54 CommentsEditorials / By Scamp /

It’s cute. So what?

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.

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53 Comments

  1. Posted February 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Nailed it. It’s pretty much the reason why I rank Azumanga Daioh so highly on my list. It also helps that the writer is a fantastic comedy writer as well. Yotsuba& is such an endearing comedy because the titular character is placed into outrageous yet realistic situations, instead of just sitting there talking about coronets with her friends.

  2. Posted February 5, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    More or less the same view as mine when it comes to cuteness. I don’t give much thought about it because I don’t like it and prefer to ignore/forget it

  3. Posted February 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I thought this post would be about Gosick.

    Because that’s pretty much what I feel about that show, as far as cuteness is concerned.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 5, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

      heh, good point. In fact, Gosick brings up a related idea. Sometimes when a show is failing to entertain in ‘proper’ ways, I find myself looking to fanservice as the only means of entertainment. For example, I was incredibly bored watching Excel Saga so I found myself wishing they would do some more Excel and Hyatt shower scenes for some cheap thrills.

      Gosick fails in the story and mystery department. The writing is dreadful. The only way I got any entertainment out of the show was Victorique being cute. When that’s the highlight of your show, you’ve lost the game

  4. Hogart
    Posted February 5, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I vehemently agree, especially for shows like Kimi ni Todoke and Freezing. Cute without substance only goes so far. As for tits without substance you might as well skip the lame filler and just watch a porn. Some people just like being endlessly teased, I guess.

    • alexvoda
      Posted February 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      Got milk?

  5. alexvoda
    Posted February 5, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Agree entirely.
    This page is ookmarked, remembered, and prepared for showing anyone who goes “moe moe kyun~” for anime characters.

  6. Posted February 5, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    this being said, I can’t help but think of “filler” episodes where cuteness and sex can go all out.

  7. mcm38
    Posted February 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Working!! still has a cuter char than Azumanga Daioh.
    (Dunno what’s that supposed to mean, maybe my overreacting fandom.)

    Seriously, it’s so true. I was wishing you would say something on this for a long time now. And not only this matter, but also other things like the typical harem girls and boring harem leads, overused cliché’s and the like. I’ve seen many manga which are much better than the ones getting serialized(, like Fallen Vampire or Medaka Box).
    I don’t know how the anime producers pick up a manga to animate, but they realy do a dislikable job.
    Well it’s still possible the animes we, mostly Western fans, dislike are being popular with the main Eastern audience.

  8. Taka
    Posted February 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    I liked it better when you actually made an attempt at being funny. Seriously you’ve had a hard on for bashing moe and tits and robots but you aren’t funny anymore. I got it the first 3 times you talked about hating moe/tits/mecha. At this point you are just redundant.

    Is there something you need to talk about?

    Show me on the doll where the K-On character touched you.

    • Hogart
      Posted February 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be humor?

      I for one welcome a dissenting voice, especially one that puts a little effort behind the post to explain their rationale. I’m quite sick of “kyaa~” posts, myself.

    • A guy from /m/
      Posted February 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

      Indeed.

      HOW DARE HE HAVE STANDARDS AND TASTE11!!!!!11111!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Scamp
      Posted February 5, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      I have been hatin’ a bit more recently. Mainly because I’ve found it a lot of fun to go full vitriol, as exemplified by this post, which was such an exhilarating and fun post to write. I guess I should stop picking on the fans though, even if I do have a bone to pick with the Wandering Son fandom. Also, each post you linked to referenced a different problem. By and large, I try not to repeat myself, apart from the Ore no Imouto posts where it was kinda hard not to. I guess the problem is I’m using the same tone?

      That said, I’m surprised you laid it in on this post. I never wrote this as a hate post. This isn’t even about moe, it’s about cuteness. I was more thinking of the cutesy shojo stuff when writing this. I haven’t picked on the fans and I made an active attempt to provide as many examples of shows that did it right rather than those that didn’t. This isn’t the first time someone said I’ve been hatin’ too much recently, but this post was intentionally packed with examples of good shows to combat that.

      (semi-related point: I wish my readers wouldn’t leap on someone who disagrees or calls my post bad. It’s pretty important to me that I get feedback and it’s a bit intimidating if every case of this results in other commenters bashing them)

      • Taka
        Posted February 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

        This post was just the straw that broke the camels back for me. It wasn’t the post itself that bothered me. It’s just something that has been nagging at me for awhile. I will say that yeah I’m not a fan of blanket statements about the fandom. I think saying how you feel about a show is a good thing but insulting people in the process is something I expect from Colony Drop. Beyond that there are things I agree with here or there and things I don’t agree with. I generally don’t agree that cute for cuteness sakes is necessarily a bad thing. Just like I don’t agree that plot for plot sakes is a necessarily a good thing.

        Lately I myself have had a bit of personal vendetta against people who believe the aspects of the story are the be all end all of anime. So I apologize for standing on my own soapbox. I’m not saying having an interesting plot is bad, but there are times when I think plot is too heavily favored in a visual medium. Sometimes I think “If I wanted good plot I would read a book”. It’s the same argument I get into with people over Avatar. I get it had a boring/generic plot, I’m not saying I’d give it the academy award, but the visuals truly were astounding. Sometimes a well-drawn character or backgrounds or music or seiyuu is all it takes for some people to enjoy a show. I am most likely one of those cases. I wouldn’t rank that show in my top 10 mind you, but I’m sure I would enjoy it. Perhaps I just have a high tolerance for crap.

      • luffyluffy
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:42 am | Permalink

        I wasn’t leaping to attack someone, It just seemed odd to me.

        It’s just cuz eye lurv ur posts dawg

      • Scamp
        Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        People have a tendency to say plot is the only story-telling aspect ofa piece of entertainment and get too wrapped up in that. That leaves them with blank faces when faces with explaining why Azumanga is any good. Take Avatar as an example. The visuals were so great because they told their own story about the world they were on. The detail went into the visuals is what made that movie stand out. Yeah the plot is ho-hum, but they told a story about the world with the visuals.

        Basically yes, I do think storytelling is the be-all and end all of any entertainment medium, and will continue banging that drum until the end of time. Finding enjoyment in cheap methods like cute or nice voice is as good as watching a cute cat video on youtube or watching porn. Storytelling is what I look for, what I praise when done well and what I don’t like when ignored and the show uses cuteness or pointless fight scenes for entertainment. So yeah, I’m never changing from that song sheet.

        As for attacks on fandom itself…I should probably stop doing that. I’ve been hatin’ on oldfags since the very earliest days of this blog though so I doubt I’m going to change that tune. The Wandering Son post was the only one I probably went too far in, even if I did have a serious problem with the way the fandom was treating that show

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:20 am | Permalink

      It wasn’t that she touched me. She kept trying to hug me. And make me eat cake after I was full.

  9. Posted February 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    It’s cute so it’s slice of life, obviously. If you don’t get it, you’re watching it wrong.

  10. karry
    Posted February 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    “‘hnnnnnggg’”
    To me, thats the sound of remains of the liquified brain flowing out through the ears.

  11. Poro
    Posted February 5, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    PUSHING OVER A COSPLAYING PENGUIN GIRL?!!?

    genius

  12. ~xxx
    Posted February 5, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    actually, it’s supposed to be Osaka’s costume…
    but Chiyo was a lot cuter than her.

  13. OHEMGEE
    Posted February 5, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    You get a lot more comments on average recently.
    Look at you, getting all popular :D

    • OHEMGEE
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:40 am | Permalink

      Oh, and I couldn’t nod my head in approval more.
      Well I could, but that would hurt.
      Tomo pushing her over was priceless.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Not really. Editorial posts always get more comments because people aren’t required to watch a certain anime beforehand to get what it’s talking about

      • OHEMGEE
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

        Very true.
        Ever since I realized that I could comment I started having this urge to comment every post.
        I do try to hold back because, I usually have nothing to say.
        Nothing to contribute.
        But I’ve come to accept that I have zero self control D:

  14. Posted February 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Interesting points. I would say I like cuteness in general, but I couldn’t feel attached to a character purely by cute looks alone. I’d have to know who they are and if what drives the cuteness factor is something to my liking. For example, if I just see a random picture of a cute anime character I don’t know, I might think they’re cute, but I couldn’t “kyaa” about it or anything.

    I agree that for Azumanga Daioh, and other similar anime like K-ON and Ichigo Mashimaro, the appeal is from the character interactions rather than just cuteness and moe (character-driven humor I think is the right term).

    Cuteness is a common phenomena in Japan, not just in anime. From cute business mascot characters to little chibi drawings on public signposts, I believe the Japanese like the feeling of peace, harmony, and innocence that cuteness is associated with. But for anime, cuteness that’s purely manipulative and has nothing else going for it, I probably couldn’t get into (there are exceptions though…like all the pokemon XD)

    • Scamp
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      I disagree with K-ON. From the 4-5 episodes I saw, the end product was meant to be you gaining entertainment from cuteness for a fair amount of the jokes they used.

      The kawaii culture is Japan is indeed huge, which brings up the question of why I’m so fascinated by anime when it’s such an integral part of so many of them.

  15. fathomlessblue
    Posted February 5, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you, although it’s not an issue that bothers me too much.

    I’m actually not that hostile towards cuteness for cuteness sake; however, I do agree that you need more than cheap thrills for it to stand out in any way. I’m rewatching Azumanga for the fifth/sixth time at the moment, and I’m still surprised how much that show takes from so little. Working!! is another recent example of this. On paper all the characters are a bunch of walking cliches, but the way they interact with one another really makes the show become more than just the sum of it’s parts. With decent enough direction, even the most trite of subject matter can feel fresh.

    Fan-service bothers much more, just because I find it so icky/tacky, but again, when used well it can be really effective. I personally reckon that Mikaze seduction scene in ep11 of Occult Academy far more powerful than the entirety of the crap in HSotD or Index.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      I deliberately stick away from using fanservice when talking about tits n ass because fanservice also means cuteness. Using boobs and bum as the sole appeal does bother me as well, but there’s more than enough people out there who have written about that. I don’t think I’ve ever read someone talk about kyaaa~ not being a suitable reason as to why an anime is any good, despite such responses being so frequent in anime fandom

  16. Posted February 6, 2011 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    I haven’t seen that series but seeing that screenshot with that character made me have second thoughts of bothering to check it out. I don’t find her cute. =_=

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink

      she’s cute in a “lol little kids” sort of way. not really moe (at least in my opinion).

      if you don’t like little kids though, then yeah, no cuteness perceived.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      You…don’t find Chiyo cute? But even I, the evil and heartless Scamp, find Chiyo cute!

      Also man, Azumanga is one of the few anime nearly everyone likes. I’m not quite as in love with it as some people, but it still comes with a hearty stamp of approval from me

  17. Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    Cute without substance doesn’t work. It serves for a second of “Awwwww” and nice for a second but is ultimately very unmemorable. In the end, it doesn’t add to the anime. And sometimes very wtfy–rolling on the floor anyone?

    I think the best poking fun of the concept was a scene in the Kobato manga which was cut out of the anime.

  18. Technopenguin
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    I guess it comes down to “Why do you watch anime?”
    Sometimes I find life a little boring in some aspects, or like to see people’s imagination at work? Most anime seem to be like parties; they’re all about fun. I guess I’m not the type of person who’s really into the ‘just for fun’ idea.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      But storytelling can be used ‘just for fun’…

      I don’t see why people seem to think that liking storytelling means I like deep dark pretentious stuff

  19. Posted February 6, 2011 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    i guess i agree, kinda. i’ll admit that there are some series i enjoy purely for cuteness/fanservice purposes only and wouldn’t ever recommend to anyone unless i knew they liked that sort of thing. sometimes i like to just stop thinking and watch something that’s pleasing on only a basic level *shrugs*

    which is why i want a hana kimi anime so badly even though i know everyone outside of the shoujo fandom would hate it to pieces.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 6, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Thing is, cuteness as the end appeal is so brainless. Watch kitten videos on youtube. Watch real porn instead of tits and ass in anime.

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:30 am | Permalink

        but not everyone gets their cuteness fix from kittens and not everyone gets their sexual frustration out from regular pr0n. different strokes for different folks~

        not to say that EVERYTHING produced should have cuteness in it. just that i understand why some series depend on that factor alone.

    • Posted February 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      A Hana Kimi anime? Th- That would be so awesome!
      Come on, why would everyone out of the shojo fandom hate that? I could understand if you said Kimi ni Todoke, but Hana Kimi is a manga with extremly likeable and diverse characters and a main couple that actually moves forward. It’s one of my favourite shojo manga.
      That said, I love shojo. And josei. For me, nothing is better than a good done romance. Like Chobits. I digged the manga.

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink

        hana kimi is the epitome of the reverse harem in shoujo. i would even go so far as to say that it’s the “sailor moon” of shoujo reverse harems. sure, the characters are cool and the plot is fun, but anything out of the ordinary from other shoujo series? hardly.

        dont get me wrong, hana kimi is one of my favorite series too. but only because the bishounen made me hnnnnngggggggggg like no other manga has. i would need an endless supply of tissue boxes if an anime was ever made. (im still kinda surprised it was never made considering it’s huge popularity in the U.S and the fact that omake chapters are STILL being made by the mangaka many years after the manga has already ended.)

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        It’s probably because there’s already a lifeaction series~

  20. smallish
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I love myself some cute, of course, but I agree: cute for the sake of cute can be tiresome. I don’t mind now and again, but I appreciate cute that might actually add to characterization.

    Take the latest chapter of D.Gray-man. (What? I’m not a fangirl. Really.) Road hugs Allen and Allen reciprocates somewhat. That is epic cuteness. But it also gives us another hint that Allen may (subconciously?) like Road back. And that’s kinda neat cuz it adds to the complexity of his character and his relationships not just with Road, but others as well.

    Oh, anime. We know you have smart. You just keep hiding it from us.

  21. Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Just dropping in to say Tomo pushing Chiyo cracks me up. Tomo is so wonderfully evil.

  22. mizu
    Posted February 6, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Just wanted to say I really like your writing style! And while I actually enjoyed K-On, I do get sick of shows like Lucky Star and most of the shoujo anime simply because they get repetitive and boring, so I do agree about cuteness for the sake of cuteness not actually being a good thing. I definitely like characters with an interesting personality more than characters that look cute. As long as it has a point or isn’t the main part of the anime I’m fine with it though.

  23. Posted February 8, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    If cuteness is the only thing a show has going for it, then it bothers me. Same with fanservice. I don’t mind the little outbursts here and there though. They might be pointless, but you also can’t be running full-tilt through the series at all times. You gotta give the (average) viewer a breather every so often.

  24. Posted February 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Cuteness is not in the slightest bit interesting enough to sustain a show on its own. If I wanted to see a ‘cute’ character, I’d just need one character. Why bother with new shows? They generate humour, new situations with these characters. More often or not, they use these cute characters as part of a bigger storyline, adding to its entertainment value. Cuteness creates something the viewer likes, but cuteness alone isn’t enough for a show to sustain itself. Chiyo’s run in Azumanga Daioh was funny because we got to see the other character’s reactions, making it a good show. Less-stellar shows like Mayoi Neko Overrun had cuteness thrown in without logic, simply for the sake of satisfying some viewers and I suspect, some males’ lower brains.

  25. Posted February 15, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    I found the shots or Chiyo’s reaction to her teacher’s driving to be absolutely hilarious–cuteness in shock!

  26. Gokuro
    Posted July 9, 2011 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    I think that use of cute for characterization is what makes Kiyohiko Azuma such a brilliant manga-ka.

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