Behind the Trend of Huge Eyes in Japanese Anime

by Yukako Ikezoe

There have been controversial debates going on about why characters in Japanese manga have huge eyes. Do such huge eyes in Manga mean that Japanese people are craving for them?

Having read Terry Kawashima’s piece, “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual tropes of Racial Differences”, I also started wondering why the eyes of characters in Japanese manga are big, even though I had never strongly questioned that before. Readers from Western countries might have wondered about the looks of characters in Manga because the characters’ features are similar to the features Caucasians have, including round eyes or blond hair.

Thinking about the real purpose of this kind of trend from the perspective of Japanese myself, I would say that is not because Japanese strongly desire to get big eyes like Caucasians, but rather because big eyes are one of the most important techniques to express characters’ minds and make it easier for readers to observe its minute movements, since only iconography and visual languages are used to let readers read what characters are thinking. Therefore readers can easily read characters’ thoughts by looking at their facial expressions with unique movements of their eyes.

There is a proverb “目は口ほどにものを言う” ,meaning that “the eyes are the window of the mind”, or “the eyes say more than the mouth” in English. This thinking also makes us consent to the trend of large eyes in Japanese Manga. Making up for sounds or animation which enable us to understand situations and feelings of characters more easily, various movements of eyes are also a center tool for writers as well as for readers. Using large eyes can be considered as one of the essential tools or techniques to add affluent expressions on characters.  Inspired by Disney cartoons, Osamu Tezuka known as a talented Japanese manga writer, also started using that technique in order to emphasize greater expressions of characters. His works then have been the basis for all manga today. In spite of the fact that the way of drawing characters was also influenced from the West, a reason is not always the strong desire of Japanese towards Caucasians, but rather Japanese manga writers adopt the Western styles into their drawings.

I am always amazed by that technique when reading manga since characters with various expressions on eyes give plenty of punches and enable me to empathize with the manga world in which only visual languages and pictures are used. Japanese writers uniquely use huge eyes as a technique to add greater emotions on characters, which is still putting many manga fans from all over the world into a trance today.

References

Tabatha Butler.(2013). How Walt Disney Influenced Anime. Retrieved from http://themovieblog.com/2013/how-walt-disney-influenced-anime/

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3 thoughts on “Behind the Trend of Huge Eyes in Japanese Anime

  1. Pingback: Why do Japanese animation or anime characters have big eyes? | Why The Facts?

  2. I found this article while searching for an answer for why manga eyes are drawn so big. I always thought it was just an artistic technique until recently when I actually met a real Japanese woman with “manga eyes”! Well, not quite as large as that, but large enough to make me wonder if there is a certain percentage of the Japanese population with this trait, which may have inspired the artistic technique.

  3. People exaggerate just exactly what Osamu Tezuka contributed to anime, and it definitely wasn’t the character models. I’ll give you that Tezuka influenced the storytelling and animation techniques of anime and manga as well as the imitators of his art style, but anime has looked very different from Disney and Tezuka styles since it’s debut.
    Look at Osamu Tezukas typical Disney like style then contrast with smaller eyed and more detailed and realistically proportioned anime like half the Gundam series, Macross, Naruto, JoJo, Fist of the North Star, Berserk, Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, Square’s and Atlus’s art styles etc, and then try to make sense of the idea that Disney and Tezuka had any influence on anime’s visual style. It’s the shape of the eyes that makes anime it’s distinct style, the size varies. If the eye size was all that made something anime, it wouldn’t be a style distinguishable from western cartoons. You can see a direct contrast of the two styles in Kingdom Hearts and Naoki Urasawa’s manga, Pluto, a re imagining of Astro Boy in a vastly different modern anime style. There are at least as many anime without big eyes as there are with big eyes. Anime is not by default the “big eyes” look that a surprising number of people ignorantly believe it to be, and obviously has absolutely no resemblance to any Tezuka or Disney style.

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