For fans of anime and manga, big eyes are something that is a well-known thing, but even those people that are not fans have probably seen a scene from an anime or a manga, and have surely noticed those big eyes. They are one of the best-known traits of Japanese animation and in today’s article, we are going to explain how they came to be and why they are like they are!
Manga and anime characters have big eyes because one of the pioneers of modern manga and anime, Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy, decided to draw his characters with big eyes after being inspired by contemporary Western animation, where characters also had big eyes.
What awaits you in the paragraphs that follow? A definition of anime, the inspiration behind Tezuka’s original design and the modern trends in Japanese animation related to the eyes. There’s a lot of fun stuff ahead so keep reading!
For girls: You know that cute guy from the anime who has those big, dreamy eyes?
For boys: You know that cute girl from the anime with beautiful, big eyes?
What is anime?
Anime (Japanese: アニメ) sometimes called Japanimation, is hand-drawn or computer animation coming from Japan and having a distinct Japanese style. The term anime itself is derived from the English word animation, and in Japan, it is used to describe all forms of animation, regardless of origin and style. Outside Japan, though, the term refers specifically to animation from Japan or to a specific Japanese animation style often characterized by colorful graphics, vibrant characters, and fantastical themes. This culturally abstract approach to the word’s meaning may open the possibility of anime produced in countries other than Japan.
The earliest known commercial Japanese animation dates back to 1917. A characteristic style of animation emerged during the 1960s with the works of Osamu Tezuka and spread in the second half of the 20th century, gaining popularity not just in Japan, but also around the world. Anime initially started off as a theatrical and television form, but later expanded to other media, such as video games.
Production methods and techniques related to anime have adapted over time in response to emergent technologies, meaning that the animation techniques have become more and more sophisticated. As a multimedia art form, it combines graphic art, characterization, cinematography, and other creative techniques. Anime production typically focuses less on the animation of movement and more on the realism of settings as well as the use of camera effects, including panning, zooming, and angle shots. Diverse art styles are used, and character proportions and features can be quite varied, including characteristically large or realistically sized emotive eyes. Anime is classified into numerous genres targeting both broad and niche audiences, different age groups, genders, etc.
The modern anime industry consists of over 430 production studios, with major names including Studio Ghibli, Gainax, and Toei Animation.
Osamu Tezuka and the history of big eyes
Osamu Tezuka (1928–1989) was a famous Japanese manga and anime author, best known as the pioneer of modern manga and anime. Tezuka is a truly enormous figure in Japan, often called “the God of manga”. He was exceptionally prolific, creative and innovative, upgrading the contemporary standards and pushing manga and anime into the modern age. His most famous and revolutionary work is Astro Boy, which likewise defined modern trends in manga and anime. Due to his influential work, Tezuka is often considered to be the Japanenese Walt Disney, which is an interesting fact because Tezuka was heavily influenced by Disney in his formative years.
So, why is Tezuka so important for big eyes?
When Osamu Tezuka started his revolutionary work on manga and anime, he designed his characters in a very specific way, i.e., with big eyes. Although the animation evolved as the years went by and the big eyes themselves changed in design, manga and anime are still – to this day – known for the big eyes of their characters. And this is all because of Tezuka.
Namely, Tezuka way heavily inspired by Western animation, especially that of Walt Disney. He also loved Betty Boop. A lot of Disney’s characters, as well as Betty Boop, had characteristic, large eyes, but they weren’t so expressive as modern animanga eyes. Having been influenced by Western animators, Tezuka decided to “plagiarize” the eyes and bestow his characters with bright, large eyes that became a pillar of Japanese animation. Astro Boy is a great example of that style and it is completely understandable that the fan-favourite character is regarded as one of Tezuka’s best and most important works.
Tezuka was the first and we can state that his eyes were very similar to Western standard, but things changed over the years. Animators held onto the concept, but drastically changed the design to make it more distinguishable and more modern. This is all a consequence of the fact that Osamu Tezuka was a highly influential figure in the history of Japanese animation. He set a lot of modern standards and it is fully understandable how and why his standards have been respected in the years that followed. No one dared to “challenge” Tezuka and his style and this is why the tradition of big eyes was upheld in Japanese animation.
Where are we today?
Today, the big eyes in Japanese animation have evolved from Tezuka’s initial standard. Although heavily stylised, they are more realistic (they don’t look like actual cartoon eyes), more vivid and more colourful when compared to Tezuka’s initial standard.
Children (with the relatively common exception of babies) practically always have big eyes, as do most adults. Still, animanga characters show a very interesting trait as they grow older – their eyes get smaller. This is probably a symbolic representation of ageing in Japanese animation and it is a very interesting thing to observe. Also, a lot of non-human characters (even some realistically animated animals) have such eyes.
But, unlike the old days, this is not a fixed rule anymore. Due to the diversity of modern Japanese animation, the rules regarding the eyes have changed. Big eyes are, of course, still a thing, but they are not a necessity and there are more and more characters with different – usually smaller, but sometimes even differently shaped – eyes in modern animanga, which is a good thing if you ask us, because diversity is good for the whole process.
And this is the story of why manga and anime characters have big eyes. Osamu Tezuka was influenced by Western animation and he decided to replicate that style in his works, which led to the creation of modern animation standards. Today, the eyes are a pillar of Japanese animation and one of its best-known traits.
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!