In my time I’ve watched a few CGDCT shows as well as their Cute Boy counterparts and I find the comparisons between the two amusing and occasionally eye opening. I’m not sure how many of you routinely watch both genres. I was curious to see if those that do noticed the same things as me.
First let me start with a HUGE DISCLAIMER. I have some more sensitive readers (especially when it comes to this subject for some reason) so I want to make this very clear. This is observation, not judgement. I don’t think one type is better than the other in any way. Both have brilliant and horrible examples of their respective genres. Moreover, I don’t think these observations tell us anything at all about the fans. The only conclusion we could possibly draw is that the studios that produce these shows think their audiences like certain tropes.
We can’t deny that in conception and marketing, both CGDCT and CBDCT shows are created to appeal to a particular demographic and in a particular way. There is an idea of non-explicit sexual appeal that’s always present. Again, I’m not saying that’s what you enjoy in them. And if it is, I don’t see anything wrong with that. I watch both genres and there’s a reason I chose these shows entirely on visuals and never even bother to read the synopsis. Finally, (this post is going to be ¾ disclaimer) these are general observations. Of course, exceptions exist. And my perception, like everyone else’s is subjective.
I almost feel obligated to write something deeply offensive now. After all that, the rather innocent and neutral post I have in mind seems like a bit of a letdown.
So here are the general commonalities I’ve noticed :
Most cute girls shows I’ve watched center on characters that have fairly realistic goals and adventures. School girls with club activities that could conceivably exist IRL for the most part. Even when it’s more outlandish, it does at least seem potentially possible. Their goals are often in line with those expectations. Win a pageant or festival. Give a great performance. Have their club recognized as official. Get good grades and make friends. The mindset of the characters is generally realistic and the type of thing you could expect out of the “average”.
Even in something such as Gabriel Dropout which features angels and demons, the preoccupations are how to get your parents off your back and do decently at school while spending most of your time playing video games… relatable!
By contrasts, cute boys want to take over the world! They’re not just joining a school music club, they are international best-selling idols who are going to dominate the pop charts in every country. Their plans are intricate and complicated and completely out of reach for the common man.
And even if they are not peculiarly impressive (and they are, more on that later) their aims are still lofty. They can’t simply get good grades, they have to get the best grades, then leverage that to gain control of a multinational company, so they can use the almost unlimited resources to search for a cure for their long-lost sister. Some anime exec somewhere saw a soap opera and thought – girls like exaggerated, we’ll give them exaggerated!
Girl next door vs Prince charming
This understated vs completely overblown approach also seems to apply to character concepts. Cute girls generally opt for an idealized version of the everygirl trope. They’re beautiful (because all anime characters are generally beautiful) but within the context of the story they’re cute, and most of their friends are just as cute. They come from average backgrounds and have the types of life that seem common in Japan. They are special in how normal and down to earth they seem.
While the boys are…well…extra. They are super rich, artist, play boy geniuses. Or angelic innocents with a heart of the very purest gold. They routinely save orphans from burning buildings. They are extremely talented at everything. They also always have difficult family situations. Very very difficult ones. Forget everyboy they aren’t any boy you’ve ever met.
It’s no secret that cute girl shows routinely feature heaps of fanservice, implied or explicit Yuri and occasionally stray into eroge territory. By now, this is almost a specific feature of the genre. Even the most innocent offering will usually find a way to show underwear or bathing scenes.
Traditionally cute boy shows tended towards non-physical fanservice. By this I mean the characters act in ways that are in line with audience fantasies rather than getting caught in various states of undress because anime. This is in fact slowly changing. More recent shows follow the cute girl formula more closely and series find excuses to show us muscled young men shirtless or add in onsen scenes. There are still slight differences in presentation (most commonly agency usually remains firmly with the characters) but the trend is definitely towards equal opportunity objectifying.
However, in many ways the shows are also incredibly similar. True, shows aimed at women tend to be more traditionally comedic with jokes and punch lines meant to make the audience laugh while those aimed at men tend to be more cute, with images and situations meant to make you go awww. But a lot of tropes and base storylines are common.
Wether it’s true or not, these shows represent what production companies think we want in romanticized partners. They are supposed to represent an ideal. We can parse this and try to ferret out the sociological basis. However, what’s been trotting in my head lately is what this means when applied to the harem genre.
See the (reverse)harem genre covers a lot of the same ground and often we can see parallels in the characters. As such, I am really intrigued by how Harem MCs compare. In my experience, reverse harem main characters are actually pretty close the the cute girl prototype. A little shyer and less proactive but generally, they are good humoured, optimistic girls, incredibly devoted to their friends and quite single minded in their goals which tend to be reserved when compared to the boys around them. Even in visual design, they would often fit in a CGDCT show with very little alteration.
On the other hand, harem protagonists are nothing like cute boy characters. Even interestingly fleshed out ones like Hachiman or best boys like Ryuuji and Yūta, are archetypes we either don’t see at all or that are relegated to barely there supporting roles. And looks wise, they would simply not make the cut at all. After all, harem mcs are everymen and everymen are plain. (Is it just me or do they often “look like delinquents” for some reason…) Cute boys are the visual definition of elaborate. They tend to be so detailed and ornate in design that I occasionally get a little fatigued looking at them.
So what does this mean. Well in my original conversation, I had dumbed down my take away as this (warning, this may be super insensitive, it’s what got me in trouble). Production studios seem to think that boys want-expect little to nothing of girls beyond agreeableness, while girls want-expect absolutely everything. Mind you this isn’t a morality call, I don’t think either is good or bad. I also don’t think either is particularly accurate. But it’s an intriguing assumption to base your stories on. Especially if entire genres get dictated by those base assumptions.
This becomes particularly interesting with the cross gender disconnect. Why would one archetype be considered perfectly fitting for an audience surrogate and not the other. Pretty much all reverse harem fans I know (all 2 of them) will agree the the protagonists are nonsensical unless they are parodies of the genre (shout out to Haru and bestest girl Chyio). But they also aren’t particularly bothered by these characters.
We could speculate all day about why these character choices are made and so consistently enforced and how they affect storytelling and fan reaction. maybe someone better suited could even theorize on how they affect our real life interaction and expectations. I warmly invite any of you with an interest in the subject or a love of researched and analytical posts to share your own thoughts. For now, I will leave it at this.
These are my personal observations from my very limited sample size. I’m not entirely sure what to make of them yet but I do believe that people who like one genre should give the other a try. They may be surprised!