I thought we could all use a nice light post that’s just a general excuse for thinking about anime characters we like. And while I was thinking about anime characters I liked, I started to think about general design elements that I seem to enjoy whenever I notice them.
It’s not like I need any of these things to appreciate a character design or anything. Many of my favourite characters don’t have these features. In fact, a lot of character designs I love don’t have any of them. But whenever I do see them, I think to myself, huh…that’s cool!!!
5. Contrasting eye colours
Anime eyes are generally just beautiful. I always enjoy when more than one colour gets mixed in, going from a midnight blue to a soft green for instance. But lately, I’ve noticed a still uncommon but growing trend to throw completely contrasting, even complementary colours together on a single eyeball.
Probably the first thing I noticed I noticed in Bungo Stray Dogs (an anime just teaming with lovely character designs, where Atsushi’s purple and yellow eyes. Purple and yellow together! Who does that??? I never would have believed it could look anything but gross yet….
4. Ombre hair
And we are still on colours, what can I say, I have a brand. I love ombre hair. I think it adds dimension and weight. I can see how it might be kinda difficult to animate though so it’s no wonder I’ve mostly seen it in relatively calm slice of life shows.
An offshoot of this is the dark roots on bleach hair that seems to appear more and more. I still don’t know how I feel about it but it certainly makes Kenma stand out!
Ok, so maybe I just like punk design elements… I think piercings are a very easy way to visually single out a character without drastically changing their look. Tattoos can be hit or miss as the tattoo itself can be ugly or absolutely beautiful and make the design.
But piercing are much more subtle and easy to hide. Yet they still give that slight rock and/or roll edge to the character!
2. Sharper slanted (or closed) eyes
I get that the ideal anime aesthetic is is big round eyes that look innocent and kind. I understand and I’m all for them. But I can’t help but like the squinty ones. Maybe it’s because those characters are so often trolls and it’s nothing to do with the actual look of it. It’s hard to tell how it started. At some poi8nt, I just found that I preferred the more closed eye look with sharper almost cat like edges. Let’s see if I can explain..
Rather than this:
You know what, I just give up. All hail the mullet!
1. Messy hair
Many characters have amazing hair. Not only colourful but also gravity defying. However, nothing impresses me as much as a messy mane with loose strands all over the place and uneven hairs sticking out. Why? I don’t know…
For example Fumi of sweet blue flowers has beautiful sleek straight black hair for most of the series, but in this one scenes, she collapses in bed and her hair gets all dishevelled and I thought it looked amazing! I get that this is probably a lot more complex to draw which is why we don’t see it much. Still when we do see it, it’s great!!!
Ohoh, quick extra one, I like when characters have dark circles under their eyes. No freakin clue why ut I just ove the lack of sleep look on anime characters.
Nice, a short and sweet list. not to mention fun to put together. Do you guys have character design elements you consistently enjoy seeing? Are there design elements that can sort of ruin a character design for you?
34 thoughts on “My Favourite 5 Character Design Elements”
Those are some great reasons. I didn’t even think about contrasting eyes. I agree with ombre hair. I’ve even written characters with that feature before. Haha!
Eyes. Androgyny and punk used properly IMHO – meaning the crazy hair, piercings, tattoos but as Pinkie puts it so well done that it is simply part of a person, not a persona they’ve adopted to try and get attention or prove something. And I love traditional Japanese costume, or costumes based on same that fit well into the asthetic of the particular anime. Long hair and traditional dress on men, gets me every time. Great fun little list.
I think of tattoos a bit like clothes or makeup. They’re always going to be a preformative aspect to it but that doesn’t take away that the performance is art of the identity. Does that make sense?
I guess my best answer to that is no answer at all – it depends. IRL a tattoo is such a deep personal decision (unless it was a drunk mishap – which also says something about you as a person) so I guess I tend to interpret as the same in fiction. I think overall it’s kind of overused now and used to sort of “label” people, too. Maybe that is an anime thing given that in the East tattoos are largely a signal that you are a criminal. So I probably put too much emphasis on it, and it’s just a personal thing.
I find unusual eyes interesting, although I remember there was a series a few years ago where some of the characters’ eyes were such a riot of colors that it became actively distracting. I can’t remember which series that was now, but I’m pretty sure it was one I didn’t finish.
Now one eye design choice I almost always like are oddly-shaped pupils, like with your Gurren Lagann example up there. I watched Dream Eater Merry recently, and that series had lots of unusual pupils; it was like a treasure trove for me. Kaitou Joker was another good series for exotic eyes, like with the characters Queen (orange and yellow irises and diamond-shaped white pupils) and Tsubasa (pink eyes with cross-shaped pupils) to give a couple examples.
I just looked up Dream Eater Merry and those really are some interesting eyes. I don’t recall ever seeing rectangle pupils like that
The motif for Merry’s character design (which is fantastic IMO) was a sheep, which is why she has those eyes, but yeah it’s definitely striking. All series I kept wanting to stop and study them.
In the anime Himouto! Umaru-chan there’s a character who’s called Slyphonford (I hope that I spelled it right, lol), who has eyes like that.
she has flower eyes! cute
That closed eyes thing. Almost closed eyed are associated with prepping for a fight. We do it instinctively. It narrows our focus to the threat. It protects our eyes better against a sudden assault and signals determination (as opposed to fear) to anyone bright enough to pay attention to body language. OTOH, eyes wide open in a threat situation signals fear.
Big eyes are associated with the young and the harmless. As we get older the ratio between the size of our eyes and our heads shrinks. Men have smaller eyes in proportion to their heads than women. It is why women who want to look adorable often trade heavily in eye makeup. Really, it is the opposite signal from the narrowed eyes.
Humans are genetically programmed to find childish faces pleasing and for them to provoke protective feelings.
That’s some pretty old school science, there.
Ooh, that’s a good question. Let’s see…I tend to like androgynous looking characters. The single fang too always appeals. Oh, and stick a tail on a character and they’re good to go. So, I suppose if Astolfo in the Fate franchise had been a neko, he would have been the perfect character for me from a visual standpoint. I like a good, dark smile too. Revy in Black Lagoon is great for those.
androgynous is big for me too
I like Messy hair a lot too! Especially when its not in the cool looking way! A dojiko girl wo has her hair move in ways she doesnt want is ultra adorable to me! I loved that Fumi scene for similar reasons!
I also like characters with highligts or a few of coloured locks.
Characters of different body types also appeal a lot to me, body type is to univerasal in anime so I like it if characters are short, to tall or plumb or lankey, I like lanky chars a lot.
I am not a big fan of Tatoos or piercings not in anime and not in real life! On some people it does work but on some I find it really trying to be cool or edgy. I think people are cool for who they are not how they look.. again some people and character are made for piercings, Gajeel really works for me. The gambling girl (forgot her name) works less for me, where it just is used to make her look more crazy. A lip ring on guys is my biggest eew! On girls I kinda like it though.
Face masks are another thing I do not like
on my…I have a …few… piercings….
I know, I read K’s post and I bet they would look awesome on on you! No worries! I like them on girls a lot more than guys anyway, but I do dislike it when people get tatoos for attention it always shows.
You being the socially akward lovable hiding geek that you are I cant imagine being like that. Piercing can be part of a person or added to a person. One looks good to me the other one doesn’t.
In the punk look I find it quit okay in general but my Uncle wears them to look intimidating and that I see in more people, like Hells Angel or that Kaksgurui girl.
Since punk isnt that big here and biker and skinhead culture is fairly big.. that , I wanna be scary look kinda puts me off. You dont seem that type!
Hey there. I guess this is as good a spot to mention it as any. You’ve been nominated~
As someone who’s really into punk music and hard rock number 3 is one of my favorite aspects of character designs especially with Nana Osaki and Ai Yazawa’s character designs. Also my favorite use of the slanted eyes would be Zero Kiryu in vampire knight.
I actually used him in my pictures. Col coincidence
I’m always surprised by the variety of posts on your blog! If I may add to this list, I would say that the actual design of the eyes matters a lot, adding to the overall ‘feel’ of the anime. It’s especially prevalent in manga, but if you want an example, just turn to the fire force anime and see how big a role the eyes play in setting the mood for a scene, even during action sequences, especially with characters like Joker and Shinra.
Another design thingy I like is buff bodies, like toriko, or old school DBZ, or even Danberu nan kilo moteru, things like Baki and Hokuto no Ken, and of course, JoJo!
Another of the design traits that comes to mind are the darker kimonos, epic looking haoris and intricate yukatas which are present in mostly psychadelic and supernatural or samurai/historic/fighting type anime, like certain scenes from XXXholic, Kimetsu no Yaiba, etc.
A pet peeve of mine is when things are tryharded into being cute, like you know, the huge eyes, the loli-look, the frills and bows and ribbons. what was supposed to be cute ends up looking like a parody creature created by Bart Baker. There is a natural cute, and there’s this kind of cute ‘aesthetic’, which I often find deplorable.
We don’t see enough bara characters. Everybody is so lithe.
Kimonos are also absolutely beautiful, I do wish I knew how to wear one
Ooh, I love those slanted eyes, and I especially love the perpetually closed ones (beware lest you see them open on you). Also the messy hair.
For some reason I also like really long pony tails that go up for a while and then trail behind. Think Sakura Kyouko from Madoka or Hibiki from Idolm@ster.
And I really like those one-sided little fangs. They’re extremely cute. Usually only on girls, children, and occasionally mascots. I’m fairly sure I’ve seen them on boys with fun effect, but I can’t think of a good example.
I call those cheerleader pony tails. There’s a reason but it’s long and boring.
I also know for sure that I’ve seen boys with cute little fangs but I just spent 5 minutes fishing for an example and couldn’t find one
So the reason for cheerleader ponytails being called cheerleader ponytails is as as long as a… cheerleader ponytail? (I now imagine her jumping around whipping everyone with the ponytail.)
As for the fang boys? It doesn’t help that you get mostly vampires (oh, and fox Naruto), which Isn’t what I meant.
When it comes to boys, Killua has sported a fang once. When it comes to male characters generally I think the exemplar is Madarame from Genshiken.
I was a punk rocker in high school so I’m a sucker for all the wild, colorful hair designs in anime. And of course I love androgynous or gender-bending character designs.
As for pet peeves, I dislike when designs try too hard to be sexy. Showing a little skin is fine, but it has to fit with the story and the character’s personality. I also tend to have a hard time with designs that are too generic or look to similar to other characters I’ve seen. I’ve seen at four or five different shows where I’ve called some random character “Kirito” (from Sword Art Online) or “Shirou Emiya” (from Fate) because so many anime boys look just like them 😅
I love androgynous as well. There is a sort of default anime look that’s much more apparent in boys, isn’t there. That’s too bad.
If I may participate in Dawnstorm’s image guessing game, your eye images include Hypnosis Mic (Gentaro and Hifumi), Gurren Lagann (Nia), BSD (Atsushi, as stated in post). Hovering over the images reveals there’s one original one, ones from Amnesia, Sarazanmai (Sara, or possibly Kazuki) and Log Horizon…but the blue one on the left (third from top left) bugs me still…
The stars in Mori’s eyes (God of High School) bug me and I know I’m not alone on that front. It’s a similar case with other symbols in characters’ eyes, such as the aforementioned Nia’s flowers.
I once made a hypothesis that all magical girls have earrings. Don’t know if it’s true anymore, but it could be.
The slanted eyes are called tsurime, in contrast to tareme (the round eyes).
Generally, the things I like characters wearing tend to be the hardest to cosplay and/or obtain, like kimonos (or Gentaro’s schoolboy outfit, which is fairly close to a kimono) or fingerless gloves.
The only eyes I know I’d have gotten are Bungou Stray Dogs and Gurren Langann (which I watched very recently). I might have had a chance at Amnesia (because I expected that show to be here and would have examined each unknown for it) and Sarazanmai (though that one’s more likely to bother me no end without result). I’d have gotten none of the others; I have only a very vague memory of the Log Horizon character (I think I know who, but I’m far from sure, and don’t actually recognise her completely). I’m not entirely sure the one labeled “original” is actually original. Seems somewhat familiar. The one you’re missing I have no idea about. (I’m not entirely sure it actually is a character; there seems to be no face. Could be some sort of logo? It is very vaguely familiar, so who knows?)
It’s part of an eye art study and not an actual character at all
I have so many fingerless gloves…
Original is in fact Orion from Amnesia while that blue eye is a doodle from a fried so you had no chance. I was cheating.
I for one would like to know who the girl on the top left of your “messy hair” section is!
Quickly reverse Googling reveals that is an original character from a Reddit user, with the artwork being called “Boredom”.