The Dark Side of Anime Marketing – Are We Crossing Ethical Boundaries?

Anime Character Japan

Now, a study has found that the use of these characters may perpetuate harmful stereotypes about women and promote heteronormative notions of masculinity. Credit: jsks from Wikimedia Commons Image

According to a recent study, utilizing anime “moe” characters in tourism promotion may have negative effects.

In Japan, the use of anime characters in advertising is a common tactic to promote goods and services. This marketing approach leverages people’s emotional attachment to these characters, a sentiment that’s often described using the Japanese slang term “moe”. Originating from the Japanese verb “moeru”, meaning to sprout, “moe” has evolved to express the affection fans feel for anime characters, also known as “moe characters”.

However, the use of “moe characters” in marketing strategies, especially for promoting local tourism through a practice called “moe-okoshi”, has raised eyebrows due to the depiction of women. This has sparked controversy, prompting an in-depth study by Yasuhito Abe, an Associate Professor at the Department of Media, Journalism, and Communications at Doshisha University in Japan. The study focuses on the Executive Committee of Daughters of Chita, or CMJI (Chita Musume Jikkō Iinkai, in Japanese).

This initiative aims to boost tourism in the Chita Peninsula of Japan, thereby presenting an interesting case study for the implications of “moe” based marketing. The study was recently published in the International Journal of Cultural Studies.

“I sought to gain a deeper understanding of the social and cultural conditions under which public sectors promote moe practices in collaboration with private sectors within the realm of regional promotion,” explains Dr. Abe.

Founded in 2010, CMJI employs content featuring moe characters to promote regional tourism. Most of the content produced under the CMJI project revolves around a group of young female characters, “the daughters of Chita,” each of whom represents either a city or town in the Chita Peninsula. In YouTube promotional videos produced by CMJI, moe characters introduce notable locations in the Chita Peninsula by suggestively interacting with the viewers. For instance, a CMJI YouTube video that Dr. Abe scrutinized features a virtual date with a young girl called Mihama Ren, who introduces viewers to Mihama town as a prime location for dating.

Moe characters cater to a predominantly male audience and often perpetuate a harmful way of depicting women as sexualized objects, infamous as the “male gaze.” In the study, Dr. Abe explored two aspects of CMJI’s tourism promotion campaign: how it depicted regions in the Chita Peninsula as “looked-upon” objects, and how it encouraged moe-consumption among its audience.

He found that although CMJI garnered significant attention with the use of moe characters, the practice tends to reduce a city or town’s rich history to a simplistic narrative that targets certain audiences’ feelings toward moe characters. “Moe-okoshi practice may contribute to the colonization of each area through the embedded male gaze, thus turning local spots into dating spots and constraining the scope of regional promotion to a matter of visibility for particular audiences,” notes Dr. Abe.

He also found that the use of moe-elements in the CMJI project is ethically questionable since it depicts young women as looked-upon objects and promotes heteronormative notions of masculinity among its audience. Moreover, moe-based marketing campaigns run the risk of alienating a subsection of their audience who find the ideals of moe unacceptable. This study is one of the first to look at moe practices employed in marketing from a critical perspective to examine their long-term and far-reaching effects. Since regional promotion strategies employing content similar to moe can have negative effects, Dr. Abe concludes that “Diverse regional promotion practitioners, local governments, and mainstream media outlets in Japan and beyond could emphasize the concept of gender in order to critically evaluate and shape the development of regional promotion strategies.”

The study is an important contribution to understanding how gendered dimensions can not only impinge upon the effectiveness of regional promotion but also involve inherent ethical issues. It makes a strong argument for further research to acquire a better understanding of moe-related regional promotion and its unintended societal consequences.

Reference: “More than just the regional promotion in Japan: The case of Chita Musume” by Yasuhito Abe, 23 March 2023, International Journal of Cultural Studies.
DOI: 10.1177/13678779231160568

7 Comments on "The Dark Side of Anime Marketing – Are We Crossing Ethical Boundaries?"

  1. Any study that claims heteronormative is bad is a s*** study.
    I admire Japanese culture not falling in line with all this woke LGBTQXYZ bulls***.

    Why is “moe” so popular? Because the majority of people on the planet are NORMAL and should not have to conform to the small percentage of nutbags who do nothing other than whine and force their ideals on everyone else.

  2. Another woke article completely missing what Anime is….. the transforming of a once-great society into a pedo loving culture of twisted youth.

  3. Bandoc Torabe | May 26, 2023 at 12:14 pm | Reply

    Yes, you are crossing ethical boundaries, by promoting a paleoconservative prudish moral panic to prevent free expression. No specific harms are mentioned, and the logical conclusion to the argument is all depictions of females should be banned. What about depictions of males? Are depictions of the elderly not exploitative too? Should not all graven images be banned?

  4. CrossoverManiac | May 28, 2023 at 4:42 pm | Reply

    “it depicts young women as looked-upon objects”

    Oh god forbid we have female characters that are aesthetically pleasing to men. After all, every time a man finds a moe character cute, God forces a woman back into the kitchen barefoot and pregnant and with two black eyes after her husband’s favorite team loses the Superbowl or so Western feminists believe. This may come to a shock to them, but it’s possible for women to have happy, fulfilling lives with none of their individual liberties infringed without making men miserable and taking everything they like. Your only reason to abolish moe is to be petty and vindictive.

    “and promotes heteronormative notions of masculinity among its audience.”

    Yes, about 95% of the population is heterosexual, which is why heterosexuals making up a majority of representation in media makes sense. Would you prefer giving 5% of the population the vast majority of the representation?!?

  5. This “professor” is just a rote male feminist, yes a feminist, not a wokie woke; the “male gaze” is what should clue you in, it’s entirely a hateful, fake feminist framework, the same as “mansplaining” or “manspreading”. Imagine saying the “black gaze” or “Jewsplaining”; it’s the exact same tier of illogical hate, but because misandry is backed up by society and journalists and institutions like these, nobody cares. And no wonder when half the comments here can’t even identify who it really is attacking them without using nebulous vague phrases that skirt the issue.

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with attractive women being used to appeal to a male audience or male sexuality. Moe characters are usually cute, not sexy, but even when they are sexy, that too isn’t be an issue. Men like women, and they like how they look, it’s that simple. Any talk of viewing women as objects is gaslighting to paint guys enjoying their sexuality as problematic and evil.

    I wonder how old this Dr. Abe is, he’s probably some buttoned-up tradcon boomer getting ticked off young men are being appealed to in a titillating way, so it’s fitting he aligns himself with feminists who think the same and hate men enjoying themselves. Yeah no crap genius, marketing usually results in alienating a subsection of people, that’s typically how successfully selling a product works; if you appeal to everyone you appeal to nobody. Of course, it’s only an issue when said thing is designed to appeal to men.

    This “study” is worthless; it’s not important, there’s nothing to understand. There’s no ethics at play, just contempt for men enjoying themselves. You can’t exploit a fictional character, any talk of creating harmful stereotypes is concern troll toilet paper that should be flushed down the bog with the rest of this turd article.

  6. So what you’re saying is: “Most people seem to like it and it does increase tourism and business, but it overshadows whatever else the town was doing beforehand and it might offend a small handful of people who can’t separate fiction from reality.”

    Sounds like they should keep doing it.

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