That was the question I asked nearly six months ago when embarking upon my independent study with my advisor, Dr. Richard Reitan, a professor in the history department at Franklin & Marshall College. Since then, I’ve been conspicuously absent from the pages of Amish Otaku. About a month ago I graduated from F&M College, moved out of my apartment (with help!), began graduate school, and found out more about Sailor Moon’s blonde hair and blue eyes than I was expecting. (It’s the last of these that I’d like to share with all of you, the awesome readers of AO.)
Essentially, there are two reasons why many anime characters have Caucasian (that is, Western European) features – and why that doesn’t seem to bother Japanese audiences. My final paper ended up being more than forty pages long, and if you’re interested in reading it, please drop me a line; I’m more than happy to oblige. In the meantime, however, let me boil it down for AO.
Reason #1: World War II and Its Aftermath
The first, more complicated reason is that Japan and her people were severely traumatized in their surrender during World War II and the Allied Occupation immediately following it. Before and during most of WWII, Japan (the “Yamoto race,” purported to be racially pure – as Nazi Germany tried to become) was extremely militaristic, patriarchal, hierarchical and proud of their superiority over Western “hairy barbarians” (so named because they were not Japanese and tended to have facial hair).
After WWII, however, the Japanese had their feet shot out from under them. Those “hairy barbarians” – whom they’d so looked down upon before the end of the war – had managed to bring the entire nation to its knees simply by leveling two small towns, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, via atomic bomb. Although the United States was shown as a bumbling idiot in most anti-Allies/pro-Axis cartoons, the country had power and wasn’t afraid to use it. (This “powerful idiot” perception of the U.S.A. can still be seen in anime like Read Or Die OVA and the end of Earth Maiden Arjuna.) After the war, many Japanese began to wonder why, if they were superior to their Western enemies, had those same enemies literally turned most of Japan into a burning pile of rubble? “Hairy barbarians” or not, the Western powers had won the Pacific War, and Japan couldn’t overlook that. The Allied Occupation of Japan rid the country of any and all official vestiges of military prowess and, with it, much of the Japanese national identity (which had been rooted in martial power and hierarchy).
Nazi Germany was idolized for its obvious and unwavering commitment to racial purity (that is, blonde, blue-eyed Aryans) and for being powerful enough to overcome (and later, withstand) the Allies for as long as it did. Following World War II, Japan was not allowed any time or space to officially mourn the loss of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or their surrender, so a necessary subculture was created to cope with the trauma. In many anime, from the late 1940s to present day, the most powerful characters are blonde and blue-eyed (“Aryan,” for the sake of simplicity) but may also be clumsy, idiotic, and flaky as well. Examples of powerful Aryans include Sailor Moon (Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon), Vash the Stampede (Trigun), Goku’s super-saiyan form (Dragonball Z), Deunan (Appleseed), Griffith (Berserk), Rosette (Chrno Crusade), Seras Victoria and Sir Integra Hellsing (Hellsing), Goury (Slayers), members of the Guild (Last Exile), Tima (Metropolis), Naruto (Naruto), and Karinka (Steel Angel Kurumi), among many others I’m sure you’ve thought of by now that I haven’t named. Western influence is also responsible for anime-esque large, round eyes (as you’ll discover if you read my paper.)
Basically, Japan’s WWII surrender and the following occupation forced the Japanese to cope with a radically different version of their national identity (forced upon the country by outsiders, no less) than they had created for themselves. The Japanese people essentially had collective Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and no one to diagnose or treat them, so they had to make do with what they were allowed (or at least with what they were not disallowed).
Reason #2: Beginnings of Manga
The second, simpler, and more easily provable reason is that manga artists (known as mangaka) drew characters’ hair but didn’t shade in their work. In the late 1950s, when manga (as we know it today) was becoming popular and salable, comics were printed in black and white. In an effort to save ink and create more stylistic options in their work, artists might not color in portions or all of a character’s hair, even if that character’s hair was shaded in earlier in the same manga. Mangaka knew that readers would be able to discern between characters, even when their hair color “changed” through each comic, because of the characters’ other discerning features. Just because a girl in one panel had dark hair and in the next had light-colored hair didn’t mean that her hair color changed or that she was a different person; it was just a stylistic decision. Readers knew that all the characters were Japanese and had dark hair whether they looked like they had dark hair or not.
When color printing became feasible, publishers would cover their comics with bright colors (including hair color) to attract attention. Marketing decisions like that were rarely based on a given character’s actual hair color; usually, bright colors attracted more readers, and more readers meant more sales. From there, it was easy for readers to assume that the character(s) depicted in the cover picture (in color) was an accurate representation of the character(s) inside the manga as well – which was not necessarily true. This assumption translated into anime, and from that point on, artists figured that readers could easily make the logical jump from different hair colors to different eye colors to different skin colors, etc. – all while each character remained quintessentially Japanese.
So, there you have it. A short(ish) explanation of why Sailor Moon (and quite a few other anime and manga characters) are blonde and blue-eyed – or anything besides dark-haired and dark-eyed. I have citations for all of the information in the full paper (from which this summary is derived); if you’d like to see them, firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll hook you up.