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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28 thoughts on “Is Being Kawaii Enough To Make You Watch An Anime?”
Being cute is definitely not enough, but for me it’s a strong draw. Case in point: This season I dropped the Dumbbell show, but I find all the girls extremely cute, and that carried me well past the shows expiry date. However, in the end it wasn’t enough to sustain my interest.
I’m definitely in the market for CGDCT shows, but by this point I’ve developed a resistence to generic cute. Cinderella Nine was a chore to get through at times, for example. The second problem is that sometimes anime has a different idea of what’s cute (embarrassment comes to mind – I don’t like the embarrassment-is-cute concept, though there are clear exceptions… it’s a complex topic of it’s own: “When is embarrassment cute?”)
Personally, for example, I never managed to get into K-On, and the shows that remind me of it, are – to me – lesser shows. K-On is one of the big template makers in CGDCT (the others being Azumanga Daioh and Ichigo Marshmallow, both of which I like much better).
I also often like shows that are ostensibly targeted at younger teens, often girls. An example would be a show I watched last year, A Little Snow Fairy Sugar, which was excessively cute, but actually had a good story going on as well (the human main was playing her late mother’s piano in the shop that she had to sell it to, when the owner wasn’t around, and her finding the fairy serves both as a connection to her late mother through an event that occured earlier, as well as a perspective shift: by taking care of the fairy she gets her first experience of what being a mother might be like.) Children’s shows are often like that; coated in a cute aesthetic with age-appropriate themes running through the story.
And then there are the mascots. There are focussed shows like How to Keep a Mummy, but there’s also the weirder stuff like the penguins in Mawaru Penguin Drum. And of course mascot culture gave us Kyubei. And again this seques into children shows where we get things like Hamtaro.
I like cuteness. It’s a huge draw for me. But, yeah, it can empty out.
Thanks for such a detailed response. I agree with you on the thought that embarresment as cuteness kind of needs its own discussion.
Cuteness won’t matter if the character lacks a personality
One of the things I always said is one of the most important things in anything is characters. And by that I mean characters I can care about. Just being “kawaii” is not enough for me if that character doesn’t have any personality at all. However if a show is only about cuteness, I can’t say that it appeals to me a lot. Balance is important, so I don’t mind if there is cuteness, as long as there is enough to counterbalance it in some way. Other than that I don’t mind “kawaii” at all. Because seriously how can someone not like Latina? That’s impossible right? 🤔🤔
(Unless…she turns out to be evil in some way. That would be a great twist now wouldn’t it? 🤔🤔)
Don’t wish evilness upon Latina – though her going evil and harming Dale could be an interesting plot thread… Nope, not even going to think about that.
Lol😂😂 Sorry….I was being totally not serious here of course😅😅
Then again….naw, I’m with you not going down that path…..😂😂😂
“Kawaii” is nice to look at, but for my brain to feast on an anime, it needs to do a whole lot more than just *appear* appealing.
That seems logical enough.
People label it as being anti-kawaii (say what??) but if a show has a really ‘cute’ set of characters I tend to avoid it. The bigger exceptions for me having been Sanrio Boys, and Hachigatsu no Cinderella. I’ve always liked more distinct character designs, and overall the cute characters/cute shows tend to have similar traits and I lump them all together.
Even in the early days of ‘CGDCT’; I wasn’t a fan. A lot of those pilot series were really well received, but now a lot of them come off as a recycled formula. I just personally don’t watch them, although I respect that a lot of people enjoy them. I love hearing that these series do have stronger characters then I was lead to believe, and seeing the development within the series.
So I for sure agree, just being cute isn’t enough to carry a show. It’s nice to know that there’s more discussion about kawaii culture/cute characters in anime.
A lot of the CGDCT anime do look and feel a bit formulaic and recycled and I’m not the biggest fan of the genre myself. That said, I think it is like isekai stories where a lot of them are quite similar but for me, who watches a lot of them, they do have their own traits and the better ones stand out from the pack for various reasons. Fans of CGDCT shows seem to have a much better understanding of what makes those shows interesting and know which ones are done well. That said, I still don’t jump into an anime if someone describes it as a CGDCT show unless they give me at least one other reason as to why it is entertaining.
I like cuteness as much as the next person, but I agree with you that there needs to be more to a character or their story then just cuteness in order for me to feel really drawn to them.
Cute is definitely just the initial attraction without something backing it up it isn’t going to hold someone’s attention for the length of a whole season.
For me, I like my CGDCT series to either have a good plot (School-Live) or good humor (Azumanga Daioh). But just having a kawaii character in a regular series can be a way to keep me watching — their smiles often make them the most powerful or influential ones in the series, lol.
Have you got a favourite kawaii character?
Hmm… that’s hard. Chiyo from Azumanga Daioh is always a classic though.
The number of anime that have non-kawaii females is microscopic. Many exaggerate that trait to an extreme. The species is prewired to find the visual traits of the child appealing. Heck, we love “baby” anything.
To expand on this, when was the last time you saw a heroine in a major motion picture who wasn’t attractive? Which female Avenger wasn’t cute?
Myasaki once said that anime “must” have beautiful characters. That is because anime is fantasy and (almost) nobody fantasizes about loving – or being – plain women or ugly men. There are a number of exceptions but even then it is often an Ugly Duckling/Cinderella/Beauty and the Beast story. (“Shrek” cleverly subverts this by turning the trope upside down.) It is the formula that promises the best results at the box office.
Human Nature 101 here.
The same think kind of happens with guys but *usually* it isn’t so obvious. There are a few standard male character designs in anime and almost all of them are pleasing to the eye. Ore Monogatari is a real exception here but it doesn’t matter because the girl is gorgeous.
It is just flickering light on a monitor and not moral instruction for life. Fantasy that does not objectify to some extent is a failure. OTOH fantasy that objectifies too much is simply boring to most of the viewership.
Agreed that the main point is to entertain and part of that requires getting out attention and cute certainly works (on that note, I absolutely love baby elephants as they are super adorable but don’t really have any interest in older elephants).
It’s all a mood thing. I like an even mix of cute and depth. Things like Sora Yoori, K-On! and Shirobako are fun because I care about the characters and what they’re doing.
Caring about what they are doing is pretty important in order to make the show fun.
I prefer Cute Girls Doing Dark and Disturbing Things if I have to like Magical Girls Raising Project. I watched a CGDGT (Endro) and was bored silly. It wasn’t terrible but it just didn’t do anything to keep me interested. I’m sure, I’m not the target demographic anyhow. For example, Nezuko is undoubtedly cute, but I like her better when she gets aggressive and kicks ass and not when she’s lying on the floor looking like a kitten.
I found Endro kind of interesting for the fantasy aspects but when it was focused on the cute girl elements it felt a bit less interesting. So yeah, I’m also probably not the main market for just CGDCT’s but I won’t not watch a show just because it seems like it is focusing on being cute.
Nezuko is interesting. I found her adorable when she was just kind of kicking her legs in the air and lying around but I love that when Tanjiro is in danger she gets out and does something.
I love kawaii in anime, but it shines best when it’s balanced with something.
Like how School Live balanced it with the grim stuff or how Dokuro chan was ultra violent.
The larger the gap is the better Kawaii works for me. Dragon Maid dosed it nicely as well with regular comedy. Kawaii to me is exactly like sugar. You can use it in so many things and it will enhance a lot of stuff but when it’s to pure (like Lucky Star) I can’t stomach it to well, or at least get tired very easily of that particular flavor.
I think I’m with you on that one. The cute is nice enough but it is better when with something. School Live did a fantastic job with the contrast of super cute school girls and its darker content (trying to avoid spoilers in this post). Still, I think something like How To Raise a Mummy managed to keep me hooked just on being cute and weird so there’s the occasional story where the cuteness kind of is enough.