December 22, 2021

Cute girls doing interesting things

Being less constrained by the budgetary boundaries of Hollywood productions, and often based on material originally created by a production team of one or two, anime ends up throwing a lot more ideas against the wall to see what sticks.

As depicted in Bakuman, manga artists constantly compete to come up with a unique cast on the same-old same-old. The survival of the fictional fittest yields new tropes and formulas that are refined, exploited, and exhausted. Then the whole process starts all over again.

This Darwinistic struggle can also yield bursts of surprising creativity. Genres from opposite ends of the story spectrum intersect in ways that can only be described using multidimensional Venn diagrams.

A recent break-out genre is commonly referred to as "Cute girls doing cute things." It arose out of the primordial soup of moe, which can be defined as "the ideal of youthful and innocent femininity." In narrative terms, it means using cuteness both as a theme and a character trait.

Writers were soon populating their stories with casts of cute girls. This resulted in slice-of-life comedies about cute girls attending school, having fun, and hanging out together, less concerned with plot than the warm fuzzies. It's a life-affirming approach that defines the iyashikei or "healing" genre.

Representative series include Non-Non Biyori, Azumanga Daioh, and Strawberry Marshmallow.

Also drawing on the noteworthy insight that a sure way to create an interesting character is to give her a job or hobby, the focus was further refined to highlight cute girls engaged in specific activities. This evolved in a genre best described as "cute girls doing interesting things in a cute way."

The genre-making hit in this regard was probably the K-On! franchise, about five high school girls who form a rock band. But to illustrate how heterodox such a simple concept can become, an earlier hallmark series was Aria, about cute girls working as gondoliers on Mars.

And then there is Girls und Panzer, in which a group of cute girls operate a platoon of vintage tanks in unrealistically realistic high school war games. On a less exotic note, cute girls form a mountain hiking club in Encouragement of Climb and a camping club in Laid-Back Camp.

Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater plunges into the activities of an all-girl high school fishing club, with each episode focusing on a different species of fish and the techniques used to catch it. Super Cub celebrates Honda's hugely popular (throughout Asia) line of utility scooters.

Sakura Quest tackles the intractable problems of rural depopulation. Five cute girls (they're mostly adults this time around) are recruited by the tourist board to help revitalize a small town. The comic premise notwithstanding, they come up with real-world, practical solutions.

Seriously, you could use Sakura Quest as the text in a college course on the subject.

The Japanese obsession with technical precision is on full display. Actual equipment and techniques are depicted in Encouragement of Climb and Laid-Back Camp. The tanks in Girls und Panzer are operated according to the historical specs. Honda consulted on Super Cub.

As with the ever-popular cooking shows, the goal is to geek out on a subject while keeping it interesting. And one sure way to make it interesting (to boys in particular) is to keep it cute!

Related videos

Azumanga Daioh
Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater
Encouragement of Climb
Girls und Panzer
Kiyo in Kyoto
Laid-Back Camp
Non-Non Biyori
Sakura Quest
Strawberry Marshmallow

Super Cub

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# posted by Blogger Matthew
3/02/2019 11:33 AM   
Just out of curiosity do these shows ever have things like plot or character arcs or catharsis or are they just slice of life with cute girls.
# posted by Blogger Eugene
3/02/2019 3:57 PM   
Girls und Panzer is a solid entry in the sports genre, and so is almost entirely plot-driven. An interesting dynamic does play out between Miho and Maho (her older sister) and their mother. Naturally, the championship comes down to a battle between the tanks commanded by Miho and Maho.

Every major character in Sakura Quest has a character arc, starting with Yoshino, who arrives in Manoyama for a photo shoot as the "local idol" and finds out she's been signed up for a year. In that year, she seriously tackles the problems of rural revitalization and creates a meaningful career.
# posted by Blogger Matthew
3/03/2019 12:35 PM   
Thank you.