|Susie, drawn "chibi" style, eating all our chocolate.
Susie is drawn in an anime style. Anime is “a style of animation originating in Japan that is characterized by stark colorful graphics depicting vibrant characters in action-filled plots often with fantastic or futuristic themes” (Miriam-Webster, 2004, para 1). These so-called “vibrant” characters are often depicted with large eyes, small mouths, and thin, idealized bodies.
I have been interested in anime since I was about 12. I am attracted to the large, soulful, innocent eyes the characters possess, their idealized bodies, and the intriguing storylines of anime TV shows and movies. There is something cute, intriguing, and fantastical about anime that has always attracted me to it.
As it turns out, I am not alone. As Cara Santa Maria (2014) reported,
…somewhere down the line, an ancestral mother had a mutation in her DNA causing her to be more attracted to and protective of babies with big eyes and lollipop-looking heads. So, she gave more attention to her quote-unquote cute children, and those kids were more likely to grow up healthy, reproduce, and have cuter children themselves. And, it's likely that they would also possess the gene variant that made them more attracted to features that we today call cute. Eventually this trait was spread out into the whole population. Oh, evolution. (para. 8)
This big-eyes-small-mouths, youthful, almost-infant-like style is a defining feature of anime. The anime style was likely developed as an unconscious response to the attraction of "cuteness" and has made anime a very popular form of storytelling and art. It is no wonder, then, that I was attracted to it at an early age and would want to learn to draw anime characters myself. So tapping into a writer's "cute tooth" (Angier, 2006, para. 17) was an obvious choice when considering how to make a character relatable and likeable.
And of course I am not alone in wishing to capitalize on "cuteness" when it comes to delivering a message. Natalie Angier (2006) stated in her New York Times article, "The Cute Factor,"
Whatever needs pitching, cute can help. A recent study at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at the University of Michigan showed that high school students were far more likely to believe antismoking messages accompanied by cute cartoon characters like a penguin in a red jacket or a smirking polar bear than when the warnings were delivered unadorned. (para. 23)
This evidence that cuteness promotes positive responses is not only anecdotal; Hiroshi Nittono et al. (2012) published the results of three experiments which investigated whether "cute" images promoted careful behavior and narrowed attentional focus. In each experiment, it was found that performance "indexed by the number of successful trials increased after viewing cute images [. . . ] more than after viewing images that were less cute (p. 1)." The researchers interpreted this careful behavior as
the result of a narrowed attentional focus induced by the cuteness-triggered positive emotion that is associated with approach motivation and the tendency toward systematic processing. For future applications, cute objects may be used as an emotion elicitor to induce careful behavioral tendencies in specific situations, such as driving and office work. (p. 1)
So not only does Susie's cuteness make her relatable, it may also assist Writing Center clients to be more focused and careful.
Of course, anime’s cuteness was not the only reason I chose to draw a character in that style; anime has been gaining popularity in the United States for several decades and continues to do so. The Associated Press (2006) reported that “A record 41,000 visitors, dressed in colorfully wild costumes — from blue-haired heroines to red-eyed vampires — recently attended Anaheim's Anime Expo, the nation's largest trade show of anime and manga, just across the street from Disneyland” (para. 3). Thus, not only would those unfamiliar with anime connect with Susie because she is, to put it bluntly, really cute, but those who are familiar with anime would connect with Susie on another level altogether. The author continued:
From Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning fantasy flick Spirited Away to the violent voyeurism of Ghost in the Shell, kiddie fare such as Pokemon, TV shows on cable's Adult Swim and video game offshoots such as Final Fantasy, anime has spread its tentacles across American culture. (para. 6)