This time we have hotdogs! Wait…that doesn’t sound right.

Another week, another new type of post is added to the Stilts Out Loud arsenal! Last week was the first in the Branching Out series, where we’ll explore various genres while I attempt to convince that they’re really not that terribad after all. This week the first in the Emerging Trends series, where we’ll tackle various topics, tropes, and trends with an eye towards exploration rather than advocacy. Let’s get started, shall we?

So, I noticed something this last season. I was sitting there watching a few of my favorite shows – Rinne no Lagrange, Ano Natsu de Matteru, and Aquarion EVOL, to be exact – when I realized there were a lot of extremely competent little girls running around. Actually, it wasn’t any of those shows that clued me into this trend, though some of them certainly exemplify it. Rather, it was when I was half way through my epic Saki marathon that I ran into a certain star mahjong player by the name of Koromo.

When compared to the other characters in Saki, Koromo has two things that make her stand apart. One is that she is a frighteningly powerful mahjong monster who breaks other players like they’re sticks made of tissue paper and shattered dreams, utterly destroying their will to compete like freshly fallen snow under a crashing airplane. The other? She’s as cute as a button. There’s a stark discrepancy between her physical form and the extreme competence she displays in her chosen field, and this made me realize I had seen this before.

You see that? Frightening. Someone hold me.

Ano Natsu was the first that came to mind, where Remon-sempai consistently showed a high degree of perceptiveness as she went around trolling half the cast, just for the lulz, ufufu~. Yet, the other two shows I mentioned possess far better examples. Lagrange’s Asteria does not look like someone who should be in charge of a super powerful extra-governmental organization who can casually threaten heads of state on a whim. Likewise Aquarion EVOL’s Crea looks like she should be at home playing with dolls rather than overseeing Neo-DEAVA, the world’s only chance at salvation. What’s going on here?

The way I see it, there are two possible reasons. The cynical interpretation is that there’s simply no reason to have these characters be a crusty old men (as is common for the leaders of powerful organizations IRL) when you can make them a cute little girls and appeal to the lolicon crowd instead. The other interpretation (and these are by no means mutually exclusive, by the way) is that the writers are playing with the audience’s expectations by giving a character a physical appearance that belies their actual competence.

Think about it like this: when you see a young girl, it’s reasonable to assume that she’s a child, and will therefore have child-like attributes. Then, when it is revealed that she’s actually a genius or a 700-year-old vampire, those expectations are subverted (and I say that in the TVTropes sense). It’s the same idea as when you see a cute bruiser (trope!). There, you look at the character and don’t expect them to be able to punch through a concrete wall with their bare fists, while here you look at the character and don’t expect grown-ass men to be taking orders from them. It’s intellectual / authoritatize power instead of physical, but it’s the same idea.

Leadership material.

So, why bother? Well, part of it’s just because it’s more fun. In an extension of the cynical interpretation, you could say that writers like to subvert our expectations because it’s simply more entertaining than playing tropes straight (i.e. having the leader be a crusty old man). After all, most writers have spent a great deal of time reading, watching, and writing stories, so they’re bound to want to fiddle with established conventions just to make things more entertaining for themselves.

Also, creating a discrepancy between a character’s physical form and their inner attributes naturally raises the question – why is this child or child-like person so insanely competent? In other words, it’s visual shorthand for “Hey, this character is special! Pay attention!” In Crea’s case, I think this was done so that viewers would quickly accept her as a genius and move on (and also, because Aquarion EVOL is crazy like that, but stick with me). After all, if her place was taken by some crusty old graybeard, and another character walked up and said “Yeah, he’s a genius,” that character would have had to prove it. Not so for Crea. Simply being 12 years old and in charge is enough so that, when someone walks up and says she’s a genius, we accept it immediately so that her presence makes any kind of sense.

In other cases, an absurdly competent loli is a hint that she’s not as young as she looks. This is common among blonde vampires, such as Negima’s Evangeline, Bakemonogatari / Nisemonogatari’s Shinobu, Dance in the Vampire Bund’s Mina Tepes – though in their cases I think the “vampire” attribute is more important than the “loli” one. A better example would be (highlight for possible spoilers) Asteria, whose loli-ness was probably our best hint that she was more than just the leader of Novumundus. Either way, my point is that their physical appearance is used as a visual cue that makes the audience say “there has to be a reason for this, so what is it?” So far, there always seems to be one.

One final note: this trend absolutely applies to male characters as well. Negi, of Negima fame is the first example of an Absurdly Competent Shouta that comes to mind, though I’m sure there are others.

So, what do you guys think? Is this trend a cynical attempt by writers to pander to another fetish, a fun little twist to characters who would be otherwise boring, or a visual cue that tells us to pay special attention to the loli in charge? Or some combination of the three, of course. Let’s take it to the comments! Feel free to add other examples to the ones I’ve already mentioned, though make sure to use spoilers where appropriate. Oh, and as always, if you have any ideas for a future topic, you can email them to me at StiltsOutLoud@gmail.com, or send them via twitter at @StiltsOutLoud.

And then there’s her. Hey, they can’t all be absurdly competent, right? Or, you know. At all.

105 Comments

    1. I know, right? I’m just further complicating my eventual presidential run. Fortunately, I’m getting points with the key loli-military-commander demographic. That’s going to be vital for my plans to conquer the world.

      …egads, I’ve said too much! You heard nothing, you heard nothing…

      Stilts
    1. Bet they are.
      I’m a quick long winded writer too. I could write a book on the history of the spoon…..long as I type it….I( I hate handwriting…)
      Point is I like having an essay assigned vs other kind of work, it’s easier to me… I’m a freak I think.

      Timelessness
    2. Yeah, I wrote a novel in my free time, so writing is kind of my thing 🙂 That said, I was turrible at English essays in college…because I placed out of all my english classes, nyahaha~!!

      Stilts
      1. Just because I wrote it doesn’t mean I have finished editing it =X I keep taking on more shows, launching columns, or trying to get new jobs instead of finishing the editing, heh. Rest assured that when I finish it and release it, I’ll make sure all of you know.

        And if you would like to send me stuff to critique, I would be happy to help you out…though if you send me a 100-page tome, that might get filed under “shit I don’t have time for right now.” Just a heads up ^^

        Stilts
      1. MD et al, refer to “real loli” vs “legal loli” in the HanaKawa/OreImo [second] video below. I’m (hopefully, dear goodness) referring to the legal ones. Though now that you mention it, there are quite a few awkward vibes emanating from some sketchier loli animes…

        hoiut
  1. Less than a fetish and more like to break expectations. This fact seems mostly missed by moral fags and real pedos. Both those group will dismiss any anime with loli as pedoporn.

    Fact is, in anime, lolis are not for fetish, mostly are highly mature for their age, responsible and even leader-material.

    The Moondoggie
    1. The problem is, that as the numbers increase, it will become expected.

      It’s practically impossible to avoid cliches at this point in time- so the best that you can do is at least make them still interesting despite.

      Stranger
  2. Great article. Another home run, Shorty.

    I’ve always hated the hyper-competent-loli movement. I could accept Eva, Shinobu, and Mina because they were vampires, and only looked young. Other than that I really don’t care for the fetish/genre. Even historically, super-genius Mozart’s compositions when he was young (like, before he was 20 – so the first 14 years he was composing) really aren’t very good. Not just when compared to his later stuff, but when compared to his contemporaries, a lot of his early work is marginal. And this is MOZART, the super-prodigy by which all shota/loli prodigies are weighed.

    I can accept Shounen/Shoujo protagonists with a pinch of suspended belief, because that’s the way fantasy has always been. A young wo/man beating the odds with their purity of vision and heaps of optimism when faced with the calloused and cynical grown up society is a time honored staple, and one we can learn from. Thrusting a loli/shota into a staring role though… a little tough to swallow. Too Nabokovian. Too pandering.

    Just my opinion.

  3. I think is like you said, they just want to replace another old guy for another marketable girl. Not the this is necessarily bad, for example with just that bath episode in Nisamonogatari Shinobu started to become my favorite character in that franchise and I hate loli fan service.

    And yet the only fanservice that actually got to me in that show was the Nadeko scene.

    xephx
  4. I am disappointed by the lack of loli analysis.

    What are the key loli features?
    If you remove a ‘typical loli feature’ but kept the rest, would they still be lolis?
    etc etc

    You are still far from Jaalin, young grasshopper.

    sinkingmist
      1. Divine! Glad to see you’re still around!

        Nice article, Stilts, and I want to see more like this: more commentaries about new trends in anime, and more analyses as well.

        Not a lolicon myself, or fan of lolis, but I do admit that Shinobu is one of my favorite characters in all of anime. 🙂

      2. It’s a continuation of a comment made in jest in the first Stilts Out Loud, in which Stilts made mention of Jaalin and responded to my comment thus:
        “All in good time, my friend! I’m trying to keep some form of authorial integrity going for at least, I dunno…3-4 weeks before I devolve into completely random nonsense, nyahaha~!!”

        But sure, come in out of the blue and take my comment seriously as if I was being a meanie.

        sinkingmist
  5. Why is it that my first reaction was going to be “oh, this is gonna be another post about Gosick”. Which btw, I’m more than grateful for being wrong for once.

    thenewhorde
  6. Reminds me what my friend and I were discussing a while ago while I was practicing for the monthly Yu-Gi-Oh! tournament:

    Me: So you admit you like lolis?

    Friend: It’s not like that per-se. It’s not like I like lolis, the girl I currently like just happens to be a loli now.

    Me: Then wait for her to grow up.

    Friend: She wouldn’t be loli if she’s grown up, right?

    Me: *shuffles deck* Never mind.

    The_Magus_Killer
      1. As a fan of all three, there are difference between the reason they can be nominated for that trope:

        Yuki: Paranoid Weakling
        Shu: Complaining Angster
        Shinji: Angsty Mr.Daddy Issues

        The Moondoggie
      2. An unfair comparison, I feel. Shinji was a bitch, but he was part of a story that reshaped anime as it was at the time. Likewise, Yukki was a coward, but the story he was involved in was fantastic. Shu was crap, and the story he was wrapped up in was crap…mostly because of him. Shu loses in one round, by the wind coming off of Shinji’s flailing fists!

        …but no, I don’t currently have plans to go into that one. It’s firmly established, so not as much fun! Who knows though…maybe when there’s two more super terribad main protagonists, I’ll do a showdown between them >:D Anything could happen!

        Stilts
      3. I’m actually putting together a cosplay scavenger hunt for Fanime, and (as I’m sure no one will be surprised) one of them is to find a Shinji Cosplayer and a Shu cosplayer, then take picture of Shinji strangling Shu.

        Others include finding 7 different Narutos (one of the easy ones) and find four characters from four different series that represent the four cardinal beasts. (like Gurren Lagann, YuYu Hakusho, Ruroni Kenshin, Beyblade, etc.)

        Da5id
  7. Is this trend a cynical attempt by writers to pander to another fetish, a fun little twist to characters who would be otherwise boring, or a visual cue that tells us to pay special attention to the loli in charge? Or some combination of the three, of course.

    Clearly it’s any combination of all these factors you mentioned to varying degrees depending on the genre/setting at hand, adjustable to the highest and lowest extremities of arguable prominence and/or absence. If it’s a show like Lagrange, then the visual cue/subversion more likely than not takes precedence; if it’s an ecchi show then in most scenarios the fetish aspect of things will probably be the most prominent, adjustable depending on the setting, and various other factors not mentioned, of course- but I do believe that this model accounts for enough variables to provide us with a basic understanding of the matter.

    Zen
  8. Frankly I think that, whether it is for the fetish crowd or to break character convention, simply depends on the show in question. Bonus points if the writers do it for both reasons. While there is no doubt that it is used as fetish fuel it’s more likely to bea character highlight. Personally, I’m more afraid of the absurdly poweful student council. They can get away with anything. On a side note it’s always good to meet a fellow troper

    AzuWolf
    1. Nice to meet you too : ) I always try to keep the Conversational Troping to a minimum here, because I don’t want to annoy those who don’t like it (as I frequently do IRL =X), but sometimes I can’t resist!

      Stilts
  9. Frankly I think that, whether it is for the fetish crowd or to break character convention, simply depends on the show in question. Bonus points if the writers do it for both reasons. While there is no doubt that it is used as fetish fuel it’s more likely to bea character highlight. Personally, I’m more afraid of the absurdly poweful student council. They can get away with anything. On a side note it’s always good to meet a fellow Troper.

    AzuWolf
  10. ummmmm. most lolis ARE competent. this is not new bro. as far as the emerging trend of pint sized captains and bosses and etc…… truth is, the current generation wants NOTHING to do with OLD PEOPLE..sad but true……or maybe its always been this way…definition of old
    26 and older

    BROOKLYN otaku
  11. IDK… emerging? I can say the trend has been here for some time already. Tenchi Muyo had loli genius Waashu (crossed with “older than they look”), Love Hina had Kaolla building improbable mecha, and Noir had perfect killer loli Kirika. Oh and when we are with killer lolis, entire (and great!) show has been built around the archetype, Gunslinger Girl – and perfectly reasonable within real world physics as they are all cyborgs chosen for their innocent looks to deceive their targets. I guess one of my catchprases, “fear the cute ones!” is dead right when anime is concerned… Index is ridiculously specialized, but at the same time ridiculously competent at the one area she was created for: the spell knowledge.

    ewok40k
    1. Yeah, tbh I’m still not sure if “Emerging Trends” is a good title for the series. This is something I personally only recently realized, but that doesn’t preclude it existing even in the shows I’ve seen…it just means I didn’t codify it in my own mind until later. Perhaps something like “Trend Talk” or “Trope Talk” would be better…

      Stilts
      1. Ouch Seishun, harsh! My pride :*( I was just happy I managed to leave coherent replies after a night of drinkin’, and even used “codify” like a boss.

        Still, I’ll think on the name of this series some more. Proper creativity takes time and hard work, after all ; )

        Stilts
      2. I think I called it something like “The Loli Winter of 2012” over at Metanorn. In just those four weeks we hade the flotilla of Princess Gruier Serenity, and the already mentioned Shinobu and Astaria, with none of them making anything less than a Spectacular Debut and insanely cool follow ups.

        But I agree, and interesting emerging trend. Captures market attention, lolicon attention, merch, and satisfies a narrative/characterization flow. Who can lose?

        Well, the same idiots that dismiss Tsuritama as gay.

        skylion
      3. You can call it “Currently Thinking About” series…

        puts on a flame suit

        more politically correct better than “Oni-chan’s Corner”

        (I felt more brain dead than anything these days, I’m not getting any inspirations at all either)

        info600
      1. How is she not that competent if you don’t mind me asking?
        She was competent enough to defeat Ikarus and Nymph to the point that she had to be chained down by water-pressure in the ocean, while Ikarus was seen as the most powerful of the first generation angeloids ^^’

        Damrod
  12. Needs more Dalian, but very nice article on the loliness

    What bugs me is when irl girls try to act loli to get some attention?

    If it’s in a convention or a special time that’s fine, but on a day to day basis…

    FadingMoon
  13. The best loli is a multifaceted one. I don’t like lolis just for being lolis. The worse loli is one used for fanservice. Is like comparing Kodomo jikan vs Mitsudomoe. The former is just weird service whereas the later we see a bunch of lolis portrayed with gusto. I don’t mind then as long as they move the plot or give some kind of help. However there are instances were a loli can’t replace the old-bearded man. Having a loli giving a life’s lessona or advise to an older character kills some of the drama. Though not impossible wrinkles gives more credibility to some scenes than an angelical loli. Can old man Raleigh be replaced by a loli and teach haki to Luffy ? Sure it can; but the feeling is not the same. Will I switch Remon (Ano natsu) for an older character? NO!
    In the end the loli is as good as the author introduces her into the story and her development within the story.

    Yes!@
  14. Love this character type. Socially and emotionally, you should feel protective of the character, as you would of any child. But the awareness that the kid is ten times smarter than you creates a sweet dissonance.

  15. I think in current days, having at least one loli is pretty standard whether she has a major role or not…

    Straying from the topic, anime nowadays also seems to be moving more towards the harem genre as most story nowadays seems like following a trend which within an arc of a story, there will be at least one potential romance flag to be raised. At least this is what I kinda felt regarding the Shonen genre. Not that I am complaining, I still like watching these type of story, but I kinda missed the older shonen style that focus more on story without building up potential flags like Samurai X, JoJo, Rave, Karakuri Circus, etc…

    echo
      1. All the terms are being stretched; that is what they are there for. Even the loli term is being applied where it might not go. In other blogs I’ve seen the term applied to Ririchiyo from Inu x Boku, Sora from Papakiiki, and even some of the idolmaster characters. Misapplied, stretched, or mistaken?

        skylion
  16. 2 Words : Genome Project.
    All the proteins for physical growth went towards competency in areas most desirable for functionality.
    Everyone in future will be a loli.
    Shoutas don’t work cause men find them creepy.

    Anonymous
  17. I remember seeing it referred to in an anime as the “gap effect”. I think the audience generally prefers characters who are different from what they seem to be. It brings in an element of surprise, and it usually gives the audience a superior feeling when others (whether real people or characters) are fooled by the looks.
    Also, just like in shoujo manga where the female lead tends to fall for the badboy with a heart of gold (cue abandoned kitten in a box on a rainy day), the audience will feel they’ve gotten closer to the character emotionally since they’ve understood or found out what’s really beneath the looks. Hence, the popularity of tsunderes.

    Of course a simpler reason could be competent lolis= badassness + kawaiiness all rolled up in one

    Yukie
  18. Besides, you know, why not work under/for some great lolis instead of some great old man? Makes your day’s worth of work more pleasing than some guy you’d usurp the moment you get the chance to.

    KJacket
  19. i don’t mind these characters as long as they portrayed right if they really are a child. Characters like Sasami, Sakura, Sana, mikan, and Miu are all kids who are mature for their age ranges but still act in a child-like manner.

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