When you visit any online anime community, you will see a lot of Japanese terms being thrown around such as moe, ecchi, shounen, shoujo, yuri, and yaoi. Sometimes terms are used incorrectly or their meaning has been twisted but those have become the norm for English-speakers, some examples include hentai and otaku. All of these terms have been around for a long time, but when I look at them, I notice that something which was found in almost every anime discussion has practically died. What I am referring to is the term “kawaii”.
OK, maybe it isn’t actually dead, but it certainly isn’t anywhere near as popular as it used to be, at least from my experience.
Some of you may remember the golden age (or dark times, however you see it) of kawaii. Whenever a group of anime fans got together, their conversations would usually be about kawaii this or kawaii that or “kya~ that’s so kawaii!” or include a long and drawn out “kawaii~~~”. It was almost like a competition, whoever could use kawaii the most in their speech/writing was the more obsessed (and better) anime fan.
If the term was so prevalent in the past, what happened to it? Did people finally realize that there’s a shorter word in the English language that means the exact same thing (ie: cute)? Did pressure from the anti-kawaii brigade finally pay off and kawaii users simply yielded to abuse? Maybe the term was just replaced with a more ambiguous one? I think all of these had a role to play in the declining use of kawaii.
Lets consider the meaning of the word kawaii. Whenever someone new to anime would ask what kawaii meant, a senior fan would usually respond that it was the Japanese word for “cute” and rhymes with Hawaii. As for why you would use kawaii rather than cute when speaking or writing in English, it was a way of identifying yourself as an anime fan. When you think about it though, there are plenty of other ways to show that you like anime. Also considering that cute is shorter than kawaii and has the same meaning, there’s really no reason to use kawaii in the first place.
I think the anti-kawaii brigade/squad/group or whatever you want to call them had some influence too. If you were constantly flamed for using the term kawaii or for watching kawaii anime, wouldn’t you eventually stop? Kawaii was significantly over-used though so I don’t blame the anti-kawaii people for being so mean, and if you’ve ever seen Kokoro Library, you’d understand why they were against kawaii anime too. Kokoro Library was like a precursor to today’s slice-of-life anime, but it had absolutely no comedy, no drama, and no light music club. Kokoro Library was just 100% pure kawaii.
So will kawaii ever come back? Probably not. You just have to look around the internet and you’ll see why. The term moe (pronounced mo-eh) has taken over kawaii’s position as the dominant description of anything cute and/or attractive in anime fandom. To understand why, we will need to take a look at the word itself and the meaning behind it.
Moe is about the same length as cute so that eliminates the question of why use a longer word to describe the same thing. There’s also that “for anime fans” feel about it because of the way it’s written and pronounced. Most people don’t include the accent above the e so it just looks like the name Moe. Only those familiar with anime would be able to tell that it’s pronounced mo-eh.
The term moe also has a broader and more ambiguous meaning than kawaii ever did. Wikipedia lists some different interpretations of the term coming from people who you’d think would know what it meant. Truth be told, even though I’m a member of the Moe Coalition, I still have absolutely no clue what moe is. To make it easy on myself, I consider any character I’d hug to be moe. Since no one can pin a definition to moe, it makes it hard for anti-moe people to make an argument against it, unlike the anti-kawaii people.
You just have to look at events like the Saimoe Tournament or the International Saimoe League to get why anti-moe people have a hard time. Practically every female anime character is present in the preliminary/nomination rounds and that means that they are all considered at least somewhat moe. Unless you hate female anime characters in general, you can’t really be completely anti-moe. This argument gives moe lovers a shield that the kawaii lovers never had and is probably where the old kawaii lovers moved to.
Of course, everything I’ve stated so far has just been from my personal observations over the years. Perhaps there’s a group of kawaii anime lovers still in existence in some corner of the internet that I don’t know about, or maybe it was just a coincidence that I was bombarded with so much kawaii in the past that I took it to be some big fad. What do you guys think? Is kawaii dead? Was it even a popular term when you started watching anime? Is moe the successor to kawaii? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.
This post is part of the Guide to Anime project. For more guides on various topics related to anime, check out the project page.