Thursday, August 18, 2011

Who Do Anime Characters Represent Ethnically?

Cardcaptor Sakura

I love to watch Japanese animation. The first two I ever got into was Yakitate Japan and Akagi. One is about a baking bread competition and the other, mahjong competition. I guess competition is my thing. Since then I've watched many anime shows from all sorts of genres, hundreds of episodes, but something has started niggling in the back of my mind. When I see a character that is Japanese but has green eyes and blonde hair, it makes me think. Why is that character portrayed like that?

I ask this because the problem seems to come to a head when the anime is being adapted by a studio. An American studio. Then who's going to be cast comes into play. Do the cast directors ask for and choose the actors who look like the characters? Do they choose Japanese actors and tell them to dye their hair and wear contacts? Do they choose Japanese actors and let the character look however the actor looks?

It sounds needlessly complicated.

I've read in various places that the way that some characters are drawn in anime do not specifically mimic Western features-- that is to say, Caucasian features. That these characters are drawn generically so that anyone can identify with them. The only problem with that is most of the world would identify with someone who has darker skin, brown eyes and dark hair. That's how most of the world looks. How is blue eyes or red hair representing the majority?

(I've also read that when anime started taking hold, that the signature big-eyed style of Osamu Tezuka was inspired from Walt Disney animations. If that's true, then it conflicts with the idea that anime characters of this style are drawn with no particular ethnicity. Disney characters were blatantly White then. However, it would explain the random blackface-- but that's gotten better.)

The shows that have characters with green, pink, or blue hair do a little better, especially when the eyes consistently match the hair. That's more colorblind than Aryan-looking characters. But even that seems unnecessary. If these characters are Japanese, why can't they look Japanese? With all of their varying features. I don't get it.

I have also watched anime in which the characters look like they are from Japan. This has not gotten in the way of my viewing experience. It hasn't confused me or made me less likely to watch that show. All that was needed for me to continue watch was a compelling story and interesting characters. So why the white wash?

No comments:

Post a Comment