The MYTH Of Anime Characters Looking “White”, And Why You Believe It’s True

The MYTH Of Anime Characters Looking "White", And Why You Believe It's True

There’s been an ongoing debate about anime characters looking white. And why people believe it’s true.

A Japanese person would probably laugh in your face if you told them this.

All it takes is 1 Google search to see this “debate” has been going on since 2010 (probably longer):

kotaku anime characters white

In Kotaku’s article: “why do Japanese characters look white?”, the writer: Brian Ashcroft starts off with:

“This is a common question Westerners have. Japanese characters in anime, manga and video games, they say, “look” Caucasian.”

The words “westerners” is an important fact to keep in mind.

He then goes on to say:

“In a post titled “Why do the Japanese Draw Themselves as White?”, blogger Julian Abagond argues that the Japanese do not draw themselves as white. Rather, Westerners think that they do.”

Source: Kotaku Article

I don’t know who Julian Abagond is… Or Brian Ashcroft either. But I do know this: Julian Abagond is right.

The Japanese don’t intentionally draw their anime characters to make them look “white”. That’s a matter of perspective.

But in reality it’s more than just perspective.

Stereotypes in our society run deeper than we realize.

And because of these racial stereotypes, it’s easy to believe if an anime characters skin colour or design isn’t “stereotypically” Asian, than it must be “white” by default.

Which by the way, is a load of BS in most cases.

 

Believing anime characters look white is a myth

And there’s a GOOD reason why that’s the case. So take a seat, kick back and relax as I make my point loud and clear like a Police siren. 😉

 

This Is Why You Believe Anime Characters Look White:

 

1. Because you’re BIASED

If it wasn’t already obvious that you’re biased, I can prove you wrong. And this is in spite of your race, background or “skin” colour.

Here’s an image of Barack Obama, the previous US president.

Barack Obama US president (1)

You might be asking – how is this relevant?

Barack Obama is mixed race.

His mother is white and his father is black.  Nothing ground-breaking or surprising about that, right?

And yet: even though Barack Obama is mixed race, he’s perceived as a “black” president.

Why? The reason is simple:

  • Stereotypically, it’s easier to “judge” Barack Obama as a black person. Because of his skin colour.
  • Because of these stereotypical biases, you automatically assume Barack Obama is black when in fact he’s mixed race.
  • There’s a psychological term called “herd” mentality. If everyone else believes it, you’re most likely to agree. Even if those beliefs are flawed.

Bias isn’t about logic or being rational. Bias is exactly what it sounds like: you believe something because it’s comfortable.

But that doesn’t make what you believe right.

That’s the flaw of the human ego.

 

2. Because anime characters have light complexions

viktor wink yuri on ice

You know what’s interesting about this belief? Only anime fans in the west believe it’s true.

Indians, Africans, Philippines, and many other countries don’t share this belief. Especially not in the way westerners do, to the point of being biased.

Only westerners feel this strongly about it.

Going back to that Kotaku Article for a second, here’s another interesting point that was made:

“If there are no stereotyped markings of otherness, then white is assumed.”

Meaning: if it isn’t obvious that an anime character is Japanese (eye structure, etc) than most fans will assume the character must be white. By virtue of bias.

And by the way: I completely get it.

There are times where I’ve assumed an anime character is black when in fact they weren’t.

Bias is a real thing, and without self-awareness, no one can escape it.

 

3. Because it strokes your own ego

anime girl gif

Like I said before – I completely understand it. I’ve assumed anime characters were “black” when they weren’t.

Believing an anime character is the same as you helps you relate, connect, and even feel good about yourself.

If it makes you look good, then of course you’re gonna believe it because why wouldn’t you?

But the reality is:

  • Unless the anime character is British, American, European, and their character is “based” off that, they’re not white.
  • And the same is true for any race, background or culture. No matter what lies you want to make yourself believe.

The ego is fragile. Sometimes it’s our enemy. Other times it’s our best friend. And when “bias” stands in the way, the ego is always there to welcome you with open arms.

But that doesn’t change the objective truth.

Related: 11 Of My Favorite Anime Characters Who Relate To My Personality

 

Why “anime characters look white” is a MYTH:

 

1. Japanese anime artists/people believe they’re Japanese, NOT white

When Akira Toriyama created Goku… the last thing he thought was: “does Goku look white” or “does Bulma look American”.

The same is true for almost 100% of anime characters who are drawn and designed in unique ways.

The artists are simply trying to create something different, unique and “out of this world”. That’s why so many anime characters literally look like they’re from another planet.

Each character has so many unique features, skin colour included, that it’s silly to even believe certain things because a lot of it is realistically impossible.

That doesn’t mean some Japanese Artists don’t draw white characters intentionally. But it does mean what we believe and what they know are 2 different things.

If you walked up to a Japanese person in the streets of Tokyo, claiming anime characters are “white”, they’d slap themselves. Because they don’t have the same biases as westerners do.

Or the same biases as “anyone” outside Japan. Full stop.

 

Saying anime characters look “white” is like saying The Simpsons look American

simpsons characters

When all is said and done… it all comes down to stereotypical biases society has spoon fed us. Nothing more.

Unless it’s intentional, and an anime character has been designed to look a certain way, it’s more a bias than it is a fact.

If you want to disagree or bring a better argument, share it in the comments.

Recommended: An Open Letter To The Anime Industry About PIRACY

I'm the Founder of Anime Motivation. An international retailer of official anime merchandise, toys and figurines. I've been a fan of anime for over 10-15+ years, with the first anime show I watched being Dragon Ball Z.

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4 thoughts on “The MYTH Of Anime Characters Looking “White”, And Why You Believe It’s True

  1. James says:

    It’s an interesting topic. Our interpretation of anything is based on our perception, which is built up throughout our lifetimes. Therefore, as noted above, if you grew up mainly around white people you’re predisposed to see fair skin as white in the absence of other defining features. If you grew up in Japan, you’d naturally interpret it as someone of Japanese origin. This isn’t so much intentionally discriminatory as a function of how we are able to process the massive amount of sensory information we are exposed to every moment.

    What’s interesting about anime, particularly modern anime, is that it is a low detail image, to an extent, with very few racial or other markers to challenge this subconscious interpretation. The movement towards more cute (‘moe’) style images has emphasised Classical Japanese beauty standards (like light skin) and universal markers of cuteness (things like large eyes etc) which has made this increasingly the case.

    Of course, it is worth noting that some characters in anime are white and, depending on the art direction, this may, or may not, be indicated in how they are drawn.

    I guess the take away is that if you’re really interested in the race of an anime character you may want to look for cues other than the visual as the art style doesn’t always lend itself to visual differentiation.

    • Theo J Ellis says:

      Well said, James. You’ve pretty much summed it up perfectly.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation. There’s plenty for others to take away from it!

  2. Tom says:

    Obama was perceived as Black because that’s what he identified himself as.

    • Theo J Ellis says:

      That’s a good point. But there was a lot more to it than that from a societal point of view.

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