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This Week in Anime
The Anatomy of an Anime Waifu

by Lucas DeRuyter & Nicholas Dupree,

What's the perfect recipe for waifu supremacy? Lucas and Nick look at fan-favorites from Yū Yū Hakusho to Spice & Wolf.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?, The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady, Yū Yū Hakusho, Brave Bang Bravern!, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury, Re:Zero, Rent-A-Girlfriend, Girlfriend, Girlfriend, SPY x FAMILY, My Dress-Up Darling, Spice & Wolf: merchant meets the wise wolf, The Future Diary, Frieren: Beyond Journey's End, and A Sister's All You Need are available on Crunchyroll.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? and Chivalry of a Failed Knight are available on HIDIVE, and BEASTARS is streaming on Netflix.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @LucasDeRuyter @vestenet

Nick, I'd like to open up today's column by wishing you, our readers, and moms everywhere a Happy Mother's Day! While this is coming out a few days after the fact, we're typing this one up on Mother's Day evening, and I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge it since our topic has nothing to do with...oh wait, we're talking about waifus. WEIRD timing on this one!
Sorry, Lucas, we couldn't make the timing work this time, so we'll have to wait for next year to do a MILF TWIA. Worry not, though, because instead, we'll be talking about an equally complex, astute, and intellectual topic: The Anatomy of a Waifu.

As you can see, we've conducted a lot of hands-on research.
Aw, now I'm getting nostalgic! Back when I was in the content mill phase of my writing career, I wrote more blogs than I can count titled "Explaining the Anatomy of [insert waifu]!" Was the SEO fantastic? Yes, but it might not have been worth the damage to my soul.
Before we get into the weeds, we should probably define our terms, like any sufficiently stringent scientific publication. Some of you may be asking, "What is a Waifu?" to which I would answer: go back to watching baseball, Grandpa.
Truly. (Also, GO BREWERS!)

Waifu have existed in one form or another since the anime fandom started to take shape in the West, and likely well before that in Japan, but I'm no expert on that slice of the anime fandom.

Case in point, Koto from seminal 90s anime Yū Yū Hakusho is peak waifu material and introduced me to the idea long before I even knew that the term existed.

It's one of those loanwords that Western otaku adopted through some frothy mix of irony and thirst that just meant "anime girl I maybe have a crush on." However, since its inception, I'd argue "waifu" has grown into a more complex, broad concept. Its use implies a certain level of superficial attraction matched with paradoxical devotion. A prospective waifu must inspire a certain level of aesthetic fascination while being marketable enough to inspire mountains of merchandise. Why, I'd say waifus don't even have to be tied down to any single gender. For instance, last season's biggest waifu was obviously Bravern.
Yeah, I know people have been trying to make "husbando" a thing for a while, and the upcoming Waifu Expo (once again, we are killing it with the timing) rebranding to Kimochii Con to be more inclusive of all elements of horny fandom; but "Waifu" is far and away the most dominant and recognized term for "this is a character I'm crushing on; maybe because of who they are or maybe because they've been specifically designed to make me buy their merchandise."

Also, if robots can be waifus, Aerial from MSG: Witch from Mercury is giving Bravern a run for their money!

...You know, I'm just not gonna try to think about the ethics of wifing Aerial because I don't want to get into how old the ghost haunting is. But yes, as far as we're concerned, anyone and anything can be a waifu if you're brave enough. If Makoto Shinkai can have his latest heroine kiss a chair, you can smooch whatever imaginary cartoon you want. We promise only to judge you in our minds.
No, I'm going to call people out if their waifus are mid and a product of the anime industry relying more than ever on merchandise sales to stay solvent. Case in point, any of the girls from 100 Girlfriends are better waifus than Rem from Re:Zero, who I've seen countless pieces of fan art of but never once heard a convincing explanation for why people like her so much.
I'd argue that the standout waifu of 100 Girlfriends is Rentaro, and at least 100 girls would have my back on it.

But I get your point about how some characters can feel almost tailor-made to attract the kind of attention that defines the term. Rem is a character defined by her devotion to Subaru, almost slavishly dedicated to supporting him even at his worst. She's the focus of one of the show's most well-known scenes, lit with an almost heavenly backdrop as she breathlessly tells Subaru that he's not a gigantic piece of crap. There are multiple POV shots where she is staring into the eyes of the audience. You couldn't craft a more perfect recipe for a waifu frenzy if you cooked one up in a lab.

Alright, the campaign starts now!!! We're going to convince the Crunchyroll Anime Awards to bring back the Best Boy and Best Girl categories so Rentaro can sweep both of them! Get in the comments, ANN readers!

And I'm so glad you framed it that way because there are SO MANY characters who feel like they were designed in a lab to be top-tier waifu material but feel even more two-dimensional than anime women already are because of that. I'm talking about characters like Asuna Yuki from Sword Art Online, Zero Two from DARLING in the FRANXX, and the raccoon girl from Rising of the Shield Hero.

My go-to for this type of character is Chizuru from Rent-A-Girlfriend because of how self-explanatory the show is about her. Her entire character for the first two seasons is to be The Perfect Girlfriend. She's endlessly patient, sweet, intimate, and says and does whatever the guy she's working for wants to hear - and also so pretty that literally every time she walks outside, everyone has to comment on it. You'd think that would be a setup for a swerve, but outside of not having a ton of patience for the dickweed protagonist, that's also exactly who Chizuru is for most of the show.
And if Rent-A-Girlfriend were about Chizuru and her motivations, struggles, and experience in becoming the best sex worker she can be, I think I'd like the anime a lot more. Instead, it's about a guy who is pretty terrible to a host of women in his journey of self-betterment, which isn't my jam.

See also Girlfriend, Girlfriend, which I really wanted to be a causal rom-com about polyamory, but instead is just a less funny 100 Girlfriends with infinitely less endearing leads.

What sets Chizuru apart is that the audience accepts that she's also the waifu of her creator. There's a reason no other girl in that show has a shot, and it has something to do with Reiji Miyajima's penchant for drawing Chizuru into real-world photographs.

Honestly, RAG would be more forgivable if it was a long-con to siphon psychic energy for turning his dream anime girl into flesh and blood.
Oh, that's weird! Not in a kink-shaming way, but because I usually respect and vibe with authors who put their barely disguised fetish into their work, so long as everything is ethical and above board. For instance, I think 2B from NieR:Automata remains iconic largely because you can feel Yokō Tarō's affection for her design and personality. And, of course, Tatsuki Fujimoto knew exactly what he was doing when writing and designing Makima, as he's an admitted masochist.
Author appeal is a key factor, though that alone doesn't automatically make for a quality waifu. Though much like with music, sometimes quality isn't all that important so long as you're hitting the familiar beats in a catchy way or just hit the right note. I remember a decade ago when Hestia from DanMachi briefly became a viral sensation entirely because of her inexplicable boob ribbon.

Did I ever learn even a scrap of information about her character from any of that? Nope. But I sure saw a lot of fan art with load-bearing tiddies that season.
Costuming and how conducive a character is for cosplaying are huge factors in a waifu becoming popular. For instance, I think Yor became such a big hit mainly because her assassin dress is both iconic and simplistic. Then again, her being a full-on adult woman in the canon of SPY x FAMILY might have helped her reach her current heights, too.
Yor's a fascinating example because she hits so many different vectors simultaneously. Modern fandom is massively fragmented across social media, so getting a "seasonal" waifu that gets traction across many different areas is rare. Yor did it by having that cosplay appeal and being in a mainstream comedy many people watched. At the same time, she's also got the Murder Mommy thing going on for all the Steves in the world and is also a regular mother for the other Steves in the world. She's like a single throwing knife that managed to pierce through four different hearts in a single trajectory.

Also, you can't go wrong with the red bottoms.
A true Slay Queen in every sense of the word!

And I think you're right to attribute Yor's enduring waifu status to the continuing popularity of SPY x FAMILY. Marin Kitagawa from My Dress-Up Darling was a flash-in-the-pan waifu from a season or two before SPY x FAMILY's release and now, well, let's say I'll be surprised if I see anyone cosplaying her at Anime Expo this year.

Such is the nature of the "Seasonal Waifu" branch. I like Marin's personality and thought her show was pretty funny. Still, longevity is a rare luxury when every three months brings a New Hotness and multiple shows purposefully trying to vie for the title, though popularity helps. Pine for Aerial if you want, but the real waifubait of Witch From Mercury was the girl who never left the couch.
I wonder if the animator who worked on the foot scene volunteered for it or if the staff at Sunrise knew what their deal was and assigned them to it. Either way, I was not expecting domme blackmail foot worship in G-Witch, but I'm not complaining!
Trust me, you don't have to look for Foot Guys in the animation industry. They will make themselves known.

Seriously though, it's a running joke that Secelia inspired mountains of fan art, memes, and Comiket exclusives while having a total of seven minutes of screen time across the entire show. Other characters have more fan content, but they're also prominent figures in the narrative who get story arcs and the kind of stuff you can build fandom around. Secelia got to where she is through the power of dolphin shorts and unrestrained thirst.

It speaks volumes of how great a character design can go, especially when there were clearly people on staff who felt some kind of way about this character.

And now that we're talking about doujin, this is where I admit that I haven't watched/read/played a single minute of a TYPE-MOON project, but I can name at least three Fate characters off the top of my head because they have so many fan works building them up lol.
Fate is an interesting vector because it spans eras. Back in the day, the strategy was to come up with a handful of core characters with distinct but simple designs that would appeal to different swathes of the audience. Nowadays, the model is to load your gacha game-related franchise with dozens of overdesigned weirdos to appeal to as many niches as possible. Fate has made that transition successfully, integrating characters from across Kinoku Nasu's work to the point where they're having a Witch on the Holy Night event as we type. It's legacy characters from across franchises sharing space with game original freaks, which is weirdly beautiful.
Ah, I see what happened. Fate's a blind spot for me because I went all in on Fire Emblem being my generations-spanning gacha-game-a-like franchise.

Though, I think I'm personally a bigger fan of its many niche character, scattershot approach than a series trying to make the most milquetoast, vanilla, generic female lead of a show into the waifu of the season. If y'all want examples of the kinds of characters I'm talking about, go check out our seasonal isekai TWIA from a few weeks ago.

I'm the opposite. This topic interests me because different character ideas, design choices, and other creative decisions can catch on for different reasons. Having everything fragmented so you can get your algorithmically developed laser-targeted waifu to spend money on means fewer iconic designs. It's like how VTubers end up so over-designed that they stop feeling memorable. Part of me yearns for the day when a simple yet likable character could become a pillar of fan discussion for years rather than weeks. Somebody in Japan agrees because they've started rebooting those too.
So, it's time for me to admit to another blind spot. I got into anime just a little too late to board the Spice and Wolf fandom express; who is this animal-eared anime girl, and why does she have a chokehold on so many of my 30-something-year-old peers???
You could ascribe some of that to Holo being at the upper end of what was acceptable furry design in the mid-2000s, but honestly, I think her longevity comes from being a good character who's part of a perfect on-screen couple. She and Lawrence have an infectious chemistry that carries the show, where she's playful and occasionally aggressive but also has a vulnerable side that she only shares with him. Both then and now, that chemistry can be hard to find in anime romances, and that struck a chord with fans who were perhaps looking for a more mature, adult kind of romance.

Or maybe the "Stretching with Holo" bonus feature on those DVDs awakened something in people. Who's to say?

Damn, now that you mention it, I'm low-key proud of the anime fandom for being more accepting of furry designs as time has gone on. Good job, gang!

As you describe it, it sounds like Spice and Wolf's focus on being more of a straight-up romance than a wish-fulfillment fantasy also plays a big role in Holo's waifu rise and staying power. We've spent a lot of time in this chat talking about the importance of character design for a waifu, but it seems like character writing is a big part of the formula, too.
It can vary, but you need some substance to stick around in popular consciousness past the show's expiration date. A popular character design can carry you a long way - see Stella Vermillion, aka the only thing anybody remembers about Chivalry of a Failed Knight.

However, if you want a character to survive post-nut clarity, having something people can attach to, think about, or even fantasize about in a more involved manner than "dang, they're hot" is essential.
And those other traits don't even have to be positive! Case in point, Yuno Gasai is an immortal icon for how she popularized the yandere waifu archetype.
There's a long history of anime fans wanting a cute anime girl who may or may not kill them. Still, Yuno is the one who achieved escape velocity, and I imagine she was a lot of fans' introduction to the whole character type. Nowadays, yandere is played out enough that you also have to give them exposed armpits to catch on.
Mmh! Now that's a good armpit right there! Also, as Übel was originally pitched to me as a lady Hisoka, I'd like to take this moment to remind artists, animations, and creatives that you can do anything with the characters in the worlds you create. So go all out! Get weird with it! Have your smoke show characters hang dong!

There's literally nothing stopping you!
Well, besides broadcast standards.

I agree that I'd like to see wild or bold innovations in waifu technology. With how fractionalized the internet is these days, it can feel like nothing sticks in the public consciousness anymore, and I'd like that to change. There's something fun about not immediately knowing which of my friends is retweeting a particular piece of fan art or watching in shared confusion as thousands of fan artists imprint onto a character from a textbook.

And while that breakout waifu is hilarious, it's also a good segue into reminding people not to waifu-ize real people. I know both anime aesthetics and para-social relationships are more popular than ever, but don't turn real people into fictionalized (often infantilized) versions of themselves. No matter how hilarious said artwork is when juxtaposed to the circumstances making the subject famous.
That whole idea probably isn't helped by the rise of VTubers, who come pre-waifu'd with preselected hashtags to organize all their saucy fan art. I fear that's a topic for a different study. For now, we need to return to our research.
Agreed! Back to the waifu mines we go!

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