I’m kind of sad to have to admit that Episode 5 of Shinryaku! Ika Musume! was probably the most heartwarming thing I’ve watched this entire season. Not so much the first and second acts, but of course, the third act, where we get to see how Eiko brings Mini-Ika up as a pet all the way until she dies, presumably single and alone. Almost no voice acting was used for either character : the entire segment was silent and with appropriate music in the background. Yet it astounds me: how can a short 10-minute segment , in a comedy show no less, be so heartwarming?
Of course, it tugs at the heartstrings to see Mini-Ika run around chasing Eiko’s fingers, making snowmen and an miscellany of other adorable acts, yet it appears that it was heartwarming nonetheless. This is the kind of feeling you get from watching shows like Ponyo , or even Up.
But then again, why so? Mini-Ika is adorable, and that sums up the argument nicely. To be adorable, to be cute, would imply a sense of daintiness and petiteness. That’s the whole essence of being cute : to be small and petite. You’d notice that in anime, the more helpless some characters are, e.g. Yui, the more adorable they seem. It’s the same reason why people have pictures of puppies plastering their walls and various other belongings. Smallness will , at one point or another, lead to cuteness. Heck, the concept of cuteness is even a scientific concept, and even used in analysis in ethology, introduced by the late Konrad Lorenz.
Now that we have that out of the way, how does that make it any more heartwarming? The plot is heartwarming enough on its own, but adding a factor of petiteness could make it even better. Take Ponyo on The Cliff by the Sea, where Sosuke spends a large amount of time playing with Ponyo, and their childish antics don’t fail to charm. Likewise, Mini-Ika’s antics with Eiko charm us as well.
But this still doesn’t answer the question. I think if anyone could explain it better, it would be Konrad Lorenz, esteemed animal psychologist, zoologist, ornithologist, and recognized as one of the founders of ethology.
Konrad argued that in addition to this sense of ‘petiteness’ being carried on by child-like features and instincts, these infantile features triggered the urge to nurture in adults, an adaptation which he claimed, to have ensured that our young were taken care for. Evidence had been aplenty too. Lorenz claimed that humans liked adorable animals (i.e. puppies) because they resembled infants. Recent studies also seemed to back up this theory, with experiments conclusively proving that adults react positively to infants which are cute (duh).
So what would this result in? This urge to nurture is activated. We feel like we would want to care for such a being, if it did exist. It’s like an urge to reach out and help someone. We subconciously want to raise Mini-Ika. Just like how some people seem to wish that their sisters would be like Kirino – or the other way around- we all gain the same kind of feeling from cute images, for cuteness is just like a different version of beauty.
How does this contribute to making the show heartwarming? Simple. Subconsciously, we relate to the characters. The cuteness multiplies this : it makes this feeling become stronger. With us relating to the characters combined with the ever-so-great cuteness of the characters, it fuses to make the show even more heartwarming.
Would the segment be heartwarming without Mini-Ika? Yes.
Would it be as heartwarming without her? Probably not.