Japan has the tendency to turn everything into a cute girl, and we’re often just left to wonder…”why?” Say what you will about me, but I personally really enjoy gijinka and kemonomimi characterizations. “Gijinka” literally means “humanization” in Japanese, and “kemonomimi” refers to anything (usually people) with animal ears. For the most part, they all feel artistically creative and are often just plain cute! The amount an artist can do with gijinka goes far beyond just putting ears on a character, despite what the title of this article might foolishly imply. Who can say no to the likes of humanized Pokémon, the OS-tan family (with Windows-tan pictured above), or even the characters from Hetalia?
The act of giving human traits to non-human entities is older and much more common than one might think. We’re all familiar with modern mascots, both Western and Japanese like Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty, which have become household names at this point. But what if we go back a bit further, say, 16th century China with the introduction of Monkey King tales? Heck, let’s go all the way back to 600 B.C. with Aesop’s fables! The point is: anthropomorphism has quite a long and rich history. In Japan’s case, we can trace back its origins to its folkloric traditions, in which cat and fox demons would take on the form of humans. They would sometimes blow their covers by leaving their ears and tails unchanged. There a lot of inanimate objects, like rivers and mountains, that have associated spirits as well.
When you think about it, Western culture has had quite an impact with the spread of anthropomorphism in Japanese popular culture. We know how much of an influence Disney, in which anthropomorphic animals like Mickey Mouse prevail, has had on early Japanese animation already. We can also consider that usamimi girls (those with bunny ears) most likely draw inspiration from Playboy, especially when you considered that their first appearance in Japan dates back to the mid 1980s with adult animated movies. So I guess we can conclude two things about the prevalence of anthropomorphism in Japan: there are the sexual connotations inspired by a Western creation and the historical value from Japanese folklore. These two influences combine, in varying amounts, to form what we see today.
You may have heard of a little game called Hyperdimension Neptunia, a PS3 JRPG released back in 2011. The game takes place on the planet Gameindustri and features anthropomorphized game-related objects. The main character is based off of the Sega Neptune, while other characters reference the Xbox 360, the company Nippon Ichi, and even the R4 DS flashcart. Vert, the character who represent the 360, has a habit of getting overheated which is hilarious.
The newest game, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, is making its way to North America on March 21, with an anime adaptation planned for Summer of 2013. Check out the video game trailer:
Also, a Japanese Windows 7 commercial featuring its mascot, Nanami Madobe: