Eventually, every anime fan has to ponder a certain existential question, which is, “Why are there blonde-haired Japanese characters in anime, when Japanese are not blonde?” The answer is… quite complex, and an interesting one to contemplate. Let’s look at why anime makes use of blonde hair to create interesting characters for us to obsess over, and who the best blonde anime girls are!
What Does Blonde Hair Mean to the Japanese?
Traditionally, girls in America grew up playing with Barbie dolls, which captured the supposed perfection of the most famous blonde of the 20th century — Marilyn Monroe — in doll form for girls to entertain themselves with. Barbie came out in 1959, and in 1967 toymaker Takara came out with Japan’s answer to Barbie, Licca-chan, which was a huge success, becoming the “default” doll in Japan and often out-selling Barbie in worldwide sales.
Licca-chan was created by shoujo manga artist Miyako Maki, wife to Space Battleship Yamato creator Leiji Matsumoto. Let’s see why Licca-chan is so popular.
- Licca is half-French, half-Japanese, with her father Pierre being a musician and her mother Orie being a fashion designer. This is a good example of the way Japanese people put haafu individuals on a pedestal, worshipping them as the perfect blending of East and West.
- Like Barbie, Licca is blonde, though being aimed at younger Japanese girls she lacks Barbie’s buxom profile.
- Naturally, Licca speaks English and French as well as Japanese.
I am a blonde, with lots of gold hairs on my forearms, and back when I taught ESL to kids, they would regularly comment on these gold hairs and, if I wasn’t careful, try to pluck them out and take them home. One girl even asked if I cut them off could I sell them for money, since gold is valuable.
The Mechanics of Hair Colors in Anime
Since anything that can be imagined can be animated, there’s no need for anything like pesky reality to get in the way of designing a new character, which is why impossible colors like green or blue can exist, or why 100% purebred Japanese people can have blonde hair, if the creator wants it. Some examples of how hair color works in anime:
- Red-haired characters, to no one’s surprise, possess fiery spirits and are often tsundere characters.
- Blue hair often indicates introverted characters who can’t overcome their internal shyness to achieve some important goal. Maybe this is why blue-haired anime girls never win in love.
- White-haired characters often possess amazing magical abilities. More often than not, Russian characters are designed with white hair.
- Black- or brown-haired characters represent “basic” Japanese characters, who are often comically plain compared to more flamboyant characters around them.
- Blonde hair often represents a kind of “pure-hearted” character, though the trope is also used to represent extremely foreign characters, especially haughty characters who are invariably the wealthy daughters of large companies. They sometimes speak with a specific “rich ojosama dialect” (saying things like yoroshikute-yo and go kigen you) and laugh like this: O-HO-HO-HO-HO!
One thing that’s important to note is that Japanese never sit around debating things like whether people from this country or that could realistically have hair of a certain color, and in fact don’t seem to perceive ethnicity in anime characters at all. When I tried to explain the drama related to the Ghost in the Shell Hollywood film to my wife, she said, “But anime characters aren’t Japanese, they’re foreigners.”
Who Are the Best Blonde Anime Girls? J-List Customers Respond!
I asked J-List’s awesome Twitter followers to share their favorite blonde anime girls, and they came through with some great suggestions. Let’s look at what the blonde-ness of various anime characters affects how Japanese fans view them!
Just like I had to slowly figure out why the lips of the Japanese people in the Godzilla or Gamera moves I loved as a child didn’t sync up to the English dialogue, I’ll bet some young fans were confused at why “Japanese” characters like Sailor Moon and Sailor Venus have flowing blonde hair. The answer is…that’s the character design Naoko Takeuchi and Bandai thought would be attractive to viewers.
Another trope related to blonde anime girls is that they’ll generally be quite busty. The teacher from Highschool of the Dead Shizuka Marikawa is a great example.
The “rich girl whose father is the director of the school the main character attends, giving her power over him” is another popular use of blonde hair in anime. Sena Kashiwazaki is a prime example.
Anime elves are super popular these days, and they’re almost always blonde, because why not?
One popular structure for a harem anime is to put a plain, shy Japanese male character inside a harem of females. If several of those girls are over-the-top foreigners from France or England, the potential awkwardness of his situation increases, leading to more potential for comedy.
One fun anime that examined Japan’s fascination with blonde hair is Kin’iro Mosaic, which was basically Lucky Star with jokes about cultural misunderstandings. Alice’s obsession when all things Japanese, Shinobu’s fascination with blonde-haired English girls, and Karen’s ability to live happily in Japan without following all of society’s rules because of her foreign-ness teach us some interesting things about Japan.
(Naturally, anime doesn’t bother with reality overly much. Only 30% of the U.K. are natural blondes, and since black hair is a dominant trait, it’s extremely unlikely that half-Japanese Karen could have bright blonde hair like that.)
Although you might think that Yuzu Aihara from Citrus has blonde hair because she’s a GAL, in the manga it’s revealed that her father was a foreigner, and she started dying her hair auburn to look more like him after his death. Perhaps Citrus is using Yuzu’s “otherness” as an excuse for her to explore the non-traditional sexual relationship she ends up in?
Whenever you have a large group of characters, you need to mix things up to make sure each one is unique and fresh. Often making a character have some non-Japanese ethnicity, such as Eli Ayase from Love Live being is one-quarter Russian, fills that need nicely.
The Japanese know that it’s quite silly for Japanese characters to have bright blonde hair, and sometimes they have fun with this fact in the story. Michiru from the Grisaia series specifically dyes her hair blonde because “everyone knows that tsundere characters have to be blonde with twin-tail hair.” Also (highlight to read) she got a heart transplant from a blonde girl in America and dyes her hair to be true to her heart’s original owner.
Another reason characters to have blonde hair is the rise of GALs, uber-fashionable girls who dye their hair blonde and visit tanning salons to get golden tans. The gyaru fashion trend started in the mid-90s as an offshoot of “Amullers,” girls who obsessively copied fashionable singer Namie Amuro. We’ve got some fun GAL-related products from Japan on the site for you here!
Finally, there’s something called “Yankees,” though as the connection to that term questionable, we might call them yankii instead. Basically, they’re members of street gangs who engage in petty crimes and sometimes drive around on motorcycles modified to be extra loud and annoying, and dye their hair blonde, though it usually comes out orange. I’ll write about Tokyo Revengers in an upcoming post.
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