February 07, 2008

On Moe vs. GAR

IKnight has been working on a series of posts laying out the basic concept of GAR, and it got me to thinking about how Moe and GAR in many cases are opposing sides of the same coin.

Things are going to be a bit disjointed, and I'm sure there will be many things that get left out. I'm not writing a thesis here. Hell, I should be working right now. I'm assuming a level of familiarity with current anime characters, but I'm also going to be working from a set of ideas drawn from this essay. Take a minute or 20 to read through it, because I believe somewhere in the metaphor of the sheep, sheepdog and wolf lies a clearer definition of moe and GAR.


Think about many of the characters we commonly understand as being moe. Some are moe almost all the time (Mikuru), while others swing in and out of moe based on circumstances (Shana). These characters are at their most moe when they're displaying all the classic "sugar, spice, and everything nice" associated with innocence, cute disfunction and often cluelessness.

But moe is as much a function of the observer as it is the character. Another definition I've seen around is moe is the degree to which you want to just reach into the screen and give the character a hug. Moe draws out the gentle side of the Protector in the observer.

Moe is the distillation of the relationship between the vulnerability of the sheep and the protective instincts of the sheepdog. When you say so-and-so is moe, you're basically telling me that the character displays an innocence and/or vulnerablility that makes you want to step in and dote on them in a protective manner. In the case of people relating to the moe of a fictional 2D human character of the opposite sex, this instinct can also often carry a (disturbing IMHO) romantic aspect.

So moe is basically innocent vulnerability and the emotions (maternal/paternal instinct possibly) it draws from the audience in times of relative peace.

GAR is that hidden aspect of the sheepdog used when the wolf comes to call. It's the potential for the ancient instinct of the Protector to turn to violence in defense of something precious and valuable. That's why I don't believe villains/anti-heroes can really be GAR. GAR carries with it internal concepts of duty, pride, honor, and that is what ties it to the emotions of the observer. GAR is about taking righteous and virtuous action to protect those in need or to right a wrong. (Which is why I find claims that Hosaka is GAR to be rather odd. He's a dandy, too infatuated with his own fantasies to ever get anything done, not GAR.) As long as the actions you take are righteous or virtuous, it matters little whether you're over-the-top and obnoxious about it (Kamina), or go on about your duty in relative silence.

So I'm basically boiling it down to this:


Moe is the peaceful relationship between the lamb and the sheepdog while GAR encompasses the concept of the sheepdog as the potentially violent defender. "No better friend, no worse enemy."

Posted in Anime by: Will at 10:18 AM | Comments (9) | Add Comment
Post contains 532 words, total size 4 kb.

1 So that would mean that Goku is gar?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at February 07, 2008 12:22 PM (+rSRq)

2 Given what few bits of DBZ I've seen, I'd say yes. DBZ is way off most anime blogger's radar, but if it were coming out now, I think he would be classified as GAR.

Posted by: Will at February 07, 2008 01:55 PM (WnBa/)


Overall, I think this is a really interesting piece. Although I'm not sure where it applies when the lines between "heroes" and "villians" are much more blurred. It seems that the sheepdog/wolf analogy would rely on a hero who doesn't doubt what he's doing is virtuous, which would then mean that the character is inherently simple. Or at the very least is a fanatic. But a fanatic that the audience can agree is in the right.  

Posted by: Cameron Probert at February 07, 2008 04:25 PM (+Xvl6)


Well, I didn't mean to imply that the hero's thought process is necessarily as simple as that of a sheepdog. Kamina may be single-minded, but he's not simple. He has a dream all his own and pursues it with resolve, knowing that many others hope for the existence of the surface, but don't share his knowledge/faith in its existence. In our culture where individuality resonates, Kamina's behavior comes across as both virutous and righteous, while in his own culture, it was something to be shunned (until he proved himself right).

Simon isn't simple either. He's fighting the virtuous and righteous fight to defend Spiral beings from annihilation and to win back his woman from the Anti-Spirals. His judgement is somewhat questionable given that, in the face of the knowledge that continued use of Spiral Energy will induce the Spiral Nemsis, he fights on anyway banking on humanity somehow finding a way around it. It certainly won't happen in his lifetime, so it's not really his problem. But he's living is life by the mottos of the Gurren-dan. "Go beyond the impossible and kick reason to the curb."

Krelian from Xenogears would be an interesting case study. He's a goodguy who looses his way and goes bad, but never resorts to violence himself. Would Simon be GAR if he carried on the same fight from behind a desk like Rossiu?

Ultimately, I think it comes down to whether the character's actions eventually bring a "boon to all" (all being a relative term ) If they do, he's a hero and GAR. If not, he's a villain and simply a sociopath.

What I was really trying, and failed, to get at is that moe and GAR draw on and play against similar primal instincts in the viewer. On one side of the coin you have the passive protector in times of peace, and on the other you have the violent warrior/defender in times of strife.

Good grief... I should have just made another post. I'm not going back through that to check for typoes or coherence.

Posted by: Will at February 07, 2008 06:01 PM (WnBa/)

5 You're missing some of the elements of the essential nature of gar. ;p Keep in mind that the archetype is Archer.

One of those elements is self-confidence. Not mindless egotism, but the manly state of mind where the person knows his abilities and isn't daunted by tasks that fall within them, or potentially anything at all - but gar isn't compatible with stupid. If your character suicide-charges the enemy to buy everyone else time to get away, and he knew he was toast going in, and he's smiling when they bring him down, that's gar. Losing when you thought you had a chance is never gar.

The gar man doesn't question himself. He has a set of morals and an objective and doesn't flinch from them for a moment. If the rest of the world doesn't keep up, too bad for them.

Gar is not above a bit of grandstanding. Gar is better than those around him and knows it, and isn't going to apologize for it. But it's only gar if gar has the goods.

It's a post-modern state of mind, with at least a wink to the public figure that the character is cutting. The gar character is not above dropping a quip. Importantly, the truly gar character never explodes in rage. Think Kenshiro - he doesn't get mad, he just makes peoples' heads explode and moves on.

I don't think Goku is gar, really. He's slightly too simple - he's not acting cool because he's aware of the importance of being seen to act cool. He just doesn't care about cool (and, well, he can blow up planets, so he doesn't have to.) He also loses that cool, and while there's something to be said for erupting in white-hot hair-growing world-shattering fury, it's not gar.

Protecting someone has nothing to do with gar. Think Akagi - walking posterboard for gar, but he's never out for anything but his own thrill, and he makes no bones about it.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at February 07, 2008 07:04 PM (LMDdY)


Well now it sounds like we're talking about several distinct strains (or maybe levels, hmm...) of GAR. IKnight layed out in part 1 (and expanded in part 2) that he thinks GAR is comparable to virtus, an admiration of a superior warrior in your cause. Which means it has a lot to do with the impression the character leaves on the viewer. Do I feel compelled to get up and stand along-side this character in their fight?

In the very act of standing up and fighting the fight, win-or-loose, you become GAR. If only just a little. Increasing levels of competence and self-confidence can add to your GAR. Even losing can still be GAR, if it's done with honor. As for Goku, I would submit that not giving a damn about cool and just going out to win is as GAR as all the bragadocio in the world. Maybe even more so. A competent man can brag about his abilities, but a master doesn't waste his breath. The truly GAR character goes about slaying his (and our) villians in the most efficient manner possible, gives them no quarter, and doesn't bother with quips.

And your assertion that GAR never looses it's cool flies in the face of hot-blooded characters everywhere. They go crazy right up until the bad guy bites it, then they immediately regain composure. A lot of my impression of GAR comes from the character Richard in The Sword of Truth novel series. He goes blows by cold-blooded, bypasses sarcastic, shoots through hot-blooded, and settles right into the region where white-hot rage becomes a fine-edged scalpel with only one mission, "cut." As a warrior for your cause, in all things, "cut."

As for the "protecting," don't get too caught up in the metaphor. The sheep that the sheepdog is protecting could be a myriad of causes or reasons to fight, as long as they are righteous and virtuous in the eyes of the viewer.

That's why I don't think of characters like Akagi as GAR. I hold no admiration for them at all.

I think I need to get into Excel and layout a spectrum or something...

Posted by: Will at February 07, 2008 08:10 PM (P2D1U)

7 Yeah. Uh, but that's not gar, just generic bushido. Those hot-blooded characters are not what we're talking about here.

(cue Shiraishi talking about tsunderes)

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at February 07, 2008 10:08 PM (LMDdY)

8 Hmm @ the linked essay. I agreed in part, but I can't imagine someone from my country writing it. When did America lose the Protestant assumption that saying anything good about oneself must inherently be wrong? Not that said assumption is a good thing . . . anyway . . .

I think the sheep - sheepdog - wolf metaphor neatly encapsulates the power relations I'm trying to establish regarding GAR and moe, yes. But I think in my conception of GAR there is less of a sense that protectiveness is a sine qua non. Hence Akagi can be admitted to be GAR - just as certain Romans were generally acknowledged bastards, but remained possessors of virtus (I must point out that /A/nonymous, not I, invented the virtus-to-GAR connection).

I lack the time to delve deeper, though I would point out to Avatar that, while we can begin with Archer, a lot of characters have been declared GAR since him, and each one has altered the concept a little. Archer is a good place to begin, but a bad place to end, as it were.

Posted by: IKnight at February 08, 2008 03:46 PM (9gYNt)


When did America lose the Protestant assumption that saying anything good about oneself must inherently be wrong?

How I answer that question depends entirely on whether you're asking the question in wonder or regret.

I'm beginning to regret using "protector" in the essay, because it's leading everyone to think I'm only talking about defensive action. I got a little closer to the mark in comment #6. For a character to be GAR he must fight for a cause that we find righteous and/or virtuous. I have to include the "or" because to do otherwise would leave out a lot of anti-heroes. Vengeance can be righteous but is rarely virtuous, and there a lot of GAR characters that live simply for venegeance of a wrong. (And if they just happen to beat the big-bad and save the world in the process, righteousness is an added bonus)

Posted by: Will at February 08, 2008 04:37 PM (WnBa/)

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