Moe anthropomorphism (萌え擬人化 moe gijinka ) is a form of anthropomorphism where moe qualities are given to non-human beings, objects, concepts, or phenomena. In addition to moe features, moe anthropomorphisms are also characterized by their accessories, which serve to emphasize their original forms before anthropomorphosis. The female character here, usually in a kind of cosplay, is drawn to represent an inanimate object or popular consumer product, since females often have curvier body lines than males. Part of the humor of this personification comes from the personality ascribed to the character (often satirical) and the sheer arbitrariness of identifying a variety of machines, objects, and even physical places as cute.
Many names of these girls end with -tan (たん), which is a child's mispronunciation of -chan (ちゃん), an informal, intimate, and diminutive honorific suffix for a person used for friends, family, and pets. In this case, the mispronunciation is used intentionally to achieve the contrived cute or charming effect that is commonly associated with its use by young children.
This form of anthropomorphism is very common in otaku subcultures. With the exception of kemonomimi (which are human-like characters that have animal features) , many moe anthropomorphizations started as dojin efforts. Many are the results of discussions on Japanese internet forums such as 2channel or Futaba Channel. Recently, the trend spread out of dojin circles as commercial anime and manga such as Binchō-tan and 090 Eko to Issho also prominently feature characters who are personifications of inanimate objects.
Kemonomimi, literally meaning "animal ears", is the concept of drawing animals as bishōjo or having bishōjo wear animal accessories (such as ears or tails). Catgirls are the most prolific in this category, although bunnygirls, foxgirls, and dog girls are also popular. Kemonomimi characters typically appear human except for added animal-like qualities.
Although Chobits (2001) and Toy's iMac Girl (1998) came first, the widespread meme of turning computer-related phenomena into moe subjects did not start until Shiitake-chan (しいたけちゃん), the anthropomorphization of Internet Explorer's Stop button. The idea of Shiitake-chan came in 2001 on 2channel, starting with a poster who claims he saw the Stop button as a shiitake. Shiitake-chan has since been called the origin of moe anthropomorphism by some.
Following Shiitake-chan are the famous OS-tans of 2003. The concept is reported to have begun as a personification of the common perception of Windows Me as unstable and prone to frequent crashes. Discussions on Futaba Channel likened this to the stereotype of a fickle, troublesome girl. The personification became expanded, with the creation of Me-tan (dated to August 6, 2003) followed by the other characters. Mac OS X, Linux, and Linspire girls have also shown up on the Internet and some male characters exist for application programs and hardware. A popular example is Norton AntiVirus, which is usually portrayed as a creepy-looking, possibly lecherous old doctor.
Since the creation of the OS-tans, other software and websites have been anthropomorphized as well. For example, the free encyclopedia Wikipedia has its own Wikipe-tan, while Mozilla applications have their own set of Moezilla. Chinese netizens have created a "Green Dam Girl" to parody China's content-control software Green Dam Youth Escort.
Mecha Musume are girls that are drawn as composite with military hardware, such as tanks, ships, aircraft or even missiles. Popular subjects of this kind of anthropomorphism include World War II military vehicles; collectible mecha musume figures of these vehicles have even been released.
MS shōjo (or Gundam girls) are another type of mecha musume. They preceded the trend of turning real-life weapons into girls, as Gundam girls first appeared in print in the 1980s. MS shōjo are mecha robots that are drawn as girls, often gundams or zakus. Features of these girls often include helmets, armour, beam sabers, and/or beam rifles. MS in this case stands for Mobile Suit.
Mecha-Musume and kemonomimi crossed in the anime Strike Witches, featuring magical girls who exploited magic and technology to fight in a war. They took on characteristics of Mecha-Musume both in the Striker hardware they wore and their names/nationalities, and kemonomimi in that when they transformed, they grew animal ears.
Due to the abundance of railfans in Japan, anthropomorphizations of trains are also common. Though at the beginning such anthropomorphizations were just faces in front of the trains (i.e. eyes as the windshields), by the 2000s they became more and more humanoid due to the influence of otaku culture. In such cases, the girls are often drawn so that clothes worn reflect the front design of the first car and the colors of the railway company operating the train. Indeed, the personification is nearly as much about the train operator as about the train itself.
This sort of anthropomorphization arises from the fact that there is a significant overlap in railfans and otaku, and such anthropomorphizations are the products of their affection towards the trains. However, not all railfans in Japan are otakus, and thus some railfans view these anthropomorphizations with contempt.
Notable trains who were drawn as girls include the Fastech 360, often drawn with cat ears because of the train's emergency air braking plates. Called "Fastech-tan", this particular "train girl" has its own collectible figure, sold with permission from the East Japan Railway Company. Unlike Mecha Musume or OS-tans the personifications of trains rarely feature non-Japanese designs; among the few exceptions are Eurostar and KCR Hong Kong EMU SP1900 (called "Princess SP1900").
Other things have also been given moe characteristics: