distinction between producer and consumer in Otaku culture is blurred, and many artists will produce dojinshi of their own published work. [6]

Artistic styles similar to moe have been common in anime since the 1940's and have roots in western animation. During the post World War II occupation of Japan there was a large importation of Disney comics and animation. For economic reasons Japanese children's manga largely adopted western animated tropes such as anthropomorphized characters and a colorful artistic style. The work of Osamu Tezuka, creator of the tv shows Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, is a prominent example of this. Additionally Tezuka drew inspiration from European cinematographic techniques such as having extended scenes focused on the exaggerated facial reactions of a single character. As Tezuka's work increased in popularity, anthropomorphism and an exaggerated artistic style became prominent features of Japanese animation. [6]

Although some of the components of moe had become prominent it was not until the 1990s that moe emerged as a distinct aesthetic. It began on the board 2Channel when dojin created female characters who were hybrids of the Lolicon and bishoujo genres, the former focused on attraction to prepubescent girls while the latter focused on attraction to young post pubescent females. Since the 1990s moe anthropomorphism has become a popular trope in anime culture, in large part due to the online Dojin communities who created it. [7] The Dojin's use of moe anthropomorphism can be broadly broken down into usage for political expression and satire, entertainment, and advertising with some overlap between the categories.


Moe versions of Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia, and Wikiquotes created by Wikipedia user Kasuga

OS-Tan refers to the moe anthropomorphism of software. While the characters used in OS-Tan are usually derived from operating systems (the OS from OS-Tan), many other widely used pieces of software and websites such as Norton AntiVirus[8], McAfee Antivirus[9], Wikipedia[10], and Mozilla Firefox[11] are also commonly anthropomorphized. The vast majority of these anthropomorphisms began as fan creations. The Windows operating systems are particularly popular subjects[12]. OS-Tan have been depicted in a variety of media including a fan created opening video for a fictional OS-Tan TV Show[13] and manga.[14]

Use for satire/political Expression[edit]

Moe Anthropomorphism naturally lends itself to satire as objects can be made into characters that are parodies of their base concept. Dojin communities frequently utilize moe anthropomorphism to this effect. Illustrative examples of this include Hinomoto Oniko and the Green Dam Girl.

People cosplaying as Green Dam Girl and an operating system, uploaded by wikipedia user Kasuga

On September 7, 2010 a Chinese trawler collided with Japanese coast guard vessel's near the disputed Senkaku Islands. The Chinese captain was detained in response and diplomatic conflict ensued. [15] Anti Japanese tensions and hate speech proliferated on Chinese internet boards. Japanese Dojin communities responded through moe anthropomorphism. Noticing that the common chinese slur Japanese devils could also be translated as a women's name, users on 2channel decided to create a moe character to reclaim the phrase. [16] They created a wiki site titled "Let’s turn the Chinese moe-moe by making a character called Hinomoto Oniko!" and used it to organize character designs, motives and guidlines for use through a voting system. Within 2 months over 2000 designs for the character Hinomoto Oniko were submitted by users and videos about the character were very popular on video sharing site NDD and on YouTube. [17]

Another illustrative case is that of the Green Dam Girl. In 2009 the Chinese Ministry of Information and Industry Technology announced that it would be mandatory to install the Green Dam Youth Escort software to restrict online pornography. [18] Contrary to its stated purpose however, 85% censored keywords were political in nature and only 15% were pornographic. Outraged Chinese internet users responded by creating the character of green dam girl. [19] Pictures and videos proliferated online of the anthropomorphism of the Green Dam software harassing anthropomorphized versions of operating systems and computer. This content became very popular and was a symbol of the larger backlash against the green dam censorship software. [17]

Use for Entertainment[edit]

One of the primary uses of moe anthropomorphism is for the purpose of entertainment. For example, a popular Pixiv tag for "Anthropomorphic club" has turned British soccer/football clubs such as Manchester United, Tottenham, and Arsenal into schoolgirls. Also, the World Cup 2014 countries have been rendered as cute and/or sexy girls. In a shocking case of gender role reversal, Entaku Seitokai (Round Table Student Council) transforms the heroic knights of Arthurian legend into cute girls, as do the visual novels Knight Carnival! and 12+. Various deities from religions worldwide personify certain concepts or locations but not all of the personifications are cute. For instance, Egyptian gods like Osiris, Ra, Horus, and Isis are occasionally depicted as trees or normally inanimate objects with human arms or heads attached. [20]

Certain places, cultural traditions and institutions can also be personified. To point that out, in the episode “I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can”, Lisa Simpson dreams of each of the Seven Sisters Colleges as being personified by an attractive woman.[20] That is because each of the following colleges were historically women’s colleges: Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Radcliffe College, Vassar College, and Wellesley College.[21] Also, in August 2014, two female characters, Kiyo Nishino and Ruri Kise debuted at a local summer festival in Nose, Osaka Prefecture in Japan. Those anthropomorphic characters represent the traditional Japanese art of puppetry "ningyo joruri", which has been passed down through generations in the town. Nishino, who holds a Japanese lily in her hand, has a personality with both cold and warm aspects, and Kise, who sports deer horn-shaped hair accessories and wears colorful kimonos, dreams of being an idol. Joruri Theater, a local puppet theater, and other entities decided to turn to moe characters, with its members wanting to promote the theater’s activities to younger generations due to ageing performers and previous audience members.[22]

Use in Advertising[edit]

Moe anthropomorphism has enjoyed a good deal of usage by companies to advertise and introduce consumers to their products. These anthropomorphisms generally represent products offered by the institutions and often take the form of women who are given personal aspects taken from their source products and are cute or overtly sexualized.

The Microsoft Corporation[edit]

The Microsoft Corporation has introduced characters for many of its products, including the nineteen year old girl Inori Aizawa who represents Internet Explorer (a web browser bundled with their Windows operating system).[23] Inori has been presented by the company in a variety of media, including a Facebook profile that instills her with a number of personal details unrelated to her source material (blood type, astrological sign, etc.) and a history which mimics that of the browser she is based on. The profile is written from her point of view and at one point states "When I was younger, I used to be a clumsy, slow and awkward girl."[24] a statement that the creators of Inori, Collateral Damage Studios, hinted was derived from the browser's earlier versions reputation for bad performance.[25] Inori has also appeared in a short animé in which she uses mystical powers to combat robotic figures apparently representing the malware that the browser is designed to defend against using artefacts resembling icons used within the application.[26] Inori is an example of a fan OS-Tan creation that was later officially adopted by Microsoft.[27]

Microsoft's Windows 7 also received an anthropomorphism in the form of Nanami Madobe from Japan. Like Inori Aizawa, Nanami also interacts with fans via social media (in her case, a Twitter profile).[28] She has been depicted in advertisements as a girl who enjoys building computers that she can later put Windows on[29], a fact that is also supported by her Twitter profile, which is filled with pictures of computer components.[28] This is another example of an anthropomorphism whose personality is taken from its source product.

Another character often utilized by the Microsoft Corporation in Taiwan is Hikaru Aizawa, who represents the company's Silverlight browser plugin software.[30] Unlike Inori, Hikaru is occasionally depicted by the company in a sexualized manner such as wearing a bikini (from a suggestive angle)[31] or in revealing clothing.[32]

Image Line Software[edit]

Image Line Software is another company that creates moe anthropomorphisms of their software. Their popular digital audio workstation program FL Studio is depicted in the form of FL-Chan[33], who is made to resemble the FL Studio logo.[34] Similar anthropomorphisms were created for their synthesizer plugins Harmor[35] and Harmless.[36] These characters are both depicted as women lying in suggestive poses, recalling Microsoft's depiction of Hikaru Aizawa. Additionally, Harmor is drawn with a large amount of armor and accessories, referencing the product's tag line of "nothing else to add".[35]


Moe anthropomorphism allows an artist to instill objects and concepts with a range of human characteristics, opening up new dimensions of expression. Green Dam Girl demonstrates that satire is possible by exaggerating unwanted behavior and Hinomoto Oniko shows that moe anthropomorphism can be used for re-appropriating the slanderous into something positive. Corporations use it to suggest their products are attractive, as with Microsoft's Hikaru Aizawa and Image Line's Harmor and Harmless, and to give them human aspects that reflect how they want the products to be seen and used, as Microsoft did with Nanami Madobe and Inori Aizawa. The existence of strong online communities has been critical to popularizing the technique of Moe anthropomorphism. Although components of this style predate the rise of online fan communities, it was not until the 1990s that moe anthropomorphism emerged as a distinct art style on the website 2Channel. The online dojin communities then proceeded to utilize moe anthropomorphism in the fan art and manga they created. Traditional media companies and technology firms encouraged these dedicated online communities as ways to maintain interest in their products and a talented pool of artists and adopted the moe anthropomorphism style, often making direct use of fan created moe characters such as the OS-tans. Thus the popularity of moe anthropomorphism illustrates the powerful effect advances in technological infrastructure has on artistic expression.


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