The Debate Over Whether Anime-Style Characters Look Japanese

[Image: 2ch and Yaraon]

The above image shows two characters, one done in the "anime style" and the other in an American comic book style. What follows is an explanation as to why Chie Satonaka "looks Japanese."

Before moving on to the full comparison, which was originally posted on a 2ch thread, there are several things to consider. The country is 98.5 per cent Japanese — as in Japanese citizens.

According to Kyodo News, one in 29 babies born in Japan in 2014 had one (or more) non-Japanese parent.

That means the number of mixed children in Japan is increasing, and why the total number is still small, there are more diverse Japanese than ever before, challenging preconceptions about Japaneseness. (For more, see the film Hafu.)

About those perceptions... Via 2ch (and Yaraon), below is a comparison between "Japanese people" and "white people." Some of the physical characteristics are the space between the eye and the eyebrows, a loosely defined jawline, and noticeable nose and cheek features.

[Image: 2ch and Yaraon]

Via website Tamenal, these comparisons claim to prove that anime characters are mostly Japanese.

[Image via Tamenal]

[Image via Tamenal]

The problem with the comparisons like this is that those who don't fit into this comparison then don't fit in either group, making them loaded. Images like these have been floating around the internet for years, such as the ones below.

As Kotaku previously pointed out, these comparisons aren't exactly ideal and seem to be made to simply further an argument.

[Image: 2ch and Yaraon]

The other problem with these comparisons is that animators might be looking to a variety of sources, including other anime, with one artist influencing another, and the end result moving further away from reality as artists aren't then drawing real people, but anime people.

[Image: 2ch and Yaraon]

Another commenter in the same original thread also pointed out that the profiles of many anime characters actually looks similar to a cat's profile, calling the angle "neko-gata" (猫型) or "cat-shaped" and providing examples of a rather convincing argument.

[Image: 2ch and Yaraon]

[Image: 2ch and Yaraon]

[Image: 2ch and Yaraon]

So, do these characters look like cats? Japanese? Or, like anime characters?

But the best way to think about this isn't about facial structure, stereotypes or physical features. As one commenter put it, "The big eyes and small noses in anime don't exist in Caucasians or Asians." They do exist in anime.


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    I think the key mistake they made is comparing people wearing makeup. Makeup drastically alters how anyone looks because of contouring, etc. If you want to compare base features, then you can't do it while people are obfuscating their "undesirable" features with makeup. You need all features showing to make an accurate judgement. So that entire premise is flawed because they're not comparing accurate features in the first place.

    Also, the anime style was inspired by Disney, which means that no anime character really looks Japanese, because that style was never Japanese in the first place. It's a silly argument on 2ch that ignores the art history really.

    This is why I didn't care Scarlett J played the Major in the Ghost in the Shell movie, imo the only thing about her that was unarguably japanese about her in the anime was her name.

      Gotta love that people are downvoting your comment. I wonder if those same people cheered when Idris Elba was announced to play The Gunslinger (a character that is meant to look exactly like Clint Eastwood)?

      I agree. Majors shell was one even the rights holders said wasn't designed to be considered Asian. At best it was meant to be racially neutral, but various characteristics meant it favoured being Caucasian. Like grey-blue eyes for example, not a typical color in Asia.

      Given theres plenty of conjecture over the character itself, I didn't understand the heat the role got. It wasn't clear, and to many, could have gone either way.

    So if anime characters drawn in an art style that is predominantly Asian and influenced heavy by Asian culture look Asian, what does that mean about cartoon characters drawn in the West done by Western people influenced heavily by Western culture? Are Western characters just someone's poor rendition of anime characters?

    An excellent example of confirmation bias. Domo arigato, misuta author.

    The real problem is not how things are drawn, but the fact that people are debating whether or not thereof a particular race, and therefore, in doing so, being racist. The UN racist thing to do is to NOT CARE AT ALL about stupid shit like how cartoon characters look.

      Isn't it amazing that within the same species we can understand things like particle physics, have a reasonably sound theory for the (scientific) creation of the universe etc, and yet stupid concepts like racism and sexism not only exist but thrive. It's bizarre.

      Last edited 19/02/18 2:09 pm

    I'm a simple man. I see Chie, I click.

    news flash.

    Anime has an identifiable style.

    Western cartoons have an identifiable style.

    I enjoyed that little article! Sure it might be splitting hairs, but I got something out of it as an artist.

    But when there are western characters in anime they still draw then the same.

    It's very clear if a character is supposed to be a foreigner vs Japanese characters in an anime- they'll usually have some combination of blue eyes, blonde hair, a big nose and chin, and probably speak terrible Japanese (and randomly use engrish). The stereotyping is really really clear when they want to show it. eg Mari in Love Live Sunshine

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