There has been a long-last controversy in the Western world on why the Japanese anime characters have so big eyes. As you know, anime characters usually have so big eyes which are almost unproportional. But why are they so big? Is it because the Japanese like big eyes?
Although I’m not going to conclude this debate, I’m going to provide some interesting factors and comments by the Japanese that could be a clue to why the Japanese draw the eyes of anime characters big.
Before reading this article however, note that I’m in a neutral position and not trying to offend anyone. I’m going to mention some things about specific races and feelings the Japanese have for them, but I will only provide plain facts without any personal opinions of mine.
Bigger eyes are the easiest way to express emotions
So, why do the Japanese draw anime characters’ eyes big?
Some people (both a Japanese and a non-Japanese) say that Japanese anime draw eyes of characters very big so that they can express wider range of emotions. As the Japanese proverb “目は口ほどに物を言う” (eyes speak as much as mouth) says, eyes are a very important means to express emotions.
Another factor is that Japanese anime have been heavily influenced by Disney movies. According to this guy, Osamu Tezuka, a very famous early manga artist in Japan, was influenced by Walt Disney, and he started drawing bigger eyes like Disney did. All other manga and anime artists that came after him were influenced by him and thus modern Japanese anime characters have big eyes like Osamu Tezuka drew under influence of Disney.
But I’m not sure about the authenticity of this theory because I couldn’t find any articles about this written by the Japanese. I found some articles saying that Osamu Tezuka was influenced by Disney, but none of them mentioned the way he drew eyes of his characters.
These theories are convincing as to why the Japanese anime characters have big eyes, but these alone don’t explain why many anime characters look almost Western. Although there is no clear answer to this, there are some interesting factors worth mentioning.
The Japanese like big eyes
As I wrote in this article about the slant-eye gesture some time ago, the Japanese don’t necessarily like how their eyes look. On the contrary, most of them like bigger eyes with double eyelids, and saying “you have small eyes” to a Japanese is considered a humiliating insult.
I’m not going to provide my personal opinion about why exactly the Japanese like big eyes or mention superiority of specific types of physical features, but here are some interesting factors worth mentioning. I will quote some tweets by the Japanese too.
The Japanese like half non-Japanese features
The Japanese like features of “hafu” (half) people in general. The word “Hafu” (half) is used as a noun and refers to people of mixed race such as half Japanese and half British.
There are even many terminologies related to hafu people such as “half face” (ハーフ顔 – pronounced hafu gao – meaning half non-Japanese looking faces), “half talents” (ハーフタレント meaning half non-Japanese TV stars), “half face make” (ハーフ顔メイク meaning half non-Japanese looking makeup) and “half model” (ハーフモデル meaning half non-Japanese model).
Interestingly enough, the Japanese use the word “half face” to praise people like “wow, you got such a pretty half face and big eyes.” It doesn’t necessarily refer to actual mixed race people, but people simply use it when someone looks half non-Japanese.
Here are some examples:
— 電気猫 (@elecat07) February 20, 2021
Quick translation: “Stammi is good looking. I’m jealous of his ‘half face'”
— 🍉(っ'u'c) (@suikirby) May 25, 2021
Quick translation: “Ekimu’s clothes are so cute! I wish I was born with ‘half face'”
— なち (@nana_17shi) May 5, 2021
Quick translation: “He has such a lovely ‘half face’ and looks almost like a genuine ‘half'”
— しゃちお。 (@1D_chyh) April 28, 2021
Quick translation: “What? Have you got a ‘half face?’ That would definitely make you beautiful and I’m jealous!! The colors of foreigners’ eyes are really beautiful aren’t they? International marriage sounds cool, that will suit you!! *snip* Maybe I should learn English”
— SRT〆りぶ (@ONI9noLIB) March 30, 2021
Quick translation: “My adoration for ‘half faces’ and short haircuts has been reflected in the character creation. So lovely”
Search for “ハーフ顔 かわいい” (half face lovely) or “ハーフ顔 うらやましい” (half face jealous) and you will see hundreds of tweets like the above ones.
Many Japanese undergo cosmetic surgeries to make their eyes bigger
Now, another factor that shows how the Japanese like big eyes is that many of them undergo cosmetic surgeries to get double eyelids. The majority of Japanese people have single eyelids which make their eyes look slanted, but many of them don’t like them and want bigger eyes with double eyelids.
The easiest way to get double eyelids is to undergo cosmetic eyelid surgeries, and according to this article, one third of young Japanese girls have undergone some sort of cosmetic eyelid surgeries.
For those who don’t want to undergo surgeries, there are “eyelid glues” to temporarily make your eyelids double fold. So many girls use this glue every day and some of them can’t even see anyone without using it.
Now you see that having slanted eyes with single eyelids isn’t taken very positively in Japan. No matter what Westerners might think, saying “you have small eyes” is considered an insult in most cases and you should never say that to a Japanese. It’s like a Japanese saying to a Westerner “wow, your nose is so BIG!” Each race/ethnicity has different aesthetic tastes and no one should press their tastes on others. See more details in this article about why Asians hate the slant eye gesture.
Here are some tweets by the Japanese about how they feel about having small eyes:
— Latteちゃん*° (@DDitYkOkZeJzFTD) May 29, 2021
Quick translation: “The words ‘one’s eyes are small’ have such a negative meaning, but someone said that to me without hesitation. How dare he says your eyes are small to someone? It’s so mean and makes my blood boil.”
— Saku. (@Saku01061955) May 29, 2021
Quick translation: “I’m sick of my small eyes on some days, but on other days I begin to feel that my eyes only look small in comparison with my big face and they might not be as small as I think (yes my eyes are small afterall).”
— 紗霧 葵姫 (@kiki_gomi) May 28, 2021
Quick translation: “Whenever I see my reflection in my smartphone, I realize how small my eyes are. My small eyes are the worst inferiority complex that I have.”
Correlations between adoration for big eyes and anime characters’ big eyes
Now, look at the characters of “One Piece” and “Attack on Titan.” Every one of them has not only big eyes, but also sharp, tall nose, more than eight-head figure and long legs which resemble those of specific types of people.
However, so far I haven’t found any articles that show correlations between anime characters’ big eyes and adoration for “half face.” Instead, I found an article by a Japanese insisting that Japanese anime characters are based on the physical traits of the Japanese and not on any other race’s.
The Japanese draw anime to please themselves and not the world
Reading this article so far, what did you think about possible correlations between anime characters’ big eyes and Japanese people’s adoration for big eyes? As I said at the beginning, I will not conclude this controversy, but the interesting factors I explained in this article are worth considering.
Although I will leave it to your judgment, I can tell you one thing clearly: The Japanese draw anime to please themselves and not necessarily to please the rest of the world (I’m only talking about anime whose main target is the Japanese market and things might be different if the main target is not Japan). While the Japanese are happy about non-Japanese people appreciating their anime and they sometimes adjust settings of their anime for overseas markets, their main target is still Japan and they draw anime characters in the way they like.
Many non-Japanese say that the Japanese should make their anime characters look “more Japanese,” but opinions of people in non-target markets I think are difficult to be reflected. I understand that exotic Asian slanted eyes look cool to many non-Asian people, but Asians don’t always feel the same way and they draw anime characters to embody their desires.