Japanese animated cartoons OR "They don't LOOK Japanese..."

I’ve seen lots of them, from Astro Boy on up to the new ones, (well, not Pokemon)and I may see Princess Mononoke this weekend. But I have a simple question:

“How come Japanese cartoon characters don’t look Japanese?” Some of them have blonde hair and blue eyes. BIG blue eyes, at that. How come there are no black characters? Or Hispanic? Or…?

Well, you get the idea. People complain (and we should) that there are too many white people on American TV today. Should we let Japanese animators off the hook? And it sure wasn’t always this way. Japanese characters in old artwork definitely look Japanese.

So what’s the answer?

Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to relive it. Georges Santayana

I don’t think the figures in old Japanese artwork look Japanese. They don’t even look human! Well, not realistically.

I think the characters in anime look cosmopolitan. There are people with blue hair. And pink hair. And there are people with different skin colors, too. I know Final Fantasy VII is a game, but there was an African-Japanese/American/?-type character.

Maybe you don’t see Japanese people the way they see themselves. They like big eyes. There are Japanese people with big eyes. Not that big, but still.

Would you be happier if they drew the characters like the Asians in South Park?


I don’t get Comedy Central where I live. I’ve never seen South Park :frowning:

Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to relive it. Georges Santayana

For a long while, and maybe still, it was generally believed that the big eyes phenomenon was Japan’s attempt to emulate the Western Caucasian American people.

But in fact, the real reason for the big eyes and the mouths with no teeth, is for expressive faces. No one can doubt that Anime and Manga characters have very exaggerated facial expressions, and they feel that the large eyes help facilitate that. It’s just become the norm for all animation and comics to adopt a similar style - though there are still wide variations within the genre.

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You don’t need cable to watch South Park. It’s on the web. Granted, it’s a 36 MB download per episode but you can’t beat the scheduling. Try www.berniec.com/southpark for the latest episode and a list of other sites.


You can also find Simpsons and Futurama episodes online.

The story I have heard (and I am no expert here) is that Japanese Anime was heavily influeced by Betty Boop. I have no idea if there is a shread of truth to that.

Really, though, I think Anime represents cultural exchange at its best. The Japanese were originally inspired by American animators, and they took that and created something wholly new. Now, these fantasitic images are coming back at us, and our young artists are taking them and reforming them. This is what cultures are supposed to do, and the sort of thing art historians love to ferret out. Nor is this restricted to the adolecent male world of comic books. Jasmine from Aladin seems clearly Anime inspired.

Ash’s friend Brock in POKEMON is drawn with slit eyes. His skin is also several shades darker than Ash’s or Misty’s.

Just an observation.


I’d like to know why the style of the genre has undergone so little change. You can usually guess what decade an American cartoon was made because the style keeps changing. But Japanese animation? Pokemon would feel right at home with Speed Racer.

Now, I admit I don’t watch many cartoons anymore, from any country, so if there are stylistic trends of which I am not aware, please enlighten me. Thanks.

These are physical characteristics of human infants and small children, and for immature individuals of many species of mammals. It’s not unusual to combine immaturity with sex appeal, for whatever Freudian reasons you may want to imagine. Consider the “flappers” of the 1920’s – de-emphasis of the bust and hips, dropped waistline, frills and fringes. The fashions of the time were explicitly modeled after pre-pubescent girls. I suspect something similar is going on here, as well.

If man was meant to fly faster than the speed of sound he would have been born with 50,000 pounds of thrust.

Pokemon, Digimon, Astro Boy, Akira, whatever.

It’s all Speed Racer to me.

Basically, oversized eyes are a Japanese animated stereotype the same way oversized heads are an American one. But once the stereotype becomes common, an attempt to draw a cartoon with more realistic proportions looks distorted. Japanese viewers of American animation often feel the characters have shrunken eyes even though the ratio of eye to head size is accurate. On a side note, I was just looking through a book on GI Joe memorabilia and was surprized by the appearance of the Japanese licensed figures which had eyes that were twice as large as the American originals.

As for the widely varied hair colors (and hair styles) this is a shorthand way to distinguish characters who might otherwise look too similar.

My anime obsessed friend once told me that they were drawn to look like Europeans so the characters could disobey their superiors, gun down hundreds of people, get raped by aliens and all the rest of the anime type thing without it being done by Japanese people.

Personally, I think he’s exagerating the idea a little, but I guess in a society that is (or was) based on politeness, honor and obedience, it might make sense.

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

I watched Pokeman today, the backgrounds and details were Japanese. Kimonos, sushi, bonsai trees, the works. They didn’t seem to run into any “Japanese looking humans”, though.

Mike King –

Have you read Steven Jay Gould’s essay on the evolution of Mickey Mouse?

– Beruang

It seems to me that, artistic considerations aside, ANY animator or filmmaker or musician or (fill in the genre of your choice) in ANY country has to have an eye on the U.S. market. An animator can make very good money within Japan, but if he wants to rake in BIG bucks, he has to have appeal in the U.S.A. (and, to a lesser extent, Europe).

Thus, a Japanese animator has to ask himself… “Would American kids root for Speed Racer if he looked Japanese? Would English and German kids like Sailor Moon if she looked Japanese?”

It may be a good FINANCIAL move for a Japanese animator to make his characters look more Caucasian, so that he can try to market his work overseas.

One thing I’ve noticed in Japanese cartoons is that the blue-haired characters are usually white. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Caucasian in anime who has black hair. Could it be that the Japanese see black hair on whites as having a blue-ish tint?

“I had a feeling that in Hell there would be mushrooms.” -The Secret of Monkey Island

Japanese DOLLS have oversized eyes. Have had 'em since at least the 1880’s.

As a devoted anime fan (anybody else here collect Lum/Urusei Yatsura?) , I always thought that might have a lot to do with it.


Diceman- I would have to disagree about the black hair thing. Just off the top of my head, the main characters from Ranma 1/2 (Ranma), Neon Genesis Evangelion (Shinji), and El Hazard (Makoto) all have black hair and are caucasian.
It seems to me that characters in anime that are shown as ethnically asian tend to be old. Especially elderly women. I have no idea why.

I don’t know if anyone else saw it, but there was an anime adaptation of the old Thunderbirds series called Thunderbirds 2086. It had all new characters. The title and premise were the only things it had in common with that old marionette series, and they got to put Gerry Anderson’s name in the title. Anyway, there was one guy in the show who was most definitely African-American, because of his skin color and his dubbed-in voice and slang dialogue. I can’t honestly say I’ve seen every Japanese cartoon ever made, but he’s the only black character I can remember seeing in one of them.

One time, I brought up the question at a comic-book convention and one white guy said, “The Japanese don’t think of themselves as very interesting,” an answer that would be disturbing, if true: An entire culture with low self-esteem. I don’t think so.

Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to relive it. Georges Santayana

I should have said, “They gave Gerry Anderson credit for creating the original show.” Obviously, his name wasn’t in the title.

Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to relive it. Georges Santayana