I’m pretty sure most anime fans are aware of the concept of kawaii culture and certainly there’s a definite lure of cute characters in anime shows. Whether it be the latest shounen entry, Demon Slayer with the super adorable Nezuko, a fantasy slice of life such as Uchi no Musume with Latina carrying the kawaii, or even the buddy cop comedy Cop Craft with its adorableness coming in the form of the pouting Tilarna many anime know the value of kawaii characters to their brand.
Arguably this is an almost more pervasive form of fan-service than the light ecchi moments that steal their way into many anime. Largely because for the most part fans seem to appreciate the cuteness and don’t tend to call it out for being pandering to a particular demographic. Even those fans who aren’t so entertained by the kawaii elements don’t seem to see them as intrusive and more just a part of the industry.
And really, it is nice that anime fans can enjoy something without someone telling us that our interests are somehow destroying the moral foundation of the universe for once.
Before we get any further, here’s a poll on Twitter about the issue:
Kawaii anime girls – What else does an anime need?
The fact that the cute elements tend to be largely placed on female characters doesn’t seem to draw as much attention as fan-service panty shots and the like. And yet, objectively one could argue that the cute characters bouncing about the screen aiming to be as adorable as a box of kittens is every bit as objectifying toward women. So why don’t people actually object? (Actually, some do. On looking around the internet there are definitely articles out there addressing just this concern, yet they aren’t ones I come across within the ani-blogging community with any regularity.)
Keep in mind, I’m not actually objecting to cute characters given I’m finding Latina to be truly adorable this season and would love to be able to give her a hug. It is just a curiosity that when presented in one form objectification raises the ire of certain communities but in another form it is seemingly given a pass. Then again, we could possibly discuss the intent of the fan-service elements and while kawaii characters certainly exist as a lure they aren’t necessarily intended to be seen in a sexualised manner and for some viewers that will make all the difference. Particularly given the presented age of some of the characters in question.
But being kawaii is pointless if you can’t
back it up with character.
However, while cute characters may act as an initial lure as people get excited over promotional art and videos that isn’t enough to actually sell an anime after the initial episodes have aired. It won’t matter how adorable your cast are if they have no personality to speak of and are doing nothing of interest.
The plethora of ‘cute girls doing cute things’ (CGDCT) anime very much confirm that just being cute isn’t enough. Your cast need a chemistry between them and they need to be doing something, anything, that manages to engage the audience while they are being adorable. Whether it is hiking, camping, making music, travelling to the antarctic or anything else, there has to be more to the story then ‘these girls are cute’. Which kind of confirms that while kawaii might be the bait the hook is something a little bit deeper and comes down to how well realised these characters are outside of their aesthetic appeal.
But what is the appeal of kawaii anime characters?
I’m honestly not sure there’s a single answer to this. Certainly cute characters are nice because when you love an anime and you start collecting merchandise having characters that are cute to carry on a key-chain or have on your shelf is very appealing, but there are plenty of non-kawaii characters who are fun to collect. I certainly have quite a number of Bleach figures and tapestries at this point and I wouldn’t go about calling any of those characters kawaii.
And again, while the character design will be the initial draw, what will ultimately sell a kawaii character to the fans is everything else about the character. How they act and what they do is equally important to their ongoing fan-club. Nezuko is certainly cute but she has also appeared at pivotal moments in Demon Slayer and performed some pretty crucial back-up for Tanjiro at multiple junctures. It wouldn’t matter that she was cute if she didn’t have her relationship with Tanjiro and if she wasn’t also able to contribute to the plot. Her existence would be far more shallow and less appealing.
For characters within those CGDCT anime most fans will have a favourite from amongst the equally cute cast members and maybe that favourite will be based on some aesthetic that individually appeals but often it is more often based on their personality and that viewers ability to relate to or connect with the character. However there are a plethora of characters out there to choose from which makes me wonder:
Are kawaii anime characters too commonplace?
Honestly? Much like the argument over whether there are too many isekai anime or light novel adaptations, this one doesn’t have a single answer. For those who love kawaii characters and dance with joy at finding a new face to add to their collection of adorable characters there will never bee too many. For people who find cute characters a little too vanilla for their liking in the main they may find the prolific nature of kawaii characters a little much.
However, as with all tropes and common ideas in anime, it isn’t whether a character is kawaii or not that matters. What matters is whether the kawaii character is well written and entertaining. Just being cute isn’t a reason to instantly dismiss a character even if you aren’t really into kawaii characters just like it isn’t an instant reason to declare them the best ever.
Kawaii characters come in all shapes and sizes and some are most definitely better realised than others. Still, when it comes to the question of whether being kawaii is enough to make you watch an anime, I’m pretty sure many readers will agree that they’ve watched something just because they thought the cast looked cute.
So what are your thoughts on kawaii characters in anime? Leave us a comment below and get the conversation going.
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