The Problem with “Cute”
I hinted at this post when I wrote about the K-On! movie yesterday with a riddle that was probably too open-ended to be guessed correctly. Actually, there were “correct” answers (“overrated” and “pandering”), but no one guessed the correct answer I was looking for: “cute.” I like cute, I like cute cartoons, but “cute” the adjective is beginning to gall me, and I think it should be avoided altogether when writing reviews about anime.
When you’re trying to “sell” your readers on an anime, it behooves you to try and be as descriptive as possible about why you like it so much. Moe fans seem to have the hardest time with this, and I think part of the reason why is that they lean too heavily on the instinctive appeal of “cute” to explain why something works. The time when “cute” was novelty appeal passed us years ago, since we live in an age where cats rule the Internet, and cute is so common its virtues as a descriptor are voided. It’s like if you described a stand-up comedian as “edgy” because that describes nearly every comedian. That does nothing to explain why you find Tig Notaro funny. And cute is everywhere in anime, even in anime where cute probably isn’t wisest design choice for the story you’re trying to tell.
And on top of that, trying to describe why you find something cute is also a loser’s game because that reaction is personal and psychological. Tsundere, for instance, is a cute trope I generally like, but some people are understandably repelled by it. There may be another angle that explains why some trope-filled character interests you, but if there isn’t, you’re probably better off not mentioning it, because the only people who will understand, are those who also get the dog whistle, and chances are, they’ve already heard of or seen what you’re talking about.
So when I wrote my K-On review, I didn’t talk about how cute everyone was, and instead, I wrote about how relatable they were and the attention to detail KyoAni put into the movie. It was really easy for me to do this because K-On! has plenty of virtues beyond being “cute.” But if you ever find yourself trying to persuade someone to watch something because of how cute it is, stop. Figure out why this anime stands out from every other cute thing out there, and if you can’t find an answer to that, then it’s wise to not recommend it at all.