I believe that moe is an essential factor."
Some say that anime as we know it is dying. Some say that things just haven't been the same since K-On! or Lucky☆Star. Female characters are eternally blushing, and their eyes just keep getting bigger and bigger. It's giving all of us anime fans a bad name, they say.
Leaving aside the need some people seem to have for their hobbies to be validated by the opinions of their peers, let's start by taking a look at one of the most overlooked problems here. Anime is almost exclusively Japanese.
Japan has a historically very isolated culture. It wasn't until the 20th century that they had any significant interaction with the western world. And, well, some of that interaction wasn't so positive. Free from American and European influence, some of Japanese peoples' values are different from the very core.
Take tattoos for instance. In America, while they may have a negative connotation, there is a widely-accepted "cool" factor involved with tattoos. Men get tattoos on their arms or back in a misguided attempt to show off their manliness, and women often get small tattoos on their hips or ankles, perhaps to show off their cute or rebellious side. In Japan, however, tattoos are almost exclusively associated with criminal and gang activities. Up until the mid-1900s, they were still illegal, and even today, some bath houses kick out patrons who show their ink.
In the same way their views on body modification differ, Japan's standards for "objectionable content" such as sex and violence are quite backwards from a western perspective. In America, it is absolutely, 100% unacceptable to show almost any form of nudity or lewd content on television, and it can earn a movie an R rating or even the NC-17 rating, which effectively bans the movie from reaching an audience at all. On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be any level of gore or violence that can take a rating to that level, and moderate gun violence can easily make it's way into a PG-rated movie.
I think one of the key reasons people look down on the moe movement is because they think it is pandering to a bunch of perverts. But much of the reason this misconception exists is because of the disparity between cultures, where people from the western world brand something as sexual in nature when that was never really the intention.
That's not to say Japanese don't criticize it, too. Hayao Miyazaki himself, while acknowledging the reasons behind the trope, seems to think that it has gone to far, and that it has begun to cater to lolicon fetishists. I think he, too, has missed the mark a bit by saying this. I've been to those stores in Akihabara; I know people exist who fantasize about these characters, and many of them probably are attracted to their child-like features, but I don't think this is caused by or a result of the moe art style. Cartoon characters have always been a target for sexuality. If anything, moe characters are meant to tug on our parental instincts. They are designed to be cute, not sexy, but if there's one thing a person can learn from being on the internet for several years, people can sexualize anything. And for some people, the line between cute and sexy seems to be blurry at best.
I like moe. I like kawaii things, and I have several posters and figures in my room to show for it. I don't like to hide my hobbies from people, but it is hard to be open about my anime inclinations when I'm confronted with such a sturdy wall of shame built on assumptions and misguided pigeonholing. Anime is art, and like any other art, it is designed to play with one's emotions, and express the feelings of the artist. If that artist wants to create a cute and lovable character, why does it have to be turned into something sexual? Why are those who enjoy said art accused of perversion? Perhaps it's not the creators and viewers of moe anime that are giving anime a bad name, but the critics themselves, who created this "bad name" in the first place.