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.