Ah yes, the age-old debate. It’s a stupid racialized question no one should care about, but we do for some reason. Do people really want to identify with cartoon characters this badly?
Well, guess what? They’re cartoons. That should settle it. But even then, we still seem to have questions. Such as, why is it that we think they’re Japanese or white?
Often times, the argument is that the anime character is thought of as the “default” race in that country. So in a country like America, people might think anime characters are white. In Japan, they’re inclined to think of anime characters as Japanese. But then, America has a majority race, not a “default” one like Japan. And in Africa and South America? I guess they would still have the same question.
Next argument is a bit more in-depth but still falls flat in the same way. Some say that the character represents a type of non-objective art. The idea here is they’re abstracted beyond nationality. That’s what I thought at first. They’re cartoons, and cartoons have no nationality. Except for when they do. And when they do, they’re almost always ethnically and nationally Japanese. Yet, more characters in anime and Final Fantasy have blonde hair and blue eyes, than an abstracted pink (i.e. Lenna) and green (i.e. Terra). And how do they portray American characters? Sometimes square chins, larger noses, and proportioned eyes. But in Africa and South America? Might they see the characters and wonder: are they white or black?
The issue complicates once we see black anime characters, many who are “stateless” yet perceived as black due to stereotypes. So then, most of the light-skinned anime characters either they are Japanese, white or…cartoons. But which is it?
Why use hair colors like light brown and blonde for Japanese colors? Black might seem “boring”, but why should blonde and brown replace it? Ever wonder why those hairs come up more often than pink or green? Then again, the Japanese have hair dye, which begs the question why those color? Everyone’s entitled to their preferences, but had they had them before the Black Ships?
Skin tone isn’t an indicator of Caucasian skin either, as it’s less white, and more so “light”. Women prize light skin in themselves, not necessarily in guys. Guys are the same when they search for women but aren’t overly concerned with having light skin. Perhaps this is why we have more dark-skinned males in anime than females.
When it comes to eyes, no one’s eyes are that big. These are the big googly eyes you’d see in Disney or Warner Bros. But Final Fantasy usually has normal eyes. But it’s not the shape of the eyes, but the space around the top eyelid.
Not that Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII is an anime character, but her hair color is typical of those in anime. Perhaps we can extract analogous qualities and settle this debate once and for all.
First, most “Asians” (Japanese included) have epicanthic folds. Westerners don’t; they have a “crease” which counts as a “double eyelid”. This look is popular enough to where many Asians desire blepharoplasty, a plastic surgery technique that modifies the eyelid.
Now, look at Lightning’s eyes.
If you were wondering why she had more of a Caucasian look, this is why. She has a “double eyelid”. It’s not just her either. Yuna has double eyelids as well, and she’s clearly has a Japanese appearance. And when you look at most anime characters, no matter their eye shape, they have the same double eyelid, signified by a line.
This is what’s going on here. This is the main reason why a lot of people still ask if anime characters are white or Japanese. No one knows why because it’s subtle – subconscious even. In this sense, anime characters aren’t “white”. They aren’t Japanese either. They’re Japanese people portrayed as if they were white. And this is a very subtle distinction if we want to understand what we’re looking at.