In Japanese, kawaii means "cute", but the concept has far more overtones than it does in English — and far more power. For many Japanese schoolgirls (and some women), being kawaii is kind of like being sexy for Western women: it means that they are desirable, attractive and wanted. It becomes a primary goal in their social lives, and success, as measured in the reactions of their peers, is practically an affirmation of their worth as a female.
As always, whenever there is a goal like this, there is always someone who overdoes it. The kawaiiko (literally "cute child"), or burikko ("fake child" or "pretend(ing) child"), is the case in point. She takes being kawaii to an almost unhealthy extreme by making it the sole focus of her life. In clothing and fashion, this manifests in frilly, flouncy outfits, often with ribbons and lace. In behavior it appears as a tendency to act childishly "young", particularly in speech — she may speak entirely in baby talk, giggle mindlessly, habitually refer to herself in the third person, and/or use nicknames as well as the -chanHonorific for virtually everyone she encounters. In short, the difference between kawaii and kawaiiko is the difference between "cute" and "cutesy". (The difference between kawaiiko and burikko, however, is the difference between "cutesy" and "somebody please kill her.")
In some cases, the decision to go kawaiiko is a not a desperate plea for social acceptance but a calculated step intended to further a career goal as an Idol Singer — for which lacy, frilly cutesiness appears to be required by the Japanese music industry.
It would be reasonable to assume that there is some kind of connection between kawaiiko and Lolicon, but the nature of the relationship — if one does exist — is not clear.
Compare Deliberately Cute Child and The Fake Cutie. The horrific offspring of Tastes Like Diabetes and Moe.
In British culture, this is seen as a very outdated image of Japan and as such is rarely mentioned.
A challenge for fans of Cardcaptor Sakura: Find one of Sakura's Tomoyo-designed costumes, even one, that doesn't push the Kawaiiko content to Glurge-worthy proportions. To be fair, though, Sakura doesn't seem any happier about wearing them.
Similar to Nermal, Chi from Chi's Sweet Home. She's more of a kawaiiko, though, because she's naive about it.
Lampshaded in Engine Sentai Go-onger, with a character called Bukkorin. She may walk around in a fluffy dress and act all cutesy, but she's the daughter of an alien mob boss, and tough enough to catch a blade with her bare hands.
Kelly Kapoor from The Office (US) seems to have a large dose of this in her character makeup.
Saito Ayaka. Anything she does. Apparently, her voice is soft and high-pitched even for a female seiyuu. Her voice is like nails on a chalkboard to Westerners.
The dubbing of Iron Chef had a lot of the young actresses on the tasting panel sound like this, earning them the Fan Nickname "bimbos du jour".
Traci Van Horn of Hannah Montana, at least in the episode "No Sugar Sugar", in which she hosts a sweet sixteen birthday party ("emphasis on sweet") despite being two years past the deadline. She seems to be pushing herself as some childish brand of trying really-too-hard to be sexy, as she proceeds to simper about in a saccharine, disturbingly coquettish manner, waving an oversized rainbow lollipop in Oliver's face while flirting with him. He's more interested in the lollipop, but who could blame the guy?
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All had, in the third case "Turnabout Big Top" a 16 year old girl with big eyes and blonde hair.. Who was so cute she had several marriage proposals (one by a 36 year old!), and had the titular Phoenix Wright and his plucky sidekick powerless to decline a request of finding her outfit (as shown in the But Thou Must page). ... Err, her other outfit.
Rumy in Fans! originally dressed in a Japanese anime-style schoolgirl uniform and wore bangs over her eyes—until she realized that people could see her underwear whenever she went into battle, or grab her hair in a fight. She has since cut her hair short and started wearing karate gi in the field. T. Campbell wrote in response to fans who were upset at her new look:
On the day Rumy changed her hairstyle to something that wouldn't present such a tactical weakness, she was a little sad, feeling like something was lost. And she imagined her mother— whom she hasn't spoken to for longer than ten minutes in years— saying, "But dear, your hair looks so kawaii!" And then, the anger of a misspent childhood renewed in her heart, Rumy replied to her imagination, "Kawaii is for the lazy."
Take a look at the character "Kawaii" in Errant Story, then decide for yourself whether she's a deconstruction, subversion, inversion, perversion, or simply so weird that you can't describe her. Yeah, that last one fits.
Nermal is also much Older Than He Looks and deliberately drinks ridiculous amounts of coffee to stunt his growth.
Dot Warner might be a Western example of a kawaiiko, as she constantly brags about her cuteness to the point of having an entire song titled "I'm Cute", and being referred to in the theme song as the "cute" one.
Really, all three Warners are pretty adorable.
The Brain, of all characters, assumes a kawaiiko persona in the Pinky and the Brain episode "Whatever Happened to Baby Brain?" He accomplishes this by wearing contact lenses, fake dimples, and long curls. It's a Paper-Thin Disguise.
Spoofed by Japanese actress/model Kikouden Misa, who frequently appears on TV as a Kawaiiko parody — a ditzy, cosplay-loving, squeaky-voiced Genki Girlburikko called Hakyuun, whose speech is absolutely full of Verbal Tics.
Idol SingerMatsuura Aya used to affect a kawaiiko stage persona called "Ayaya" (which made her convincing portrayal of surly and violent near-delinquent Saki in the 2006 Sukeban Deka film a major surprise for her fans). In the last couple of years, however, she seems to have gone from Ayaya to just Aya, releasing more mature songs and acting less cute.
The perceived relationship between Lolicon and Kawaiiko is undermined by Elegant Gothic Lolita style. While it does appear to Western sensibilities to incorporate some measure of Lolicon, the style, along with most other Lolita styles (Sweet Lolita, Classic Lolita, Punk Lolita, Trash Lolita, etc.) intentionally de-emphasizes sexuality in opposition to the perceived over-emphasis on Lolicon trends in Japanese culture. Only one style, Erololi, consciously combines cuteness and sensuality; and that was a Western-originated style that was based on a misunderstanding of the original Lolita Fashion; and was later adopted back into Japan. While a related and very deranged style, Gurololi, may seem to also be an Erololi offshoot, it was intended to be more disturbing and classic kawaii than erotic.
This was over-hyped by British magazine Take A Break, despite it being a Dead Horse Trope in the United Kingdom.