What I am about to say here is completely true. Judge me as you will but I feel it necessary to be transparent with you guys. This random post about cat ears as a fashion statement, is one of the most researched posts on this site. Aside from my few pseudo-science forays, I don’t think I’ve ever taken such an analytical approach to a post before. No wait – I did for Zettai Ryouki and it made me sad…
Wanna find out if I’m sad again? Read on!
By now, cat ears are a well established moe staple. So well established in fact, that they me be considered a little passé. After all, the normies have jumped on to the trend so clearly, we must be over it by now… 😉
Of course, it doesn’t have to be cat ears per see. Cat ear like attachments, (like in NGE for instance), or horns can have a similar effect. We have all somehow accepted that adding this animal characteristic to any character will instantly make them cuter…But why?
I remember playing Lamento beyond the Void which is just full of catboys. Really attractive catboys I might add. I also played Dandelion which featured both cat and bunny boys. Also attractive. Anime boys are rarely not attractive, let’s e real. In both cases I liked (most of) the characters. Some I enjoyed a lot and would love to learn more about. And although I do *understand* the appeal and do find it cute. If I take a step back and look at it objectively, those boys would have been more handsome without the silly ears and tails.
And that’s often the case, at least for me. Even characters I quite like with animal traits, I will find more appealing in the one piece of art where they don’t have them. Yet I still like animal ears. I buy winter hats and hoodies that have them. How can both of these things be true?
There are plenty of theories on the subject and believe it or not, I actually went out and read a whole bunch of websites and articles. Let me try to sum up the most common recurrent themes.
Animal characteristics that are very visible (such as ears or a tail) make the subject exotic and unique without making them any less human looking. Basically, these traits may add a certain touch the make an individual stand out, but they don’t interfere with the characteristics we traditionally find attractive. Cat girls still have chests, waists, hips and derrières. Cat boys still have abs and strong arms.
This makes sense. A lot of attraction is predicated on getting noticed. This is true for most animals in fact. We like traits that stand out as long as they are not indicators of unhealthy genes. Before you fall madly in love with so and so, they have to catch your eye. You spot them across a crowded room! They have something unique about them.
This would explain the long history of Demi human seductresses. From Bakenekos, to Mermaids, to Playboy Bunny and the traditionally beautiful elves which are generally tall skinny humans with pointy ears. By contrast, creatures that are meant to be ugly will have inhuman proportions and distorted facial features.
Another common theory is that these elements invoke a primal emotional reaction in us. They use features of animals that are somewhat helpless compared to humans, cats in particular are often kept as pets after all. And this association is comforting. You are immediately more prone to want to take care of them. Even if you are a dog person.
There have been a lot of studies done on cats’ evolution towards human manipulation. Mix in a pretty girl and you just don’t stand a chance!
Finally, there’s a slightly less sunny theory that adding such features directly dehumanizes characters and therefore the audience doesn’t feel bad about objectifying them. I don’t know about this one. I can certainly understand the reasoning. Just like every other species, there’s a very deep-rooted instinct in us to consider humans a part. A lot of us will think of human life as more important, more precious and more significant than anything else. That’s why you can make a sci fi movie where humans essentially invade an alien world try to take over while the intelligent aliens simply defend themselves, and part of us will still root for the humans.
Survival of the species above all else.
So yeah, anything not quite human is therefore fair game. You can assume they enjoy being serviable and are simply loyal by nature because of their pet like attachment to their…masters? Or you simply won’t make any real-world comparisons between those characters and people you know because sexy iguana girls don’t exist, it would be silly to overanalyze.
Like I said, I understand the theory and it’s pretty solid. I’m just not sure ho much it applies. Visually and often intellectually, anime characters are already very unrealistic. This is particularly true of those characters that are crafted specifically to be desired and sell body pillows. Just adding on a pair of ears at that point probably doesn’t change that much.
So, here’s my answer. No cat ears do not make a character cuter or more attractive, but they do make them more noticeable and that’s also very important. In a visual medium like anime, character designs that stand out. They also remind us of traditional myths to add a touch of magic and depth to a character.
But what do you think. Do you find that it makes characters objectively more attractive? Do you like when people wear animal ears in real life? Should I have delved deeper into the actual almost science of the question?
Read more about it here:
A pretty interesting article from Perspectives on Psychological Science on the history and influence of Anthropomorphism
A thought-provoking essay of how online avatars have shaped our perception in the information age.
A short history of catgirls in Japan from Kotaku
Similar to my post, this explores anime’s fascination with cat girls form a slightly different angle. You know – well written and professional angle…pfffth…
I added this girls ask guys forum thread because some of those answers are really fascinating. I also loved all the different points of view. This is a good read if you’re into social psychology.
A fun (if not that informative) social experiment where the author describes her experience wearing cat ears everywhere for a week.
This girl is ANGRY! I have to say I found this read both sad and really funny. I’m pretty sure this open letter is addressed to me. I disagree with everything in it, but I really enjoyed reading it… Help me.
Just an article on how cute cats are. It’s science!
55 thoughts on “Important Post About Important Things : Do Cat Ears Really Make You Cuter?”
Before I read your post I’ll answer your question. Yes
A lot of people did that… I did too in fact
Ok. Hmmmm… I personally think that cat ears is an over-saturated method to make characters, as you say, noticeable. Often times, it doesn’t define the character for who they are. It’s not explored further as to what they are as a race and how they interact with the rest of the world. RWBY is one that does do all these things. I think making it more than just a fetish is very necessary to trigger the viewers brain into really thinking: “Oh! This character is not human”.
The whole alien thing I maybe, maybe not disagree with. I remember this very topic being prevalent in the Sci-Fi film: ‘Ender’s Game” where, for lack of a better term, they “deconstruct” the prejudicial views of humans when valuing lifeforms on other planets. Essentially throwing out the theory that we shouldn’t break our “human contract”, if you will, just because another life form happens to not be human. The human contract being that we shouldn’t harm or take away from someone else’s life.
On top of that, I don’t know if I would say most humans feel any sort of “kinship” with other humans. I personally love humans! I love humans more than anything! But how often do others say such things? Politics would suggest that most people care more about where one’s loyalty lies rather than the creatures they are. If anything, I feel the only thing keeping us from killing each other is the in-grained “human contract” I spoke of. Because once the human contract is broken between 2 humans then it’s all-out war. The law helps, though.
Every single law values human life above animal life. That’s just the way it is and instinct will drive us to care about our own species more. This is what I mean by kinship. I stand by it. There are exceptions of course but I still I think it more likely for people in general to accept brutal treatment of intelligent animals, such as pigs than the same treatment of humans.
Yeah, of course. But is it really because we’re ‘humans’ or is it because they are ‘pigs’? If pigs suddenly started speaking you don’t think it changes the whole evaluation?
The argument I’m presenting is that we don’t value humans above other species because we’re ‘humans’. We value humans above other species because there’s no species more intelligent. We don’t care about each other’s lives enough to even consider we have any sort of “kinship”. If someone was walking down the street saw a car explode a safe distance away but close enough to see someone trying to crawl out of the explosion. I’d bet a good amount of money more than 50% of our race wouldn’t even think about helping. Maybe at best they dial 911 whilst running away as far as possible. This behavior is caused by a lot of common rationale we’re taught in today’s society and that further proves the reality that the common man is, more or less, paper to another…
Sorry, though. I’ve rambled about something so boring and trivial long enough. This was supposed to be about cat ears. 😽
parrots and crows speak. But I do get your point. The City is my favorite book after all. I disagree though.
I know some real dumb humans that i value above sme real smart ones…
I also do believe in instinctual drive for survival of the species. Pretty much all living things tend to side with things hat look like them. It’s the entire point of Müllerian mimicry.
I find cat ears tragic after watching Monogatari… *cries in existential elitism*
A tiger might leave you cat-ataonic
*bursts into flames*
Complimentary Irina with cat ears pic when?
I guess I could have used that for my follower post but I already decided on a celebration…Maybe at 2k… ;P
As a dog owner I should really dissent but in anime and some case in real life cat ears are a cute accessory in my opinion, so I have to disagree with you on this one! 😉
Hey, I loves my Buddy but I still think cat ears are cute
I’m reminded of a scene from Overlord, actually, featuring two lizard people, one male, and one female. It is the first time they meet, and from the instant he lays eyes on her, he is stunned. She looks different from all the other lizard people, all white and soft. She’s a bit self-conscious about her unusual looks, but he is absolutely riveted. The first words out of his mouth to her are “marry me.” Which shocks her, especially with her awareness of her pale skin, to which he says, “As white as snow on yonder mountains.”
Which reminds me of a scene from NCIS, where an Israeli woman is told by a charming old man that she must have been a pretty girl in her homeland, but having set foot in America, now she is an exotic beauty.
We are, I think, attracted to exotic things, perhaps because they minimize the chance of… ah, inbreeding, and stuff like that. So, when you are not bound by reality, you can make your female leads all kinds of exotic, including adding cat ears.
So, in short… I don’t think cat ears make them “cuter,” per se, so as much as they make them more exotic with an additional feature that we often associate with cuteness.
nice – we seem to agree
Catgirls are fine, catboys are also fine. It’s just that when people try to portray the dog equivalent, they either take the labrador ears (see Masamune Date in Sengoku Night Blood), which look kind of awkward on anime characters because they’re shown to flop over the sides of characters’ heads or over their temples (with little to no consistency), or the German Shepherd-style ears (see Saizo Kirigakure from the same series), which are mostly indistinguishable from cat ears anyway…or maybe I just like to use Sengoku Night Blood as a punching bag for this because it looks prettier when it’s still images…
I saw cat ears in public for the first time the other day. Some young girls were wearing cat ear headbands, which I see being sold all over the place now.
But I wear a lot of hats, so I just think any headgear is cool.
I like your inclusiveness
Cat ears on cats cute. Cat ears on anime characters, they do nothing for me. It could be the anime I’ve seen, but I haven’t found a single a character with cat ears I thought was cute. There is Sakura Kinomoto from Cardcaptor, but she was already cute without them haha. What was surprising is the amount of research you did on this. Never knew there was this much scientific research for cat ears. It’s a much more important discussion than I thought it was it. The more you learn!
Also, that one image of the giant menacing cat I would so like that at home! It would do a good job keeping the raccoons away from breaking into my house when I’m at work!
Racoons are adorable – we have a lot here but sadly they carry rabies a lot and that scares me so much
Ooh, nice article, and a great collection of links, which I’m going to go through when I have the time. It’s a rather complicated topic and I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to that. Imagine, if you will, an online test for fun: which kind of animal are you? Very often, I think, animal features represent that in one way or another. Ears and tail are just easy markers. Some anime approximate catgirls (or boys) with ear-like hairdo, the “cat-mouth” (a wiggly line – this season, see Ginko in Planet With), and – most subtly – through eye coloration or iris shape (there’s often just a hint of it). Some characters just go into cat-mode during chibi-form.
This season I can think of three cat girls:
a) Rem in the Demonlord show. It’s a fanservice show, and the cat-ears and tails seem mostly like accessories. There are cat-like traits in her personality, but they’re low-key. To me, the physical cat-attributes wouldn’t make a difference one way or another. (Also bear in mind that the Demonlord show is one I dropped and picked up again, because nothing else aired on the show. It’s probably my least-favourite show I’m still watching this season, and in a better season I probably wouldn’t be still watching it.)
b) Yaya in Yuna and the Haunted Hotspring. A girl possessed by/friends with a cat god. She’s a cat-girl through and through, behaviour, appearance and all. It’s an unashamed fanservicy harem show, and Yaya is easily my favourite character there-in. I suppose it’s the playfulness/caution combo that’s fairly common in the trope?
c) Neko-Musume in Gegege no Kitaro, a bakeneko (?) or something similar, she’s usually in human form, and her cat feature bring out the predator in her (exaggerated claws and teeth, and piercing eyes). In human form, they’re playing on elegance mostly.
I really think it’s mostly just a matching up of traits we like in both people and cats, and cat-ears and tails are part of that. I mean cat-girls rarely leave half-eaten mice with their guts spilling out onto your carpet. (Though I do think I’ve seen them bring “gifts” on occasion – though I can’t remember where.) Of course, you also get shows like Killing Bites, who basically say that fighting is “beastly” and roll with it and have fun.
On the fanservice sector, you also get shows like Monster Musume, who animate the animal parts with a lot more realism than the fanservicy girl parts, which creates an interesting effect, especially since we’re also talking spiders and snakes (aside from birds and horses and fish). That’s most definitely the exoticism aspect: different movement types are actually fascinating to watch.
And you get shows explicitly based on cat-girls/dog-girls like Asobi ni Iku Yo, Dog Days, or Nekogami Yaoyoruzu.
Not to mention beastmen in fantasy, most notably Utawarerumono, where the main character stands out by not having any animal features. Or a never ending succesion of foxspirits, deities and youkai, both genders about equally, I’d say (and in one case Wagaya no Oinari sama we have a foxspirit so old that they’ve forgotten their gender of origin and just wear their male or female form as they please – I’ve only seen the first frew epsiodes, so I don’t know if this’ll last).
Case by case, really.
Yu seem to know a surprising amount on the subject. I mostly know about the native american animal spirits but they are ver different and usually closer tho *weres* – as in spirits that can switch between animal and human form but don’t retain animal characteristics, so it’s a very different concept. They do have intellectual traits which we’ve somewhat randomly assigned to animals…
If there’s a catgirl in a show, she’s likely to be my favourite. For boys, too, to an extent, but they tend to bulk them up and make them tigers. I do love Felix in Re:Zero (felis-pun? That can’t be coincidental.) Rokumon (the menacing cat in you pic from Kyoukai no Rinne) is rather cute, too, but has such an uncanny valley design that it took me a while to notice (that’s his transformation, so you can’t tell from the screenshot).
I just think it’s almost always a two-step process: first we endow animals with stereotypical anthropocentric traits, and then we re-claim them. (That works both for spirit animals and anime, actually.)
I’ve been reading through the links. I was very taken with the cat-ear experiment: two different sets or ear warmers? Hm… (Cat ears in reality generally leave me indifferent.)
It’s cause you haven’t seen Raistlin with cat ears yet…
Just hit a point in my Steins;Gate 0 playthrough where a bunch of guys approach Ferris because of her cat ears lol. Had to come back and mention that lol ^_^
Oh my lovely lost Ferris. You give me feels!
I think cat ears are adorable, though I clearly recently gave away my fascination with fox ears and guys so really I just think humans look cuter with animal ears. You have to be honest, human ears are pretty ugly (and hard to draw well – totally not the point but check out Syaron’s ears in the original Card Captor or Tsubasa Chronicles; as much as I love his character these are not attractive ears). Right, so what was the point? Oh yeah, cat ears etc definitely make for cuter.
I like human ears… They look like seashells!
Well, in Kemono Friends all the girls have both human and animal ears – no need to choose…
best of both worlds!
We have 2 cats. Of course I like cat girls! We also have 2 dogs and I LOVE Holo the Wise Wolf. Even Batman has a Catwoman.
I think that the “objectification” issue has nothing to do with it. Give an intelligent blob of jelly the correct traits and we will respect it in life and mourn it in death. The kind of person who objectifies women don’t need cat ears as an excuse. What is more important is whether the character was written with respect in mind or just a throw away bit player.
The attractiveness of exotic appearance is more to the point. Look at Zero Two. She has horns, different clothing and red accents around her eyes. As a child her skin was completely red. She is exotic and therefor attractive to the adventurous male.
We see oddly colored hair in spectacular styles. We see wild variations in clothing.from armor to hoop skirts to nothing at all. Impossible eye color. Exaggerated canines. You don’t see as much skin in exotic tones but sometimes they’ll go for something a bit unusual.
Mmmm… Tsubasa as a catgirl!
Hmmm: perhaps on next year’s animecon I should put on same cat’s ears. I have never cosplayed before in my life, but I guess there is always somewhere one can begin 😂😂 (and cat’s ears doesn’t sound too drastic to start with lol 😂😂)
Go for it and send us pics!!! Please!!!
Lol…that TWEET😂😂😂😂😹😹😹😹 So gonna pay you back for this lol 😂😂😂
Oh I will milk this for everything I can!
Lol…I can’t back out now I guess 😂😂
I think that the catgirl phenomenon in Anime goes to the fox-girl (inari) shrines all over Japan, and with kids being raised on visits to Shinto temples, it is nostalgic as well as an excuse for girls to be touchy feely and emotive around people they like. The ears are a big clue to their character. You could have made this a list of cat girls, which is sort of what I expected, but you’ve gone a more reflective direction instead. There’s been some great examples over the years. Asobi ni Ikuyo is a spaceship filled with catgirl aliens visiting Earth. UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie has a cat-girl raygun, which turns a girl shot with it into instant catgirl, though I cannot recommend the anime at all. Its actually creepy pedo most of the show.
All Purpose Cat Girl Nuku Nuku is amazing since she’s got the brain of an actual cat, in a human shaped android battle mech body, mostly to be a nanny for the scientists’ son. There’s Kirara Bernstein (from CANADA) from GJ Club, with her cat ears, all-meat diet, and ability to talk to cats. She also sees ghosts like a cat (according to folklore). There’s another one about a normal guy with a girlfriend who is a catgirl in high school and is one of the few proper romance stories without emo or indiscretions. I can’t remember its name, however.
Now, will you someday write a similar article about bottle fairies?
I’m honestly a bit fan of cat ears. I have a lot of headbands and clip ones here at my room atm, and no it’s not for me to use but for my personal entertainment to make my little niece or my friends to dress up~
Hmm, I like cat ears. I cosplayed a neko girl, but got annoyed when people kept touching my ears.
Oh that does sound annoying!
It was very annoying.
It’s not the cat ears, it’s the cute anime character saying “Nyah!” with their paws up their face.
(I have not read the article yet.)
Okay, nice article.
I was worried for second there!
Hmm, I think you’re right. Anime characters are hardly never unattractive, so cat ears really do make them stick out a little more.
Especially when just one charater has them but even in general. I’m pretty sure the Pretty Derby girls will always be recognizable to me, because horse girls…
The power of ears!
I find real cats irresistible, anime catgirls likewise… but oddly enough, animal ear accessories on “real” people tend to leave me a bit cold for some reason. I guess it’s part of the whole sense of “escapism” that comes attached to anything with a heavily stylised, obviously non-realistic art style. I *know* it’s not real, so why not make it *more* fantastic?
One interesting aspect of catgirls in anime is that cat ears (or fox ears, or whatever) are typically just treated as part of someone’s hairstyle more than anything else. This is also true for catgirls in many games, with Final Fantasy XI and XIV providing good examples. It’s a way of giving them a distinctive, immediately recognisable silhouette — a very important part of character design in general — while still making them have human characteristics.
I wrote a bit on a related subject back when I covered Nekopara, a series obviously written by people who know cats. The behaviour of the catgirls in that is strongly influenced by real cats, only the fact they also have a “human” aspect allows them to do different things, be more vocal about their needs and feelings and/or go further with the things they actually do.
The sex scenes in the 18+ versions, for example, are a natural extension of how cats enjoy being tactile and demonstrating physical affection — and the rather uncompromising, “messy” way Sayori tends to draw these scenes can be interpreted as a reflection of the fact that, although cats themselves (much like the Minaduki catgirls) are adorable and cute, they have disgusting aspects that you learn to deal with in your life with them. Cat food is revolting, cats have a habit of putting their bum in your face precisely as you’re trying to get to sleep or do something useful, and they also wee and poo and throw up in places they shouldn’t, usually precisely when you really don’t have time to deal with it. (I hasten to add for those who have not played Nekopara’s 18+ versions that there is no wee, poo or puke in the sex scenes; the “messiness” is metaphorical and… handled in other ways.)
Short version: I love catgirls.
See that freaked me out a bit in NekoPara… It wasn’t too bad. Ive read some VNs that really give off bestality vibes. No jugement…