Tag Archives: japanese

Statelessness – really?!?

A while ago Abagond made a post about mukokuseki, the drawing style of modern Japanese cartoons (anime) that makes the characters “look ‘white'”. Mukokuseki means statelessness, ie. having a phenotype that doesn’t belong to any particular nation or group. In it he argued that anime doesn’t make characters look ‘white’, that’s just how Japanese people see themselves. Anyone who believes they look ‘white’ are (wrongly) assuming that ‘white’ is the racial default.

As much as I respect Abagond’s writing and accept he’s entitled to his own opinion, I think that one particular post was bollocks. There is no such thing as mukokuseki; modern anime is blatantly trying to make Japanese people look ‘white’. Yes, even the ones where characters can have unnatural hair and eye colours.

(Now I’m revealing how much anime I actually watch)

For one thing, this style of drawing only became predominant in Japan after WWII. In and of itself that’s not an issue, but it’s around the time of the World Wars that Japan came into contact with the Western world. The original artist of the modern style, Osamu Tezuka, was inspired by Disney’s Bambi, Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse and others. Ancient Japanese used to be drawn more like this (Shunga style):

(blanked-out breasts mine)

(blanked-out genitals mine)

(Ainu hunters, not the Yayoi-descended Japanese we’re used to

but the drawing style’s still the same)

Now Japanese cartoon characters look more like this:


All jinchuriki & tailed beasts from Naruto!!!

Digidestined + digimon partners from Digimon Adventure 01!!!

This style comes under the heading of kawaii, most often translated as ‘cuteness’ which has since become a prominent feature of general Japanese culture. Are you seriously trying to say both styles look just like real-life Nihhonjin (Japanese people)? Or that they honestly believe they look like Naruto, Ichigo, Ash Ketchum or any other anime character? Come on.

Different ethnic phenotypes (what Abagond referred to as facial profiling) are very obviously portrayed in many anime too. They have no problem marking out different hair textures, skin tones (some having literally white skin: Orochimaru & Sai in Naruto, some with literally black skin like Mr Popo from Dragonball Z), and the rest. Unlike what Abagond said, Japanese do not (always) stereotype ‘whites’ as blond, blue-eyed, big nosed; many ‘white’ characters are completely indistinguishable from the Japanese ones. Examples: Patricia “Patty” Martin from Lucky Star, Tina Foster from Ai Yori Aoshi, Cecelia Alcott from Infinite Stratos, the representatives of European countries in Hetalia: Axis Powers. Funnily enough there are the odd characters that look much more similar to real Nihhonjin, and they do look different to the other characters. I would even go so far as to say they look somewhat out of place.

Tezuna, Naruto Shippuden episode 129
E.g. Tezuna from Naruto Shippuden episode 129 (ignoring the blonde hair & big bosoms)

Furthermore, cartoons from other countries could easily be accused of facial profiling because their characters use features that exist on real-life people from their countries. Examples: Kirikou and the Sorceress (Senegalese), Bino and Fino (Nigerian), Burka Avenger (Pakistani), Tell Me Who I Am (‘black’ American). Are the makers of those toons supposed to alter their characters to make them look “stateless”? No, it makes more sense to say they’re exemplifying ethnic diversity in the kind of heroes/ protagonists non-‘white’ children see on their screens, ones to reflect children’s different backgrounds and give them role models who look like them. Does modern anime do that? Rarely.

Considering all of those points, it seems fair to conclude that modern anime is trying to make Nihhonjin look ‘white’. Why? Can’t say for sure but my guess is to make anime (and by extension Japanese culture and people) more pleasing to ‘white’-majority countries, and judging by the prominence of so-called ‘yellow fever‘ it seems to have worked.

Update: On Narutopedia it explicitly states the creator of Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto, gave him blond hair and blue eyes to make him appeal to Western audiences. In other words, he was purposely made to look ‘white’ rather than Japanese. How many other characters was that done to…?