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Cute Girl Anime and the Female Adolescent Experience, Or Why You Should Watch Love Lab

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Seems legit.

For whatever reason, Cute Girl anime don’t have a good rep among Western anime fans. And to be honest, I’m ambivalent about them myself. Make no mistake: I like cute anime girls as much as anyone, but accepting these sorts of stories does not come naturally to me. I’ve had to consciously broaden the way I think about storytelling as a whole; I don’t think it’s possible to really enjoy these types of shows in the spirit they’re made in unless you embrace the “moe database” which anime seems to draw from.

Let’s face it: the characters don’t feel like actual girls.

Is that really a problem, though? In my perspective, not really. I don’t need fictional characters to act realistic for me to enjoy watching them.

But there’s a reason why this subgenre is popular with guys and not with girls. There seems to be a trend in any anime where the girls severely outnumber the boys: It’s not true to the female adolescent experience. It’s not the (lack of) realism in the characters themselves that’s so difficult to accept here – it’s in their relationships. It’s in their friendships. It seeps into the way they think. There’s something emotionally false about it all.

It wasn’t until I watched Love Lab that I could put my finger on what exactly the problem was with so many other Cute Girl shows, and why this one felt so different for me: this is a show about love.

Love – or at least the idea of it – is central to the adolescent female experience.

Like no other anime I know of outside the realm of shojo, Love Lab captures the feeling of awkward adolescence and being in love with love. It satirises it, but always in an affectionate way. It’s like it’s saying, “It’s okay to want romance! It’s silly and embarrassing, but that’s just who we are!” The girls spend their days talking about relationships, which not only includes their idle romantic fantasies, but also about the relationships that exist between themselves and with others.

And that’s the thing with girls. It’s probably the best way to understand them. Far, far too often in anime their fascination with relationships is portrayed as being fixated with a particular person. They’re defined purely in terms of their relationship to a male character. Cute Girl anime doesn’t get it right either by effectively neutering all the girls and making them all out to be uninterested – or perhaps just too innocent – for love. Even girls who are not overtly eager about getting into a relationship for themselves would probably be talking about someone else’s, or are interested in philosophising about it in general. I see them as love-crazy, not boy-crazy.

I didn’t realise that this was what Love Lab was trying to get at until its male supporting characters got their own episode to shine. Then it hit me: The males in Love Lab inform how the females perceive themselves.

I would even go as far to say that, if any story is interested in portraying the female adolescent experience, male presence is essential, whether it’s shown or indirectly felt.

That might sound sexist of me, and perhaps there will be some feminists getting angry at me for suggesting that girls can’t be strong and independent, but if you read what I say closely enough, you’ll realise I wasn’t claiming anything that chauvinistic. The girls in Love Lab are portrayed as being capable of thinking for themselves. The boys don’t do anything much themselves and are strictly supporting characters. In this series, as it is in life, defining femininity is, in part, determined by what is not masculine. Girls are fascinated with the “otherness” of boys just as boys are fascinated with that very same mysterious quality in girls. To deny the interest and comparison between genders would be to deny an essential part of human nature.

The otaku audience will watch the show, laugh at its snappy sense of humour and fawn over how moe the girls are, but I think that there’s something universal about this anime. I don’t care that the girls are supposedly stereotypes or whatever. This show feels genuine, and emotional honesty means more than cliches.

There aren’t many Cute Girl shows that I would equally recommend to males and females, but Love Lab is one of them.

So, to any girls reading this post, give it a try. It’s my favourite anime this season.

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By the way, Enomoto is mai waifu. Thought you ought to know.

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Posted on August 17, 2013, in Anime Analysis, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. While I don’t watch this anime, your points are spot on. I watch these sorts of anime mostly for healing purposes and I could not sense any depth in them, but I know that the depth is there and it takes more than a critical thought. But, you proved to me that at least some of them have easily recognized depth, just like how I discovered depth in other shows which I told you before.

    To be frank, except for atypical people, love is always a key element in anyone’s teenage life, be it in an actual relationships or just thinking about it. Making it absent would make any stories about teenage life dissonant for our reality (though I never cared for this aspect anyway).

    I think another problem with these kind of shows, especially recent ones is the exaggeration of lesbian subtexts. While it does exists, such exaggeration makes them look like it is something that happens all the time, which is another dissonance with reality. I wished that I could pick this up upon reading this blog post.

    As a side note, why you pick Enomoto as your waifu? I am interested to know the reason.

    • You brought up a lot of good points. Hear hear! I have nothing else to add to all that :)

      As for why I love Enomoto, I think it must be her eyebrows. Yep. Also, since she’s a tsundere without a male love interest, she really comes off as adorable with her awkwardness instead of as an ass.

  2. Holy shit. My thoughts exactly.

    But yeah, this show kicks ass.

  3. For whatever reason, Cute Girl anime don’t have a good rep among Western anime fans. And to be honest, I’m ambivalent about them myself.

    Well it basically requires you to try and understand how a bunch of girls try and do something in a span of 22 minutes. A good portion of those minutes have nothing happening. And for most people (combined with the fact most of these are set in school), that can drive some people crazy.

    For me, this type of stuff has been hit or miss. Everyone’s in love with stuff like The Idolm@aster and YuruYuri, but I only lasted three episodes into them. On the other hand, I did like Joshiraku and Yuyushiki. It really depends on what type of content gets bandied about I guess, and how it’s executed. (The aesthetic & character design is probably important too).

    However, for me, Love Lab is pretty much blowing those other anime I’ve listed out of the water for me right now. It’s that good, and it looks like smooth sailings from here. I hope.

  4. Love Lab is one of those anime that set my bar for anime of this nature higher. I usually just refer to the whole cute girls doing cute things style of anime as LiCom, as a shorthand version of referring to the fact that it seems to be universal for anime like this to be mostly comedy based but the jokes are of a light-hearted nature and not necessarily always of a crude nature (which would like make it more of a fanservice/ecchi, which means the genre is now defined very differently).

    Anyway. While I ended up dropping Kiniro Mosaic, KKK, and Yuyushiki because they had nonlinear and uninteresting storylines (keep in mind this is all my opinion and don’t take offense if you enjoyed these), I ended up sticking with Love Lab until the end. While I admit that Love Lab did have a bit of a boring segment near the middle (too much plot, stahp) for the most part it was pretty entertaining and had an interesting premise.

    …though I will admit when I watched episode one I was convinced Love Lab was going to turn into some kind of yuri or shoujo-ai. Perhaps that was just wishful thinking, as actual GOOD anime of that genre are pretty rare.

  5. How cute… >_<
    Kawai desu….
    Hope to see new post on anime…
    thanks… :)

    • Love Lab is very kawaii indeed, although I wonder if you’re asking me to write a new post about that anime in particular or just anime in general. Thanks for the comment nonetheless!

  6. thank god i thought i was the only one who felt that way.ill be frank i hate cute girls doing cute things for me shows like that is boring. real girls dont sit all day eating cake and calling ugly things cute.but love lab was different it actually had boys and they talked about love unlike the latter that acts like boys are non existant.i wish more shows with girls can be more like this one.second season please

  7. I haven’t watched it(might eventually, but will have to find time >.<), but what you are saying about females and love and friendship really brought up something important that I only realized after reading this…

    You are right, anime has a pretty skewed perspective of how females think of relationships.
    Most of my female friends are obsessed with love in a way(always complaining about being single when they are single), but not with particular people… They don't obsess over a single man or woman. They just want to love and be loved(with a suitable person of course).

    Love from friends(platonic) is also very important to females.
    I rarely see anime where girls value their friendship, and it seems mostly it's about a girl fawning over the main male character for no good reason other than to please fans who want the whole "the girl is a trophy for male hero" plot, and any other characters she meets is always going to be just an acquaintance, with no emotional connection or serious conversations that bring them closer.

    When I think about it, anime with female friendships like K-on, which is supposed to be about friendship(I think)… they really seem superficial and fake. While they obviously do get along, they never really explain much about their actual friendship or emotional connections. Ritsu and Mio are supposedly long-time friends, but they never showed anything about their previous life together or any conflict/obstacle whatsoever.

    But then you have anime with male friendships. Anime like Free!, which is also about friendship(I think)… and they actually show you things like important or emotional scenes from their childhood as well as their current situations and their obstacles change their relationships either for better or for worse, and there's that tension you can feel as an audience. Despite Haru being somewhat emotionless, you can really get a sense of the tension he feels about Rin avoiding him, or the worry he feels when Makoto is in a dangerous situation. It might even be because of his "emotionless" personality that you feel it most at those times, because his facial expression does show expressions when needed, and when it does, it's genuine.

    So, I wonder why there can't be more anime where females have deep meaningful friendships like males do.
    In real life, generally females value relationships a bit more than males. The anime that females like to watch tend to have higher quality in the "character relationships" department, which also explains why we tend to avoid harems(and why reverse harems have bad reputations even among females), and why we like to "ship" characters in good anime. We love to expand on already-good relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual.

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