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.
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?).
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Yes, the two orange haired people (Ichigo and Orihime) are Japanese. The one with the tan is of Mexican descent.
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).
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 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.
For some interesting youtube videos about this topic:
“Are anime characters caucasian or japanese” by celebritymorph (Anime characters are not necessarily Caucasian)
“Re: Are Anime Characters Caucasian or Japanese?” by YummyMoonPie
“Anime characters: Caucasian or Japanese?” by TipsyArmadillo