Anime refers to a style of Japanese comic book and video cartoon animation. It originates from Japan and is a prevalent style in Japanese comic books or manga. In Japan, manga is a popular form of entertainment for people of all ages. The storylines of these mangas are both sophisticated and complex. Most anime characters are Japanese and depict Japanese culture while speaking in Japanese. Yet, to the viewers, the characters don’t look Japanese. Instead, they look white. So what are the stylistic choices that cause this distinction?
The Japanese see anime characters as being Japanese. It is usually Americans and Europeans who think that anime characters are white. This happens because to them, white is the Default Human Being. If a stick figure is drawn, most Americans will assume that it is a white person. Whereas, to Japanese, it would be a Japanese person.
"The notion that anime characters look Caucasian is an American opinion, not a Japenese one," says Julian Abagond
The characters in anime are highly admired in Japan and have some common traits such as showy hair, big eyes, fair and distinctive skin, and colorful eyes. Their appearance makes them look more Caucasian or European. They often have blond or red hair, light-colored eyes. Therefore, it is no surprise that many people think that anime characters look a lot like Western people.
Whereas, when you look at Japanese people, most of them have dark hair, dark eyes, and a wheat-ish complexion. They do not look like a lot of the anime characters we know. Thus, a lot of Westerners question why anime characters look white?
However, it is surprising to learn that Japanese people view this matter differently.
Anime itself is a very unique art style. It was originally developed in Japan to make animations cheaper. This is why we do not notice a lot of detail, such as over-exaggeration of some features, in their animation. Additionally, they also used common traits that people in Japan find attractive to make characters more appealing to the Japanese. For instance, they gave anime characters bigger eyes and heads with fair skin to make them more conventionally attractive.
Anime characters are an abstracted representation of reality and their looks are glorified. In Japan, white skin is considered to be conventionally beautiful, therefore, most anime characters are illustrated with white skin. To most people, the characters look white because they see them as white from their point of view.
However, to Japanese people, the anime characters do not look like Westerners.
In addition to the artistic style, the behavior of anime characters is also exaggerated with reality. One example of this is body bubbles. The people in Japan are extremely polite and respectful of each person’s personal space. Whereas, anime characters can be loud and playful in public. Thus, in anime, characters and their behavior are exaggerated to create a dramatic or a comical effect.
In Japan, white is not the default. Therefore, anime characters do not necessarily “look Asian” because they do not have to categorize people as “other.” Thus, no matter how odd anime characters look, the people in Japan will assume that they are Japanese.
Anime characters with physical features such as big round eyes, blond hair, and fair skin do not exemplify Caucasian or European because anime characters are drawn to appear unrealistic and exaggerated. Thus, it is certain that the Japanese do not consider many anime characters to be white.
However, one cannot underestimate the impact of Western culture on Japan before World War II and after. Before the war, Western fashion and music were popular in many Asian countries including Japan. These influences brought with a wave of American popular culture evolved illustration and advertising in the 20th century.
Despite this, it is important to acknowledge many American prejudices about the Japanese. These prejudices are rooted in the history of World War II. Therefore, while features such as blond hair and light-colored eyes have something to do with Westerners, they can be completely unrelated to them.
Japan has always excelled at borrowing from other cultures. For example, their language which includes influences from Chinese and Korean is proof of that. Similarly, Japanese fashion has been a blend of local aesthetics and foreign inferences.
Therefore, it is no exception that characters in manga and anime are created in the light of Japanese traits and exaggerated reality.
Japanese illustrators focus less on the skin tone of characters and more on their features.
Japanese illustrators focus more on the structure of the face, the form of the eyes, the head, and not the skin color. These are the features that Japanese use to convey the origin of the characters.
The color of the skin does not play a significant part in designing anime characters. Most of these characters have big round eyes and heads because round eyes are perceived as Asian.
The Japanese do not intentionally draw their characters to make them look white. It is the people who think the characters look white. Click here to learn what Japanese people think of anime characters!
In Japan, anime is a distinct art style that is developed with minimum cost. The anime characters are exaggerated with features like big eyes and heads to make emotions easier to read. While the skin tone appears white because it is commonly found attractive in Japan.
Anime characters are simply a result of cultural uptake and exaggeration. Thus, to Japanese people, these characters do not appear to be white. They do not perceive anime characters to look differently or less Asian.
Hopefully, through this article, you can understand that anime characters are not white people and neither are they drawn to appear white. They just look white to us because our perception makes them seem that way. To Japanese people, they look Japanese - no matter how improbable or exaggerated their appearance is.
Moreover, if you’re interested in drawing, check out this on how to draw eyes!
My husband and I are learning how to draw and paint. We wanted to share this learning process with the world and have fun! That's why we created this blog. We'll have drawing contests every week and you'll decide who won that week! Follow along and learn with us!
Jimena & Iñigo
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