Something that constantly piques my interest is the variety of art styles that emerge in anime and how crucial the way the characters are drawn is to portraying their personalities. As technology enables producers to develop more and more realistic media to express their creations, I sometimes find myself feeling that I am looking at a different character, instead of the one I know.
Live action adaptations for anime are known to be… Pretty bad. Don’t get me wrong, some live action shows do a great job– but then you also have adaptations such as Negima! Live-Action which leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Whenever I see such things, I always am slightly surprised when I see the Asian actors dressed as the characters. Yes, it is only natural given that the show would be produced in its home country, but lots of times this surprises me because I do not tend to imagine many anime characters as “Asian.”
Now, I’m going to try my best not to start some sort of Asian vs. Westerner war here, since Google showed me that things can get pretty hectic. In fact, I saw videos from both sides trying to convince the viewer that anime characters were of their body structure by juxtaposing drawn characters onto real people. See a problem with this? I would also like to note that such videos only really used examples that best proved their respective points, leaving out any exceptions. As for my thoughts? Well, I try to be a little bit more open minded.
See, I grew up in Western territories yet surrounded mostly by Asian friends due to my field of study. I don’t tend to that be much of a Japanophile or an Otaku, but I certainly am not afraid to express my love for the art style of anime (and resulting products). In fact, I even tend to prefer English dubs as long as I know they have been translated by a reputable company over subtitled episodes (*gasp* heaven forbid!) but wont have a second thought if I do have to watch subtitled anime. In this sense, I feel that I am fairly objective, content-wise for such things though I am by no means an expert. Bottom line is, I try my best to judge things by content rather than surface image, sound, or figure which sometimes means I can’t do the best job if I cannot fully understand what I am seeing!
These are all personal choices of course, and I’m not really interested in hearing reasons as to which method would be “better” or “more correct.” But back to the subject at hand. When I perceive anime characters, I tend to perceive the majority as Westerners, but also some as Asian (again, not necessarily due to appearance). Some characters, it is obvious that they were intended to be “Western” such as Lelouch vi Britannia or Aerith Gainsborough (even though in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, the characters’ physiques were all rendered closer to Asian body structures). When characters have more traditional Japanese names, it becomes a little more difficult to anticipate whether they were intended to be Asian since the names could either be set in place to emphasize the nationality of the character or to make the character more accessible to the society in which the character was developed (Japan).
I’m not implying that there should be a set protocol to portray such characters though. I’m merely stating that sometimes it is a little difficult to tell character nationalities apart, since it is heavily dependent on art style. For example, Suzaku Kururugi and say, Schneizel el Britannia in Code Geass were not drawn in vastly different manners. However, Rakshata Chawla and Kaname Ohgi seem to be drawn in a manner which emphasizes their nationalities, perhaps to portray a wide gap between Britannians and other races. So the verdict? I believe that anime characters are not “inherently” any race and that it all comes down to how the artist wants to portray them. When drawn, it is up to the artist whether or not they want to “assign” regions to them either through mannerisms or appearance. This is admittedly easier in anime than in live action portrayals since appropriate actors would be needed (and such productions tend to be low-budget).
Let me shift gears a little bit and cover cosplays as well. This is a slight tangent from a post about perceptions but I was compelled to do so due to the rage I came across when browsing cosplays online. There was such rage especially from the Asian cosplay community about Western cosplays and how “their body types are wrong” for character portrayal. Now, I’m not one who would take personal offense from such things and I didn’t, but I couldn’t help but investigate the other side of the coin. Sure enough, Westerners tended to assert (for certain characters) that Asian individuals did not possess the correct structure for the cosplay.
As with the anime situation, I beg to differ on the grounds that body structure is irrelevant. Yes, it is very important (it would be difficult for an African American to cosplay Chii from Chobits or a Russian to cosplay Brock from Pokemon), but not to the point that the cosplay communities were asserting. Asians would often assert that Westerners were either too tall, or too “bony” in terms of facial structure (as opposed to being round as many anime faces are drawn). Now I’m pretty sure the roundness is a stylistic choice, but I could be mistaken. As for the Asians, one could argue that some aspects of their physiques might be inappropriate for portraying characters as well (such as their nose/mouth area). I theorize that there simply isn’t enough exposure for both parties to the opposite region and this is understandable since the countries are so far apart. After all, it is human nature to go with what is more “familiar.”
I argue that physique does not matter that much. I believe, as with art style, it is the expression that counts and ultimately decides which type of cosplay would be “good” or which type would be “bad.” Here are examples of what I would say are good cosplays.
For the sake of not wounding my readers’ eyes or my blog layout, I’ll leave out the bad cosplays where the participants are clearly failing at portraying the character. Besides, I’m sure you can all imagine or have seen such cosplayers at conventions.
Bottom line though, our “expectations” about how characters should look are largely determined by the society we grow up in or the people we surround ourselves (virtually, or otherwise) with. That being said, there is no proper race or ethnicity expected of characters in either cosplay or anime. Both are art forms after all, and as all art forms, both depend on expression for effect.