Big eyes are a well-known thing for anime and manga fans, but even those who 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 this article, I will explain how they came to be and why they are like they are. So, why do these characters have such enormous eyes?
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?
Osamu Tezuka and the history of big eyes in anime and manga
Osamu Tezuka (1928–1989) was a famous Japanese manga and anime author, best known as the pioneer of modern manga and anime. Tezuka is an 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 Japanese Walt Disney, which is an interesting fact because Disney heavily influenced Tezuka 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 was heavily inspired by Western animation, especially that of Walt Disney. He also loved Betty Boop. Many of Disney’s characters and Betty Boop had characteristic, large eyes, but they weren’t as 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, understandably, the fan-favorite 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 standards, 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 Osamu Tezuka being a highly influential figure in the history of Japanese animation.
He set a lot of modern standards, and it is fully understood 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 stylized, they are more realistic (they don’t look like actual cartoon eyes), more vivid, and more colorful 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 age – their eyes get smaller. This is probably a symbolic representation of aging in Japanese animation and is very interesting to observe. Also, many 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. Still, 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 decided to replicate that style in his works, leading to the creation of modern animation standards. Today, the eyes are a pillar of Japanese animation and one of its best-known traits.
Do you have something to add? Let me know in the comments below!