I think there’s more to the manga and anime series Zettai Karen Children than meets the eye, possibly some kind of elaborate conspiracy taking place over a period of years.
The series is about 3 young psychic girls defending the world alongside their adult caretaker (not pictured) Looking at the character designs, I think it’s undeniable that there is at least some lolicon appeal to these characters and that the creators are well aware of this element.
However, Zettai Karen Children does not run in some otaku-pandering magazine. It’s not like it’s from Comic High or Champion Red Ichigo or even Dengeki Daioh. ZKC runs in Shounen Sunday, the home of Detective Conan, Kekkaishi, Touch!, and Inuyasha. It’s meant to appeal to young boys first and foremost, though in a way different from Shounen Jump‘s more well-known approach of commercialized battling and the like.
Shounen Sunday has a well-established track record of introducing female characters who are on equal footing with their male counterparts with the goal of introducing the concept of males and females being equal to one another to children at an early age. There’s Ran in Detective Conan, Tokine in Kekkaishi, Minami in Touch!, and Kagome in Inuyasha. Having the main characters be the girls in ZKC means that the strength of females is readily apparent.
I have trouble thinking that Shounen Sunday would just let a series with lolicon elements run in its pages without some kind of ulterior motive to change or influence people, to just let it run to attract that older otaku audience.
As Zettai Karen Children has continued, the titular girls have aged. As of now, they are junior high age and their bodies have clearly matured. First, this implies that the progression of time is desired in the series, and second, that the girls are gradually moving away from being designed to have that very, very youthful appeal.
What I think they’re actually doing is an attempt to slowly create an attraction to adult women in a group that might normally reject it otherwise. It’s using the power of the 2D complex to seize the hearts of otaku early on and then gradually wean them off of lolicon.
That’s Shounen Sunday, thinking long-term.