A Look into the Eyes of Anime

As a continuation of my latest article on what defines an anime, I have decided to continue the discussion, focusing on the concept of Anime Eyes as the subject of exploration for this task. As I noted last week, an anime character’s eyes are a distinct and unique design unique to the art form, and differ in characteristics and importance to other types of animation. In anime productions, a character’s eyes are often quite detailed, depicting not only the pupil, but the orbit, eyelid and eyelashes aswell.

Eyes in anime are used as a device to express character emotion, as well as a way to show one’s personality. Flickering eyes can express sadness and pain, particularly if the character is on the verge of tears. In some cases, the eyes can simply be a defined shape, with no internal definition of the pupils, which is used to define anger, and is used extensively in fighting sequences or when a character is yelling in anger. The image below details Fairy Tail’s main character, Natsu fighting a tree, showing his “anger” at his friends, Gray and Erza.

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In my studies I have discovered that another defining feature of Anime Eyes is their size, which is not only used to define “cuteness”, but also youth and innocence. The following example contains minor spoilers of the anime series Fairy Tail, so if you wish to avoid spoilers, skip this paragraph. Drawing another example from Fairy Tail episode 20, we meet a young character named Lisanna in a flashback. She is a close friend of Natsu Dragneel, and considered a romantic interest of the young Natsu in these flashbacks. Lisanna shows little in her time on screen but kindness and pure innocence in terms of her character development throughout the episode and her eyes reinforce the innocent and youthful nature of the young girl. Lisanna, who was previously assumed to be deceased, returns in episode 79 of the anime series, alive and noticeably older than the young girl we know from previous episodes. The older Lisanna, also pictured below, maintains some of the characteristics that remind you of her younger self, with the exception that her eyes are not as large as her younger self, which reinforces the idea that her eyes are used to show her age and innocence in her youthful self.

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So far my study on anime eyes has begun to take shape, and so for the remainder of this session my autoethnographic study will be exploring this concept. In my next blog i’ll continue to explore my work on expressionism. See you next time!

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10 comments

  1. You’re right, the Anime Eye design is a defining element of anime. Their eyes communicate a symbolic language that surpasses the spoken dialogue, and it made it easier for me to initially watch anime and understand the art style. However, I want to understand your relationship with Anime Eye designs. Did you initially have to learn to recognise what each expression indicated? Was is it difficult to understand, or did it quickly evoke the correct emotions in you?
    While I prefer simple art designs, there is something magical about the twinkle of an anime eye – and you’re right! they are exceptionally detailed – especially when you compare it to the art styles of popular cartoons on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Warner Bros. What’s your opinion of the eye design? Is it an appropriate or exaggerated representation of emotion? Are there animes that don’t utilise the common eye design you described?
    Breaking down an art form is an excellent way to understand a culture. Perhaps, drawing upon Anime’s history and roots, and how it’s influenced and been influenced over time, would be interesting future topics to enhance your research. For example, many of the characteristics of Anime are present in the French animation and game ‘Wakfu’ – and those “anime eyes” are certainly present. It makes you question if its unique to anime anymore, or if it only defines an artstyle. 😉
    Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. my latest post was on the identification of character expressions, so I have that base covered! Thanks for the comment, these are some ideas i’ll consider for the future posts! =]

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  2. I love the characteristics of anime drawings so this was a really interesting read. I’ve even heard of certain anime shows being described as a “sparkly-eyed” anime, meaning it’s a romance, which I think is a pretty cool way to describe a show. Straight away from the description you know it’s not just gonna be a romance but a real “lovey-dovey” romance.
    I found this really “legitimate” quiz you can do to find out “Which anime eye type are you?” (http://www.selectsmart.com/FREE/select.php?client=animeeyes) more than anything it’s a personality quiz so it basically just tells you what emotions you display the most. Awesome that drawn eyes can portray so much.
    Really enjoy that you’re exploring the drawings themselves rather than the content of the shows!

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    1. yeah there is a particular genre of anime, identified as Shojo anime, that focuses on the the sparky eyes (Sailor Moon, anyone?). These kinds of anime are aimed towards teenage girls, and are really quite popular. Thanks for your comment =]

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  3. I’ve heard it said before that Asian cultures consider large, round eyes to be very beautiful, and had always assumed that this was one of the reason that many anime characters have such large eyes. I hadn’t really considered before just how important the eyes are as an important means of communication in anime. What I find interesting is the dramatic and stylised ways animator drastically change eye shape and detail when communicating emotion, like in your first image, where the eyes are barely drawn as more than white circles, in what I assume is an expression of anger or some other intense emotion. I’d love to know why anime artists do this, because while it does the job of communicating the emotion quite well, I’ve never seen anyone’s eyes go that shape and colour when they’re all worked up! Is it a cultural thing, or am I over analysing a cartoon again?

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  4. Eyes are definitely the main focal point of anime. It is amazing how much emotion characters can convey just through their eyes. I’ve often heard that many Asian culture’s find big round eyes beautiful, as well as blonde hair. With the minimal amount of anime’s that I have watched I have found that the eyes always seem to be drawn in a similar way. I watch a lot of Sailor Moon and I have to say that I believe the most powerful expression is when the animators have added tears at the bottom of the eyes. Even though it isn’t real I become so caught up in their emotions. Something that I have thought about lately is how similar emoji’s on our mobile phones look to the drawing of anime eyes. It would be interesting to learn if the creators have followed the anime technique.

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  5. Its really cool how after all these years watching shows like pokemon and Dragonball Z; that one off hand comment about the eyes being used as a device to express emotion has completely changed how I view the shows now. I have been thinking back to these shows while reading your post and realising how much they are actually used as ways to show emotion. Its a really cool thing that I doubt many people would really notice on the first watch through of a show. Im interested to see where your research will take you

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    1. Same here! I always knew it was a thing but I never consciously thought of it, but it totally makes sense now. Thinking back on when I would have anime on in the background muted I could still understand generally what was happening partially due to the eye and facial expressions of various characters. Have you noticed that when characters are mysterious or evil they hide their eyes? Do you think this is to make the character seem less human?

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  6. YES! The Eyes in anime are a defining factor of the illustration and design behind the genre. The characters eyes are so intricate and detailed, however they all seem to be the same or similar (If that makes sense) almost to the extent where you could remove the eyes from one character, place them on another and they still look exactly the same. I really like the fact that you have dissected the illustration of anime to analyse what makes it recognisable across cultures. It’s an interesting approach.

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