Who's White and Who's Japanese in Anime? Once Again, the Internet Compares.

Illustration for article titled Whos White and Whos Japanese in Anime? Once Again, the Internet Compares.
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Earlier this year, there were discussions online in Japan on the "whiteness" of anime characters. That discussion, it seems, is not over.

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A recent Japanese thread titled "Even After Seeing This, You Can Declare Anime Characters Japanese?" (これを見てもアニメキャラは日本人って言い切れるかい?) picked up this issue once again, trying to suss out the physical characteristics of anime characters and whether they can be identified as Caucasian or Asian (here, Japanese).

Back in 2010, blogger Julian Abagond asserted, "The Japanese see anime characters as being Japanese. It is Americans who think they are white." Largely, I agree with this. When Japanese see anime characters, they think they are Japanese—even if they have purple hair or blond hair—or they don't even think about it that deeply. It's often only when the characters have exaggerated Western figures or speak goofy Japanese that viewers are clued in that they are looking at a non-Japanese character.

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What's more, this latest thread seems to confirm it. The title alone, "Even After Seeing This, You Can Declare Anime Characters Japanese?" implies that when Japanese people look at anime characters, they naturally assume that said characters are Japanese.

As evidence in this thread, there are several images that attempt to show what it's like when anime characters have white facial features.

Illustration for article titled Whos White and Whos Japanese in Anime? Once Again, the Internet Compares.
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For example, this image states that beautiful female anime characters have Caucasian features. It compares "a true Japanese" (本来の日本人) to an "anime Japanese" (アニメの日本人) by contrasting things like the length of their necks and legs, the shape of their legs and back, etc.

The image is largely drawn, no pun intended, on stereotypes—an unflattering one for Japanese females, too. It also assumes that all Japanese and Caucasian women fit this paradigm. That simply is not true for either group.

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Illustration for article titled Whos White and Whos Japanese in Anime? Once Again, the Internet Compares.

This image shows what Sakura from Naruto would apparently look like if she were drawn as a Japanese character by contrasting well-known Japanese celebrities, such as a young Utada Hikaru, with Caucasian models—instead of comparing Japanese models with Caucasian models.

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One commenter online accused the images of intentionally picking unflattering images of Japanese to prove this point—an argument I agree with somewhat! While the Japanese images don't show idealized traits, the white ones do, assuming the Caucasian default is beauty. As, well, a white person, I can attest that this default is simply not true!

Moreover, many of Japan's top fashion models have the same idealized features found in the beautiful "anime Japanese". Does that make them white? That notion seems rather insulting.

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Illustration for article titled Whos White and Whos Japanese in Anime? Once Again, the Internet Compares.

And this image redraws several anime and manga characters as "Japanese" by doing things like changing the width of noses and the size of the lips. As with the images of women, the construct is based on stereotypes—here a default image of a Japanese male and a Caucasian male.

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So are these characters white? Are they Japanese? One forum user replied, perhaps offering the best answer, "They're anime people." That they are, that they are.

これを見てもアニメキャラは日本人って言い切れるかい? [ラビット速報]


Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.

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DISCUSSION

I'm so tired of this same stupid argument when that article from 2010 that was linked already sums up the problem of comparing 'Japanese' and 'White' features for anime characters:

"As it turns out, that is an American opinion, not a Japanese one. The Japanese see anime characters as being Japanese. It is Americans who think they are white. Why? Because to them white is the Default Human Being.

If I draw a stick figure, most Americans will assume that it is a white man. Because to them that is the Default Human Being. For them to think it is a woman I have to add a dress or long hair; for Asian, I have to add slanted eyes; for black, I add kinky hair or brown skin. Etc.

The Other has to be marked. If there are no stereotyped markings of otherness, then white is assumed.

Americans apply this thinking to Japanese drawings. But to the Japanese the Default Human Being is Japanese! So they feel no need to make their characters “look Asian”. They just have to make them look like people and everyone in Japan will assume they are Japanese – no matter how improbable their physical appearance.

You see the same thing in America: After all, why do people think Marge Simpson is white? Look at her skin: it is yellow. Look at her hair: it is a blue Afro. But the Default Human Being thing is so strong that lacking other clear, stereotyped signs of being either black or Asian she defaults to white."