A discussion of why anime characters “look white,” arguing that it is in fact whites rather than Japanese who see them as white, has found its way back to Japan and prompted much debate amongst the Japanese themselves.
The original piece, published in English and arguing that it is all a matter of perception:
Why do the Japanese draw themselves as white? You see that especially in manga and anime.
As it turns out, that is an American opinion, not a Japanese one. The Japanese see anime characters as being Japanese. It is Americans who think they are white. Why? Because to them white is the Default Human Being.
If I draw a stick figure, most Americans will assume that it is a white man. Because to them that is the Default Human Being. For them to think it is a woman I have to add a dress or long hair; for Asian, I have to add slanted eyes; for black, I add kinky hair or brown skin. Etc.
The Other has to be marked. If there are no stereotyped markings of otherness, then white is assumed.
Americans apply this thinking to Japanese drawings. But to the Japanese the Default Human Being is Japanese! So they feel no need to make their characters “look Asian”. They just have to make them look like people and everyone in Japan will assume they are Japanese – no matter how improbable their physical appearance.
You see the same thing in America: After all, why do people think Marge Simpson is white? Look at her skin: it is yellow. Look at her hair: it is a blue Afro. But the Default Human Being thing is so strong that lacking other clear, stereotyped signs of being either black or Asian she defaults to white.
When you think about it there is nothing particularly white about how anime characters look:
• huge round eyes – no one looks like that, not even white people (even though that style of drawing eyes does go back to Betty Boop).
• yellow hair – but they also have blue hair and green hair and all the rest. Therefore hair colour is not about being true to life.
• small noses – compared to the rest of the world whites have long noses that stick out.
• white skin – but many Japanese have skin just as pale and white as most White Americans.
Besides, that is not how the Japanese draw white or even Chinese people. The otherness of foreigners is clearly marked by physical stereotypes – just as Americans do with people of colour. In anime White Americans are stereotyped as having yellow hair, blue eyes and a long or big nose:
Gone are the big round eyes and the strange hair colours. Because those things have nothing to do with whiteness.
Note that the Japanese drop the markings of otherness if the action is set in a foreign land, like China or America. In that case the characters are drawn in the regular anime style. Because for that story the Default Human Being is understood.
Some Americans, even some scholars, will argue against this view of anime. They want to think the Japanese worship America or worship whiteness and use anime to prove it. But they seem to be driven more by their own racism and nationalism than anything else.
It is indeed notable how many western theories of Japanese self-perception prefer to see colourful anime characters as a sign of the Japanese aping their American betters.
On the other hand, surgical procedures to create non-Asian looking “double eyelids” are highly popular throughout East Asia, and seem to suggest the impact of western ideals of beauty on the Japanese are not quite so easily dismissed as mere Yankee presumptuousness.
Naturally, 2ch has something to say about all this, particularly as it gives them a cherished opportunity to rubbish Americans:
It’s because it looks cool!
Their skin is just because they aren’t using any colouring or toning.
It’s because they are recognising the beauty of blonde hair and blue eyes.
Because if they were drawn by westerners even a 12-year-old would come out looking macho!
Those damn foreigners love fussing over this stuff, don’t they? Who cares about race or whatever, it’s anime.
I get the impression keeping things simple like that helps when exporting to the states…
But there aren’t any of those crew-cut beefcakes Americans love?
They look western? I think the style looks to be uniquely Japanese…
I live in Canada – what the Canadians are always asking me is why anime characters have no noses?
It looks pretty bad with too much nose detail – normally they just leave a shadow underneath.
What do they want? Bucktoothed bespectacled Japanese with glasses?
Westerners who come out in anime always look totally different to the main characters, don’t they?
Were there westerners with pink and green hair now?
The video version:
That video says it all…
Anime characters don’t look like any real race. Anyone with eyes that big is an alien for sure…
I think the men are done in western style (with narrow faces and deeply pronounced features) whilst the women are Asian (round faces and shallow features).
But aren’t they just emphasising the differences between the sexes?
The “pale skin” Japanese like is “the pale skin of Japanese,” not the pales skin of whites.
Who cares whether they’re white or black, it doesn’t matter. But it really is rather characteristic of Japanese manga and games to insist on trotting out an obviously Japanese guy with a katana into an otherwise fantastic setting…
Yanks going on about race need to go and look at Strike Witches – the Japanese are all flat-chested little weasels.
Japanese don’t care about race like that – if it were American you’d have to include a bunch of different races or be accused of discrimination. Those guys are the ones who are abnormal.
There are a lot of titles with obvious western settings and obviously western characters, but there are also lots with Japanese settings and characters.
Honestly, those guys think too highly of themselves! I don’t see any anime full of fat people!
What they mean to say is that anime characters don’t look like how they think Asians should look.
I’d understand if they were talking about games – you hardly see any Japanese names there.
To think they look white just shows the conceitedness of westerners.
Beauty = white people. So inevitably manga full of beautiful people have to be full of white looking people. In the end they end up full of Japanese who don’t look Japanese.
Most Japanese do believe in the superiority of the west. They masochistically think Japanese things are ugly in comparison.
How presumptuous of them to say they look like whites!
It’s just so you can easily tell characters apart. Don’t think about it too hard.