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!