There are many aspects of anime that stand out to foreigners when we first start to watch. The unique stories involving transforming robots and ninjas and idols and, er, interesting camera angles. The hair, with color variations no human could ever have. But more than anything, it’s the unique eyes, which we often perceive as “huge.” What did you think when you first encountered “anime eyes”?
The History of Anime Eyes
There seem to be certain cultural rules baked into the world we live in. When a Japanese person meets a Westerner, they’ll often perceive us as having blonde hair and being extremely tall, even though we might have dark brown hair and be of average height. I’m 5’10” or 177 cm tall, yet I’ve often been apologized to by Japanese people for having such a “small, cramped house” that was too large for the giant American body.
Going the other way, Westerners always seem to perceive anime eyes as “huge, expressive spheres” that cover half the character’s face…even though sometimes the eyes might be of average size. I know this because, back when I was first discovering Speed Racer, Kimba the White Lion and Star Blazers as a boy, my family would ask, “Why are the eyes so big?” But compared to the truly huge and expressive eyes that would come decades later, the character designs in early anime series had eyes that were much closer to reality.
Anime Eyes are Disney Eyes
One of the benefits of the streaming age is that, without any fanfare or needing to spend hundreds of dollars upgrading our movie collections, suddenly we live in an age where we can watch our favorite films streamed in 4K. When Disney+ first launched, I took the opportunity to watch some of their classic animated films, from Sleeping Beauty to the original Toy Story in gorgeous high resolution. I also re-watched Bambi, one of the few Disney works able to give us anime-style feels, and was struck by how much the eyes seems like anime eyes. Naturally this was because when Tezuka Osamu was creating his breakthrough Jungle Emperor Leo (shown as Kimba the White Lion in the West), Japan’s first color TV anime, he naturally he took visual cues from Walt Disney…and every animator after him built on that tradition.
Why Did 90s Character Designs Look so Strange?
As anime evolved from something consumed only by Japanese fans to a broad medium that could be sent all over the world, lots of new things were tried. New stories and genres. Anime based on light novels instead of manga. Part of that process of experimentation involved bold new character designs including the largest and most stylized eyes ever attempted. This would define anime in the 1990s, and once it began to become a kind of self-parody, the pendulum began to swing the other way.
What are the ten best anime hairstyles? Here’s a blog post for you!
What Did You Think of Anime-style Eyes When You First Saw Them?
I asked what J-List customers thought of anime eyes when they first encountered them, and here are the responses we got!
I noticed it when I was watching Negima when I was young and Asuna had different colored eyes. After that I realized how big and different many characters’ eyes were to fit their personality.
When I was watching Magic Knight Rayearth.
Sailor Moon for me.
While watching Bubblegum Crisis.
Satoshi Urushihara’s art really showed me how beautiful anime eyes could be.
My first reaction: “They’re looking at me. Are they looking into my soul? Help!”
Thanks for reading this post exploring anime eyes, and why they’re special. What was the point when eyes in anime captivated you? Post below, or share with us on Twitter!
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