What is in a moment: On the semantics of Moe and GAR

Okay so I won’t lie this post is largely inspired by this post and this post and this post, even though that last one doesn’t really have anything to do with the topic it got me thinking about this subject. I’m also not entirely sure if I’m right here, but I’m interested in what people think.

On Defining Moe and GAR

When it comes to defining these two words, I’m often reminded of the quote about pornography, “I know it when I see it.” That’s because both of these phenomena are defined by the viewer’s perception of the character. Even how people use the words is generally referring to themselves (i.e. “I’m GAR for Archer” and “I get so moe for X character.”

The problem is that as Will pointed out in his post on Criminally Weird (the second link), and iknight and CCY have both stated, there’s a definite set of characteristics that go along with these characters. A moe character has to seem to be weak and innocent (or have moments where they need to be protected) and they have to look frail and small. A GAR character has to do something heroic and possibly self-sacrificing. While they evoke these emotional responses from the viewer, the characters have to perform actions to evoke these emotional responses.

Which is why they become so hard to define. What might evoke a moe or GAR response in one viewer may not evoke the same response in another viewer. So in the end we’re left with conflict about what really constitutes the character attributes that lead to these emotional responses. Essentially we know moe or GAR when we see it, and sometimes everyone will agree that a particular character is worth the label, sometimes some people will agree, sometimes nobody will agree.

But I’d like to propose a distinction anyway, perhaps a way of seeing both of these phenomena. Because I do think they link, or rather they present a similar problem.

In the Moment

I’m sure people will disagree with me on this one, but I don’t think a character is either moe or GAR. I think the characters actions at a particular moment are either moe or GAR. Any story is made up of a series of moments and in any good story those characters could be in any of several emotional states. So even a character that’s designed to elicit a moe reaction, such as Chuhiro in ef, can have a moment where she’s angry or decisive. All of which are particularly un-moe moments. Or a character like Misato from Eva can have moments where she’s particularly un-GAR, such as when she’s pining over Kaji or her Dad.

Now if a character has a series of GAR or moe moments, then we might define them as either GAR or moe, but I don’t think it’s really the character, so much as the action or emotion in that particular scene. Granted, if a character only had GAR or moe moments then we could define them as either GAR or moe, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the character, but the consistency of the character’s reaction.

On the counter-argument

Now I’ll admit, there is a counter argument to all this. It would be easy to say, well the character is necessary to carry out those moments. So it must be the character’s traits that allow the character to do that. Yes, I do think the character is necessary to carry out these moments, but if the character solely consisted of GAR or moe traits, then they become a less appealing character.

For example, take Aragorn from Lord of the Rings – when I first read the books, I thought “blah this guy is boring because all he does is epic stuff,” but when I saw the movies and it has moments where he shows weakness and longing, he suddenly became a more appealing character.

Another example would be Alex Rowe from Last Exile. Yes, when he offed those five guards in about three seconds, I felt really GAR for him. But when he was pining over his lost love, well it wasn’t really all that GAR. But it did show a side to the character we hadn’t seen, and it provided some depth. Arguably not a lot of depth, but at least more than he would have if he consistently had GAR moments.

A sliding scale

So I guess where all of this is leading to is proposing a sliding scale of GAR or moe. In fact, I’d say that whether a character is GAR or moe is determined by the amount of times they do GAR or moe stuff.

In My View: On Classic and Popular Anime

Cameron’s first rule of Classic Anime: A series will be deemed a classic based on the popularity of the show among the elite when it was released.
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So I’ve seen a lot of talk around the blogs about what type of anime is cool or good or defines a person as an otaku rather than just a casual viewer. I really wanted to write a post about it, but I couldn’t really focus on it. Honestly, it’s reminded me a lot of the whole new vs. old debate. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about anime “classics” much like other classics, generally it’s based on what a select group of people think about a series at the time it was released.
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Take a Nadia: The Secret of the Blue Water for instance, the elite seem to think that it’s a classic. Hell even Bamboo Dong over on ANN supported the show and generally I agree with her. But, it’s a horrible, horrible show. It’s long. It’s tedious. The characters are okay, but they’re pretty predictable. The plot is tired after about ten episodes and decides to take a long nap. The world is pretty cliche (Come on, it’s Atlantis?).
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In fact, the only thing the show is good for is giving it the MST3K treatment. And even at that you need to have a bunch of friends to do it with. And I’m not even going mention the quality of the animation. They won’t give it up though, mostly because of another trend:
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Cameron’s Second Law of Classic Anime (The Persistence Effect): A series or movie will persist to be a “classic” as long as the majority of the elite consider it a classic.
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To be fair, I do like reading a lot of the columns and listening to the podcasts of the elites. Which means that they have the ability to continue to spread their gospel of what is a classic and what isn’t a classic. The problem is that once a series enters the Canon it can’t get shaken out.
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Mostly, I think it’s a factor of an emotional reaction. These were the series that the top dogs watched way back when and that got them into anime in the first place. So they’re associated with a happier time, back when they were introduced to anime. So I have some sympathy towards their situation. But, not much.
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Although it’s interesting to note that there’s another effect that goes on with “classics”.
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Cameron’s Third Law of Anime Classics (The Degradation Effect): Each new generation of fans will reassess or dismiss classics.
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With as much new stuff that is coming out year after year, those classics are starting to slowly lose their hold. Mostly because I think a new generation of elite is starting to find their way onto the Internet. Granted, I don’t think enough time has really passed to supplant the current set, but I have started to see it happen.
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Sure there are classics that deserve to be classics, but there are so many more that don’t. In fact, I would even dare to say that a solid majority of the classics out there aren’t really all that hot.
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Although this has lead to another phenomenon that I’ve started to hear about, which is a culture clash between older fans and newer fans. Not so much from the newer fans side of things, but more from the older fans who don’t understand why people would like X show more than they like the classics. In a lot of ways, they can’t see past their own emotional opinion to really get at whether or not their favorites really are good shows. Or were they just good at the time.
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Agree or disagree? Leave a comment or e-mail iniksbane@gmail.com.