Most anime have at least one character that embodies the “Loli” trope. Usually, she’s innocent, unintentionally lewd, acts childish, and in some cases, the primary love interest. Some franchises play it straight, with an actual child having a ship-tease with the main character, such as Black Bullet. But to avoid criticism and to make it more “fair”, the story writers will decide to make her 100s-1000s of years old, so she’s “of age”.
Sure, maybe this fixes the age concern, but what about the character herself? This has become such a common trope that audiences have begun to turn away from even associating with fandoms that have a loli character. You could argue “to each their own”, and having a token young character as a mascot can be cute if done tastefully. But there’s so much wasted potential here. Rather than placing an overused trope into an otherwise good anime, why not try a different approach?
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First off, let’s at least give recognition to anime that doesn’t (entirely) abuse the trope. The Fate/Stay Night adaptations write Ilya as an actual little girl who was left without parents, and ultimately turned to brutality. She has the mannerisms of a child, but her character is still written in such a way that she had to quickly adapt to circumstances. Unfortunately, the spin-off, Fate Ilya Prisma instead used her for more fanservice. Black Bullet had a solid plot as well, of using and experimenting on children to fight battles – but it became a ship-tease fest between the main character and his partner, as well as various suggestive themes involving the other children.
Dance in the Vampire Bund also had potential. Despite the widely debated premise, it had a solid narrative set up and good animation for its time. Mina, to an extent, acted older than she truly was, and was set up as the love interest for Akira. Though various art and scenes depict her either half-dressed or in a sexual setting. The anime doesn’t even treat this as questionable, but rather furthers her romantic and sexual relationship to Akira, who is physically much older than she is.
How To Fix It
To use a “matured” child character can be explored in a variety of ways. One, a girl that has the appearance of the child but acts like an old lady, or even a mentor. Similar to an old woman, she could be conservatively dressed and judgmental of the “shameless kids these days”. Perhaps the main character sees her as a little sister, and she scolds him as a running gag. Purah from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, does an excellent job in its development of her character. Her true age is that of an old woman over 100 years-old, but while she was experimenting with a de-aging potion, she accidently made herself physically 6 years-old. She’s wearing a cute puffy dress and is definitely adorable, but whenever the player speaks to her, she talks to them as an equal. Purah is also seen standing on a chair to make up for her short height. Occasionally she’ll bicker with her non-de-aged husband, and for an extra dash of humor, she tries to act young but says under her breath, “Is that what the young girls say these days?”.
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Another suggestion is using the trope and playing it straight. A girl stuck in the body of a child and wanting to pursue romance and intimacy, but because of her size and stature, she is unable to live as a “true adult”. This would make for an interesting dilemma to explore. During season 3 of Batman: The Animated Series, episode 24 has a character who goes by “Baby Doll”. Physically, she’s 5 years-old, but her true age is around 30. She seeks revenge against the cast and crew of a sitcom she used to be a part of, more than anything she wants to be seen and treated as an adult woman. But because of her condition, she looks like a child. This knowledge broke her down over time and became her inner demon, while her peers grew up around her. She’s a tragic character and at one point she stares at herself in the mirror, picturing herself as the grown beautiful woman she wishes to be. There exist some people in real life that suffer from this condition, so creating a character that explores this would make for an interesting watch.
Changing The Formula
With new franchises being released every year, it’s inevitable that some trends will become overplayed and redundant. Creators are free to make any kind of characters that they wish, but giving them the respect they deserve can go a long way.
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