Sci-Fi Anime ‘Psycho-Pass’ & Why are Anime Characters White or European Looking?

The other week on a discussion on how a transhumanist future would evolve and be like for its citizens, a commentator recommended Psycho-Pass. So I looked it up and thought, oh no, not anime series, that’s not my thing. But the actual description of the series and that there only were 22 episodes, about 20 minutes each, made me take a chance and watch it. I liked it, it was better than I expected and the creative visuals, the up-to-date casual references all made a great backdrop for the actual dystopian content. Most important of all, the series really blended in many of the future sci-fi ideas we have today, like cyborgs, holograms, constant surveillance, pre-crime prevention and much more. Great 22 packed episode, especially midway into it, it really gets clever and good enjoyable sci-fi. In the sense that it presents a possible dystopian future and it doesn’t seem that far fetched either.

Anime 'Psycho-Pass'.

Then after a while of watching I remembered that this was anime and that is Japanese, so why are so many characters white, caucasian, European or however you want to define it. Then I remembered I’ve seen anime films and series before. Robotech was on Yugoslavian TV in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. So this question became interesting, why does Japanese anime have so many white characters in them?

Scene from Kiki's Delivery Service.

Here are some screenshots from a video called What Japanese Think of Whitewashing… Where some girls comment on that Scarlett Johansson will play the main cahracter in the film Ghost in the Shell, that comes out in 2017. Of course, films that are million dollar investments will go after celebrities, it’s all part of the same film industry-money-loop; but still, it lays down a foundation for the questions asked to the girls, about white characters and Japanese anime.

Japanese on white anime characters.Japanese on white anime characters.Japanese on white anime characters.

A more straight forward question…

Fascinated by white people.Fascinated by white people.

I saw three general types of characters in anime, either Japanese, white or androgynous. I went online and read articles, comment sections and saw a bunch of videos about this topic. The discussions seem to be plenty and endless. However, half of the ideas and comments I came across didn’t really call an apple an apple. The characters are human in anime, the milieu mostly set in Japan with Japanese culture – yet often the characters look white, that’s for sure. When the endless discussion on this goes on it seems that 3 types of answers are given.

  1. The characters are Japanese only, it’s just people getting confused with the white skin och tones of colors, even though they are mostly associated with white people. It’s just white people’s hybris about them being in the center of the universe.
  2. It doesn’t matter, they are all fantasy characters and not humanoid at all.
  3. Yes, they look very much white/caucasian/European and even though it doesn’t matter, we can conclude that it is so for some reason.

Anime itself won’t change, as the style is set and few reflect on that. The bigger eyes are a typical cartoon feature since the time of original Disney. Is this choice of white characters something more deeply rooted in Japanese or East Asian culture and its relation to beauty ideals?

Anime, being a very new global phenomenon, is a way for some of the modern day artistic Japanese expressions to channel what they want to be like. In what environment they want to be in, what problems they see, what they dream of being possible… and so on. Perhaps having characters of different features; like red, blonde and brown hair colors makes it more interesting. Than all black haired Japanese in their everyday life. And since it’s a global phenomenon it’s rather obvious that it will be a melting pot of styles, features and looks – and not something rotted in national-ethnic folklore exactly. Maybe it’s a form of physical escapism and just a desire for variety? As anime is mostly popular in Japan and USA, the characters must represent that audience in appearance combined with the specific anime look. Maybe this commercial aspect relating to the audiences the dominant factor after all?

Anime 'Psycho-Pass'.

Or is there something specific about the good looks of a white person? There is a paper called Skin Lightening and Beauty in Four Asian Cultures that is interesting in this context. It states that “The beauty ideal of white skin in Asia predates colonialism and the introduction of Western notions of beauty”. The abstract of the paper pretty much sums it up.

“Whiteness” or having white skin is considered an important element in constructing female beauty in Asian cultures. A dramatic growth of skin whitening and lightening products has occurred in Asian markets. Contemporary meanings of whiteness are influenced by Western ideologies as well as traditional Asian values and beliefs. In this study, we analyze print advertisements for skin whitening and lightening products in four Asian societies — India, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. We compare the verbal messages and visual images for both global brands and local brands and across countries. We find that whiteness in these Asian cultures is both empowering and disempowering as well as both global and local in character.

Anime is in the long historical run still a fresh cultural phenomenon and the Asian desire for white skin was rooted long before beside a few even knew that white people and other races existed. In that case they are setting the beauty norm themselves and it is not done by anyone else. For me, I enjoy watching Korean, Japanese and Asian films, art and all that. Anime is not something I consume most of the time so that’s why this came up. For me, they are all a bunch of white looking anime people in whirlwind of escapism.

What do you think?

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1 Comment
  • Nik
    July 17, 2018

    I was checking the works of the mangaka and the animation company. But Pshycho Pass characters are uncomfortably white.
    I do asume its because the lack of sunlight that they might be getting daily, I mean, even their bedroom windows are digital..