On occasion I’ve had to explain to those unfamiliar with Love Live! the appeal of Nishikino Maki. While terms like “beautiful” or “cooldere” kind of get the point across to an extent to those who already know her, I’ve found that they still don’t quite do the trick for people outside the fandom. However, I’ve recently thought up a comparison that I think works well, provided that you have some experience with Genshiken. Maki, in esssence, is like Kasukabe Saki—or more specifically, the “moe” version of Saki that Madarame once envisioned.
In the extra at the very end of Volume 9 of Genshiken (the finale of the first series), the characters are discussing why Saki isn’t “moe.” They talk about how she essentially has no weaknesses, that she’s just an extremely capable person overall. Even her boyfriend agrees that Saki isn’t moe. Then, Madarame has an idea: the only way Saki would be moe is if she was a virgin.
While this might bring to mind the issue of “purity,” it’s more that being a virgin would be a chink in the armor of Saki’s all-powerful self. She would be this smart, no-nonsense woman who just knows how to get things done, but her relationship advice would come not from personal experience. By being a virgin, she’d have that essential vulnerability that would bring her into moe territory.
When it comes to Love Live!, being a virgin isn’t any more or less special from on character to the next, as it’s implied that all of the main girls don’t have sexual experience (no matter what fans think/hope). However, the idea of an overall intelligent, talented girl with a firm head on her shoulders who is also naive in certain respects and easily flustered by embarrassing things is right in the same territory as “Moe Saki.” Within Nishikino Maki exists both the girl who keeps Nico in check, and the girl who believes in Santa.
Side Note: While Maki is basically Moe Saki, I bet Madarame’s favorite Love Live! would be Nico. 2D is different from 3D, after all.
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That’s it. That’s the difference between regular cuteness and moe – the vulnerability.