Archive for the Culture Category

Are Anime Characters Caucasian?

Posted in Culture with tags , , on October 16, 2011 by esmay013

While searching for Chinese characters in animes for a previous post, I found something very interesting, an argument on the internet.

When watching anime or reading manga, people will ask “why don’t the characters look Japanese?”  This is what they mean, but they actually ask “Why do anime characters look white?”; this question is all over the internet.  This is not asking why is their skin white compared to black, but questions why do the Asian characters look Caucasian.

Afro Samurai

People keep saying because the characters are in Japan and created by Japanese artists that makes them automatically Japanese so why are you even asking such a question.  Well that is great.  You’re right.  The characters are supposed to be in Japan, born to “Japanese” parents, and are surrounded by “Japanese” people, but they still don’t look Japanese.  That is why people are asking that question.  The anime characters don’t look like any Japanese person I have met.

It is not good to stereotype, but face it, parts of stereotypes are based on recurring physical characteristics based on the removal of certain alleles that are not beneficial for living in the environment where your descendants found themselves plus the remainder of physical characteristics that were not harmful (there are also stereotypes that are not based on anything besides the wish to be insulting, but I am not talking about those when I “stereotype”).  The stereotype is Japanese have black to brown hair, brown or blackish eyes and skin color ranging from white to yellow to brown.  That doesn’t explain why there are characters with blond hair and blue eyes (How many Japanese people look like this naturally, without dyed hair or colored contacts?).

Ouran Host Club

(The blonde on the top is French-Japanese, but the blonde holding the bunny stuff animal is from a traditional Japanese family)

People like to yell (in written form) about how ignorant (or even racist?) a person is for believing that anime characters are Caucasian/”White”, but are you ignorant for having this belief?  When researching this topic, I have been enlightened to some degree, but it is still difficult for me to say that anime characters are not Caucasian.

So here is why people believe anime characters are Caucasian:  majority of the characters have light skin, large eyes of different colors, and hair that is different colors–blonde, brunette, black, red, orange, etc.– which are characteristics naturally found in Caucasians and not Asians.

Here are the arguments against anime characters being Caucasian:

Argument #01: Large eyes are not specific to Caucasian.

Caucasians can have smaller, squinty eyes, while many Japanese have large eyes.  This is true, but it was always more of the shape of the eyes for me than size.  My mom is from the Philippines (Asian) while my dad is Irish-American (Caucasian); I grew up hearing that Asians have almond-shaped eyes, while Caucasians had round eyes, so “big” or “small” never meant anything to me, since it is shape that is different.

Many people claimed that Disney had an effect on anime.  That the big eyes came from it.  So I could argue that the majority of Disney’s characters are Caucasian, but the “father of manga,” Osamu Tezuka, was a fan of the animal characters which don’t necessarily have an ethnicity.  The big eyes are used to show emotion, and no nationality has eyes that big.  Large eyes also indicates innocents; the larger the eyes, the more innocent the character.

Argument #02: The small noses are Asian; Westerners have long/larger noses.

Making a good looking nose is difficult.  Smaller is easier, and it looks good.  Are the Disney princess’ noses that big?  I don’t think so.  Americans (of any ethnicity) also want a “pixie,” small nose, which the anime characters and some real people possess.

Argument # 03:  Caucasians are not the only ones with white skin.

Two maiko performing in Gion.

Image via Wikipedia

Asians are usually called “yellow” by westerners, so some people might be asking about skin color when they are asking about “white.”  Of course this is incorrect to presume white is Caucasian, because Asians can have white skin too; it depends on geography (lighter skin in cooler areas, darker skin in hotter).  Also in the old days (in many countries in Europe at least), white skin meant you never worked in your life and hid in your house all day; in other words, it meant you were rich.  Of course this is not the case anymore, but it may be where the love of light skin came from in modern day, in any country.  Not necessarily Caucasian-admiring, the admiration of white skin is based on “traditional” ideals.

Argument #04:  If you draw a stick figure it will look like any ethnicity you are or wish it to be.

Who does this stick figure look like?

True, many of the anime characteristics could be from any race.  This could be because it is easier for the artists to do so, since they need to get the shows/issues out on time.  When a manga series runs a long time, you can see a difference between the last issue and the very first issue for many artists.  Simplifying features makes it easier to duplicate, but once you give the eyes and hair color, you do give it a race.  I went to school with Caucasians (of many hair and eye colors), blacks, Asians, Mexicans, and everyone else, and when you have a distinct hair color you gave it to your stick figure.

Argument #05: No one looks like a real anime character.

No one can have eyes as large as anime characters, but no one can have hair as thick as anime characters either (Even the thickest hair cannot compare to the several inches off the scalp, still thick ended after several feet, and far too living hair that anime characters have. I’m sorry, but no one does.).  But cartoons are supposed to exaggerate some features; in this case, the eyes mostly.  Big eyes are not the exaggerated feature of Asians, so people presume anime characters are Caucasian (big eyes plus white skin equals Caucasians).  Cartoon characters are based on real people, either actual individuals or a specific nationality (whether or not the artist succeed is another story).  Do you look like your caricature drawn at a party or at an amusement park?  Partly yes, partly no.  So no person can look like a living, breathing anime character, but an anime character can still resemble real people.

Argument #06: Anime characters aren’t real.

I always believed the anime characters are supposed to be “real,” like live-action characters have real actors.  The anime artists want to get their stories out there, but they are not part of the live-action movie industry, so they rely on their talents of drawing to get their stories to the public.  The creators are not limited to  actors who look like the characters they image; they can focus on the actors’ voices to fit the characters.  So the anime characters, in a way, are the equivalent of the physical appearance of an actor in a live-action film.

So am I ignorant?  Are Caucasians unreasonably relating themselves to the shows?

For me, I don’t think I am racist, and I might be trying to relate (since I look more Caucasian than Asian), but it is also difficult since animes that are shown on TV are dubbed, so they look and sound American.  Maybe I developed this belief because I have been watching anime since I was little and live in a dominantly white community with hair and eye color that resembles many anime characters.

The principal cast of Dragon Ball, as depicted...

Dragon Ball Z (Image via Wikipedia)

I found Sailor Moon on TV when I was in 2nd grade (what is that? about 6,7 or 8 years old?); prior to this I had seen My Neightbor Totoro (c. 1993, I was like 4 or 5 years old), Dragon Ball (c. 1996)and Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics (c. 1990).  I was able to acknowledge that Totoro was about Japanese children in Japan and many Dragon Ball characters (but not all) looked Asian, but Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics (GFTC) was based on European Fairy Tales (apparently not all of the shows but the ones I watched were), so you could presume, the characters are European and not Asian.  I did not know GFTC was even an anime at the time, so for me the belief that anime characters looked Caucasian started with Sailor Moon‘s Caucasian looking characters living in Japan.

Main characters of Sailor Moon, a classic exam...

Image via Wikipedia

Sailor Moon, Sailor Venus and Sailor Uranus from Sailor Moon are blond haired and blue-eyed.  Sailor Mars, Saturn, and Star Fighter have dark hair (with purple or blue highlights) and dark eyes matching their highlights.  Jupiter has brown hair and green eyes; Star Maker has brown hair and light blue/purple eyes.  There are characters with blue, green, and pink, because all of these characters are actually aliens from the planets they are named after.  But somehow they still fit in modern Japanese society, even with their alien looks. Except for Sailor Moon’s blue-haired Earth mother, the characters from the first episode have blond, brown, or red hair.  Of course there is talking cats, so why would it have to be realistic.  So there are only a few hair colors that are that abnormal, but I have heard ways to say many of these are in fact based on normal hair colors.

Blue hair can be explained with the fact that hair can be so black it has a blue shine to it.  A hairdresser also tried to persuade my mom to dye her hair purple instead of black when she started getting white hair.  I can see Mercury with dark hair, but to me Neptune would not, because she has a light aqua colored hair.  But if she loved swimming so much (Neptume is the Roman “god of water”) then it is possible for a blonde to end up with greenish hair after swimming in a pool, not quite aqau colored but a close explanation.  Pluto has dark green hair, which makes it look a dark color, possible a black if real, especially since she has tan skin.

Pink hair could be strawberry blond, which would explain why blonde Sailor Moon’s child has pink hair (Sailor Chibi Moon); it is genetically possible if her husband had a blonde parent.  Or pink hair can be a type of red hair; in Saiyuki, Gojyo is a half-human half-demon mix so his “blood red” is proof of his human-demon hybrid nature; though in the anime, they were unable to use red, so they used a dark pink instead.

So except for rainbow or multiple colored-hair, most abnormal hair color can be logically explained.

And then there is eye color, which Caucasians naturally have as different colors from purple, blue, green, and browns that can appear red or yellow.

So here are some more anime characters who have left this confusing “misunderstanding” for many non-Japanese:

Bleach

Yes, the two orange haired people (Ichigo and Orihime) are Japanese.  The one with the tan is of Mexican descent.

R.O.D. (TV)

The blonde is Michelle Cheung (Chinese), the tall brunette is Maggie Mui (Chinese), the pink-haired child is Anita King (“Chinese” but was originally from England), and the woman in the middle is Nenene Sumiregawa (Japanese).

Kaleido Star

The pink-haired girl (Sora Naegino) is Japanese, while the dark haired girl (May Wong) is of Chinese-American.  The girl in the lower right corner (Rosetta Passel) is Belgium/French.  The rest are from all different parts of the US.

So when I look at these anime characters, I see girls and guys who could have been in my classes, on the same train as me, or live next door to me; the older I am, the more I notice dyed hair, but there are many who don’t need to dye their hair to get most of these colored hair.  I don’t understand those who believe anime characters are supposed to be Japanese, because I live in a country that prides itself in being a “melting pot,” even though it is still dominantly white, just like an anime.  I still don’t see the Asian resemblance.

Some people will ask “who cares if they look white or not? It’s a cartoon.”  I am a fan of many cartoons and you can usually tell whose ancestors came from which continent…EXCEPT for the Japanese in most animes.  I live in a country with different ethnicities, and I like having all of them represented, or at least most, instead of seeing blondes with blue eyes everywhere.  As a half Asian who rarely sees any Asians on TV, except as a sidekick character (if even present), it is annoying seeing animes that appear to share the same mindset as the American film industry.

Silvermist from Tinkerbell

 Silvermist is a water fairy from Disney’s Tinkerbell movies.  She is played by Lucy Liu and as you can see, she is the stereotypical “Asian.”  I am not saying all Asians look like her, but if you know who Tinkerbell is, you know she is blonde, and if you have seen the movies, each character has different color hair and eyes, just like in an anime, but they are probably Caucasian unless otherwise stated/stereotyped.  I put Silvermist in here because I can.

 ASIAN POWER!

For some interesting youtube videos about this topic:

Are anime characters caucasian or japanese” by celebritymorph (Anime characters are not necessarily Caucasian)

Two Responses:

Re: Are Anime Characters Caucasian or Japanese?” by YummyMoonPie

Anime characters: Caucasian or Japanese?” by TipsyArmadillo

American Superheroes

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , , , on October 9, 2011 by esmay013

Previously I discussed Chinese-Japanese influences on each other.  Now lets discuss Japanese influences on American cartoons.

Some people credit Disney (and Betty Boop) for influencing the big eyes in animes.  In turn animes have influenced animated movies of Disney, who distributes the anime films of Hayao Miyazaki in America.

In “An Exclusive Interview with Glen Keane” (2010), Disney animator Glen Keane was interviewed by Michael J. Lee, the Excutive Editor for RadioFree.com, about Disney’s Tangled and answered the question “To what extent do you think the style of Japanese anime has influenced Disney animation over the last two decades or so?” with:

“Well, it’s hard to ever separate the huge influence that Japanese animation has had on me. I was just in awe of Miyazaki‘s work, and have emulated his sensitivity, his approach to staging. That had a gigantic impact on our films starting with Rescuers Down Under, where you saw the huge Japanese influence on our work. That’s part of our heritage now, which we don’t back away from.”

Disney's Tangled

Anime influence on American cartoons shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.  American cartoon companies outsourced their cartoons overseas to Asian countries “resulting in higher frame rates at lower costs”; the American companies would produce the “Writing, character design, and storyboarding” before sending “Storyboards, model sheets, and color guides…overseas” (Wikiedia’s Modern animation in the United States “Outsourcing animation”).  Toei Animation, creators of Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon, and One Piece animes, worked on American cartoons also:

“In addition to producing anime for domestic release in Japan, in the 1980s, Toei Animation also provided animation work for several American-made television series and feature films, such as Marvel Productions LTD., Sunbow Productions, Rankin/Bass, Hanna-Barbera and Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, Inc among others. These series’ producers outsourced animation production work to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and other Asian countries because of cheaper labor costs.” (Marvel Animated Universe  Wiki Toei Animations).

Now with the large anime fanbase in America, American companies are not relying on outsourcing parts of their cartoons, but creating cartoons with anime influences.  American anime-influenced animation include not only Disney movies, but also cartoons like Powerpuff Girls (which has an anime version), Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi Show (based on the Japanese singing duo Puffy), Jackie Chan Adventures, Samurai JackAvatar: The Last Airbender and The Boondocks to list only a few.  The Animatrix was a collaboration between several anime artists and the creators of The Matrix, the Wachowski Brothers, who were influenced by animes when making The Matrix.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

American superheroes are also heavily influenced by anime.  In the article, “Pokemononoke: Anime For The Millennium“(1999) from Animation World Magazine Issue 4.9 by Andrew Osmond, DC animator Bruce Timm, who helped bring to life every awesome DC cartoon and the Batman villainess Harley Queen, said in an interview by Emru Townsend:

“We try to do a lot of the tricks that [Japanese animators] do, but we’ve a mandate from the corporate headquarters to not do any of that quote-unquote limited animation crap. We’ve tried to do as much quote-unquote full animation as possible, so a lot of the stuff the Japanese do doesn’t apply. On Batman Beyond, a lot of people say it has an anime-inspired look. Yes and no… it’s more of a subliminal influence than a direct influence.”

With Timm was DC animator Glen Murakami who agreed saying:

Batman Beyond (1999)

“Most Japanese cartoons have a lot of detail and explosions…and that’s very difficult to do on a TV budget and schedule. I think we use Japanese animation techniques, but try to make them look like American drawings. It’s not that we don’t like Japanese animation, but it’s apples and oranges. Some rules don’t apply.”

The DC animated universe includes The Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Superman: The Animated Series, New Batman/Superman Adventures, Zeta Project, Static Shock, and Justice League/Unlimited.  Other DC cartoon series include Teen Titans and The Batman.  DC Universe Animated Original Movies includes Batman: Gotham Knight, which contains several shorts by different anime artists just like The Animatrix .  Other films in this line are Wonder Woman, Green Lantern: First Flight and Emerald Knights, Justice League: New Frontier and Crisis on Two Earths, Batman: Under the Red Hood, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and Apocalypse, Superman: Doomsday and All-Star Superman.  DC-rival Marvel Comics had anime-influenced shows like Spiderman Unlimited, Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes, and X-Men: Evolution.

You can tell these American shows are influenced by anime when compared to other shows, but they still aren’t anime.  They are something different, and it is obvious–Murakami’s apples and oranges analogy.  Some people will ask about “American anime” on internet forums, and others will scold them, telling them there is no such thing, but that isn’t completely true.  Though this anime-influenced designs and story plots are becoming popular in America, you still can’t call it the norm for American cartoons.   Some of these scolders will even list these anime-influenced shows as anime.

In Japanese, anime just means cartoons (also in French).  A category of comics influenced by manga originally in English is known as Original English-language manga (OEL manga).  So the question becomes should these shows be included in an “American anime” category?  (American anime-influenced animation are sometimes called “Americanime,” obviously American + Anime, but who knows who actually uses this word.)  You aren’t calling it only “anime” but “American anime,” so does that label give it enough distinction?

I don’t call them “American animes” (and definitely not “Americanime”), but I also don’t watch anything that could not be categorized as such.  To me, they are just awesome cartoons (or simply Disney and Superhero cartoons depending on how specific I want to be); I don’t waste my time with shows that are not heavily influenced by anime, so I don’t need to make that distinction.

The article’s author, Osmond believed anime “helped green-light kid-unfriendly” cartoons, such as “Spawn and Aeon Flux.”  I enjoy the anime-influenced animation but prefer the kid-friendly storylines of daytime American superhero cartoons.  I grew-up watching American superhero cartoons, such as Batman, Superman, and X-Men.  I love the superhero cartoons, even now I watchYoung Justice.  I have tried to read my sister’s superhero comicbooks and even tried collecting them for a time, but the soap opera storylines got on my nerves.  They are so angsty and not kid-friendly; Batman even created a satellite to watch his superpowered allies to keep them in check, which was used against all superheroes; his superiority and paranoia were obnoxious and had a deadly consequence, not like the likable cartoon character I remember.  Random, I know, but it has been bothering me ever since I stopped reading comics!  The new line of DC Universe Animated Original Movies has also been following suit recently, which worries me.

The latest superhero cartoons are in fact a Marvel collaboration with Madhouse Inc. to create four anime series made for the Marvel characters X-Men, Wolverine, Blade, and Iron Man.  (note: Disney owns Marvel Entertainment Inc.)

Chinese Influences on Japan, or Vice Versa?

Posted in Culture with tags , , , on September 30, 2011 by esmay013

Last time I saw my cousin, we got into an argument (actually we ended up getting into several arguments).  What was it about?  China and Japan, who stole whose culture.

Her argument: China stole from Japan.  Evidence: China uses Hello Kitty.

My argument: Japan has been heavily influence by China.  Evidence: HISTORY!

Hetalia: Axis Powers

Image via Wikipedia

Recently I watched Hetalia: Axis Power (I thought she did too, but apparently not).  It is an anime about World War II where each country is a person.  The main character is mostly Italy, whose full name is Italy Veneziano and is the representation the northern part of the country while he has a brother who is the southern part.  Of course this is a light hearted telling of WWII were the events are represented by actions a person would do, not the actual battles that occured.  I had a hard time watching it, because it is in a way making fun of the horrors of the war.  This generation wasn’t around during the war, but should we be taking it so lightly?

But back to the topic.  For America and Japan, the show goes over their past.  Both are taken in by a big brother–England takes that role for America and China for Japan.  Season 1 episode 16, China recounts his life with Japan, a 5 minute episode.  In Japan’s “past,” China teaches little Japan everything he knows and calls him his “kid brother.”  Throughout the episode, Japan calmly disagrees with everything China says (China: the rabbit on the moon is making medicine, Japan: No, he is making mochi) and does his own thing (creates his own writing system based on China’s).

China’s biography from Wikipedia states:

“He is a big fan of Hello Kitty and tends to end his sentences with the suffix -aru, a Japanese stereotype of how Chinese people speak.”

This statement would agree with what my cousin said, since she was talking about the effects of modern day Japan on China.

Of course if we are talking about anime influences on a country, we would have to discuss the influence on American cartoons–Teen Titans, Avatar the Last Airbender.  It is true Hello Kitty is everywhere, especially in Asian countries; they are even planning to build a Hello Kitty Amusement Part in China (but it is controlled by the Japanese company that created Hello Kitty, Sanrio).  This is the first outside of Japan Hello Kitty theme park; there are already two Hello Kitty Theme Parks, Sanrio Puroland and Harmoneyland, in Japan.  There is a restaurant, Hello Kitty Sweets, and hospital with Hello Kitty themes in Taiwan.

In an article about how famous Hello Kitty has become, the author stated

“The little half-Japanese, half-English cat has become so globally recognisable that it is, perhaps, inevitable that the Japanese board of tourism has appointed her their official tourism ambassador to China and Hong Kong. This is not the first time the world has looked to Hello Kitty to perform an ambassadorial role; she has been United States children’s ambassador for Unicef since 1983.”

Hello Kitty is being used in China by the Japanese, and she isn’t only in China but also in the US.  Even before her diplomatic role to China, Hello Kitty was already becoming an ambassador:

She wasn’t given a mouth, explains Sanrio, because she “speaks from the heart. She’s Sanrio’s ambassador to the world and isn’t bound to any particular language”.

So is Hello Kitty valid proof?  (My cousin did try giving proof; something about some character, but I don’t know the characters, so it was lost on me).

Picture of the outside of Sanrio Puroland. The...

Image via Wikipedia

But many animes have storylines based on China.  Saiyuki for instance is a loose interpretation of “Journey to the West,” which is a famous Chinese tale.  Then there are many animes based in ancient China, including Fushigi Yugi and The Story of Saiunkoku.  Of course there are animes set in America too, like Red Garden, Kaleido Star, Baccano, Gunsmith Cats, etc.  There are animes based in every part of the world, or in fictional countries based on other countries.  There are characters from every country.  They also use fairy tales and legends from Europe.  I guess America and Europe would actually be influencing Japan more than China in modern days.

Comics are popular in China, for both children or adults (much like superhero comics in the USA).  Chinese comics are called manhua making Chinese cartoons manhua animes.  Some Chinese question if reading/watching manga/anime is unpatriotic.  While the government is trying to reduce anime from being imported, it is merely pretending to create a Chinese industry while wishing for its success.

Of course this post is biased, though I tried to touch on every argument I could think of.  So who was influenced and who was influencing?  China?  Japan?  (Europe/America?)  Historically?  Today?