Note: The following post was originally published on 7 December, 2011 on the now-defunct Remember XVI. It is presented here edited to fit the visual formatting of Altair & Vega, but otherwise unaltered in content. Yumeka and ghostlightning have written responses to the original post as well.
“Humanity does not pass through phases
as a train passes through stations:
being alive, it has the privilege of always moving
yet never leaving anything behind.”
- C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition
What is 2D love? If you’re an anime fan, chances are that you’ve encountered it in some form. Maybe you were linked to an article about a man getting married to a fictional character. Perhaps you’ve read through (or participated!) in online discussions about people’s “waifus.” Or maybe you’ve seen a parody of it in anime, in the form of a character who can’t be separated from his hug pillow. One way or another, the idea of loving fictional characters is one that comes up often in modern anime-centric subculture.
But how weird is 2D love? The natural reaction, at least from the general public, is repulsion, it seems. But it turns out that the idea of 2D love… may be just as weird as that of love itself?
Let’s turn back the clock a bit. Romantic love is a fairly modern concept; historically, marriages were based on wealth and politics long before they were about romantic feelings. On the other end of the spectrum, we have extramarital lust, based on physical desire. So when does romance come in?
In the West, this was during the Middle Ages, with the advent of courtly love. Modeled after the feudal relationship between a lord and his vassal, courtly love saw the lord replaced with a woman, usually of higher social rank, placed on a similar pedestal. And so began the tradition of modern courtship, popularized by narrative literature called “romances,” from the French language that it was written in.
So what does this have to do with modern love for moe characters? Courtly love is not based on consummation. The knight performs great tasks for the lady, and in return, she returns nary a glance. Unattainability is a virtue here, and is there any woman more unattainable than she who resides in the realm of 2D?
Or take the idea of “lovesickness,” or love as an illness with physical symptoms, which goes back to Ovid but saw a great revival in the literature of the romances. From the sound-based terminology of Japanese, we get a myriad of terms to describe the rapid heartbeat accompanying love: dokidoki, tokimeki, kyunkyun. From this, we get perhaps the most poignant expression of lovesickness in Japanese pop culture today: moe moe kyun! The English fandom doesn’t lose out either: we have the ultimate love-induced ailment: the fatal moe heart attack, none other than the hnnnng. (Related but slightly cruder is the idea, originating from 4chan, of the aching “nutbladder.”)
And so the ladies, commonly called midons, of the French courts of a bygone era live on. They have become mai waifus, or in the Japanese, ore no yome (俺の嫁). And the knights of today show tribute in their own ways, be it through PVC figures, dakimakura covers, fanbooks and doujinshi, or the simple gesture of having her visage adorn your avatar and signature on your Internet forums of choice.
Of course, the kicker here is that courtly love may not have existed at all were it not for the romances; the fanciful behavior and codified atmosphere of courtship described in the romantic literature of the early Middle Ages became a reality around the fourteenth century. Truth born from fiction. How familiar the idea must be to the 2D lovers out there!
And so, they, the modern lovesick knights, keep on moving. Down a path of inevitable self-destruction? One step closer to a higher ideal?
For a brief primer on the historical realities of courtly love, I recommend “Courtly Love and Chivalry in the Later Middle Ages.”
And if you’re unfamiliar with mainstream coverage of 2D love, or if you just want a good laugh-cum-cry, then the New York Times has you covered.