As anime fans, I’m sure we’re all aware that Japan has a serious thing for cute (kawaii). This isn’t a bad thing. In fact it is one of the things that makes Japanese culture incredibly fascinating to outsiders. That doesn’t mean it always makes a lot of sense.
While not a recent trend, it seems that pretty much every scenario you can think of is being marched out in anime form, with a group of cute female characters ready to sell the show. While it makes sense for the cast of an idol based anime (such as Love Live) to all be pretty adorable, why does a show about anthropomorphized battleships (Kantai Collection) need to have such a cute cast? While it’s a nice juxtaposition of expectations (warship/cute girl) it doesn’t really help the humanization of a weapon as the appearance of the girl continuously betrays the spirit that they are supposed to embody.
Though probably the first anime I watched where this was a thing (mostly because these kinds of shows don’t overly appeal to me) was Chobits where we had a computer in the form of a girl. While this wasn’t just a gimmick of cute girls, come watch, but rather a more serious look at isolation and a need to make connections (in between other stuff) we still essentially see an appliance being given not only a human form but a very cute, female human form.
Although, if we forget machines for a minute, we then have the anime that have dragons (yes, my very favourite fantasy creature) spending the vast majority of the series just looking like yet another cute girl. Oh wait, she might bite. Tragically the one example of this I clearly remember is Dragonaut: The Resonance (please let me forget that and never, ever try to review). Toa spends almost the entire series bouncing around as a pink haired cutesy while not much of anything happens anywhere else in the series. Okay, there are other dragons and some are even guys but the main focus here is the pink haired girl. There’s some kind of plot that involves the guy who used to have a sister who died tragically in some sort of incident and you can probably figure out where that is going in terms of his relationship with Toa.
I’m not actually making fun of the idea of anthropomorphization. Terry Pratchett does a brilliant job of giving Death ‘life’ as a recurring character in his Discworld novels. What I’m wondering is whether the market is being over-saturated by some of the more cookie cutter versions of this trend. Where the standard anime girl types are being forced into moulds simply to put a new facelift on a story we’ve seen before with characters we will forget almost before the end-credits are finished. When done right, giving human characteristics to something can make it fairly memorable. When done poorly it just feels like gimmicky story telling for the sake of it. Plus, the highly sexulaised nature of some of these characters (or at least the fan service that appears relentlessly in these shows) makes the whole thing less an exercise in creative settings and characters and more a targeted fantasy (though again, this isn’t across all of these types of shows as like every other genre there are some that get the mix right and deliver quality entertainment and others that embrace the trashier elements).
Moving away from cute girls, I certain some of you must remember Makuranodanshi. Who could forget a show about personified pillow boys talking directly to the camera as they lulled you off into a completely creeped out state or into complete bemusement. Each episode featured a different boy talking to you as if you were there about to go to bed. There were 12 episodes so 12 different personalities and looks to choose from. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d prefer my pillow not to talk to me.
Turning it over to you. Which shows do you think suffered from the ‘just add cute’ mentality or which shows do you think nailed this idea of using cute as the lure but then delivered a good story?
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