“What then is special about these characters? What qualities, if any, do they share? Some people may be familiar with the term kawaii, which is usually rendered in English as “cute,” and is often used to describe characters. Actually, it is not as simple as just being “cute”; my understanding of kawaii characters is that they are expressive, endearing, and easy-to-read. Large heads and eyes, simple, colorful designs, and exaggerated emotional reactions are some recurring stylistic elements of kawaii characters.
A term less well known in the West which is also very important is sonzaikan, which literally translates to “the feeling that something exists.” In terms of characters, it means that they seem real — not necessarily that they are just like real people with complex personalities, but more that they feel full of life, and provoke an emotional response from the viewer. In this way, people can feel a personal connection with their favorite characters, almost as if they were real friends.”