Japanese Characters Are Not Trying to Look Western

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UberNoodle:

Ziggy the wolf:
so im not the only one who noticed this. if you play alot of Japanese games and watch most anime, they all look like westerners mainly americans. it bothers me a little why it looks us and not them. there are a few but the one that bothered me the most are love hina/S-cry-ed and all animes set in japan

Waif:
If anyone truly believes that the Japanese are trying to look western. I think it's fair to say that such people are being very racially insensitive. Races are not so black and white, and I had thought this to be common sense, but it seems that this isn't the case. I can't express my negative thoughts on this new subject matter for The Escapist, adequately. I know that such issues might be better off being addressed, but I can't help but feel the subject of race and religion in video games, to be too odious to want to bring up. Hmm, well, it's one of those things I guess. Thanks for the article ^~^.

The irony somewhat, is that you are basing this entirely on the difference between the characters' looks and your own template for Japanese people should look like. You then compare this to what you believe that white people should look like. You don't allow for any other explanations because you see that emulation is the only reason.

If Japanese comic and animation characters are emulating the Western, white aesthetic, then why are the majority of them in possession of brightly coloured hair and eyes? I certainly don't see such colouration as the natural hallmark of Western geneology. Do you?

The fact is, these characters don't look like any race. They are designed to symbolically convey various attributes and are therefore fantastical in their colours and shapes. In many cases, characters even lose their facial features, becoming just eyes, or a mouth; in order to more succinctly convey emotions.

Pale skin is hardly a correlation either, since the practice can be easily tied to Geisha practices and even further back to White as a colour for purity. Large eyes, I have already explained above, are large to convey feelings. Large eyes are desirable in all cultures, not because they are "WEstern" but because the eyes are the "window to the soul". Coloured hair denotes a character's personality, drive and individual qualities.

Faced with this, how can you be so adamant that these characters are "trying to be Western" when they are so often not at all Western.

Not sure why I was quoted in this. You had stated in detail what I had said in a simple manner. Am I missing the point maybe?"

Waif:
Am I missing the point maybe?

Nope, I just clicked the wrong quote button. Apologies.

Why is it that when someone referes to ''western'' culture the only thing that comes to people's mind is white people? Isn't America home to all colors and creeds? This whole article along with most of these viewpoints is nothing but pure fallacy. And although race isn't something i like to make into a huge issue, I believe this has more to do with us in america than over in japan. I'll elaborate for those who don't understand.

Through my experience in this country and my observation of pop culture, i believe that white America (and most of my focus goes to the one's high up on the latter who make up an ''image'' and produce racial expectations through media manipulation) has a superiority complex, deeply rooted in their past. They have to be the top dog in everything. In movies, books, cartoons, video games etc. The white guy more often than not, has to be the hero and the focus of the said media. White's can be anything in the universe and nothing is limited in their universe. They can get cast into any role, including one's that aren't even fit for them ex:(the last samurai, the Mexican, The Mummy and so forth) Tell me any other culture or ''race'' in america that is allowed roles to extend beyond a preconceived factuality or a stereotype? Even if you want to reduce it to mere fantasy roles, you will never see a black guy, or a mexican or an arab or asian for that matter, cast in as many varations beyond their stereotype or what's expected of them in the real world! You seldom see anyone other than a white guy as the lead role in any form of media and if you do, they are very limited in what they can be.

And then people will argue marketability as an excuse..no one will want to play a video game like final fantasy with a black as the main protagonist (or a black female for that matter) or watch a movie like the Matrix where an Arab man is Neo. Hell, i'll go on a longshot and even mention the undertoned messages in Avatar (I loved the movie btw) as a good example. The white guy gets cast as the lead role as the savior to a race of indigenous people that took him in and taugh him everything. All of the minorities were cast as support characters and were very limited in the film, would the film have been any less imaginative or great if the lead character was native american? or black? My point is that while it may not be japanese people changing their culture to suit white america out of shame or anything like that nonesense, They still won't get much play or business here unless that guy on top of the latter says it's suitable for white american audiences.

I think it's these guys who are responible for stripping young non white people in this country of a lot of imagination and perception of what is possible for us to achieve in art. We are highly and noticably excluded from this culture and the American experience is not ours to share. and that extends to anyone outside of america who wants to share their cultur's experiences with ours without filtering. On the topic of the article, i don't believe that the japanese artist go out of their way to make their characters white, i believe it appears that way because they're either an anime/game made to suit an audience here, or white folk just think the universe revolves around them and they see themselves in everything, or anything they don't belong to..

UberNoodle:

Waif:
Am I missing the point maybe?

Nope, I just clicked the wrong quote button. Apologies.

Oh well, that's okay then ^~^''. Nice talking to you >~<!

you don't really 'play' kendo, even if that's the verb all the ichinensei use in eikaiwa...

Anime characters are supposed to look Japanese?

How bad are these guys at drawing?

Fintan Monaghan:
Maybe the issue is not quite so clear cut. Just because these characters don't look particularly Japanese does not necessarily mean they are intended to be Western. Cartoons the world over tend to simplify certain features for stylistic effect. The large eyes of manga, while at odds with the narrower eyes of the Japanese, are often used to denote youth or innocence ... The crazy hair colors have origins in the old black and white manga ... Wide eyes and bright colors are used in comics all over the world, so it is possible that our perception imposes race confusion where none exists.

Very plausible statement. It would seem that an outsider's view of "Hey you have slanty eyes, but your cartoons don't. Ashamed of something?" could be a bit biased. Perhaps they really aren't trying to "whitewash" their culture...

At least, until you take into account that "eye widening" plastic surgery is getting increasingly common, even with celebrities like Jackie Chan.

Now I'm not saying that Eastern cultures are "whitewashing", but it's kinda starting to look that way on the surface.

To put this in perspective: I once befriended someone who was literally "fresh of the plane" foreign, and he asked me where I kept my gun. After initial confusion, he explained to me that almost all he knew about American culture was from our action films, so he thought that most of us alway carried firearms.

Not all of us are batshit-insane Japanophiles who know enough about the country to be bold enough to start flinging around mispronounced Japanese words out of context, so it may come as a shock to some that not everyone is engaged in it's culture to not assume that this is the case, but if I were to show, say, my father a bunch of "them Japanese cartoons", he'd be quite justified in thinking that having pasty, wide-eyed cartoon characters about 99.999999% of them to be the result of some kind of Westernization, don't you think?

I've just got a bone to pick with the editor. If this article is talking about Japanese anime and media, why is the cover picture you are using of somebody wearing a Chinese-style dress? If you can't tell the difference, ask. I find this a bit annoying.

I think someone on Kotaku or io9 posted something like this already.

Big eyes in anime is simply a cartoon visual style that helps characters portray emotion effectively. Hair color is used to assign defining characteristics without having to create distinctive facial features. So anime is just going for the generic cartoon look.

I do understand why Caucasians think the big eyes and hair color are supposed to portray whiteness; that's how you identify people, through eye and hair color. Asians, on the other hand, having uniform hair and eye color, gloss over those characteristics and instead look at other facial features, like jaw structure, cheekbones, and nose. Based on those criteria, a generic anime character looks very Asian to me, specifically someone of Southern Chinese descent.

Hell, in the Philippines it's common to compliment a Chinese girl for looking very anime. No Asian would identify a generic anime character as Caucasian unless expressly defined by their background or by giving them ridiculously angular features, which is how we view all whiteys.

As for the second point of the article, re: the Americanization of Capcom's marketing, well isn't it a two-way street? Japan's attempts at absorbing Western culture are no different from Western countries absorbing a little bit of Asia. Look at America these days: each major city has a Chinatown, it's standard for Western TV show characters to order Chinese takeout, majority of the IT guys in California are all Indian, and a disturbing amount of white people dress up as Japanese schoolgirls.

In such a globalized world, cultural osmosis is to be expected. At least the Japanese do it a lot better; when Westerners try to create Asian characters, they either make caricatures with terrible pseudo-Japanese names, like in Clive Cussler's Dragon, or apply Asian naming conventions to English names, giving us such gems as Most Excellent Superbat. Ugh.

For the record, when Northeast Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) anglicize their names for the benefit of you tall, hairy whites, they do not do literal translations, but adopt English given names. Y'know, like Jackie Chan, whose Chinese name Cheng Long literally means "Become the Dragon." You don't see international movie posters for Rush Hour starring "Becoming Dragon!"

Very interesting stuff. "It should be enough that we can project our own image on to these worlds, without requiring videogames and all other form of art made-to-order for our cultural and ethnic sensibilities." this should be our mantra as gamers! Immersion through a molding of character and self projection.

I'll just start my own art studio and do things my way. instead of complaining...be the change i want to see. I want more blacks diversely represented in media, so i'll design it and start to change how we're precieved. Not only that, but i wouldn't mind just making fresh ideas all together. Shouldn't that really be how it is?

Well forgive if I;m wrong but my reasoning goes; Mangakas took alot of stylistic elements from western comics and cartoons and the majority of these depicted whites. Thus the characters do look Western as they are indirectly based on westerners.

Now there are loads of sdesign features due to other reason but I think that is a part of it.

So anime characters are like Jesus, Santa and Galactus.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKTvFhRbBt8
I saved this just for this kind of time.

*EDIT* Dammit! How do I manage to find such an old article and not realize it was this old? My bad!

Oh dear. The author used a photo woman in a traditional CHINESE form of clothing and pulled out the old "anime characters look white!" chestnut? Yeah, sorry buddy, I've just lost faith in your journalistic skills.

Well this is a bizarrely racial article. Down to the typeface which many Asian American civil rights activists are calling "yellowface font".

Well, I guess Japan and anime is white supremacist. If you're an anime fan best hurry up and become a white nationalist! Perhaps Japan is trying to go for some Pan-Turanistic empire eh? If Japan wants to be white well I say we let them. Let's list them under white people in the U.S. census. I'm calling the British National Party to tell them that Japanese people are white and to be sure to include them into their Pan-White politics. I just got done talking to Aleksandr Dugin and he seems to think that Japanese people are white so I think it is settled.

Haha, no.

There is a variety of reasons that anime looks the way it does. Some of it is Western. Some of it not. Certainly Japan looks upon the so called Western world in a way that the Western world ought to look upon Asia. And there's a lot of double standards. In Japan it is pretty normal for Japanese people to use English in the middle of their sentences. In the United States, if you used Japanese or any Asian language word in the middle of a English sentence, people would mock you. Also, Western music is a lot more popular in Asia than Asian music is popular in the West. Though that is changing with the success of Jpop and Kpop.

I would say that so called "white privilege" has some worldwide influence. There is a lot of double standards and a lot of cultural imperialism. Culture that tends to "flow one way", as I like to put it. In a globalist society, there is a flow of culture. And most of that cultural flow is from rich, Western, English speak nations out to other nations. In very particular the United States to the rest of the world. Though to a lesser degree, wealthy Western European are doing this as well. Rammstein's song "Amerika" is primarily about this effect. Something that a lot of people are calling "cultural imperialism".

I certainly don't think this so called "white privilege" is as extremely as certain outspoken minorities in the West of Asian descent are making it out to be. I've read various Asian American blogs claim that white privilege exists everywhere in the world, and nowhere in the world does a privilege other than white privilege exist. I think these people are legitimately racist, uneducated, and bigoted towards white people. In Asia, Japan included, there is plenty of Asian privilege and blatant racism towards white people. While white people tend to have privilege over black people in Asia I believe, due to being associated with wealthy Western nations based upon appearance. The racism is Asia is that of Asian privilege. And certainly Asians and Japanese people do not hate themselves. They are very much privilege and racist against white people is quite common in those nations. Just as common as racism towards Asian people is common in the West.

"Anime" art style draws to multiple aesthetics. Part of it is certainly influenced by Westerners and Western ideals of beauty. But it certainly has a lot more to it than that. Anime is mostly fantastical and isn't very human looking to begin with. The big eyes in anime look neither like the supposed stereotypes of Western or Asian faces. And in most anime characters, there are features considered common to Westerners and Easterners. Even with most "black" anime characters, they share characteristics which make people argue what race they are.
image
This is Iris from Pokemon. Is she black? A lot of people seem to think she is so. Most people don't care. And some people seem to want to strongly argue what race she is. Just like some people argue whether some anime characters are "white" or "Asian". Some people strongly believe she is Hispanic. Some people think she is South or Southeast Asian. Some people think she is a "mix" of some kind. As if we weren't all mixes to begin with. Most Europeans have haplogroups common to both Africa and Asia. Mix my foot.

Anyway, just like most "white" or "Asian" looking anime characters, she blurs lines and concepts. I do wish more anime characters looked like her, though. Since admittedly anime does tend to favor creating light skinned characters.

Is she black? Who knows? Are most anime characters white? Are they Asian? Who knows. It is one of those broad areas. Anime's "mukokuseki" does for race what androgyny does for gender. They aren't intended to be clear cut in terms of what race they are to begin with. Maybe there's a bit of good in that in a world where the world wants too much to classify people as different races. Aren't our terms for race kind of arbitrary and silly?

Again, what is Iris? She has big poofy hair that doesn't seem straight at all. It looks like what many would call "Afro textured" or "nappy". Does that mean she's black? What about black women like Michelle Obama whom have their hair straightened? Are they any less black? Michelle Obama doesn't have Iris' poofy hair. And neither does Iris when she has her hair done up in Black 2 White 2. What about her skin? It is brown but it certainly isn't as brown as many black people are. And yet, she is a lot darker than most of the characters of Disney's "The Proud Family".
image
And her skin colour is one of her most racial features. She has no nose to speak of, and her eyes are pretty much the same big ones all other anime characters have. If most anime characters looked like Iris would Asian people want to be black?

What is a black person? Is Mariah Carey black? Is Barack Obama black? Is Beyonce Knowles black? It depends on who you ask. All these terms for race are pretty arbitrary.

Again, I would certainly say that Western culture and Western aesthetics play a part in why anime characters look the way they do. Certainly many Japanese people look up to rich Western European nations as an example and multiple pieces of Japanese entertainment romanticize Western culture. But they have plenty of respect for themselves and I don't think that anime aesthetics have anything to do with self hatred.

Here are a few reasons other than Western influence or self hating that I think have causes anime to look the way it does:
- Tradition. There is a tendency for Japanese people to do what they've always done, and change is slow.
- Japanese non-verbal communication places a lot of emphasis on eyes rather than the mouth.
- Race is perhaps an uncomfortable subject for Japan, in a world where Japan needs to interact with the West to be economically competitive, Japan may strive to create characters who accentuate similarities between the races rather than differences. Or the concept of harmony, anime may strive for racial harmony rather than dissonance.
- International appeal. Japanese animators may want to draw characters they think the most people around the world may relate to.
- Esoteric and different. Most anime enthusiasts wish for escape from the real world. Anime characters may come off as more exotic and interesting, something befitting of fantasy settings, like are mentioned in the article.

Again, while I won't say that fondness for Westerners wouldn't ever play a part at all. I would say things probably have more to do with creating someone different. A character that is more raceless, rather than clearly Asian or white. Most anime characters are not really either one in terms of what human society see it. They look like neither, and if anything, tend to blend many people's favourite features of the so called various races.

A lot of people put the blame on Eastern nations as wanting to "appear white". But do we attack Michelle Obama for straightening her hair? Is Michelle Obama a self hating, wanna-be white person? Is it racist that she straightened her hair? What about white people who like getting tans? What about white people in the industrial music scene who form their hair into "nappy" dreads? Cyberlocks? Cyberlocks are features we attribute to "black hair". But I don't think people who have them want to be black. Nor are they intending to "look black".
image
Just as Iris is pretty ambiguous in terms of "race". Most anime characters are. If anything, they feature several things common to both Asians and so called white people, and features that neither have. Yes, the eyes of anime characters are big. But to be honest, they are also much bigger than what most people of any race have. Also, in terms of shape, many look like they have an epicanthic eyefold, which is associated with Asians. It also isn't common for anime characters to be tall or have facial hair. Along with having small eyes, it is tended that we stereotypes Asians as being short and hairless. While what cultural difference do you see in representation? In Japan it is far less common for fictional characters to be tall and have facial hair, while in the West, fiction is loaded with tall and hairy men. There's nothing "Western" in the body type most anime characters are portrayed with. If anything, they are considered every bit as petite as the American classification of the Asian "race". And yes, it is a stereotype that Asians are short, it is also a stereotype that Asians have tiny eyes. Asians are also stereotypes as having softer, rounder, and flatter facial features than whites or Caucasians or whatever. Guess what kind of face most anime characters have? Soft, round, and flat.

The situation is far more complicated than what a lot of Westerners think in terms of race. In reality, Western ideals probably make less than %2 of the reason anime characters look the way they do.

And that was basically an essay. Maybe somebody out there will actually care to read it. Probably not. And that'd probably be for the best. This topic is silly. Anime characters don't "look white", anymore than they "look Asian". I think people care too much about this topic, to be honest. Perhaps me as well just for writing a huge post about all this. Though I do that about everything.

Random necro, but this article reminds me how much I miss the weekly issues this site had back when the "magazine" thing was more than just a name. I miss those navel-gazey articles that looked at various aspects of gaming. Now pretty much all we have are news articles and videos, typically with some click baiting editorializing baked into the news, rather than getting it's own article like this one.

Before anyone says I'm criticizing the new management: the change happened quite a while before Themis media sold the place.

Edit: Forgot, we also have semi-regular columns from the people who make the videos. Problem is they tend to focus on either an aspect of what the latest video was about, or on whatever the current hot button issue in gaming is. We don't get to see these off the wall articles where the author looks in depth at some seemingly minor point anymore.

" JRPGs like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Lost Odyssey place their ethnically neutral characters in imaginary worlds with their own invented cultures, currencies and architecture, utterly divorced from the signposts of real-world race."

Ok. I can't swallow that one. The characters in those series are usually cast on alien worlds clearly based on European styles. The wordls have Western architecture, they have knights clad in heavy armour with European long swords and shields, the monsters are almost always drawn from mediterranean or nordic mythologies.

Based on how people often will watch something like Spirited Away and think those characters are white perhaps does show that white people see themselves everywhere, but most of the time, I think they would be right on the mark. Taking FFVII for example, few people dispute that most characters are supposed to be caucasian and Barret is black. The black man was depicted quite convincingly as a black man, so it's hard to say that Cloud, Cid and Tifa aren't what they look like. If I can extrapolate that to the other Final Fantasies that Nomura designed, I would say they're full of caucasians.

Interesting article but I'm not buying any of this racial ambiguity in games. I see a blonde character, I know they're white until somebody specifically tells me they're not and they had their hair dyed. Cloud's as white as Barrett's black as Yuffie is neither. No amibiguity over here.

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