Anime art styles are always changing. Shows like Astro Boy and Urusei Yatsura drew influence from Western art styles (particularly that of Disney) in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s. Shows in the late 80s to early 2000s were influenced by their predecessors, creating a distinct style that was easily recognised by global audiences as being Japanese anime. Modern anime, as we currently know it, is likewise heavily influenced by the previous iterations of the medium.
Across the decades of change that anime as an industry and artform has witnessed, it is surprising how few things have remained the same. The tropes survive, of course, but certain sensibilities come and go. My all-time favourite, a joke that endures even today, is that of the Noodle Arm. Noodle Arms go by many names. Wavy Arms. Wiggly Arms. Worm Arms. The nomenclature is very broad. Noodle Arms also come in a variety of styles. Beyond being an enjoyable sight gag, this manner of drawing a character’s arms is far deeper and more varied than you might think.
The Noodle Arm only really re-entered the anime canon recently, in the series Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro. Both seasons of the show frequently depict its main antagonist, Nagatoro, waving her Noodle Arms around. This would most commonly occur when she was teasing her senpai (which, admittedly, makes up a large percentage of the show). Nagatoro’s arms are the most standard variety of Noodle Arm. They’re the shape of a noodle, with no joints, hands or fingers. She often uses them to touch, hit or slap her senpai for comedic effect. Nagatoro’s Noodle Arms are also often used to express when she has high energy, is feeling curious, or is trying to be cute or annoying on purpose.
Another instance of the modern Noodle Arm can be found in The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!, a series about a denizen of the Dark Realm that has been banished to Earth. Jahy shares similar features and traits with Nagatoro, but her Noodle Arms are less frequent. Jahy’s Noodle Arms signal overwhelming emotion (usually happiness) and often communicate her reverting to her child-like form.
Alphonse Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood also has scenes where his noodly appendages have been exposed (not like that). Unlike the other Noodle Arm characters, Alphonse still has fingers on the end of his arms, despite having no joints or hands. These Noodle Arms are also used to express Alphonse’s emotional immaturity and childish nature, and their greater overall detail sets them apart from their contemporaries.
Noodle Arm variants have existed in anime for years. One of the most well-known examples of this is characterised by Ed from Cowboy Bebop. She’s a hacker genius with a tendency to flail her arms and legs about while focusing (usually while hacking) or having fun. The difference between the traditional Noodle Arm and the more detailed Wavy Arm is primarily a consequence of the art style and animation. While the Noodle Arm lacks detail, the Wavy Arm is often found in more realistic shows depicting a character being deliberately silly. They retain the details of joints, hands and fingers, often adding them into the animation of the arm to increase the comedic value.
Wavy Arms can also be referred to as Worm Arms, as their thickness, length, and animation often resemble that of worms. Dazai in Bungou Stray Dogs often gets Worm Arms when he’s behaving playfully or pretending he doesn’t know what’s going on around him. The difference between Dazai’s Worm Arms and other characters’ arm variations is that Dazai’s have a pointed tip in place of his hands, but they still have the Wavy Arm length and animation.
While Chiyo Chichi has naturally occurring Worm Arms (meaning they always look the same and are not the result of a change in art style), his arms are so distinct that they needed to be included. His long, thin arms are rounded at the ends with no joints, hands or fingers. The fact that these are his natural arms is a gift to weebs around the globe. You don’t need to search for Chiyo Chichi’s Worm Arm scenes because he just always has them.
While Chiyo herself doesn’t have Worm Arms, she does occasionally have a variant called Fin Arms. The Fin Arm gets its name from looking like the fin of a shark or dolphin. The Fin Arm is usually a short and stumpy triangle shape that lacks joints, hands and fingers. In some anime, the Fin Arm can also be long and thin and feature an elbow joint, but it rarely wiggles as much as the Noodle or Worm Arm. The stiffness of the Fin Arm helps to express an adorable helplessness in characters that are in a less-than-ideal situation, but it is almost always comedic.
Noe is famous in The Case Study of Vanitas for his Fin Arms, thanks to the fact that he almost never knows what’s going on. He will often be drawn with Fin Arms to add to his cute demeanor and air of complete disengagement, despite being a tall and powerful vampire.
Fin Arms are also used to show that a character is a baby, like Ten in Urusei Yatsura. The difference with Fin Arms on baby characters is that they also often have small hands and/or fingers on the end to show that it’s less of a state of character expression, and more that the character is actually just a baby. Despite this, it still counts as being a Fin Arm thanks to the lack of mobility of the appendage.
For anime and manga artists, the Noodle Arm is an excellent way to express a character’s thoughts, feelings and intended behaviour. While it’s often used in chibi art styles, when it’s inserted into media that would traditionally use a fully-drawn out arm or hand, it adds humour and a sense of lightheartedness that rarely goes astray.
It’s rare for someone to not enjoy a human, animal or creature with arms that wiggle or are stumpy in some kind of cute and funny way. It extends to games too. Even the slug race in Faster Than Light is blessed with Worm Arms and we wouldn’t have it any other way.