The DISTURBING Truth Behind Why Anime Characters Don’t Look Japanese

anzu shiina blonde hair
Written by Theo J Ellis

The argument of whether anime characters LOOK white or Japanese has been going on forever now. And the debate never seems to  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

YouTube video

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.

umiko ahagon new game anime

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

eriri spencer blonde girl

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…

chinese american woman eye lid surgery

eye lid surgery article

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 semi-common thing in Asian culture.

Now let’s get into Japanese culture itself.

japanese eye lid surgery

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.”

Source: B.I

 

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.

ko yagami gif new game

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.

erza fairy tail

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.

shinichi chiaki japanese

kenzo tenma sad

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.

This isn’t a strict need obviously, but a good addition.

So when so many anime characters look anything but Japanese, as an anime fan – it can feel strange.

western anime characters

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.

japanese beauty standards

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.

sakamoto anime funny

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.

agni indian anime character

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.

vogue magazine racism

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.

light skin japanese culture

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.”

Source: Wikipedia

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.

Even if it’s only on a micro level.

yui hirasawa brown hair

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.

Related: 7 Visually Pleasing Anime With A Realistic Art Style

 

3. The obsession with blonde hair and European features

adele von royal tutor

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.

hibiki sakura blonde hair

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.

saber fate stay night king arthur

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.

Or simply an over admiration for European features.

And yes – sometimes it’s used for “differentiation” but that’s besides the point I’m making.

Related: The Ultimate List Of Fate Stay Night Quotes

 

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 some reasons behind it.

Maybe I should say observations, since not all reasons can be proven with concrete evidence.

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.

It’s what I love about older anime designs in particular. It felt so genuine to me.

I’m sure some of us wouldn’t mind that.

violet evergarden episode 2

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R Muracka
R Muracka

This is article is a classic example of inconsistent thinking prompted by hostility, and I’ll definitely use it as an example to my students of how hostility towards other people (in this case, the author’s anti-white hatred) robs people of their ability to think clearly.

Rancid Boar
Rancid Boar
Reply to  R Muracka

You’re a teacher? What a pathetic joke. What do you even teach, anime theory? Get a real job you bum lol

Alexandria White
Alexandria White
Reply to  R Muracka

I’m not sure where you are sensing anti-whiteness in this article. He’s simply explaining why Japanese anime characters don’t actually look Asian. Do you have a better explanation?

Gary
Gary

—Mostly to supremacists and some white people who think the world shines out their rear-end. —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. why does it have to be “more caucasian”? wouldn’t surgery to make her eyes look less asian be better and not trying to push his anti-white post? Anime is an art style, this reader thinks because anime originated in Japan, all the characters have to look asian. Because they can, and do create awesome characters of all colors,… Read more »

Marek
Marek

He should SIMPLY ask some japan anime artist

kittenpreciosa
kittenpreciosa
Reply to  R Muracka

Hard agree with the inconsistency. Honestly, wouldn’t even say its typical Western values that is being drawn since the Wests values are leaning towards tanner skin and curve acceptance -but let me preface that’s with an hourglass figure. Say what you will about that ^, but it’s besides the point in this article. Theyre drawing an exaggerated, more ‘idealistic’ character. The ideals come from the Japanese authors who often mix fantasy like colored hair and eyes (including non-Westernized colors like pink & purples) & their personal tastes. I still see many anime characters with large boobs as the main feature… Read more »

Pierre
Pierre
Reply to  kittenpreciosa

LOL This is the most try-hard attempt to counter very obvious realities I’ve seen in a while. What’s the point in being so dishonest?

K Jay
K Jay
Reply to  R Muracka

Even if you took all the strong opinion statements out of here and only left hard facts, the narrative wouldn’t be very different. The article more so exposes parts of Asian culture that are kind of serious in certain ways. The inability to accept oneself/ the need to get surgery… The surgery count heavily consisting of double lid procedures… there’s undeniable evidence. Also, Anti-white hatred is a double negative. It means you hate people who hate white people. The author didn’t provide his opinions on those people. He also doesn’t hate white people. He never voiced it as such. You… Read more »

Jason Beckstrom
Jason Beckstrom
Reply to  Theo J Ellis

Calm down Theo. You are proving her point. Try to think a little bit next time.

Ricky
Ricky
Reply to  Theo J Ellis

.

K Jay
K Jay

The points here were well made. I have no arguments with any of the main points. Just an actual comment about the last part. “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?” Though I respect the Japanese culture that anime is built on/around, I personally don’t watch anime simply because it’s Japanese or because I want to call it Japanese. I genuinely enjoy… Read more »

Anima mob
Anima mob
Reply to  K Jay

I agree with everything u said…honestly i dont rlly give a damn about the charecters not looking japanese…some ppl judge anime and japanese ppl for it daying they hate themselved or etc. But tbh one of the reasons like anime is becuase of the wide variations of art and the way they portray the story. I also prefer sub but thts only because most dubs voice acting make me cringe.

Facts
Facts

Why can’t they just make anime characters look more asian

Someone out there
Someone out there
Reply to  Facts

What would need to be done for you to see characters as Asian? When the vast majority of people charge one hair and eye color, any attempt at anything different is seen as whitewashing, as if white people have ownership over any other hair colors and eye colors. Have we come to a point where we’ve assigned hair and eye colors to people, and in doing so, limit Asian characters to only black hair and eyes in animation? Are we to shame Asian people who don’t want to be limited to one color and claim it’s a desire to be… Read more »

Meh meh
Meh meh
Reply to  Facts

Ping pong the animation? Akira? Mob psycho 100?

Goat
Goat

I’m just surfing the net. Saw this and am confused. You first say Japanese cartoon characters looking white is a myth, then this article says it’s true. Firstly, I should say I watch hardly any Jap cartoons, manga, anime, whatever. So, maybe some of the characters are actually ‘western’ whites, but I’ve rarely seen characters who look more oriental than western. It’s not a myth, and it’s definitely true they whitewash themselves. It’s clearly true because virtually all Japanese people have ‘slitty’ dark brown eyes, flat noses and faces, and straight black hair. They draw characters with blue eyes and… Read more »

K Jay
K Jay
Reply to  Goat

I’ll break it down point by point “You first say Japanese cartoon characters looking white is a myth, then this article says it’s true.” I think you missed the point here, Goat. The response to what you just is more a, “kind of? depends on the situation.” The point here was that anime reflects what their society thinks is best/ the most beautiful. “Firstly, I should say I watch hardly any Jap cartoons, manga, anime, whatever. So, maybe some of the characters are actually ‘western’ whites, but I’ve rarely seen characters who look more oriental than western.” “They draw characters… Read more »

Confused
Confused
Reply to  K Jay

Maybe I have misinterpreted both articles. But it seems the author is suggesting it is a product of viewer bias to see certain anime characters who do not have overtly Asian characteristics as white. While I agree that it would be ignorant to assume any character who does not look distinctly Asian Is white by default, it would be equally ignorant to say that it is biased to recognize those features in characters that ARE distinctly non-Asian. No one has naturally blue hair. So to guess a character’s race based on that would be pointless. But you can’t say that… Read more »

Mikael B.
Mikael B.

I’m not sure if you’ll find this comment in time, Mr. Ellis, as I think it’s been quite a while since this article was first posted. But I thought I’d leave my thoughts and opinion anyway, just to offer a different perspective from pretty much 99% of the comments I’ve read.   I’ve done a lot of research on this topic. More than I’d like to admit, actually. The reason for most of it is because I’m actually quite shocked by how many people have this opinion that anime characters are depicted as white. I’ve been watching anime since I… Read more »

Someone out there
Someone out there
Reply to  Mikael B.

I agree. It’s a sense of white superiority to assume that all Asian animators are making their characters all white people as if they hate themselves so much that they must secretly wish they were white. I don’t doubt that some characters may be meant to be white, but to assume that all characters are supposed to be white? As if Asian people can’t have any pride in their own culture, so must want to be white? Wow.

Someone out there
Someone out there

A reality is that the only natural hair and eye colors in Asian people are dark, close to black, and white people have more natural colors in both. How boring if Asian characters all needed to remain nearly-black-haired and eyed to be seen as Asian. But if they use any other colors, suddenly they’re creating white people? So white people have a monopoly on different eye colors and hair colors, and any attempts at obtaining anything different means trying to be white? The eyelid issue is real, but we shouldn’t attribute wanting something other than one hair and eye color… Read more »

Rancid Boar
Rancid Boar

Wtf is an Asian skin tone, you tone deaf fool? You think an Afghani has the same skin as an east Asian. They both are fair. Youve been brainwashed by westerners to think white a nd black. That’s your fallacy.

Someone out there
Someone out there
Reply to  Theo J Ellis

Boar could have tried making the point better. The point is what skin color are they supposed to use to denote Asian? A pale character is considered white. A dark character is considered black. We can ask this about Native American characters too. Should the be literally shade of yellow (which we know still comes off as white) and red? Even within the US, even with the spate of anti-Asian violence, we still see racial issues as solely the realm of black people. White people have basically erased Asians from existence by ignoring how they too are PsOC and that… Read more »

Randy Butternubs
Randy Butternubs

The reason they look “white” is there eye hair and skin color. Asians usually have dark hair dark eyes and fair skin. Obviously you can say they died there hair but besides that fact. Also the general scenery of a show has to do with what they could be perceived to be. I think this white supremacist answer is ridiculous. Whites have all different colored hair eye and skin color. Or at least what people consider white. Which is why its easier to see them as white. Obviously there’s no such thing as many races but the human race

Jason Beckstrom
Jason Beckstrom
Reply to  Theo J Ellis

Not really. Its more about probability. If 90%+ of Japanese people have distinct features and qqthe artist draws characters to look like the majority of Europeans without those features, it has nothing to do with seeing yourself. It is like having an artist draw a red ball and ask what type of fruit it is and bring shocked if people say apple when it was drawn by a proprietor of oranges.

Mamadou
Mamadou

I am black but we have to admit white people are the most beautiful and diverse on this planet.

i wish i was one of them 🙁

Jamal
Jamal

Anime characters look extremely what you can classify under white or European looking. White skin, big eyes, shape of the faces, they all dont look japanese at all. That is a fact. There are only few known exceptions to that. And, speaking about white supremacists, racists or some white people in this context is adding nothing to the actual conversation. Nor is it factually true. But sadly, yes, some human beings like you have to add that always, in order to conform their sad and wrong world view of “bad white people, and sad opressed black people.” I say that… Read more »

Izzy
Izzy
Reply to  Jamal

Your immigrant parent background is inversely proportional to your ability to be racist.

They all look white, don't kid yourself.
They all look white, don't kid yourself.

Sad that someone like this might influence the future of anime.

Race Based Thoughts About Anime
Race Based Thoughts About Anime

This argument well thought out and researched! Bravo

NAT1837
NAT1837

In regards to hair colours, there is one thing, which might be worth exploring:

The resolution of TVs before HD became a thing, was just horrible. Which means, that characters needed distinct (and not subtle) features for them to be identifiable – and hair colour is one easy way to create such features -> Is it possible, that this is where the hair-colour diversity of Animes started?

Cooper Bingham
Cooper Bingham

References?

Gary
Gary

Well buddy if you actually did read up on this instead of being racist and biased you would find the reason people want to lighter all the time goes back to the good ol’ days when life was TOUGH.

The lighter your skin was, the more wealth you usually had. The reason is because you were not working out in the sun all day.

Bakamitai
Bakamitai

Why it’s a debate I don’t know. Are they supposed to be Japanese nationals? Yes, mostly. Do they look like white people intentionally/unintentionally? Yes, mostly. End of debate.

Pierre
Pierre

This is a good article though I can see the struggle you are having with the ugly truths of what you’ve been discovering. I don’t know why anime fans (in general, not necessarily you) have such a hard time coming to grips with the fact that white supremacy has had a worldwide affect on many cultures and the Japanese are no exception—far from it. I can’t help but laugh at the “we only percieve them as white” arguments because they are such a denial of what is in front of us. We, as well as the anime creators, *know* what… Read more »