Thu 7 Feb 2013
Anime is a medium full of archetypes, so more often than not, characters will have a certain set of traits that pigeonhole them into established character types — tsundere, tomboy, yamato nadeshiko, hot-blooded hero, reticent intellectual, and so on. Of course, if every character in every show was simply a certain archetype played straight, watching anime would get boring in a hurry. The best characters are the ones that mix and match character traits, so while they might fall under a certain archetype, they are still multifaceted and interesting.
Of course, stitching character traits together can easy go awry, so you have to be careful, lest it end disastrously and result in a character whose actions become nonsensical. On the other hand, even characters forged from tried-and-true archetypes can come across as forced and awkward in the hands of a bad writer. Every once in a while, though, some gifted writer decides to take gar, the quality of being absurdly bad-ass, and moe, the quality of being heart-burstingly adorable, and combines these seemingly mutually exclusive traits in one character. Then something magical happens. A character is born that can house both the nutbladder-rupturing power of moe and the blood-boiling, “FUCK YEAH” power of gar. This, my friends, is true gar-moe.
Now, I don’t necessarily mean that these characters are both adorable and bad-ass at the same time (although I have seen it happen). Rather, they can transition between gar mode and moe mode smoothly and believably. Sometimes this is a longitudinal change, like Akemi Homura from Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica maturing from a moe shrinking violet to a battle-hardened bad-ass by the start of the series. Other times, characters switch between the two modes depending on the narrative context, like Saber from Fate/stay night or Misaka Mikoto from Toaru Kagaku no Railgun. In fact, it is common to find gar-moe characters in many magical girl shows as a result of bestowing magical power and prowess on characters designed to look cute, as dictated by the genre. Hell, even the Precure contain a multitude of gar-moe characters and they’re made for younger girls.
Obviously, having a character that can be intense and strong as well as cute and funny is an extremely powerful narrative tool because they can play a role in a huge variety of scene types. Since, people watch anime for many different reasons, you can also use one character satisfy the needs of more of the audience rather than wedging multiple one dimensional characters into the plot. Personally, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a cute girl go from being sullen and defeated to determined and intense and then kicking the almighty bejeezus out of someone. Nothing. It’s what made me fall in love with Nono from Top o Nerae 2! Diebuster and opened my eyes to the glory of true gar-moe characters.
Note I’ve only named girls so far. I would be lying if I said that I was not biased towards female characters, but there is also an overall bias in the anime industry to put more work into female characters. However, it is not unheard of to have a male character be gar-moe. Pre-time-skip Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a pretty good example since he definitely has his moments when he’s cute and vulnerable, but also kicks unholy amounts of ass when he’s pissed. Tatsumi Kanji, from Persona 4 is another example: he beats the shit out of biker gangs for his mom’s sake and gets super flustered when people bring up his feminine hobbies. In fact, the entirety of Kanji’s internal conflict has do to with what he perceives as a dichotomy of his hobbies and his gender role. He resolves this conflict by coming to terms with the fact that it’s ok to be both masculine and feminine.
This brings me to a major reason why I love gar-moe characters. True gar-moe characters challenge the existence of gender roles. There is an inherent sexism of referring to characters who are hot-blooded, strong, and impulsive as “manly” and those that are meek, caring, and emotional as “girly”. For that matter, there are far too many characters that only have traits that supposedly correspond to their sex. From a narrative standpoint, these characters tend to be generic and weak; from a realism standpoint, these characters are creatively bankrupt. Humans are way, WAY too complex and varied to be reduced to a discrete set of behavioral traits that are based on that person’s gender. There are loving mothers who are scary when they lay the smack down for the sake of discipline. Likewise, there are super bad-ass men whose determination and strength inspire utter awe in those around them, but can also be caring and gentle. To say that a person is not allowed to act a certain way because they are male or female is as ludicrous as it is arrogant. So, while there is a tendency for characters in literature to be used as literary devices rather than human beings, it is not impossible to have characters who are both multifaceted in personality and allegorical in nature.
Creating multifaceted characters takes skill, but creating one that spans the gap of gender roles shakes the very foundations of our society. By making these characters believable and likable, people’s eyes are opened to the diversity of the human race, maybe even helping them learn to accept and understand the different kinds of people that are out there. AND THEY’RE DOING IT WITH CUTE GIRLS THAT KICK MAJOR ASS. This is the miracle of gar-moe. There is no shortage of people in our world that need to call down and learn to accept and listen to other people and media is a powerful way to influence people one way or another. So here’s to hoping that more writers will choose to take up this righteous banner. The future has never looked more gar-moe.