This is Chiyo. Say hi to Chiyo everyone. Chiyo is from the anime Azumanga Daoih. As you can see, Chiyo is incredibly cute. The reaction many have to cuteness is some sort of elation or joy, usually verbalised with a ‘kyaaa~’ or ‘hnnnnnggg’. I can recognise what cuteness is, and I do have a small fuzzy feeling at the sight of Chiyo. But ultimately my reaction to it is “it’s cute, so what?”
Cuteness is a very simple way of appealing to the viewer. It runs the same way something sexually titillating would work. Here’s some boobs, now get a boner. Here’s a kitten, go kyaaa~. That’s the highly simplified version of events. A more likely scenario would be something slightly more complex. Here’s a generic male lead who accidentally falls over and grabs hold of some babes breast. The girl blushes before knocking him away. The aim of this scene is still sexual titillation. Self-projection into the male lead and imagining that the girl likes being grabbed by the boob. For cuteness, it would run something along the lines of having a fancy male character blushing when he realises lead female has seen him rescue a kitten. The end product is still attempting to generate a kyaaa effect.
I don’t like this. The appeal being merely cuteness is such a cheap method of drawing thrills from the viewer. There’s no story here. No characterisation, no humour, no expertise. It’s not that I can’t enjoy cuteness, but to gain such cheap thrills is lame. Compare this to giant robot fights for a second. I don’t get any enjoyment from simply watching bullets and beams being fired everywhere. I haven’t a clue what’s going on in the fights during Gundam Seed, and it merely ends up being a parade of colours that is dull to sit through. The fights in Broken Blade clearly demonstrate each move in the battle with incredible care and precision, highlighting how clunky these machines are. You actually get the sense that these are real machines and the moves tell a story in their own way. That’s a proper use of robot battles.
Cuteness has do something beyond the cheap thrills to appeal, using cleverer methods via storytelling to get across the cuteness. The mini squid girl segment from Invasion Squid Girl is fantastic at this and one of the few times cuteness has actually appealed to me because it told a story through the cuteness. Either that, or the cuteness has got to serve another purpose. Back to sexual titillation for a second, there was the pole dancing scene in Panty and Stocking. The deliberately sexualised manner of it was a parody of the magical girl transformation sequences and how otaku loved seeing their magical girls naked midway through the transformation. The sexualisation served a purpose and the scene would have felt unnecessary and pointless without that layer behind it.
To bring this post in a full circle, let’s go back to Chiyo for a second. Dressing Chiyo in a penguin suit is cute. But the humour of the whole situation is the reactions of the other characters. Each character’s reactions add to their characterisation. Of course Sakaki would explode at the sight of Chiyo in a penguin suit, but the other characters all being subjugated to the extreme cuteness and blushing like Sakaki showed how goddam cute she really was. That’s what made it even funnier when Tomo’s gut reaction upon seeing the waddling epitome of cuteness was to push it over. That’s how you use cuteness. It’s a means to an end, not the end itself.