Things That Aren’t Moe: Lips

Possible exceptions to the rule, courtesy of Inoue Makito.

Among the things pondered during my long blogging hiatus was the theme of lips. If you’re a human, you’ve got them in some capacity. If you’re an anime character, you likely don’t – especially if you’re a conventionally moe one. The understated mouth as an element of manga-style character design has been discussed since the days of BESM and before – if you’re a character classified as bishoujo, odds are good that your mouth looks a lot like the period at the end of this sentence.

The moe lips drinking game: take a shot for every lip you find in the doujin section of Toranoana’s online shop.

Where lips do appear, in most anime and manga it’s in the context of characters who would be charitably described as “assertive”. Less charitably, characters with pronounced lips tend to be loud, obnoxious, abrasive, and pushy, if not overtly threatening the masculinity of the protagonist. Lipstick is a statement: wear it and you’re a force to be reckoned with. On the extreme end, lips denote the sluts of anime.

Genshiken‘s Sasahara Keiko: lips and a personality to match.

Suffice to say Julia Roberts does not fit the paradigm of oral moe. But why is this? Why are the lips, and the mouth in general, so decentralized from the conception of “proper” 2D sensuality? In anime and manga at least, part of the reason may be the taboo nature of the kiss, the act treated in so many works as a stand in for sex. Grooming the lips to prominence implies sexual maturity, and with virginity so enshrined in the Japanese concept of kawaii and the otaku moe ideal, the sexually confident female is often viewed as undesirable.

14 volumes of Love Hina manga and 26+ episodes of anime were built around this moment.

Even in the 18+ market, rife with overt sexual situations, female characters with pronounced lips are more the exception than the rule. As I write I realize that this is less a commentary on design, and more on the (lack of) desirability of characters who have self-selected for sexual traits. The heart of moe is the lack of awareness of ones own allure (as I’ve argued elsewhere), and the application of any sort of obvious makeup violates this implicitly – the lips are just the most visible culprit.

Despite the oral emphasis of his doujinshi, Hitsuki of circle Frapper Spirits keeps the lips minimal. | Nise Kurosaki draws lips, sometimes!

What it boils down to is that lips, especially prominent, pigmented, collagen-injected ones, have very little place in the moe-dominated 2D visual culture of Japan. This isn’t a new thing, and the original reason for a demure presentation of lips in Japanese art is likely a more interesting topic than harping over their current absence. That said, for those of us who are fans of a good puckered pout, it’s clear that whatever it is we like, it’s not moe.

Shingo has been lamenting the dot-mouthed heroines of anime since 2008. He anticipates that this will be just the beginning of a lip-fueled exploration into the heart of what it is to be human – or at least what it’s not to be moe.

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26 Responses to Things That Aren’t Moe: Lips

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