The argument of whether anime characters LOOK white or Japanese has been going on forever now. And the debate never seems to an end, no matter HOW far each side takes it.
Putting all the irrational bullsh*t and agenda-driven comments aside, there is some good points on both ends of the stick.
But as with every argument or debate….
There are two sides to the same story
I’ve written about this before, so I’m not new to this topic.
In my first article: I talked about the MYTH of anime characters looking white. Mostly to supremacists and some white people who think the world shines out their rear-end.
And to a degree – a small portion of fans in general.
I explained in that article that I “understand” why people believe this. I’m black. So naturally if I see a brown character, bias will kick in and “claim” that character looks like me, and IS like me.
We all do it to an extent, because that’s how we relate to the characters and even understand them.
I also mentioned how anime characters are inherently Japanese, and most Americans, courtesy of bias, will find “blonde” characters to prove their arguments (even though there are examples of Japanese looking characters to destroy the argument).
But there’s another side to the story that has “truth” to it
And that’s the side I’m gonna address in this post. Highlighting the dark truth of why anime characters don’t look Japanese.
And everything connected to that in Asian and Japanese culture.
Let’s get to it.
1. Self-hatred in Asian culture (not just Japan)
The things I’m gonna get into aren’t covered by ANYBODY in the anime industry. And that’s because it’s an uncomfortable truth.
So what am I implying when I say “self hatred”, you might ask…
Take the image above as an example. It’s a comparison of a Chinese woman who went through “surgery” to make her eyes more “Caucasian”. Because she hates the way her eyes look.
THIS is the kind of comments that drove her to do it:
“There is the infamous story of Julie Chen in the 90s, the Chinese-American television personality who underwent double eyelid surgery after her boss said she’d never make it as a top news anchor because her eyes made her look “disinterested”. And because she was Chinese.”
Source: Eye Lid Surgery
I mention this because it’s a common thing in Asian culture.
Now let’s get into Japanese culture itself.
This article from Business Insider highlights some disturbing facts about Japan.
“Japan and other Asian countries accounted for more than a fifth of the 1.3 million eyelid procedures performed worldwide.
The trend has grown steadily over the past decade, and it’s led some experts to claim that Asian patients are using the procedure, known formally as blepharoplasty, as a way to turn the Asian “monolid” into the double eyelid of Europeans.”
The article THEN says:
“They want a Caucasian-looking eyelid with a fold or a crease of the upper eyelid, as opposed to the classic Asian lid which doesn’t have what we call a tarsal crease.”
THIS is what I mean by “self hatred” in Japanese and Asian culture
As far as things stand, only a small percentage of Japanese or Asians are having these kinds of surgeries to make themselves look “white” or westernized.
In a lot of cases – it’s the older generation who convinces Japanese people to get plastic surgery, or in this case: eye lid and nose surgery to make their features more European.
Insecurity and being ridiculed is the breeding ground of this, depending on the context and not being happy with their natural looks.
And even though a lot of Japanese creators, animators, and business people in the anime industry WON’T say it out loud, it’s the damn truth.
Not all of them think this way, but it has a MASSIVE influence on anime designs, characters, and their tendency to look anything BUT Japanese.
It’s the reason why you have so many blonde characters with blue eyes, or red-haired characters who don’t look the slightest bit of Japanese.
It’s easy to use the excuse of “BUT it’s harder to make anime characters look Japanese” but in reality – they’ve proved it’s possible already.
Take a look at the characters in the images above. They have a “natural” Japanese look. And I LOVE these designs because they’re authentic.
As an outsider, I watch anime to experience Japanese culture. That also means to experience Japanese people in animated form.
So when so many anime characters look anything but Japanese, as an anime fan – it can feel strange.
If I wanted to see a western character, I’d watch American cartoons or the equivalent. I don’t watch anime to see characters that DON’T represent Japanese people.
So when characters are designed in this way because of bias or false ideals, it makes me scratch my head a little.
2. The propaganda of so-called “beauty standards”
You can go to most countries across the world, and ONE thing is common in all of them: racism.
What does that even mean? The media portrays the image of “light skinned tones” being superior and darker skin tones inferior.
Or in the case of Japan: “Asian” skin tones not being as “beautiful” as westerners.
There’s no excuse no matter how you wanna put it for anime characters “not” looking Japanese. Or Asian at the least. Because as I already said – it’s been done before.
Nodame Cantabile is one of 100’s of anime shows to do a good job of drawing realistic Japanese characters. For this reason, it’s one of my favorite designs in anime.
Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto! is another anime that does a good job, too. The main character feels Asian to me, and there’s no hint of “trying to look white” at all.
It feels authentic, as it should be.
But propaganda is a disease
Yes, there is such a thing as “white supremacy” even though it’s not something I mention or ponder on.
Whether this group of people are few and far between or not, this is part of the propaganda that’s been spread all over the world.
Mostly by powerful media companies rather than individuals.
Japan isn’t the only culprit either.
India as an example has their own racism. And the darker you are, the more looked down upon you are as an individual.
This stretches to Jamaica, UK, America and many other countries in some variation or another.
And then you have beauty magazines, which to me – is a BIG part of the reason so many people equate “white” or light skin with beauty.
You’ll struggle to find anyone of a certain skin tone in beauty magazines or media. Because that’s not what the media wants you to believe is “ideal.”
Japan is no different. The lighter you are according to Japanese skin tones, the more revered you’ll be as a person.
Being pale is admired in Japan.
QUOTE from Wikipedia:
“Bihaku (美白) is a Japanese term meaning “beautifully white” which was coined in the early 1900s with the emergence of skin whitening products and cosmetics.”
When you blend that with the fact so many Japanese are getting surgeries to “look” western, and how that trend is on the rise, it paints a clear picture of anime character designs.
And knowing this kind of thing ALSO happens in Korea, China, and so on, only adds more pressure and propaganda across Asia.
You’d be a fool to believe this doesn’t affect the designs of anime characters, and how they’re portrayed in 100’s of different anime shows.
Not everything is about “diversity” when it comes to anime designs.
Sometimes it runs deeper than that. And it’s more about fitting an “ideal” internally (for the animator), than it is about making an anime character stand out, visually.
3. The obsession with blonde hair and European features
This is an extension of what I’ve mentioned already. But it’s stunning how many anime characters have blonde, red or ginger hair in anime.
Or a mixture of green eyes, blue eyes, and a “bigger” chest than is normal in Japanese culture.
Sometimes it’s so obvious that it’s happening as well. Even if some fans will deny it.
Japanese people have straight hair, usually black or brown. No different to every other race outside of the WEST in general.
So if the anime character’s backgrounds or historical references holds no clout (when it comes to European features), than it’s nothing more than proof of the obsession Asians have with European features.
With characters like Saber from Fate Stay Night, it makes sense because it’s based on logic.
Saber is a depiction of “King Arthur” from Britain. So it’s correct to give her blonde hair and what not.
But a lot of the times there’s no logic or reason to an anime characters designs. Other than to portray a disconnect of how the Japanese want to look, Vs how they actually look in real life.
And yes – sometimes it’s used for “differentiation” but that’s besides the point I’m making.
Do ALL anime characters look westernized?
The obvious answer is no.
The point of this post is to show the bias, insecurities, and obsessions associated with characters that DO look westernized. And the reasons behind it.
But whether we wanna deny it or not – a LOT of anime characters are designed to look anything other than Japanese. Even if that’s not always the FULL intention.
Will this ever change in the future?
I doubt it. But maybe it doesn’t need to.
Remember what I said? Only a SMALL portion of Japanese and Asians live this way, act this way, and even think this way. Regardless of whether they’re in the anime industry or not (statistically).
But I would love to see anime creators, designs and studios work on characters who “feel” and “look” more Japanese in future. Unless relevant.
I’m sure all of us want that. Otherwise – can we really say what we’re watching is Japanese, besides the subtitles?