Analyzing the Anime Lexicon

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Many times languages have borrowed words for another; if you're familiar with Spanish a great deal of words in that language are common with English, and if you know Japanese the same situation is true. The word 'taxi' is exactly the same across quite a few languages, and even English, the seeming source for a lot of words (perhaps not, but being my first language I tend to make comparisons to it), has quite a few foriegn phrases put into rotation in everyday colloquial use.

These phrases are one of the ways a person can be in effect judged by their cover; by the uncommon terms that they insert in their speech one can learn a lot about their hobbies and tastes. Among anime fans this infiltration is quite common, if not so much in everyday speech than at least in electronic conversation.

Now of course there has been a bit of a backlash against the use of random Japanese words in a language which is decidely not Japanese from both sides. From the foreigner argument, it dilutes and sometimes perverts the meaning of the word. From the comprehension side, you sound ridiculous when you randomly devolve into foreign conversation. Observe anyone who routinely uses the word 'kawaii' and ^_^ faces.

But of course there is a very logical reason for using foriegn terms in conversation; oftentimes some words just don't make the jump from one language to another cleanly - as in, without taking two sentences to explain something better summed in one word. Or maybe you just want to sound like you know what you're talking about.

So this post will take a vaguely in-depth look at some of the more common terms used among the English anime community (or at least, the ones I'm familiar with), how they got started, and whether it's a sane idea to continue using them.

Also, hopefully I'll sound less like a dry term paper.

1) Moe
Moe is one of those really annoying terms. On one side, it's become so much of a popular term among anime watchers on both sides that it's really begun to lose all value. Loosely defined from the start as "something that makes one want to protect the character", it continues to grow more vague as people refine their tastes. Shy girl moe, or naive moe makes sense, but then we go farther and farther down the scale to bandage moe, clumsy moe, small chest moe and one starts to wonder if one should just begin to sub "fetish" in instead.

The standard definition of moe from what I've seen and experienced is that it's a non-sexual adoration for a character. One could call a character 'cute' or 'adorable' instead of moe; but moe isn't usually a term that could be subbed for "I'd hit that."

It may vary from person to person since the definition is so subjective; one might consider a character moe, another might not.

Moe is a term that certainly borders on being thrown around too much, whether from the pro-side screaming "MOEEEEEEEEE" (insert that manga page of Kohaku + Hisui moe moe bath towel), or the anti-side dismissing shows like Lucky Star as "moe trash."]

But I feel that it's a valid term mainly because it is hard to pin down to one definition that could be translated into English. 'Adorable' or 'cute' comes close, and I use those as substitutes sometimes, but those don't really seem to convey the affection/attraction usually associated with moe as well.

2) Tsundere
Tsundere's a fun one. The definition for it is essentially "a character with both tsuntsun and deredere characteristics," usually a girl.

That's great. If you want to expand it to English it's "a character who at times acts cold and aloof towards another character, and at other times acts very shy and affectionate." Which is, well, a mouthful.

Which gets to the point that tsundere should probably remain in the anime terminology mainly because there is no other simple term for it. Observe:

"Haruhi is a tsundere."
"Haruhi's sometimes cold to Kyon at times but she can be really shy and submissive around him as well at times."

Clunky, isn't it?

Considering the first battle won, the second argument is of the definition of tsundere. What definition? I just explained it. But even with so many words, the exact characteristics of a tsundere are tricky to pin down. Relatively extreme tsunderes - Akiha of Tsukihime or Shana of her own series - are easy to figure out, but drawing the line is one of the hard parts.

Haruhi's a hotly debated one. Makoto from Kanon has my vote. But Kagami of Lucky Star? D.C.'s Nemu? Yuma from To Heart 2? Aono of sola? Where do you stop?

The more you allow the definition of tsundere to slip the less meaning the term actually has and so it's argued in some places (and in some, er, Lucky Channels) that this term needs to be taken in to the body shop for a makeover before we end up in a freaky parallel universe where Sakura Kinomoto's a tsundere.

But I think it works fine as is as well. Tsunderes are a well defined class of anime characters that can't really be easily shoehorned into other stereotypes because they are their own stereotypes. It's more important to figure out just who deserves this classification and who could use a different category.

Although, it might just be better to say a character has tsundere characteristics, while not per se being one.

3) Loli/lolicon (lolipedofin)
While exactly not a Japanese term nor exclusively an anime term, loli can be pretty easily associated with both, as at least from Westerners' point of view, Japan has a pretty strange obsession with kids.

Loli essentially has taken on the meaning of "someone is who is or looks young, mostly in anime", while lolicons are ones who...enjoy...lolis.

And so while it would seem easy to substitute a word such as 'child' or 'kid' for loli, the matter is a bit deeper. Just like calling someone 'stubborn' has a much different meaning than calling them 'resolute', labeling a character as 'loli' as opposed to 'child-like' has a different effect.

'Loli' has a sort of sexual connotation to it that other words wouldn't convey. Lolis are generally characters that look young just for the sake of looking young; the 18-year-old that looks like a 6th-grader because of some magic spell, tragic accident, or just because is occasionally looked down upon for being, in a sense, pedophile bait.

Now of course values differ from place to place and I'm sure us Yanks look unhealthily obsessed with the other end of the size scale at times but that's the gist of the term loli in that it does have a meaning that similar words would not.

And so it'll miss the lexicon banhammer as well.

You'll notice that I've given the clear to all the terms discussed today, perhaps because I consider these some more of the high-level anime terms in that even some anime viewers don't know what they are. I remember reading about moe at Megatokyo a year or two back and being stumped - and now I'm suprised how much it's took off.

More common, perhaps anime terms such as 'kawaii' (cute) and 'bishie' (i.e. bishonen i.e. hot, more or less) as well as standard greetings (konnichiwa, sayonara, ja ne, etc) I look a bit more down upon, but that might just be an unhealthy link between some of those words and "low-level" anime fans (where their only experience is a single show or two, usually through the English market - Bleach/Naruto/any yaoi-bait show/etc.). But arguably, these terms can be legitimately removed as well, since most of them have a simple English equivalent. The only reason to use them in English conversation is to show off a "masterful" knowledge of a foreign language. Or just to confuse people.

I'll leave you with a test: next time you hear a person use the word 'kawaii', call them 'kowai' and see how they react.



Despite my periodic usage of the ^_^ face, I completely agree with most of what you've written here... and I fear any alternate universe in which Sakura could be considered a tsundere.

On the subject of kawaii, though, I have an ever-so-slight divergence of opinion. It seems to me that there's a particular spin on cuteness in Japanese culture which imparts a particular flavor to "kawaii" which simply isn't present in the English term "cute," because we don't have the same cultural cachet associated with the concept of cuteness. In that sense, I think of kawaii more as a technical term than as simply a pretentious way to say "OMG SO CUTE!!!11!1!"

Then again, I've led a sheltered life as a manga and anime fan thus far. Were I to be exposed to squeeing fangirls nattering away in bad Japanese, I'm sure I'd find them pretty kowai, too. ;)

That's a good point that the word 'cute' does kind of have different meanings in both cultures; I know I've used it more than once in the sarcastic sense.

Maybe it's just that I've never seen a casual use (i.e. not in caps and followed by !!!!11!!) of the word. As such I remain elitist about such words mixing in with otherwise 'normal' English language.