The Gap

Long time no see. I’ve been on an extended break from the anime fandom since mid-June, mostly because of a little thing called the World Cup.

Now that I’m back, I’ve realized that, much to my horror, that I am experiencing something absolutely unprecedented:

The current anime season is so god-awful that I’ve actually run out of things to write about. Absolutely nothing is worth talking about.

So let’s do a little something different today. Readers of Behind the Nihon Review, I present to you…

…the gap moe.

What is THIS shit?!

Gap moe? Is that where you like your chicks split in half?”

No, that’s guro.

Look at this picture. The three girls displayed all contain qualities that would qualify them as gap moe.

The answer is NOT "small titties."

Have you figured it out? Here’s the answer:

Yamada (B Gata H Kei) has the libido of a prostitute, but is a virgin.

Poplar (Working!!) is 4’6″, but has a triple-D cup.

Murasaki (Kurenai) is 7, but acts at least three times her age.

Gap moe refers to the juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory character traits (insatiable libido and lack of sexual experience, short height and large chest, physical and mental age) in order to increase a character’s attractiveness. The juxtaposed traits can be physical (in Poplar’s case), mental (in Yamada’s case) or mixed (in Murasaki’s case). It’s certainly not a new concept. Gap moe is probably as old as anime itself, and I hesitate to call it a “moe”, though we will in this article, simply for the sake of coining useless terms. Gap moe features prominently in almost all romance anime, and certainly, anyone who’s seen more than three anime have most likely run across it before.

“But wait,” you might say. “I’ve never even heard of this concept before reading this article. How can I have seen gap moe before?

Shana and Louise and Taiga and Nagi and… and… uh… every other character Kugimiya Rie’s ever voiced

As the title of this section suggests, the Kugimiya Tsundere is one of the most prominent examples of gap moe. Now, I don’t have anything personal against Kugyuu, but everyone knows her for being notoriously typecast as tsundere. In addition, her tsunderes are not usually of the classical variety. Tsundere used to be a term for girls who are combative and hostile, and gradually grow affectionate towards the main character throughout the course of an anime. That makes sense. Most relationships start from 0 and grow from there.

But the Kugimiya Tsundere takes tsundere to its logical (?) extreme. The characters she portrays often have no good reason for hating the protagonist, and switch frantically between combative (tsun) and gentle (dere). The Kugimiya Tsundere does away with the concept of “natural progression” of feelings and attraction (somewhat) and replaces it for a perception gap, creating one of the most noticeable and widely-recognized instances of gap moe.

Yet, as we call know, Kugimiya Tsunderes aren’t usually the most compelling heroines. While Taiga (Toradora!) was rather adorable, it is fair to say that Louise (Zero no Tsukaima) and Shana (Shakugan no Shana) aren’t particularly interesting. The gap moe, like all other tropes, has the ability to fail, and it does, quite frequently.

Mind the Gap

Creators and directors exploiting one-dimensional character archetypes is nothing new. It happens all the time. The consequences of exploitative failure aren’t too great— at the worst, viewers have to deal with uninteresting, cookie-cutter characters that act in a very predictable fashion. With strong writing, a good plot, or flashy action sequences, a show with relatively weak characters can still be salvaged. (See: Macross F)

However, playing with gaps is much more dangerous, and the inability to flesh out characters with gaps in a plausible manner instantly kills shows into turns them into absolute drivel. Remember Kodomo no Jikan? The entire series was based on one huge gap moe, and required surgical precision in execution in order to make the show watchable. Needless to say, the creators failed. Kokonoe Rin’s infatuation for her 3rd grade teacher became little more than a device to gain cheap gags and random laughs here and there, and the large-breated loli (whose name I can’t even remember) became little more than fap fodder for pedophiles. Clearly not the right way to go about things.

A better formulation

Superficially, gap moe can be used to effectively make characters more interesting and more appealing. There’s something about Poplar’s short height and her figure that just makes her exotic. Yamada’s inner dialogues with herself are absolutely hilarious. So on and so forth. The examples are numerous. Why do they interest us?

Because characters with gaps act in unexpected ways. We perceive them as being fresh. One-dimensional characters are tired and boring. Who wants to see a successful older sister type character, or a doormat younger sister with an incestuous infatuation with her older brother? That’s been done a million times.

Consider the three elder Takanashi sisters from Working!! They all break the traditional “competent, caring older sister” stereotype in some regard. Kazue’s a loveless lawyer with an awful personality. Izumi can barely stand without Souta’s help. Kozue’s a belligerent alcoholic. Needless to say, their colorful personalities help make the Takanashi family such an interesting setting. Their various incompetencies make them more interesting, well-rounded characters. Had they all been cookie-cutter characters, Working!! would have been a far less interesting anime.

Doing away with the Moe in Gap Moe

As long as multifaceted characterization is used as a simple trick to increase characters’ attractiveness, gaps function in the realm of moe. Now, you all know me for my anti-moe bent. It’s easy for creators to ignore the “moe” aspect of “gap moe” and focus solely on creating interesting characters in their own right, not as a simple gimmick for tricking dumb otaku into buying more goods.

For example, look at Kurenai. Kuhouin Murasaki, the main heroine of the show, is a seven-year old raised in isolation by an extremely wealthy family. On the surface, she is haughty and arrogant, and also has the intelligence to convey thoughts and opinions that most seven-year olds are incapable of even formulating. However, at the same time, she holds the same sort of childish naivete and sense of wonder that only a seven-year old could possess. Viewers are fascinated by the juxtaposition between her attitude and her age, and take delight in watching two mutually incompatible facets of her personality clash and vie for dominance as she grows and develops. Ironically, through Murasaki’s precocious eyes, we understand what being seven is all about.

And that is gap moe at its finest: not a mere trick to make characters more attractive to drooling masses of fans wanting something new, but a deconstruction and analysis of an archetype. Through the use of seemingly contradictory character traits, writers can force viewers to question their assumptions regarding seemingly hackneyed character tropes. We may look at Murasaki upon first sight and scream “LOLI!!”, but upon closer inspection, we realize that she is anything but that.

Not always serious business

Though, as previously stated, using gaps to create gap moe is fine, too, especially in comedies. Yamada from B Gata H Kei is a prime example of a gap moe, and is probably one of the greatest female protagonists in rom-com history. Ultimately, gap moe relies on our fascination with the unique and the original, and is one of the most potent forces behind creating a good, solid character.

Notes and Stuff:

Everyone in Working!! (except for the characters that don’t matter, like the manager) exhibit some degree of gap moe. Maybe that’s why the show’s so good.

This season is god-awful, and it even shows in my writing. I almost wanted to talk about Morshima Haruka as gap moe, but… she’s just a failed character. I hate you, Amagami SS! The girls are still hot, though.

Finally, don’t take this post too seriously, though I think the concept of gap moe is, on a superficial level, pretty cool to think about. Note that gap moe is ultimately a class of character trope, just like any other. They’re just more interesting (in my opinion) for the reasons mentioned in the article. In addition, the incomptent older sister is my favorite generic character type, ever.

For all readers, new and old, be sure to come shoot the shit with me on #nhrv@irc.rizon.net. Also, @Hofrenska is my twitter.

8 Responses to “The Gap”

  1. This is certainly an interesting topic that you talked about here, and is certainly something that is prevalent in a lot of anime. I personally think it’s a superficial and, at this point in time, overused trope in anime. With any sort of direct juxtaposition between two opposing elements, you’re not really making a 3D character; you’re just looking at a 2D character from the behind. True 3D characters aren’t defined purely by a single internal struggle.

    If there’s one thing gap moe is good for, it’s creating archetypes. I think archetypes are mostly silly concepts if we’re considering them in the realm of moe appeal, but where it gets interesting is when you take a bunch of archetypal characters, and see how they interact together (example: Evangelion). It’s those kind of shows where I like the idea of de-moefying gap moes.

  2. I don’t know, it still feels like the next logical conclusion after you’ve got down the basic constructs. We have typical moe constructs, and then we have subversions and deconstructions of those. While these are certainly interesting, once they get used too often they become the construct, ala the Kugimiya tsundere. Yes, they can potentially make more complex characters, but as it currently stands the use is quite often heavy-handed and clumsy, simply being that amalgamation of traits and nothing more.

    What’s at play here, then, is the expectation of certain traits, which I think you probably should have placed more emphasis on. The traits don’t even need to be contradictory, I gander; they just need to be set up such that we don’t expect them together. It’s when our expectations start adapting towards this new gap moe that we create the new “popular” moe trait, which the Kugimiya tsunderes are. As such, I think gap moe is interesting because they act as prototypes to potential future moe traits that are then considered the norm. Your guess is as good as mine, however, as to the reasons why some gap moe is picked up and others are not (complex characters is definitely not one of them).

  3. I think Elineas has a point: it’s about character archetypes with unexpected traits, but I think Akira is simply focusing on the moe archetype.

    Nazuna, Takanashi’s youngest sister in Working!!, also works well with the moe gap because for a younger sister, she does exhibit understanding of people’s behavior and needs. This form of mature understanding is unlike you see in younger sisters you see in other anime titles.

    And I hate Kugumiya tsunderes, because they make the story damn predictable. When you see character archetypes like them on a show, you know it’s not about predicting what’s going to happen next; it’s more of how different the similar situations are going to be (sounds paradoxical, but I think you get what I mean).

  4. Gap moe is… moe about the gap? The gap itself is already interesting as you’ve listed, but I am not sure if it is actually moe, you know? Moe is more about a certain formulaic fetishism. The Kugyuu thing you’ve mentioned has nothing to do with personality gap as much as the play of a dominatrix.

    I always thought the thing about Poplar is not her non-loli body (she is just short), but that she is older than some of the characters that are way taller. Working uses the gap to make jokes, so if you enjoy that kind of jokes, there’s a lot of it in the show.

  5. Misa is gap moe. Satsuki agrees, so don’t ask her about it. http://yfrog.com/jxeclipsekaichouwamaidsamij

    I just want to point out that this isn’t a concept that Akira coined for the sake of coining a concept. This is something which Japanese anime fans have talked about for a while that has seemingly gone under the radar among Western fans.

  6. I can’t understand gap moe since I don’t understand regular moe, but does it include the sort of thing with little girls being super strong?

  7. I disagree with the loli/imouto stuff. Generic moe shows have been adopting the idea of, “the older you are, the stupider you become,” for awhile now. While some lolis are actually childish, many are snarky, genre-savvy and far smarter than their sibilings or group of friends, all of which are older than they are. Nogizaka Haruka (blegh) and B Gata H Kei come to mind for this, but I’m sure there are a lot that I’m forgetting. I’m not going to defend pedo-otaku but sometimes I wonder if the increasing acceptance of lolicon is because people are looking for maturity while the older characters in these shows are becoming increasingly airheaded.

    Still, like you’ve pointed out, the difference between moe and gap moe is that one is a cliche and the other is a gimmick. Once the gimmick is repeated enough, it too becomes a cliche. Then we need new gap moe to replace the moefied gap moe. As entertaining as the sisters in Working!! and the lead in B Gata H Kei are, they continue to be one-dimensional. Gap moe is just a lazy attempt at masking shallow characterization, and the characters used in this are almost always defined by their quirks. If the next step on the ladder is to give gap moe characters complexity and development, you might as well have just done that with regular moe in the first place.

    So the concept is anti-progressive; it could indefinitely postpone giving generic characters actual depth. The one positive that comes from it is that the larger number of archetypes to draw from will probably reduce the repetitveness of the current ones. Or anime could just add Lots and Lots of Characters to compensate for the new archetypes, and this could all just backfire.

  8. Thank you for your comments. Now, to go about answering them:

    @Mystlord:
    Indeed, as I point out in my article, Gap Moe is, at its core, still moe. It’s still a cheap trick for creating characters. As for archetypal characters interacting together, I think that gaps make that concept even more interesting because it creates the possibility of inter-personal and intra-personal relations.

    @Elineas:
    Yes, you’re right, it is the expectation. I honestly do think that gap moe is picked up for two reasons: because characters are interesting as characters, or because the gap in expectation becomes so large that characters actually become hot.

    @AC:
    Not much to add here, I more or less agree 100% with everything you say.

    @omo:
    I think the Kugyuu thing is a gap. Bipolar tsundere is definitely a gap, one of the most fundamental— a gap between affection and hatred. And yes, gap moe is the idea that two conflicting traits, when put together, can be extremely attractive.

    @Baka-raptor:
    Yes. I’m not too sure anyone finds that hot, though.

    @AuroraFlame:
    The concept is anti-progressive, unless we take it one step further like the writers of Kure-nai and step out of the realm of moe and into the realm of creating interesting characters in their own right, and not as objects of adoration.

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