Aesthetic Roots – Kawaii and Anime/Digital Drawing

To see the development of the “Kawaii” aesthetic I’ve chosen throughout the semester, please see my earlier blog post here. In this post, I’d like to explore what I consider to be the roots of this aesthetic as it pertains to me personally. Kawaii for me, is a slice of a greater medium – anime or digital drawing. I’m really drawn to it for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, I appreciate how immersive it is. With anime, your imagination is the limit, as any sort of characters or worlds can be developed, and in a way I’d argue is much more seamless than any other media. That is what really gives it a winning edge for me – with animation, a unique possibility for fantasy worlds and comedic elements exists. For example, while CGI is progressing to a really impressive point, such as with the Marvel line of movies, I’d still argue there is a certain atmospheric element that they lack in comparison.

Credit: Studio Ghibli’s “The Wind Rises”

The ability of artists to highlight certain aspects of anything, or to make the impossible “real” in the setting of the anime world is what can really set it apart.

Credit: Animation director Masashi Ando from “Your Name”

Want to add a colorful meteor to a peaceful countryside scene? Easily done with this medium. On a side note, if you haven’t seen this movie, I really recommend it, as it is the perfect example of what I mean with making the impossible seem totally real for the viewers and within the context of the world it sets up.

Second, the colors and accessibility of every piece has such an authentic feel to it, despite being made up. What I mean by that is, when you look at a well-drawn shot like below

Credit: SimzArt on Redbubble

You can easily appreciate the place this girl is at – the different lighting, the floating spirit, the made up script in the background and cats chilling on trash cans. Compare this to if you were to take a photograph of a bus stop – even if you were to recreate the setting to the smallest details, it would still feel completely different. Everything would be just a little disjointed in comparison to this piece, as you would need to use some sort of editing to create a spirit that would either mismatch the aesthetic of its surroundings, or be too realistic and take on more of a creepy mood. While not unique to anime or digital drawing in particular, the color palettes and flexibility possible in these pieces are another aspect I love. And while photography wasn’t the fairest comparison to choose, even a skilled painter would have trouble completely hiding things like brush strokes, that ever so slightly pull the viewer out of that world.

The last facet of anime as a medium I want to mention, while not necessarily tied to the roots of Kawaii, is the stylistic variability possible with it. Here’s two completely different takes on the character Calsifer from Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle.

Credit: and

While this is again possible with really any medium, I think it’s particularly effective with this one because the artists can easily manipulate any given element to match the atmosphere they’re shooting for.

In writing this I realized many of the characteristics I enjoy in anime or digital drawing in general are possible in other mediums. However, I think this will always hold the top spot for me, for reasons I can’t really put into words… I think, most simply, I just like it.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Justin Engbrecht
    April 12, 2020 12:17 am

    Hello Thomas! I also grew up watching the full spread of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, and agree that they and other Studio Ghibli movies piece together some of the strongest and best atmospheres that cannot be found within modern mainstream movies. Have you had a chance to see Akira (1988)? Thematically it’s very much at odds with Studio Ghibli movies as post-apocalyptic cyberpunk fare, but the technical display of its animation is insanely impressive. Over 32 years ago it premiered and like most anime it ran at 24 frames per second, but unlike every other anime prior and since, each of Akira’s frames was a unique hand-drawing. Doing this is extremely costly, and is known as shooting “On 1s” while a lot of anime are shot “On 2s” where each unique frame is shown twice in a row, for a total of 12 unique frames per second. Additionally, Akira features the most vibrant color palette of any animation, with 327 distinct colors.

    • Thomas Buckholtz
      April 12, 2020 10:45 am

      I actually have only seen Akira once a long while ago, back before my proper appreciation of these things began. I will definitely check that out some time soon! That’s a really interesting fact, I bet that sort of hard work really comes through. I can’t imagine having to put in that much time into every second!

  • Hi Thomas, your post was very informative and written clearly. This is always appreciated. I am really happy to see that you have a true appreciation for the art. I know it is not easy and you clearly understand a great amount. I think that is important. What other influence did you have in your life that led to your interest in animation? I’d be interested to see a bigger picture.

    • Thomas Buckholtz
      April 12, 2020 10:40 am

      Thanks George! I think my interest in anime stems from my childhood, like a lot of people’s. I also read a lot of fantasy growing up, so my mind has always been open to envisioning fantasy worlds and delving into them. It’s also worth mentioning my dad was in the Air Force, and we actually lived in Japan when I was a kid, so being there plus often having no friends when I moved to a new place (pretty often), I would jump into those escapes full-hearted.


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