Well aren’t you lucky- two debut posts by two debut writers on the same day. As you’ve undoubtedly seen in the earlier post by rylgun, a healthy dose of cuteness goes well with anything, and I mean, anything. Yet, there is something almost magical about “cuteness”; unlike humor or drama where we’re fully aware of the reasons why we are inclined to laugh or cry, the reasons for the “aww” response garnered by cute animals, anime, and a combination of the two, are much harder to pinpoint.
Cuteness, unlike humor or intelligence, is not a singular scalar quantity, but rather a set of qualities in different areas, namely behavior and appearance. Things are cute, and things can behave cutely. Cute things tend to behave in a cute fashion, but things that aren’t cute can try as well… However, things that are cute, can also do things that aren’t exactly befitting their adorableness. So we’ve split the definition of cuteness into two halves, but this still doesn’t answer our question, what exactly is cute?
Let’s tackle the aesthetic question first. And to do that, try listing everything that you think are cute, go on, whip out wordpad or textedit if you’re on a mac and start going through those things. Bunnies, penguins, cats, puppies, anime characters, anime character-puppy hybrids… probably appears on yours. Now, what do they have in common? The answers aren’t as obvious as you’d think they are. Perhaps you might think that things that are small are cute, since so much of the world’s cute reserves are inherent in small animals, but this doesn’t account for Pandas and Totoro, while paramecium and bacteria are small but aren’t cute as well (most of the time).
In order we need to understand what’s cute, we need to know why we find, what we find cute, to be so, first. The “why” question to most of our personal preferences hovers on the fuzzy line between philosophy and psychology, but in essence it’s more evolutionary biology. The reason why you’d find something more attractive, repulsive, or cute, is because nature has done us the favour enlightening our unconscious with just enough information to thrive. That’s why we’re avoid odors, that in nature are indicative of inedible rot, and we’re attracted to fatty foods, one of the vestiges of our ancestral existence at a time where food was scarce.
Those are obvious, you say, and you’ve probably already realized some connotations between repulsion and health risks. What about cute? Well, if we’re repulsed by decay, and attracted to food, things that happen in a world devoid of modern conveniences, what’s cute and occurs naturally? Babies.
Roundness, stubbiness, pudginess (damn, just saying that makes me want to hug my tongue) are all qualities of cuteness because of their association with the human infant. Naturally, things that assume those qualities are cute, and things that defy them, aren’t. Though, you might detest infants and adore azu-nyan, just the same. Why the distinction?
The reason is the same as why you prefer cake to fruit, they’re called supernormal releasers, hyperboles of human attraction. Azu-nyan and friends provide the SRs for this obsession with adorableness- characters that are exaggeratedly proportioned, have gigantic eyes, and exceptionally round heads, and they’re cuter because of this. Furthermore, applying gratuitous amounts to almost any object can turn them from plain to endearing almost immediately. As a good rule of thumb, find out how many heads tall a character is in order to see how cute they are. Most anime characters tend to be around 6.5 heads tall with extremes like lucky star, while most human beings are around 7.5 heads tall.
With that fresh in our minds, let’s put that principle into practice shall we? For relevance sake, we’ll use the girls from SAO (just 4 of them, since this is just an example) as our test subjects, and the head-body ratio as our guide.
As you can quite plainly see, Asuna’s the tallest with 6.5 heads, Suguha and Lisbeth tied for second, and Silica coming in last at 5.5. If you dare take this little example as final proof, you’d conclude tall girls aren’t cute (which is the conclusion my Napoleon’s complex has me in), but this is just one attribute to be measured. In the aesthetic’s department, we still have to take into account facial features, particularly Lisbeth’s freckles, other body proportions, and face shape (though for the SAO females, they are roughly the same), whilst behavior is a totally different creature altogether.
Flowing in the same vein as appearance, we owe the behavior of things we find cute to the behavior of infants and children. Children behavior is too large a field to go in depth, so we’ll focus on the two main things that I think are imperative towards being cute, innocence and vulnerability (and with that I sound like a rapist).
Innocence seems easy enough to explain: the status of being totally blameless, one that’s usually the product of naivety and childish ignorance. Kigurumi Harōkitei from Joshiraku is a great example of this since she’s fully cognizant of the “expectations” accorded to her by her peers for her looks- they don’t expect her to have mature expectations or insights, that just isn’t cute. The childlike view of the world that Kigurumi feigns demonstrates exactly this, allusions to childish behavior is cute.
Conversely, we are liable to think that a hypothetical child with mature opinions regarding philosophy, art, politics, etc, to be annoying rather than cute, no matter how adorable he might appear to be.
Vulnerability is more difficult to establish; most dictionaries will give you some definition of weakness, and fragility, but the cute vulnerable is that and so much more. Here, the above is important, things that aren’t innocent, or do not appear cute, will not be cute no matter how weak and fragile they are. It seems that the essential factor here is the innocence of the predicament that shows this vulnerability. Fast forward to 1:20min and 3:10min in the video below for an example.
However, there are exceptions- the event which showcase vulnerability can be lewd as well, as the master-of-vulnerability Mikuru Asahina shows us- the rules apply so long as some degree of innocence and helplessness can be ascertained from the situation.
It is not contrary to reason to say that vulnerability, is not a attribute, but rather the lack of several attributes; maturity equips one with enough knowledge, and assertiveness, for a reasonable degree of independence, being vulnerable is not having those traits. Consequently, vulnerability, echoes similar motifs of ignorance and immaturity as with childish innocence. All this accompanied by an implied inability to defend oneself, harkening back to its shared heritage in human children.
There remains a lot to be said about this magical quality, one that is attractive in a sense separate from beauty, and disarming in a sense separate from simplicity, although, for the soul of wit, that’s it for today. But for God’s hapless creatures, those who find themselves at the mercy of an amazonian height and particularly sharp features, fret not. A separate, less innocent, school of attraction is yours, one filled with the same number of supernormal stimulus and behavioral norms, but that’s for another day…