Anime Eyes

Case Study – Avatar The Last Airbender

Today I was posed a question that presented itself as an excellent blog post for this week. I was posed the question “Would you consider ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ as an anime”. As I did not have experience with the show, I took a quick look at videos online, and came up with my own opinion to this statement. In this post I will explore this question and also provide my defining criteria to back up my response. Caution – the video below may contain spoilers.

At first glance, it appears that Avatar: The Last Airbender harbours the makings of an anime production. First and foremost, my argument is based on the idea of an anime as an art style, and not based on its geographical location, so the basic response of “No, it’s an American cartoon” is not enough. There are a number of small criteria I have observed to help me come to my own conclusion on the matter. The first is by looking at the eyes of the character, and observing the character during emotional stages. Secondly I took a look at the mouths of the character, and whether the mouth was synchronised with the words spoken. Finally, I considered the concept of tabula rasa, and the evolution of character.


At a first glance, if you’ve never seen the show, Avatar: The Last Airbender gives the illusion of being an anime production. The art style, based on the image provided, almost appears detailed enough to be considered as anime, but when you watch the cartoon you will quickly realise there is little emphasis on the eyes when showing emotion, and there is no iconography present in the cartoon. The emotion from the characters is shown by use of the mouth and the face as a whole. This indicates that there is a good chance that it is not an anime production.

Another noticable difference between cartoons and anime is the mouths themselves. In most cases, anime productions are produced in two or more forms, the Japanese speaking version with English subtitles (sub) and the English speaking version, produced by an American company (dub). The difference between the two versions is that the voice acting is different across the two versions, and the visuals remain the same content. The speech patterns of the anime characters can easily be manipulated as the animation style for mouths in anime is to simply open and close, and not to track speech patterns in the way other forms of cartoons do. This allows for two separate narrations to appear to be the words of the character, and not a badly edited reproduction of the anime. The character’s speech patterns in Avatar: The Last Airbender appear to match the movement of the mouth, and that the cartoon was made with the characters intent to say those exact words. As cartoons are produced for individual languages, it would seem that Avatar follows the cartoon’s format for speech patterns, allowing me to conclude to that point.

To it’s credit, Avatar does present some themes that could potentially deem itself as an anime. The concept of Tabula Rasa, or blank slate, is a concept that is evident in most cartoons, and is not seen in anime. Anime productions often involve character evolution and story arcs that span multiple episodes. The concept of Tabula Rasa in cartoons leads to a reset of the experience for the cartoons, and each episode has its own story. Tabula Rasa is evident in cartoons such as The Simpsons and Looney Tunes, where the overall character progression is minimal and each episode is its own separate entity. Avatar is like an anime in the way that it possesses a progressive and linear storyline that heavily features character evolution and experience. It is in this way that Avatar appears to be like an anime. This however is not a defining feature of anime, and based on the evidence previously stated, it is my understanding that Avatar: The Last Airbender, while it exhibits certain features of an anime production, it is by definition a cartoon, and not an anime.

Myth Busted.


In Contrast: Facial Expressions in Anime and Cartoons

In this post we will take a look at the difference in facial expressions between anime and cartoon productions. There is a major difference in the presentation of emotion between these two styles of animation, and i believe that by outlining these differences we can better understand the importance of eyes in anime to convey emotion.   Facial expressions in anime cartoons differ in form to their cartoon counterparts. As outlined numerous times throughout the study, the main element for expressing emotion in anime productions is a character’s eyes, associated with the use of iconography. Iconography in these productions include the visual appearance of stress marks, such as the cruciform, which represents bulging veins that appear on a character’s forehead. Another famous example of iconography is the sweat drop, which appears in cases where character’s are experiencing embarrassment. Characters who are experiencing shock or other exaggerated expressions will perform a “face fault”, which can dramatically alter the facial construction of a character in order to effectively show their emotion. These visualised motifs convey emotion in a way that is not seen in cartoons.

In cartoons there is less emphasis on the detail of the characters eyes. In the American animated television series ‘The Simpsons’, the characters eyes are simplistic, as they are just dots for pupils. The eyes in The Simpsons are not used for storytelling, and in fact the entire facial structure remains relatively similar throughout the series. The extent of emotion in cartoons such as The Simpsons comes from the mouth of the character, by either smiling or pulling particular faces to reflect certain emotions. These emotions are evoked by the basic facial prompts we associate with emotion. The expressions that are made by the characters mimic realistic facial structures, where anime over-accentuates emotion in a more visualised manner.

If "The Simpsons" was an anime.  Source: SpaceCoyote on deviantart

If “The Simpsons” was an anime. Source: SpaceCoyote on deviantart

In terms of the overall contrast in facial expressions, the avenues in which anime and cartoon productions expression emotion utilise separate devices. Anime productions use a characters eyes to express emotions, coupled with iconography to accentuate emotion further. Cartoons emphasise emotion through a characters mouth, which they use to imply certain emotions, instead of expressing them in the visualised manner that is expressed in anime.

The Many Faces of Anime

In one of my previous articles I displayed an image to reinforce my argument on my concept of expressions, and today I want to explore these expressions a bit further. The image, which can be seen here, shows a number of different ‘expressions’ which I have observed as common expressions in Anime productions. Each of the expressions have their own unique touches, and in this blog I will draw similar images from my chosen anime Fairy Tail, identify them with one of the moods or expressions from the image, and see if there’s a way to link similar expressions together based on the characters eyes. Keep in mind that I may not be accurate in my identification, as this is a self-reflected study.

Happiness – Fairy Tail’s Mira Jane

The first face I want to take a look expresses happiness, while keeping the characters eyes closed. I have observed that it is quite common in Anime for characters to close their eyes when they smile. This idea seems unique to Anime, and may be based on the natural human reaction to slightly squint when you smile. An example that first came to mind was Fairy Tail’s Mira Jane, a character who is always very friendly and is rarely aggressive in the series.


Frustration/Anger – Fairy Tail’s Levy (left)

This face is one that demonstrates anger and frustration, often in response to an insult from another character. The hollow eyes effect, when used to signify anger, is a more visualized version of blind rage, where a character is so angry that their pupils dilate in anger. Fairy Tail’s Lucy often pulls this face in reaction to jokes or insults from characters like Natsu and Happy – the above image shows Fairy Tail’s Levy pulling the same face.


Anger & Iconography – Fairy Tail’s Happy (Left) and Natsu Dragneel (Right)

In this third image I want to explore the idea of iconography. Iconography is the use of visual language or iconography for expression emotion beyond the scope of the face. The identifiable feature of iconography in the image above is the mark known as a ‘cruciform’ on the character’s foreheads, which depicts popping veins. The above image depicts anger, through use of techniques such as the cruciform, as well as the sharp hollow eyes and the sharpened teeth that, in other situations the characters do not possess. Iconography is quite distinctive in anime and adds another dimension to a character’s expression.


Lust – Fairy Tail’s Gray (left) and Juvia (right)

Among Fairy Tail’s many story arcs, there are many side-stories that continue throughout the story. One of those recurring stories is Juvia Lockser’s obsession with Gray Fullbuster. Across the series she is seen following Gray, and often proclaims her love to him, particularly to other members of the guild. Juvia is seen in the image above with a look of love and lust, another expression which is often seen in anime productions.

Crying - Fairy Tail's Happy

Crying – Fairy Tail’s Happy

This is one of the few different ways that characters cry in anime. The idea of water flowing from the characters eyes is in fact not often used in emotional scenes of the anime. Over the 30 hours of anime I watched so far this session, I witnessed this style of crying mostly in situations where there is an inadequate reason to cry, such as Happy (pictured above) being denied fish.

As is evident in the examples above, there are a number of expressions that are used widely across anime productions to convey an expression or mood.

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.


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.


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!

Anime: Japanese Animation or Inherent Art Style?

In this weeks blog i wanted to explore what is and what really should be considered an Anime. Anime has long been the term used to define all forms of animated productions that are produced in Japan. Anime productions have a very particular art style when it comes to their character design and the way they present themselves. The concept of “Anime eyes”, which I will be discussing in my blog next week, is a distinct characteristic that is commonly found in Anime productions. Expressions are another concept that is commonly found in these animations, which are used to show character emotions more explicitly, and some examples of these “expressions” can be seen in the image below.


Anime “expressions”- Image supplied by

It seems to me that in todays society, the very definition of the term ‘Anime’ is outdated. I would argue that anime is not simply a representation of animations coming out of Japan, and that it is more an inherent art style. In a globalised society, it would be ignorant to classify and define these productions simply based on the location of it’s producers, especially if the style of art is identical to that of Japanese productions. Allow me to use an example.

The Logo for RWBY - Characters (L-R): Ruby, Weiss, Blake & Yang

The Logo for RWBY – Characters (L-R): Ruby, Weiss, Blake & Yang

RWBY (pronounced Ruby) is an animated cartoon series created by RoosterTeeth, an American studio that produces web content. The series, which is completely free to watch on the RoosterTeeth YouTube channel, emulates many aspects of the traditional Anime art style. An article written for CrunchyRoll, the premier website for watching free (and legal) Anime online, unpacks the contextual question of “what is anime and what isn’t”, and really puts into perspective the idea of an outdated definition of Anime.

Have your say, do you agree that the definition is outdated? Let me know in the comments below!