Japanese Characters Are Not Trying to Look Western

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The New Face of Japanese Games

The facial features of many anime characters can appear ethnically Western, a process that is spreading to Japanese-made videogame plots and content. Fintan Monaghan does not believe that this is a healthy development.

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Hmmmm, interesting read there.

In terms of the anime though, I generally dont notice any, shall we say, ethnic neutrality. If they live in Japan, speak Japanese and generally do Japanese things, I just assume they're Japanese. Anime is easily identifyable as a Japanese medium to me, even though the characters may look western, you instantly know that it hails from Japan and is probably intended that way.

The western style of character design is easily identifiable too, its either biiiiig muscular guys who never shut the hell up, biiiiig muscular guys in power armour who never shut the hell up or biiiiig muscular guys who.........dont say a word, but whos companions never shut the hell up.

>.>
<.<

I've always found it interesting (ever since I found out myself) with people who claim that Japanese manga/anime is distinctly Japanese, for the reasons stated in this article. As well, people who say that they hate manga/anime because of the style make me giggle; does that mean they hate Disney? Most of the time, they don't - I've even heard a few claim that Disney was influenced by Japanese manga/anime O.o It only makes sense for them to do so, having been a large influence in the manners themselves. Not that I like everything about it, but still...

However, I think it's more interesting when a Japanese game has actual Japanese characters in it, such as the Fatal Frame games. Makes for more perspective; projecting your race, self, and whatnot onto characters is nice and all, but sometimes one just wishes to be someone else. One thing I still don't get though is the white kids in the Persona games.....seriously, what the hell?! If they're native-born in Japan, going to a Japanese school, they should be Japanese, not white kids! Just saying... it doesn't make sense to me :\

Awyhow, the article was definitely an interesting study on Japan's gaming industry as a whole. I thought Dead Rising was made by an American company... until I saw Capcom's label on it. Still, if you removed that, you could probably convince me and about a million other people that it was made by someone in the US or Europe. Likewise for the Resident Evil games, if the translations were so god-awful in the early games XDD

Well it's nice to see someone take a mature, considered perspective on the subject. In my opinion, bang on the money - thanks for the nice read.

wooty:
Hmmmm, interesting read there.

In terms of the anime though, I generally dont notice any, shall we say, ethnic neutrality. If they live in Japan, speak Japanese and generally do Japanese things, I just assume they're Japanese. Anime is easily identifiable as a Japanese medium to me, even though the characters may look western, you instantly know that it hails from Japan and is probably intended that way.

To be fair, if a character is supposed to be foreign in for example an anime the differences are usually tiny. If a character is chinese they have an accent and say "aiiia" a lot. If they're american they have blond hair etc.

It's usually not that hard to identify japanese games intended to look western though. The simplest things to look for are strange speech patterns and that special brand of sexism that's prevalent throughout japanese culture as a whole.

Fintan Monaghan:
It's hard to imagine how a Final Fantasy game might be improved by characters conspicuously eating hamburgers and playing basketball

That'd be Final Fantasy 8, if you replace hamburgers with hotdogs. Hot dogs was probably originally lunch bread or something, but there is basketball in there (in possibly the dumbest scene in the game no less).

good read i always kinda wondered why the anime characters looked like they weren't Asian and i figured people just made them out to be whatever race they saw the most

Capcom trying for an American look isn't really anything new though. I've always felt it was something they did in order to make their games feel cool, especially in Japan. A good example of their earlier attempts at doing something overly American is Resident Evil. That horrible voice acting in the game? Also present in the Japanese version. The game is subtitled there.

Even Mega Man had something overly American to it in Japan. Back there it's still called Rock Man. With his partner being named Roll you've got a duo called Rock and Roll. Not to mention that his original rival was called Blues instead of Proto Man. I'm not entirely sure why it got changed to Mega here. Possibly to get that same effect of coolness in the westernized version where we don't look at Rock n Roll as an exotic feature. That and it had robots, so it has to be big and Mega somehow.

Capcom's Americanized ways might have something to do with their earlier Disney titles as well. They made all the big Disney titles for the 8 and 16 bit generations. For some reason most Japanese people don't know about those titles at all, which just feels odd. A lot of the more Americanized games by Japanese companies don't get that much recognition there. I know a lot of Japanese people in real life, and none of them had even heard of the Ducktales game. Or even worse, Nintendo's own Metroid series.

Why is this only just now becoming an issue? Anime has been this way going back to Dragon Ball Z. It's not really about looking Western, They draw the eyes bigger so they can give the characters more visible emotion.

Fintan Monaghan:
It's hard to imagine how a Final Fantasy game might be improved by characters conspicuously eating hamburgers and playing basketball

Would the basketball also be turn based? :P

Dectilon:

wooty:
Hmmmm, interesting read there.

In terms of the anime though, I generally dont notice any, shall we say, ethnic neutrality. If they live in Japan, speak Japanese and generally do Japanese things, I just assume they're Japanese. Anime is easily identifiable as a Japanese medium to me, even though the characters may look western, you instantly know that it hails from Japan and is probably intended that way.

To be fair, if a character is supposed to be foreign in for example an anime the differences are usually tiny. If a character is chinese they have an accent and say "aiiia" a lot. If they're american they have blond hair etc.

I'd have to agree with you to an extent on this, speech and accent are easy to pick up I guess, such as Kagura in Gintama having a distinct "aru" in her speech.

But I guess the hair colour is a bit of a grey area, while you and the article mentions blonde hair for american/western characters, there can be exception to the rules, such as Ms Kuroi in Lucky Star. But taking that into account, I guess the often mad selction of hair colours in anime could also be a contributing factor into making anime hard to regionalise aswell. Just look at C2 in Code Geass, her back story would have us believe that she's European. But bright green hair........

That was a very interesting read. Took me a long time to get through it since I had to look up what a lot of the terms mean and that 'Charisma Man' link was interesting too.

All I know is that I like to watch anime (watching Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion at the mo) and that nobody looks attractive when they dress up as an anime character with bright green hair.

wooty:

Dectilon:

wooty:
Hmmmm, interesting read there.

In terms of the anime though, I generally dont notice any, shall we say, ethnic neutrality. If they live in Japan, speak Japanese and generally do Japanese things, I just assume they're Japanese. Anime is easily identifiable as a Japanese medium to me, even though the characters may look western, you instantly know that it hails from Japan and is probably intended that way.

To be fair, if a character is supposed to be foreign in for example an anime the differences are usually tiny. If a character is chinese they have an accent and say "aiiia" a lot. If they're american they have blond hair etc.

I'd have to agree with you to an extent on this, speech and accent are easy to pick up I guess, such as Kagura in Gintama having a distinct "aru" in her speech.

But I guess the hair colour is a bit of a grey area, while you and the article mentions blonde hair for american/western characters, there can be exception to the rules, such as Ms Kuroi in Lucky Star. But taking that into account, I guess the often mad selction of hair colours in anime could also be a contributing factor into making anime hard to regionalise aswell. Just look at C2 in Code Geass, her back story would have us believe that she's European. But bright green hair........

Hell, Sakura is Japanese AND a NINJA. And just look at her hair
image

Because most of us Westerners have spiky blue hair and saucer plate eyes.

this reminds me a lot of an episode of pokemon that had the "rice balls" replaced with "sandwiches", and i find it funny how it works

here in MX, we dont care all that much about "stereotypes" or "etnic background", but i feel thats because we have our own, and looking at other backgrounds is easy, in U.S of A you cant say the same, unless you are native american, your background is in another country, and so the differences of culture are more noticeable because you are surrounded by them, if you are in an italian community, chances are you have clashed with "greek, afrian, asian, hispanic, misc." cultures, and the last thing you want is to be reminded how different each culture is against each other, wich in turn makes the companies unclear as to what to "portray" in their video games

but recently things are different because you are getting history, the differences in culture are "washing" out in the mix of races, when you stand in the middle of a city and look around to see only "Americans" i think that issue will be gone, and THEN video games will be "politically correct", because no one would care what the main guy/girl looks like.

and just to point it out, we here in MX dont feel left out because there are no hispanic characters in every game, after all, we understand we are playing a video game from the United States, where such kind of "race" difference is obviously passed in liew of better story writhing and such, and the voice acting of an "hispanic american" has always being TERRIBLE, so please, donīt do us any favors, haha.

Fintan Monaghan:
There is no clear reason as to why this process occurs.

Yes, there is.

Early manga and anime was heavily influenced by Disney, which was THE big name in animation when Japan's industry was just getting started. Yes, the famous 'anime look' is actually western in origin. That art style has evolved, but many elements (particularly the eyes) are still persistent.

Blue-State:

Hell, Sakura is Japanese AND a NINJA. And just look at her hair

I thought they came from make-believe land.

Dectilon:

Blue-State:

Hell, Sakura is Japanese AND a NINJA. And just look at her hair

I thought they came from make-believe land.

Don't all Anime? :D
Really though, the main character is named after a township in Japan and it's about 'ninjas' soooooo...yeah.

Thing is characters in japanese games may or may not look anime-like but they BEHAVE japanese most of the time. Combine that with the normally awkward way they depict western behaviour and you've got some strange (for the rest of the world) game characters and developments too.

Very very interesting read.

And I went back to nostalgia land with that bit about Alex Kidd in Miracle World. Didn't know Jenkan (R-P-S) was such a cultural phenomenon in Japan...

On Alex Kidd: The second "edition" of Sega Master Systems (the smaller one) had Alex Kidd as a default game in the console, that you could play without a cartridge, much like the snail-maze game from the first "edition". In the American version, Alex Kidd's trademark riceball was replaced with a hamburger... HAH! I c wut u did thar...

On the subject of skin shades, are we sure even "white" characters are an aspect of westernisation? I'm pretty sure I've seen a fair few older Japanese works of art where the people depicted are quite pale. So for all we know this could be a long running cultural aesthetic. There must be more research, that you haven't mentioned, on this sort of art history...

Gift.

Dectilon:

Fintan Monaghan:
It's hard to imagine how a Final Fantasy game might be improved by characters conspicuously eating hamburgers and playing basketball

That'd be Final Fantasy 8, if you replace hamburgers with hotdogs. Hot dogs was probably originally lunch bread or something, but there is basketball in there (in possibly the dumbest scene in the game no less).

I was thinking that exact same thing when I read it. But there were worse scenes in VIII than the basketball one.

The idea of "ethnic bleaching" in anime was new to me. I always understood that anime and manga used such a sparse artistic technique that the random hair and eye colors were used so it was easier to tell characters apart. I mean, what ethnicity has all pink hair or purple eyes?

Japan (and Asia in general) is just very big on style. Most anime characters don't really look ethnically bleached, but just overly stylish. Just look at some of Clamp's work and you'll know what I mean.

In my opinion anime characters always look Japanese because they're Japanese animations. Though, if you look at comics or animations like Akira, the characters look very much Japanese. Same thing for the game Onimusha.

I was watching some documentation on the reasoning behind the styling with hair color, eye color and hair style, and it was originally seen as a way to easily tell characters apart on the screen. It made it really easy to say, okay, that's this character, and this is this character. In a culture where students will wear uniforms, and when reflected in different mediums will also wear uniforms, and easy way to identify everyone individually on screen was born.

Mixing paints is cheap, which is why there is a pretty wide variety of skin tones in animation. Generally though, you write down what you're mixing, and if it looks great, you share your formula with the rest of the animation crew, so they can help keep it up. Of course, digital painting is even easier, because you only have to share 18 character hex codes.

I cry pardon if I'm off base with this comment, but did anyone else find the irony of the picture associated with this article distracting? The faceless woman is wearing an outfit which, unless I'm mistaken, is pretty much an icon of Chinese fashion. This seems in questionable taste for an article about the New Face of Japanese Games that takes games to task for not being precise about the appearance of their characters.

*shrug* Maybe it's just me.

I cry pardon if I'm off base with this comment, but did anyone else find the irony of the picture associated with this article distracting? The faceless woman is wearing an outfit which, unless I'm mistaken, is pretty much an icon of Chinese fashion. This seems in questionable taste for an article about the New Face of Japanese Games that takes games to task for not being precise about the appearance of their characters.

*shrug* Maybe it's just me.

Maybe there is some detail you caught that makes this a Chinese outfit rather than a Japanese one, but it looks like a kimono to me...

Google Images for "Traditional Japanese Kimono"

Demgar:

I cry pardon if I'm off base with this comment, but did anyone else find the irony of the picture associated with this article distracting? The faceless woman is wearing an outfit which, unless I'm mistaken, is pretty much an icon of Chinese fashion. This seems in questionable taste for an article about the New Face of Japanese Games that takes games to task for not being precise about the appearance of their characters.

*shrug* Maybe it's just me.

Maybe there is some detail you caught that makes this a Chinese outfit rather than a Japanese one, but it looks like a kimono to me...

Google Images for "Traditional Japanese Kimono"

I may have been ninja'd, but it is obviously a Chinese dress, the neck is too high for a kimono.
http://www.google.com/images?q=chinese%20dress&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi&biw=1680&bih=841

vxicepickxv:
I was watching some documentation on the reasoning behind the styling with hair color, eye color and hair style, and it was originally seen as a way to easily tell characters apart on the screen. It made it really easy to say, okay, that's this character, and this is this character. In a culture where students will wear uniforms, and when reflected in different mediums will also wear uniforms, and easy way to identify everyone individually on screen was born.

Mixing paints is cheap, which is why there is a pretty wide variety of skin tones in animation. Generally though, you write down what you're mixing, and if it looks great, you share your formula with the rest of the animation crew, so they can help keep it up. Of course, digital painting is even easier, because you only have to share 18 character hex codes.

Having seen anime with true to life charahcteristics, it gets hard to tell characters apart if they change minor things (say all are wearing something on their head so you can't tell by the hair style)

I took Japanese history classes last year. What we have to realize is that Japan is not a naturally homogeneous nation: years prior they were a group of fragmented clans fighting against each other with a lose government. Why did they unite? To defend themselves from an eventual western invasion. Know thy enemy, after all. They adopted western tech, politics, and culture in the name of adapting against the "western barbarian".

When you have a fragmented nation unite and do so over more than a hundred years...things go crazy. The recent election screw-ups (3 goddamn PMs within five years?!) is proof of that. And the whole western adaptation thing has gone a bit far: from taking our products and improving them (electronics, videogames, cars, etc.), to portraying anime characters with white features as they are much more appealing than their own homogeneous looks (pale skin, small eyes, dark hair...dormed with a Japanese guy who looked like that and worked with a naturally dark-skinned Japanese girl...so hot...)

I get the feeling it's some kind of self-loathing: when a culture can't even portray themselves as is then there's a whole mess of problems within their national identity. Any thoughts?

I was a bit scared to actually open it when it had that title.

Clark Kent (Superman), John Stewart (Green Lantern), Wally West (Flash) all look very different from each other and are easily distinguishable based on their skin, hair, features and build. The animators had the luxury of writing for an audience that had similar diversity all around them.

Japanese have vigorously been convincing themselves for centuries that they all look alike (regardless of whether they actually do or not). There's an incredibly strong reluctance to admit that they don't all look alike - and therefore a very strong over-romanticizing of the "other" or that which looks and acts differently. If everyone looks, talks, acts and dresses alike - and they're BORING - then anything that looks talks acts and dresses different is considered to be totally cool.

So it's not necessarily that they're trying to make the characters look Western, it's that they're different. One easy way to do that without making them alien is to play around with hair and eye color. That's what you see.

Great, more power to whites T_T

Meanwhile, Im sitting in the corner with those "Caucasian gods" jeering at me for being a muslim

Such things are not a new phenomena, Indian cinema been doing something similar with it's lead actors for years. They're certainly a lot lighter in skin tone than most of the normal populace there - which also seems to buy skin whitening cream in droves.

(Source: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/india/100727/indian-culture-skin-lightening-shahid-kapur )

But it seems that not even we in the Britain are not safe from such things - in Britain there's a lot of folk out there using sun-beds to appear darker. (Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2009/aug/01/sunbeds-cancer-warning )

What a great article. I was just asking myself how japanese must feel towards their characters being depicted with bright eyes and blonde hair all the time. I personally always found the majority of japanese anime and game characters to be very white, but that just proves the point. I would've never looked at it that way. Characters that are open to completely different perspectives.

Elijah Newton:
I cry pardon if I'm off base with this comment, but did anyone else find the irony of the picture associated with this article distracting? The faceless woman is wearing an outfit which, unless I'm mistaken, is pretty much an icon of Chinese fashion. This seems in questionable taste for an article about the New Face of Japanese Games that takes games to task for not being precise about the appearance of their characters.

*shrug* Maybe it's just me.

Ah good catch, I think you're right, it looks like a cheongsam to me. (I suppose the affinity for red should be a bit of a give way too.)

Gift.

Gunner 51:
Such things are not a new phenomena, Indian cinema been doing something similar with it's lead actors for years. They're certainly a lot lighter in skin tone than most of the normal populace there - which also seems to buy skin whitening cream in droves.

(Source: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/india/100727/indian-culture-skin-lightening-shahid-kapur )

But it seems that not even we in the Britain are not safe from such things - in Britain there's a lot of folk out there using sun-beds to appear darker. (Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2009/aug/01/sunbeds-cancer-warning )

Actually, these two things are related. In many societies, European and Asian, a paler complexion was held up as a mark of health and beauty, basically because it was a sign of class. If you were pale, that meant you didn't have to work outdoors so you were probably wealthy and powerful.

In the West, sometime in the 20th century as the concept of holidays and vacation became more prevalent, an all-over tan started to represent the same thing. If you're tanned all over, it probably means you have the free time and money to lay on a beach in a swimsuit for hours at a time. Being pale means you don't have the time to do this, so you're probably either poor, or working all the time at low-paying jobs. But there's still negative sentiment towards a "farmer's tan", because it's a sign that you do outdoor physical labour. These sentiments exist even though some white people, notably most redheads, can't even get a tan.

I'm not entirely sure why most Asian cultures still hold pale complexions in high regard. They might not see a beach vacation as a worthy leisure activity, but the number of beach episodes in most anime series makes me question that.

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