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Yuru-kyara and Mascot Characters: Cute Aesthetics and the Empathic Effect of Kawaii in Japanese Commercials


Abstract and Figures

This research explored the role of human-like characters in commercials, combined with the preferable cute aesthetic and kawaii culture in Japan. I first introduce both international and East Asian research on cuteness (cute studies) in regards to significance and effect of kawaii on media, as well as the idea of kawaii as an emotion. I then introduce the phenomenon of yuru-kyara (wobbly characters) and mascot characters in Japan, their characteristics, as well as their use in advertising and digital media. Section 4 then provides a theoretical framework to the analyses of three examples of yuru-kyara and mascot characters used in commercials, and the audio-visual techniques used to elicit the affects of kawaii through empathic self-reflection of experiences. The paper concludes with a general summary of how cute aesthetics is used in both character designs and narration style of commercials in Japan, as well as implications on advertising style of other cultures; suggestions of future research within cute studies are explored.
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Yuru-kyara and mascot characters: cute
aesthetics and the empathic effect of kawaii in
Japanese commercials
Faculty of Humanities - University of Copenhagen
MA Cognition and Communication
Simone Wong Yum Mei
Cognition and Audio-visual Communication
Table of contents
1. Introduction 1
2. Cute studies and kawaii culture 2-4
3. Japanese mascotisation (kyara) and wobbly characters (yuru-kyara) 3-6
4. Theoretical Framework
4.1 Baby schema (Lorenz, 1943) and anthropomorphism 6-7
4.2 Two-layer model of kawaii as an emotion (Nittono, 2016) 7-8
4.3 Self reflection in fiction film engagement (Vaage, 2009) 8-9
5. Analysis of commercials
5.1 Pit-kun (ピットくん) 9-11
5.2 Shopping Panda 12-13
5.3 Kumamon (くまモン) 14-17
6. Conclusion 17-19
7. References 20-21
8. Syllabus - Mandatory Course Literature 22-23
9. Syllabus Self-chosen Literature 24-25
1. Introduction
What is the emotion we experience when we see something cute in a video? In recent
years we have seen a blooming popularity in all things ‘cute’ - social media groups
and forums embrace cuteness and the aww reactions from images and videos of
furry animals, kittens, human babies; the widespread trend of cuteness is generating
countless online discussion threads every day. In media forms such as comics and
animation, it used to be that cuteness would be considered as a physical factor only
in children oriented programmes specifically targeting younger audience. However
nowadays in mainstream media and more so on the internet, we see a rising popularity
and appreciation of cute aesthetics that target a broad age range.
Some has discussed the influence of Japanese cute culture of kawaii (かわいい) in
global mainstream media (Lobato & Meese, 2014). The term kawaii describes the cute
aesthetic stemming from media forms of manga, animation, prints. With features like
youthfulness and childlikeness being socially valued (Occhi et al., 2010), cuteness is
a popular aesthetic style in Japanese media amongst all age. In particular, the use of
cute, anthropomorphic kyara (きゃら, characters) in commercials and consumer
goods is a commonly used technique to represent a brand or organisation. Some
popular examples of kyara that were popularised to Western media include Hello Kitty
by Sanrio, and Domo-kun, the mascot character of Japan’s public broadcaster NHK;
both of these characters have been turned into animated TV series, receiving
worldwide recognition for their cute appearance and entertaining personality.
It is of interest to understand what emotions are delivered through cute and
anthropomorphic characters in commercials and promotional videos within Japanese
mainstream media. Studies have shown that empathic responses could be generated
through character engagement, as well as the perception of other happy facial
expressions. It is therefore worth exploring the role of human-like characters in
commercials, combining with the preferable cute aesthetic and kawaii culture in Japan.
The paper will first introduce both international and East Asian research on cuteness
(cute studies) in regards to significance and effect of kawaii on media, as well as the
idea of kawaii as an emotion. The following section introduces the phenomenon of
yuru-kyara (wobbly characters) and mascot characters in Japan, their characteristics,
as well as their use in advertising and digital media. Section 4 then provides a
theoretical framework to the analyses of three examples of yuru-kyara and mascot
characters used in commercials, and the audio-visual techniques used to elicit the
affects of kawaii through empathic self-reflection of experiences. The paper concludes
with a general summary of how cute aesthetics is used in both character designs and
narration style of commercials in Japan, as well as implications on advertising style of
other cultures; suggestions of future research within cute studies are explored.
I propose that mascot characters not only adapt cute aesthetics to connect with the
audience and to elicit the culturally relevant emotion of ‘kawaii’, but also serves as
anthropomorphic figures in media performing ‘relatable’ bodily and emotional
experiences with a narrative voice, enabling empathic self-reflection. This paper will
hereby explore the use of cute aesthetics and kawaii as an emotion in Japanese
commercials through anthropomorphic yuru-kyara’s and mascot characters. Whilst
kawaii could roughly be translated to ‘cute’ in English, for individuals that are not
familiar with Japanese culture, it should instead be understood as a multi-dimensional
and positive emotion that is socially oriented.
2. Cute studies and kawaii culture
Cute studies in western academia have emerged in more recent years as a response
to the blooming its popularity in digital media. Scholars have described cuteness as a
growing rise of public presence that is becoming a ‘dominant aesthetic of the digital
culture and consumer culture of the current century’ (Dale, 2012). With its rising
popularity in new media and internet culture, there has been an emerging interest
exploring cute media in recent years within fields of cultural studies, evolutionary
economics, media anthropology and film studies (Lobato and Meese, 2014).
Among all cultures, the value of ‘cuteness’, or kawaii (
) in Japanese is deeply
rooted in Japanese history. Whilst kawaii cannot be directly translated to cute in
English, it holds a similar emotional value with Japanese origin, and has been
popularised globally. The adjective essentially means to be cute and childlike, with
emphasis on qualities of being ‘sweet’, ‘adorable’, ‘innocent’, ‘vulnerable’, and weak
and socially inexperienced behaviours and physical appearances (Kinsella, 1995).
Decaur (2012) discussed the idea that kawaii culture ‘idolises childishness because
childhood is viewed as a time of freedom, and this individual freedom is seen as
unattainable for adults in Japanese society.
Animation and illustration aesthetics of Japan, compared to Western style animation
films, comics and cartoon, has had a longer and much richer history of in cooperating
cuteness to their work. The development of manga (visual comic arts) has an historical
effect on cute aesthetics in Japan. Manga could be dated back to early Edo period
(1603-1867) where mass production of illustrated books and prints were developed
with woodblock techniques; commercial success eventually led to ubiquity of manga
in Sho-wa period (1926-1989) and until now as part of everyday life for Japanese
people. Cheok (2012) described the effect of cuteness depicted in manga on the
Japanese generation as ‘…conveying human emotions in their basic form, swooning
to visible excitement, unabashed embarrassment to hopping madness. Personal
characteristics that are cute, which the generations associate themselves with,
developing their individual selves to potray some, if not all, of these cute qualities in
varying degree of appropriateness…’ (Cheok, 2012). Kawaii emerged as pop culture
in the 1970’s and became an integral part of Japanese culture, as Cheok described
‘Japan’s susceptibility towards childish tastes and the shelter and safety those tastes
Affective reaction towards cute stimuli. Dale (2012) proposed that the ‘aww’ factor
of cute objects is to ‘participate in a performtive act that expresses affinitiy’. Joel Gn
presented three intersecting domains of cuteness affect, language and design; affect
being what the object communicates, language being the ‘shared vocabulary’ of this
communication, which depends on how much the object conform to a set of
characteristics; in which the design of the cute object allows ‘rearrangement’ of the
shared vocabulary, enabling the ‘production of new iterations of cuteness’. An effective
depiction of cuteness hereby require conformity of certain rules or requirements for it
to be perceived as cute, but may also benefit from new ways to experience the cute
affect; this may encourages designers to expand such aesthetic (Dale, 2012).
Cute aesthetics Colour and shape. Ohkura (2011) proposed that existence of
‘kawaii characters’ with their highly sensitive techniques contributed to the large export
surpluses of Japanese games, cartoons and animations (Ohkura referred to the term
‘digital content’). Defining kawaii as ‘an emotional value of Japanese origin’, and
conveying ‘positive meanings such as cute, lovable and small’, Ohkura conducted a
systematic analysis of kawaii artificial products to clarify the method to construct kawaii
products and explore attributes such as shapes, colours, textures and materials. In
general, when asked to pick the most kawaii combination of colour and shape,
rounded shapes and warmer colours were preferred by Japanese participants Ohkura
(2008). Curved shapes like spheres are generally evaluated in experients to be cuter
than straight-lined shapes. In addition, they found brightness and saturation of a colour
to be effective in inducing feelings of kawaii.
Effects and functions of cute aesthetics in media. Nittono (2016) discussed the
positive effects of viewing kawaii. Studies that look at how infant faces capture
attention at early visual processing (Brosch et al., 2007, as cited in Nittono, 2016); on
the other hand, viewing duration of cute pictures have been found to be longer than
less cute ones; this finding is consistent across studies and extend beyond human
babies stimulus and also on other cute objects. Viewing pictures of human and animal
infants have been found to elicit positive feelings and increase facial muscle activity in
relation to smiling (Nittono and Tanaka, 2010, as cited in Nittono, 2016). Nittono et al.
(2012) showed that looking at pictures of baby animals can increase carefulness and
narrow focus of attention; as cuteness is associated with pro-social approach
motivations, this can also affect task performance subsequently (Nittono, 2016).
Cheok (2010) discussed the functions of kawaii and cute aesthetics in interactive
media. For example, virtual characters often moves with a friendly demeanour and are
presented with a youthful, exciting personality, which are selected elements by
designers to establish a ‘micro-relationship an impart positive feelings’ to the
audience. Cheok suggested that by using cute aesthetics in virtual characters,
designers may motivate and inform users or viewers to act a certain way. By engaging
viewers in a way that reduces negative feelings and turn unappealing information into
more acceptable ones, cuteness in media ‘brings the user (or viewer) to a desired
frame or mind and attitude, then delivers content that might not otherwise be received’
(Cheok, 2010). Therefore when considering the use of cute aesthetics in commercials,
it is not only important to consider the narrative style in explaining the products or
services advertised, but also the emotional states that may be elicited by cute
aesthetics that help the audience engage easier in what ever product or services or
ideas they are being introduced. In the current case, cute aesthetics used in mascot
characters may not only elicit general positive emotions; due to its human-like features,
viewers may be prompted with approach motivation, encouraged to interact and know
more about them. This is therefore useful when used in commercials, where such
positive emotions may be converted into purchasing decisions.
3. Japanese mascotisation (kyara) and wobbly characters
Yuru-kyara (ゆるキャラ; or yuru-chara) is a major market player within Japan. It is short
for ‘yurui’ mascot characters, roughly translated into English as ‘loose, easy, lazy,
careless, half-hearted, lenient’. Such mascot characters are often anthropomorphic,
and often represent professional and serious groups, which is beyond commercial
marketing for brands but also in tourism, social services, and even Japan Self Defense
Force (Walters, 2014). Whilst designed to be cute, these characters are mostly created
to appeal to adults as well as children. A variation of mascot characters is moe kyara;
moe meaning ‘cute’, they are relatively humanlike and of a different genesis than yuru-
kyara, orginated more from manga and anime driven subculture associated with
Mascot characters has existed long before emergence and popularity of yuru-kyara.
In western countries for example, American companies have also adapted ‘advertising
characters’ since the twentieth century (Dotz and Husain, 2003; as cited in Sutera,
2016). Mascotisation in Japan extends beyond tourism and regional representation;
for example, Kaunet, a B2B company that sells office supplies, represents their
business with Bouchan, an orange box with a smiling face and white hands. The main
purpose of designing such character was to create a space where customers ‘refresh’
and to feel ‘at ease’ (Sutera, 2016); whilst it does not fit into the classic definition of
yuru-kyara, Bouchan is a classic example of how the combination of cute aesthetics
and anthropomorphism is used effectively in Japanese consumer markets.
Figure 1. (left) Bouchan, mascot character for Kaunet co., a business-to-business office supply
company. The character was designed with anthropomorphic features such as face and hands placed
onto a storage box of which represents the company’s distribution of goods. Figure 2. (right) Examples
of yuru-kyara. They are a popular marketing tactic to represent regions, companies, or authorities.
(Harrison, 2011)
Personality and narrative in characters. Mr. Miura, creator of the first yuru-kyara
in Japan, coined the term and proposed the its criteria; mandatory characteristics of
yuru-kyara include: ability to convey a strong message of love for one’s hometown,
unique and unstable movements and behaviours of characters, and its lovable and
laid-back personality (Miura, 2009; as cited in Sutera, 2016).
Sadnanobu (2015) explored the communication and language of characters (kyara)
as reflection of the kyara phenomemon in Japan. In the context of manga, Sadanobu
discussed how simple line art plus a given name would be enough to give life to a
character, bringing an impression of presence that ‘somewhat has a personality’. Ito
(2005) looked at characters in manga, and stated that characters must ‘create
awareness in the reader, necessary to understanding the manga…they are the
foundation for the identity of the beings portrayed in manga….on the foundation of
kyara’s sense of presence, a representation of a body in possession of a ‘personality’
can be read, leading one to imagine that, behind the text, it has a ‘lifeand ‘lifestyle’
(Ito, 2005, p.96; as cited in Sadanobu, 2015). With the example of Pokemon Go’s
success, Allison (2002) discussed how cute characters may ‘provide a sense of
security, intimacy, or connection for people who, in this post-industrial age, lead busy,
stressful lives often detached from the company of family or friends, thus making cute
attachments their ‘shadow families’’.
Yuru-kyaras and brand characters are designed to be used in marketing and branding
campaigns, often involving television and online video commercials. The sense of
‘playfulness’ and ‘cuteness’ in mascots helps to release tension between corporations
or authorities and the general public: they are characters designed for PR of local
governing bodies, events, and local goods, especially when in kigurumi (costume)
form. At first glance one can understand the strong message they communicate about
a local speciality or characteristic, but there are also characters that need explanation
for one to know what on earth they are. While bearing originality, when they are made
into kigurumi they often have a sense of instability that makes them all the more
lovable, and one’s heart feels healed (iyasare te kuru) just by looking at them.” (Miura,
2004; translated by Occhi et al., 2010).
4. Theoretical Framework
4.1 Baby schema (Lorenz, 1943) and anthropomorphism
Faces induce affective and emotional responses in humans (Miesler et al., 2011). It is
hereby relevant to explore studies in consumer research on cuteness as Japanese
yuru-kyara and brand characters often act as spokeperson of consumer goods and
services. Evolutionary approach on human adaptive mechanisms (that is in regards to
perceptual, cognitive, affective and motivational purposes) have led to the exploration
of how faces affect consumer behaviour. For example, Windhager and colleagues
(2008) found that people evaluated photographs of car fronts with the same
dimensions (gender, friendliness, childishness) as rating human faces; Landwehr and
colleagues (2011) showed that face-like design features could affect consumers’
explicit judgements on how friendly or aggressive a product looks like.
What makes an object likeable and approachable? Cute objects and cartoon are often
assumed to be characterised by baby schema. Biological basis of cuteness was first
explored extensively by Konrad Lorenz in 1943, which he described, as part of his
theory of animal behaviour, the following physical features that partly defined the ‘baby
Large head relative to body size
High and protruding forehead
Large eyes below horizontal midline of skull
Short and thick extremities
Plump body shape
Soft body surface
Chubby cheeks
According to Lorenz, living organisms with features descrnbvbibed above are
perceived as ‘cute’, and are often approached, protected and nurtured, acting as ‘an
elicitor of pro-social, affiliative behaviour in general (Dale, 2012). The concept was
originally proposed in relation to humans’ innate behavioural responses to specific
elements of environmental stimuli.
Characters such as yuru-kyaras that are created for advertisements and branding only
differ slightly from other characters (such as Hello Kitty) that are not designed for
certain products. Occhi and colleagues (2010) discussed Japanese consumers’
reactions to kyara advertising: according to Occhi, Japanese consumers are affected
by their ‘pervasive aesthetic and religious tendency to anthropomorphise non-human
objects’. In advertisements, anthropomorphisation is a powerful communicative tool
frequently used in advertising. Lorenz’s baby schema is universally applicable across
cultures; anthropomorphism in Japan, however, holds an additional social value. This
is perhaps why whilst both non-Japanese viewers view these characters as cute,
additional effects on Japanese are often reported, often linked to their ‘historical and
cultural linguistic lack of imaginal separation between humans and nature’; it therefore
facilitates a certain type of schematisation unique to Japanese audience, making
advertisements easier to understand.
4.2 Two-layer model of kawaii as an emotion (Nittono, 2016)
Despite the probable evolutionary origin, our reaction towards ‘cute’ things should be
understood and explored as something beyond mere biological instincts. Dale (2016)
described cuteness as a form of appeal, and ‘an invitation to engage in social
behaviours including companionship, cooperative action/play and communication
through emotional reactivity.
Nittono (2016) proposed the dual aspects of experiencing kawaii – a positive emotion
both with biological basis but also with cultural determinants. In regards to research
findings on the psychological and behavioural effects of kawaii, Nittono was also
concerned with defining kawaii as a broader psychological concept that have been
exclusively associated with ‘infantality’ and the sole defining factor of cuteness.
Kinsella (1995) showed in a survey that most respondents associated the feeling of
kawaii more with ‘warm emotional contact between individuals’; thus the social aspect
of kawaii need not to be linked with childlikeness and infantility. Quoting Sherman and
Haidt (2011), Nittono suggested that ‘cuteness response is not directly related to
caregiving and nurturance, but rather to human sociality that motivates people to
interact socially with a given agent by priming affiliative, friendly tendencies and
imbuing mental states in the entity, i.e. mentalising.’
Figure 3. Nitton (2016)’s concept of kawaii as an emotion.
The distinction between cute/cuteness and kawaii should also be made before any
analysis of cute media. For the ease of combining theories between Western-oriented
research on cuteness as an aesthetic, and Japanese-oriented research on kawaii as
an emotional reaction, the term ‘cute’ in the current paper will be used to address the
more-so aesthetic and physical attributes of experienced or perceived stimulus, whilst
kawaii’ will be used to describe the affective reaction and overall emotional response
towards a cute stimulus.
4.3 Self reflection in fiction film engagement (Vaage, 2009)
Cognitive film theory is a collective research field that explores film viewing
experiences with a diverse, interdisciplinary approach (such as cognitive science and
analytic philosophy). Vaage (2009) built on the theoretical movement in regards to film
engagement and self reflection, in which a character in the film would trigger the
spectator to reflect upon their own real life issues. These may be bodily or emotional
experiences in the past that the spectator may have forgotten and hereby re-
experienced through a new context of the character’s bodily and emotional experience.
Empathic engagement in film viewing can therefore be ‘defamiliarising’ or thought-
provokingto a spectator; reflection may be fostered through having felt a bodily or
emotionally experience that is different from what one would be able to feel in their
daily experiences.
Vaage discussed that ‘experiencing empathy and sympathy with characters in fiction
conventionally is an enjoyable form of escapism for the spectator’; such fictional
engagement exists not only within theatrical films and movies, but could also be
experienced in media forms like commercials and online videos that are of shorter
duration. Moreover, Vaage discussed the crucial difference between empathic
experiences in real life and with fictional characters is the lack of moral obligation to
‘help’ or act upon whatever emotion was empathised. Fiction ‘releases the spectator
from the need to protect himself from this obligation to help, as fictional characters
cannot be helped’ (Vaage, 2009). There is also a lack of responsibility in regards to
attention on the other person’s experience in empathy of fictional characters, meaning
that spectators can in turn reflect upon their own experiences and empathic distress
much easier.
5. Analysis of commercials
To illustrate how Japanese commercials and marketing campaigns use the
combination of anthropomorphic mascot characters and cute aesthetics to evoke the
emotion of kawaii and emotional soothing, the following characters and their starred
commercials are analysed with the theoretical frameworks of baby schema, kawaii-
as-emotion model, as well as findings from cuteness research and film theory of self-
reflection and engagement. Physical features and background of the characters will
be discussed, followed by analysis of scenes in the commercial in regards to their
visual, audio and narrative style to evoke emotions of kawaii.
5.1 Pit-kun (
) - Television commercial for Zenrosai (
Character design. Pit-kun (ピットくん) is the mascot character for Zenrosai (全労済,
National Federation of Workers and Consumers Insurance Cooperatives). Pit-kun is a
classic example of Japanese organisations using anthropomorphic and aesthetically
cute illustrated characters as the main representative for a relatively serious business.
Its appearance resembles a pit (hence the name) that is almost blooming, a symbolism
of the Zenrosai’s promise in delivering insurance and mutual help for its partners and
members (
Figure 4. (left) Pit-kun, mascot character of Zenrosai (National Federation of Workers and Consumers
Insurance Cooperatives) in Japan. Figure 5. (right) Pit-kun in Zenrosai’s television commercial to
promote its living insurance plan.
Pit-kun’s visual design corresponds well to the principal characteristics of Lorenz’s
baby schema. With a large head relative to body size and large, round eyes, Pit-kun
is short and has a plump and petite physique relative to humans. The simple, soft
outlines of Pit-kun put emphasis on its positive facial expressions, as well as the colour
choice of bright yellow as skin colour and a green body.
Television commercial. The 15-second television commercial, “Zenrosai: Pit-kun
responding to a voice” (
) introduces the
housing and living financial aid by the cooperation that covers all natural disasters. It
begins with a close-up shot of green leaves on a rainy day, with a short display of
Zenrosai’s logo and brand name sung out in a woman’s voice, whilst Pitkun waved at
the audience. With a cutaway shot the audience sees a girl with her family looking out
at the window; she shows concern by murmuring ‘are you okay?’ (おウチ大丈夫?).
The family was surprised by the animated Pit-kun’s entrance from a teru teru bōzu
(Japanese handmade doll that is often hung to the window during rain to prevent bad
weather and to bring the sun out). Holding an umbrella and back curtain falls, the
windowsill becomes the ‘stage’; Pit-kun then introduces to the family and audience the
insurance plans of Zenrosai, whilst comically dancing and singing to a Danish folk
song. Pleasantly surprised and comforted by Pit-kun, the commercial ended with the
family leaving the house after the rain has stopped, with Pit-kun reappearing from the
mailbox next to an on-screen description of the insurance plan and the telephone
Figure 6. (left) The girl looking out of the window, concerned about the rainy weather (0:02) Figure 7.
(right) Pit-kun entered the shot with an umbrella, introducing the financial aid plan that covers natural
disasters (typhoon
; earthquake
) (0:06).
Narration of the commercial was mainly done through Pit-kun’s song and dance
introducing Zenrosai’s financial aid plan. It is a common technique to use in Japanese
commercials to introduce the product in a song, often sung in an upbeat and slightly
comical way. In the current example, the commercial adapted a Danish folk song as
melody with musical instruments such as xylophone and toy piano, enhancing the
light-heartedness and cute approach of Pit-kun as representation of the cooperation.
The entrance of Pit-kun and beginning of the dance also marks the end of raining
sound effects (0:04), shifting the focus from outdoor to a close-up, indoor view. Pit-
kun remains the only element in the commercial that is animated and is in bright
colours; its wobbly actions and dance are accentuated by sound effects, matching its
cute and childlike physical appearance. The camera angle also invites the audience
to part take the POV of the two children in the commercial from the house, as mini-
sized Pit-kun dances directly at the camera in the centre of the shot; it hereby takes a
shift from Pit-kun securing the family’s worries about the rain, into the audience’s own
financial concern regarding any natural disasters, whilst the plan is explained by Pit-
kun in a casually.
Figure 8. (left) Close up shot of family’s relieved and surprised reactions after Pit-kun explains
financial air plan (0:12) Figure 9. (right) Pit-kun appearing from the mailbox with information of
insurance plan and contact number on the side (0:14)
Zenrosai’s commercial delivers a heart-warming emotion of kawaii not only through
visual design of Pit-kun itself, but also with the visual style and narration of the
commercial. The lighting has a slightly yellow hue despite the rainy day setting, and
focuses mainly on close shots of the family and Pit-kun dancing; the audience is
presented with a sense of coziness despite the bad weather. Scenes that show
wooden furniture and indoor plants at the family’s house, as well as the use of teru
teru bozu with a happy face also contribute to the coziness and positive feelings
elicited on the audience.
Japan has a high risk of natural disasters compared to other developed countries,
explaining the need for household’s securement in financial aid and insurance plans
on living and natural hazards. Zenrosai’s commercial with Pit-kun as the cooperation’s
mascot characters offers a good example of how cute aesthetics is used on the
character design, but also in the narration of ad itself. Pit-kun’s round and petite
physique, accompanied by the bright body colours and a genuine smiling face, gives
nothing but a genuine lovable and harmless impression to viewers. To advertise
financial aids with Pit-kun dancing and singing in a folk tune not only makes the
information memorable, but also highlights the effectiveness of using kawaii emotions.
5.2 Shopping Panda - Television commercial for Rakuten, Inc
Figure 10. Shopping Panda, official mascot character for Rakuten Inc,, a Japanese online shopping
Character design. Shopping panda is the official mascot character for Rakuten Inc.,
a Japanese electronic commerce and Internet company based in Tokyo. Rakuten is
the largest E-commerce site in Japan and is a popular market site worldwide.
Shopping panda has a very simple illustration design, consisting of a cartoon panda
with the company logo ‘R’ on the body. Rakuten’s website describe Shopping panda
as ‘unknown gender and age’ that ‘likes to shop on Rakuten’ and ‘fullt respect the
importance of hospitality in Japan’. Classic characteristics of Lorenz’s baby schema
could be seen from shopping panda’s visual design: large head and eyes, short and
thick extremities, plump and round body shape, and chubby rose cheeks all suggest
an infantile, baby-like appearance that makes Shopping panda seem approachable.
Moreover, its constant playful attitude and smile were also designed to correspond to
its mentioned character setting. Shopping panda’s high pitch voice gives it a playful
and cheerful attitude that is well depicted in the commercial.
Figures 11-12. Rakutens Shopping panda dancing and singing to the music in front of a plain
background, in simple lyrics about ‘savingand spendingof Rakuten points.
Television commercial. The 15 second commercial of Rakuten shows Shopping
panda dancing and singing to the song ‘Rakuten point’ (楽天ポイント), the shopping
point system of Rakuten. Shopping panda sings to the simple lyrics that introduces
the new point collecting function on the shopping site: ‘if you save up your points / if
you use your points with Ra-ra-ra-rakuten point then it’s pandaful‘ (a play on words of
Figures 13-14. Rakuten Shopping panda dancing and singing to the music with ‘pandaful’ (
) and P gold coins in colourful background (0:05, 0:12).
The narrative of the short animated commercial is very simple and straightforward: the
audience’ focus of attention is pointed towards Shopping panda as it stands out from
a completely white background; dancing towards the ‘camera’ in the middle of the
frame with on-screen text below showing the song lyrics, it is made apparent that
audience should only focus on either 1) Shopping panda or 2) the core message being
Rakuten’s new point system. The mascot’s playful and jumping dance moves along
with the constant grin also contribute to the friendliness and perceived kawaii elicited
by the commercial.
The only two slightly different shots in the commercial are when Shopping panda
jumps up and chants ‘pandaful’ twice, supposedly a play on words for ‘wonderful’
(Figure X-X). Here we see a sudden change of background colours, with the first scene
having bright pink and orange hue, and a rainbow colour text (0:05); we also see its
eyes glistening up with enthusiam; the second scene (0:12) shows the mascot once
again where it surprises the viewer by appearing closer to the ‘camera’. The ‘pandaful
text is displayed in bright pink and white, with both scenes showing the text and the
mascot being surrounded by gold coins. The simple and short commercial gained
huge popularity in Japan largely due to the favourable cute appearance of shopping
panda, its comical and clumsy dance moves and its exaggerated, playful singing voice.
The commercial visually uses bright florescent colours in two scenes that uses the
typical Japanese cute aesthetics.
We see a similarity between Pit-kun and Shopping panda’s character designs, where
both mascots were drawn in minimal outlines and bright, eye-catching colours.
Anthropomorphic features such as smiley expressions and dance moves allow both
characters to capture audiences’ attention in the short 15 second commercials. The
cheerful attitude of both characters are effective in eliciting positive feelings and
approach motivated behaviours.
5.3 Kumamon (
) - Online commercial video for Kumamoto
Character design. Kumamon (くまモン) is a yuru-kyara mascot character created in
2010 by the Kumamoto Prefecture government in Japan to represent its region.
Kumamon won the first place in the nationwide vote for the best yuru-kyara in 2011;
ever since then he has received international recognition. The regional government’s
decision to make Kumamon’s visual design license-free to use for companies and
brands largely contributed to its huge success and popularity in Japan. Kumamon’s
character setting is a bear born in Kumamoto, about 5 years old with a ‘very active
and energetic personality’.
Figure 15. (left) Kumamon (
), a yuru-kyara that represents the Kumamoto Prefecture region in
Japan. Figure 16. (right) Kumamon in a real life kirugimi (costume outfit) during a yuru-kyara festival.
Kumamon visually resembles a black bear (a play on word where kuma as in
Kumamoto means bear in Japanese); he has a soft and plump body with short limbs,
and a large head with chubby red cheeks and large eyes. Kumamon’s physical design
corresponds to Lorenz’s proposed characteristics of baby schema. Whilst his black fur
does not fit into the typical cute colour schemes of warmer, brighter colours, his red
cheeks, and the emotion-less, slightly confusing facial expression all extenuate his
awkward movements and clumsiness, giving him an overall cute and lovable persona.
Online promotional video. Kumamon’s rest day (くまモンの休日) is a promotional
video for Kumamoto region’s furo (風呂; hot baths) places. It was distributed on
YouTube and official Kumamon website. The video begins with Kumamon entering
the hot spring place with an acoustic song playing in the background (‘song of hot
baths, お風呂で歌えば
. The music is always interrupted and begins again every time
Kumamon tries to enter the water, before he gets reminded of the rules by an old man.
Eventually stepping into the water, Kumamon relaxes with few other people and they
all dance to the music. Feeling energised, he steps out and is reminded by the old
man again to dry himself before leaving. They become friends and help each other in
drying off, with scenes of Kumamon with a fan and also giving the old man a shoulder
massage. The video then shows a list of all hot bath locations in Kumamoto region,
and an on-screen text asking ‘which hot spring do you want to take a bath in?’, whilst
Kumamon stares at the scenery. It ends with Kumamon leaving the hot spring place
from the same door as entrance.
Figure 17. (left) Close-up shot of water and wooden barrel with name of the hot bath printed on towel.
Figure 18. (right) Panned-out shot of scenery in Kumamoto region.
The 2 minutes and 40 seconds commercial video delivers a cute, relaxed and soothing
emotion to the audience, promoting the positive effect of hot baths and encouraging
the viewers to visit Kumamoto region. This is delivered through a number of visual
elements in the video. Firstly, warm hues of the overall video (which are normally
perceived as friendlier and cuter in film) corresponds to the temperature of hot spring
experience, prompting viewers to imagine themselves at the location. Scenes from
close up shots of glistening water and sunbeam; to panned out shots of mountains
and houses in Kumamoto region, all contribute to viewers’ empathic experiences with
the character. Moreover, body movements and small dances of Kumamon whilst he
stares into the camera may provide a realistic, even occasionally documentary-like
experience for the viewer. The friendly invitation to ‘join Kumamon’ (as appraised by
viewers as kawaii) may manifest positive psychological and behavioural effects, such
as feeling comforted, welcomed and accepted.
The background music remains the most prominent sound in the video, accompanied
by sound effects of water flow, nature and Kumamon’s actions. Viewer’s experience
is audibly led by a relaxing acoustic song sung by a moderately high-pitched female,
with musical instruments like the ukulele and xylophone, giving the overall video a cute
and almost child-like theme. The easy to understand, repeating lyrics that suggest
relaxed feelings of hot spring; e.g. opening lyrics “お風呂に入ろう ザブンと入ろう
お風呂に入れば 心も体も リラックス (entering a bathtub, relax your heart and also
your body) perfectly matches Kumamon’s body language, and further evokes viewers’
past memories of similar experiences.
Figure 19. (left) Close-up shot of Kumamon scooping water with a small bamboo barrel (0:28).
Figure 20. (right) Kumamon in the water, dancing whilst looking at the camera; on-screen message at
bottom right emphasising the lack of CG used in video (1:11).
It is apparent that anthropomorphism of Kumamon extends beyond his appearance,
but also in his behaviour and interaction with other human characters in the video.
Kumamon was presented as a normal individual going to the public bath; to list a few,
the character performed the following behaviours and reactions during the video:
entering the place by flipping up the door curtains (0:04); lightly closing the door (0:09);
splashing and scooping water with a small bamboo barrel (0:28); carefully folding up
a towel (0:47); testing water temperature and startled by the heat (0:54-0:56); swinging
his body to the background music with other people (1:23); stretching his body and
feeling refreshed (1:44); wiping water off (1:53-2:02) and blow-drying himself with a
hairdryer and a fan (2:03). Some of these actions were presented in close-up shots
(e.g. zooming into his feet or hands) which further put emphasis to Kumamon’s
The shifting shots from the old man and towards the signs (e.g. 0:39-0:44), as well as
the calm reactions of other visitors suggested to viewers that Kumamon is being
accepted and should follow the same social etiquette as everyone else. Whilst being
entertained by the clumsiness and comical behaviours of the character, viewers are
simultaneously able to empathise on Kumamon’s bodily and emotional experiences,
prompting themselves to relive memories of going to a hot bath on a resting day.
Figure 21. (left) Kumamon swinging to the music with other people in water (1:24). Figure 22. (right)
Kumamon and the old man helping each other to wipe the water off (1:54).
Moreover, the most unexpected scene is perhaps that, instead of an animation,
Kumamon in real life (acted by someone in a furry costume suit) emerges into the
water and enjoys the bath like an ordinary person (1:01). The few preceding shots of
Kumamon being interrupted and startled by the hot water, along with the aligned
restarting of background music, allows a build-up of anticipation to how Kumamon
may, in fact, actually bath as a mascot. The realistic behaviours of the characters were
reminded by the producers as 1:08 comically shows an on-screen text saying “we did
not use CG, he’s really bathing in the water”, suggesting that the realism of
Kumamon’s hot bath experience was entirely intended.
Traditional furo hot baths hold significant cultural value to Japanese people as a ritual
to relax and warming instead of washing oneself. Overall, visual techniques mentioned
in the video and Kumamon as main character is a good example of using cute
aesthetics and anthropomorphism to elicit kawaii emotions on viewers. Considering
Nittono’s kawaii model, Kumamon’s characteristics of baby schema, constant smile,
round body shape and a bright and eye-catching facial colours all attribute to viewers’
appraisal of the character to be positive, socially oriented and unthreatened. Through
engaging oneself in the highly human-like experiences of Kumamon, viewers are able
to reflect on their own bodily experiences at a hot bath, thus reliving the soothing and
comforting sensations.
Overview. Zenrosai’s Pit-kun, Rakuten’s shopping panda and Kumamon’s hot bath
commercials all serve to convey a similar emotion of kawaii and comfort using human-
like mascot characters, as well as visual style within the video with cute aesthetics
such as round shapes, warm and bright colours. Pit-kun uses a light-hearted and
comforting approach to introduce and sell a financial aid plan, whilst Shopping panda
of Rakuten dances and sings in high pitch a simple but straightforward message about
online shopping. Kumamon, a yuru-kyara of Kumamoto region, plays the main
character in the commercial to experience the sold ‘product’. The result of all three
example commercials all deliver the kawaii emotion as a way to anchor the audience’
attentional focus, yet effectively informing audience of the products sold.
6. Conclusion
This paper explored the phenomenon of using mascot characters and cute aesthetics
in Japanese mainstream media and advertisement, as well as the influence of
Japanese kawaii culture in eliciting the emotion of kawaii. The concept of kawaii has
been suggested to not only depict physical cuteness, but should be comprehended as
a multi-dimensional emotional experience that is pro-social, approach-oriented and
delivers positive feelings of comfort and ‘mental healing’. On the other hand, Japan’s
popularity in using anthropomorphic mascot characters to represent brands and
organisations often implement cute appearances; this can be understood through the
theoretical framework of Lorenz’s baby schema, as well as other communicative cues
of cuteness. Considering Vaage (2012)’s idea of self-reflection in fiction film
engagement, cute characters’ invite viewers to empathise and part take in their bodily
and emotional experiences, either partly through recreation of facial expressions, or
even first person as the character themselves.
Apart from its traditional approach related to baby schema and infantility that takes
account of the instinctual appeal of all things cute, Nittono (2016) proposed that kawaii
can be understood by two layers – the cute aesthetic factors such as colours, shapes
and actions that may be culturally specific, and the universal psychological state of
positive emotions elicited by viewing cute stimuli. Mascot characters representing
brands and products, or having the characters as product themselves allow TV
commercials to not rely on hidden messages, but instead an explicit display of
‘personalityand narrative from the character themselves. Mascots as an embodiment
of brand image, personality and social value, are created to not only introduce to
audience a specific product or service (such as regional mascots to attract tourism, or
to decrease tension between public and authorities), but is often designed to be
relatable on a societal level. These characters often being sexless, vaguely reminding
audience of animals or humans, yet shows enough personality that makes it
impossible to see them as merely animal like figures. With no gender boundaries, and
with the aesthetic appeal of cuteness, audience are captivated by the characters’
narrative in commercials, videos, and also clips of them in real life where the ‘character’
extends beyond fictional world, but are interacting with real life people. With the
positive emotion of kawaii elicited, the audience is encouraged to mentally bond and
relate to these characters through their bodily and emotional experiences.
Commercials ‘starring’ Pit-kun and Shopping panda as a mascot character and
Kumamon as yuru-kyara give good example of how commercials combine cute
aesthetics in visual and narrative style, as well as in the character design themselves.
All examples of characters have an innocent and lovable appeal; their cute physical
design, mostly following the characteristics of baby schema, combined with their
human-like movements in the commercials, allow viewers of the commercials to
experience the positive, social-oriented affect of kawaii. As a result they are motivated
and soothed by the characters’ friendliness. Warm tones, uplifting and playful narrative
of both commercials delivers the message in a light-hearted way. As Nittono (2016)
discussed, viewing cute objects can draw attention and interest, induces positive
feelings, as well as increasing carefulness and narrowing focus of attention.
It is however important to consider the fact that Japan has a long history of using
anthropomorphic characters and mascots to represent organisations. When analysing
the emotions evoked on viewers through the use of cute aesthetics, it is therefore
important to bear in mind cultural differences in tolerance and appreciation of
childlikeness on a societal level. In regards to self-reflection of viewers, it is interesting
to consider how engagement in cute characters are also tied into the consumption of
kawaii culture; Kinsella (1995) argued that consuming cuteness is not about obtaining
objects, but more important about becoming an identity with cute appearance and
child-like behaviour. The use of kawaii as emotion in commercials hereby also
emphasises the preference of youthful, innocent social etiquette in Japan.
Whilst cute aesthetics and use of cute characters remain highly specific to Japanese
culture, gender differences of viewing experience should also be of consideration. For
example, when looking at reactions towards cue images, Nittono and colleagues
(2012) found that regardless of types of images, women would give higher ratings of
cuteness than men; whilst this was done on Japanese participants meaning that
gender differences may already be reduced, this suggests that emotions elicited by
the two commercials on Western viewers can differ largely. In addition, Kuhn (2002)
also raised the importance of cultural and social context for interpretation of film
engagement. It is therefore important to be aware of specific cultural context in the
analysed commercials being tailored to the Japanese audience. Whilst Nittono (2016)
proposed that kawaii is a universal psychological state that could may currently lack
direct translation in other languages, a certain aspect of kawaii being the targeted
emotion elicited in Japanese commercials largely took in consideration the favourable
qualities of childlikeness. A comparison of cute aesthetics and kawaii emotions
depicted between Eastern and Western commercials, as well as mascot characters,
may provide insight to the extent of whether kawaii as a psychological state can be
understood and delivered universally through audio-visual narrative styles classified
as cute in certain cultures.
In summary, Japanese commercials have had the long tradition of using culturally
specific cute aesthetics and anthropomorphic mascot characters to elicit the emotion
of kawaii. From the analysis of Pit-Kun, Shopping panda and Kumamon’s examples,
it is concluded that the following factors may contribute largely towards the
effectiveness of a commercial in eliciting kawaii emotions: 1) Visual design of mascot
character (e.g. baby schema characteristics, roundness, shape, colour), 2) visual style
of commercial delivering cute aesthetics (e.g. roundness, colour tones), 3) narrative
style (e.g. music, mascot voice), and human-likeness or realism of mascot characters’
movements (e.g dances, bodily movements).
7. References
5.1 Zenrosai’s Pit-kun; 【全労済】住まいる共済「声に応えるピットくん」篇
5.2 Rakuten’s Shopping panda; 楽天ポイント お買いものパンダ登場編
5.3 Kumamoto’s Kumamon; くまモンの休日
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There are various ideas related to characters in modern Japan (dramatis personae, Ito's (2005) Kyara and its self-professed successors' ideas, and situation-based self). This paper will introduce these ideas, address my definition of character (situation-based self) in detail, and discuss its significance for communication and linguistic research.The major characteristics of this definition are: (i) it is based on the traditionally taboo idea that "humans can change in response to the situation," and (ii) it is not something created by a researcher (the author), but was rather formed by speakers of Japanese in the course of daily life. I merely employed this word as it is, as a technical term.Japanese speakers are keenly conscious of the self’s situation-sensitiveness, but there is no need to think of Japanese society as unique just because it was the first to come out about this fact to the world. This characteristic of Japanese society can be understood as a difference of degree; that is, there is "a low degree of freedom in style, and a correspondingly large degree of freedom in character."
This issue of M/C Journal is devoted to all things cute – Internet animals and stuffed toys, cartoon characters and branded bears. In what follows our nine contributors scrutinise a diverse range of media objects, discussing everything from the economics of Grumpy Cat and the aesthetics of Furbys to Reddit’s intellectual property dramas and the ethics of kitten memes. The articles range across diverse sites, from China to Canada, and equally diverse disciplines, including cultural studies, evolutionary economics, media anthropology, film studies and socio-legal studies. But they share a common aim of tracing out the connections between degraded media forms and wider questions of culture, identity, economy and power. Our contributors tell riveting stories about these connections, inviting us to see the most familiar visual culture in a new way. We are not the first to take cute media seriously as a site of cultural politics, and as an industry in its own right. Cultural theory has a long, antagonistic relationship with the kitsch and the disposable. From the Frankfurt School’s withering critique of cultural commodification to revisionist feminist accounts that emphasise the importance of the everyday, critics have been conducting sporadic incursions into this space for the better part of a century. The rise of cultural studies, a discipline committed to analysing “the scrap of ordinary or banal existence” (Morris and Frow xviii), has naturally provided a convincing intellectual rationale for such research, and has inspired an impressive array of studies on such things as Victorian-era postcards (Milne), Disney films (Forgacs), Hallmark cards (West, Jaffe) and stock photography (Frosh). A parallel strand of literary theory considers the diverse registers of aesthetic experience that characterize cute content (Brown, Harris). Sianne Ngai has written elegantly on this topic, noting that “while the avant-garde is conventionally imagined as sharp and pointy, as hard- or cutting-edge, cute objects have no edge to speak of, usually being soft, round, and deeply associated with the infantile and the feminine” (814). Other scholars trace the historical evolution of cute aesthetics and commodities. Cultural historians have documented the emergence of consumer markets for children and how these have shaped what we think of as cute (Cross). Others have considered the history of domestic animal imagery and its symptomatic relationship with social anxieties around Darwinism, animal rights, and pet keeping (Morse and Danahay, Ritvo). And of course, Japanese popular culture – with its distinctive mobilization of cute aesthetics – has attracted its own rich literature in anthropology and area studies (Allison, Kinsella). The current issue of M/C Journal extends these lines of research while also pushing the conversation in some new directions. Specifically, we are interested in the collision between cute aesthetics, understood as a persistent strand of mass culture, and contemporary digital media. What might the existing tradition of “cute theory” mean in an Internet economy where user-generated content sites and social media have massively expanded the semiotic space of “cute” – and the commercial possibilities this entails? As the heir to a specific mode of degraded populism, the Internet cat video may be to the present what the sitcom, the paperback novel, or the Madonna video was to an earlier moment of cultural analysis. Millions of people worldwide start their days with kittens on Roombas. Global animal brands, such as Maru and Grumpy Cat, are appearing, along with new talent agencies for celebrity pets. Online portal I Can Haz Cheezburger has received millions of dollars in venture capital funding, becoming a diversified media business (and then a dotcom bubble). YouTube channels, Twitter hashtags and blog rolls form an infrastructure across which a vast amount of cute-themed user-generated content, as well as an increasing amount of commercially produced and branded material, now circulates. All this reminds us of the oft-quoted truism that the Internet is “made of kittens”, and that it’s “kittens all the way down”. Digitization of cute culture leads to some unusual tweaks in the taste hierarchies explored in the aforementioned scholarship. Cute content now functions variously as an affective transaction, a form of fandom, and as a subcultural discourse. In some corners of the Internet it is also being re-imagined as something contemporary, self-reflexive and flecked with irony. The example of 4Chan and LOLcats, a jocular, masculinist remix of the feminized genre of pet photography, is particularly striking here. How might the topic of cute look if we moving away from the old dialectics of mass culture critique vs. defense and instead foreground some of these more counter-intuitive aspects, taking seriously the enormous scale and vibrancy of the various “cute” content production systems – from children’s television to greeting cards to – and their structural integration into current media, marketing and lifestyle industries? Several articles in this issue adopt this approach, investigating the undergirding economic and regulatory structures of cute culture. Jason Potts provides a novel economic explanation for why there are so many animals on the Internet, using a little-known economic theory (the Alchian-Allen theorem) to explain the abundance of cat videos on YouTube. James Meese explores the complex copyright politics of pet images on Reddit, showing how this online community – which is the original source of much of the Internet’s animal gifs, jpegs and videos – has developed its own procedures for regulating animal image “piracy”. These articles imaginatively connect the soft stuff of cute content with the hard stuff of intellectual property and supply-and-demand dynamics. Another line of questioning investigates the political and bio-political work involved in everyday investments in cute culture. Seen from this perspective, cute is an affect that connects ground-level consumer subjectivity with various economic and political projects. Carolyn Stevens’ essay offers an absorbing analysis of the Japanese cute character Rilakkuma (“Relaxed Bear”), a wildly popular cartoon bear that is typically depicted lying on the couch and eating sweets. She explores what this representation means in the context of a stagnant Japanese economy, when the idea of idleness is taking on a new shade of meaning due to rising under-employment and precarity. Sharalyn Sanders considers a fascinating recent case of cute-powered activism in Canada, when animal rights activists used a multimedia stunt – a cat, Tuxedo Stan, running for mayor of Halifax, Canada – to highlight the unfortunate situation of stray and feral felines in the municipality. Sanders offers a rich analysis of this unusual political campaign and the moral questions it provokes. Elaine Laforteza considers another fascinating collision of the cute and the political: the case of Lil’ Bub, an American cat with a rare genetic condition that results in a perpetually kitten-like facial expression. During 2011 Lil’ Bub became an online phenomenon of the first order. Laforteza uses this event, and the controversies that brewed around it, as an entry point for a fascinating discussion of the “cute-ification” of disability. These case studies remind us once more of the political stakes of representation and viral communication, topics taken up by other contributors in their articles. Radha O’Meara’s “Do Cats Know They Rule YouTube? How Cat Videos Disguise Surveillance as Unselfconscious Play” provides a wide-ranging textual analysis of pet videos, focusing on the subtle narrative structures and viewer positioning that are so central to the pleasures of this genre. O’Meara explains how the “cute” experience is linked to the frisson of surveillance, and escape from surveillance. She also explains the aesthetic differences that distinguish online dog videos from cat videos, showing how particular ideas about animals are hardwired into the apparently spontaneous form of amateur content production. Gabriele de Seta investigates the linguistics of cute in his nuanced examination of how a new word – meng – entered popular discourse amongst Mandarin Chinese Internet users. de Seta draws our attention to the specificities of cute as a concept, and how the very notion of cuteness undergoes a series of translations and reconfigurations as it travels across cultures and contexts. As the term meng supplants existing Mandarin terms for cute such as ke’ai, debates around how the new word should be used are common. De Seta shows us how deploying these specific linguistic terms for cuteness involve a range of linguistic and aesthetic judgments. In short, what exactly is cute and in what context? Other contributors offer much-needed cultural analyses of the relationship between cute aesthetics, celebrity and user-generated culture. Catherine Caudwell looks at the once-popular Furby toy brand its treatment in online fan fiction. She notes that these forms of online creative practice offer a range of “imaginative and speculative” critiques of cuteness. Caudwell – like de Seta – reminds us that “cuteness is an unstable aesthetic that is culturally contingent and very much tied to behaviour”, an affect that can encompass friendliness, helplessness, monstrosity and strangeness. Jonathon Hutchinson’s article explores “petworking”, the phenomenon of social media-enabled celebrity pets (and pet owners). Using the famous example of Boo, a “highly networked” celebrity Pomeranian, Hutchinson offers a careful account of how cute is constructed, with intermediaries (owners and, in some cases, agents) negotiating a series of careful interactions between pet fans and the pet itself. Hutchinson argues if we wish to understand the popularity of cute content, the “strategic efforts” of these intermediaries must be taken into account. Each of our contributors has a unique story to tell about the aesthetics of commodity culture. The objects they analyse may be cute and furry, but the critical arguments offered here have very sharp teeth. We hope you enjoy the issue.Acknowledgments Thanks to Axel Bruns at M/C Journal for his support, to our hard-working peer reviewers for their insightful and valuable comments, and to the Swinburne Institute for Social Research for the small grant that made this issue possible. ReferencesAllison, Anne. “Cuteness as Japan’s Millenial Product.” Pikachu’s Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokemon. Ed. Joseph Tobin. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. 34-48. Brown, Laura. Homeless Dogs and Melancholy Apes: Humans and Other Animals in the Modern Literary Imagination. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010. Cross, Gary. The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children's Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Forgacs, David. "Disney Animation and the Business of Childhood." Screen 33.4 (1992): 361-374. Frosh, Paul. "Inside the Image Factory: Stock Photography and Cultural Production." Media, Culture & Society 23.5 (2001): 625-646. Harris, Daniel. Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism. New York: Basic Books, 2000. Jaffe, Alexandra. "Packaged Sentiments: The Social Meanings of Greeting Cards." Journal of Material Culture 4.2 (1999): 115-141. Kinsella, Sharon. “Cuties in Japan” Women, Media and Consumption in Japan. Ed. Lise Skov and Brian Moeran. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995. 220 - 54. Frow, John, and Meaghan Morris, eds. Australian Cultural Studies: A Reader. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993. Milne, Esther. Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of Presence. New York: Routledge, 2012. Morse, Deborah and Martin Danahay, eds. Victorian Animal Dreams: Representations of Animals in Victorian Literature and Culture. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing. 2007. Ngai, Sianne. "The Cuteness of the Avant‐Garde." Critical Inquiry 31.4 (2005): 811-847. Ritvo, Harriet. The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987. West, Emily. "When You Care Enough to Defend the Very Best: How the Greeting Card Industry Manages Cultural Criticism." Media, Culture & Society 29.2 (2007): 241-261.
‘Kawaii’ is one of the most popular words in contemporary Japan and is recognized as representative of Japanese pop culture. It is often translated into English as ‘cute’, but a subtle difference of nuance seems to exist between the two words. In this article, a framework for research on kawaii from a behavioural science perspective is put forward. After introducing the dictionary definition, history and current usage of kawaii, this article reports survey results of Japanese students and office workers about their attitudes towards kawaii. These findings and past psychological and behavioural science research lead to a two-layer model that consists of kawaii as an emotion and kawaii as a social value. This model postulates that the basis of kawaii is a positive emotion related to the social motivation of watching for and staying with preferable persons and objects, which is typically observed in affection towards babies and infants, but not limited to them. This culturally non-specific, biological trait has been appreciated and fostered in Japan by certain characteristics of Japanese culture. Because previous research on cuteness has been almost exclusively associated with infant physical attractiveness and baby schema, using the relatively fresh, exotic word ‘kawaii’ may be helpful to describe this broader psychological concept.
This chapter begins with a number of very common movie events. They bear testimony to the hardly controversial observation that, in large measure, affect is the glue that holds the audience's attention to the screen on a moment-to-moment basis. The author mentions “affect” here rather than “emotion,” even though it might be acceptable in ordinary language to label all the presented examples as instances of emotional response. The author's reason for this way of speaking is that the ordinary notion of emotion can be exceedingly broad and elastic, sometimes ranging so widely as to encompass hardwired reflex reactions, kinesthetic turbulence, moods, sexual arousal, pleasures and desires, as well as occurrent mental states like anger, fear, and sorrow.
Cognitive film theory is an approach to analyzing film that bridges the traditionally segregated disciplines of film theory, philosophy and the psychological and neurosciences. Considerable work has already been presented from the perspective of film theory that utilizes existing empirical evidence of psychological phenomenon to inform our understanding of film viewers and the form of film itself. But can empirical psychology also provide ways to directly test the insights generated by the theoretical study of film? In this chapter I will present a case study in which eye-tracking is used to validate Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein’s intuitions about viewer attention during a sequence from Alexander Nevsky (1938)