Comparison #1: Mentalities behind people drawing one style or the other

This is perhaps one of the most common art arguments brought up, but a discussion that still goes on today in art classrooms everywhere: the difference between the two art styles that is Western and Japanese animation, debates on which is “more superior and better to learn from when starting to draw”, and general biases towards the both of their styles.

First, a list of common general features of both types in terms of character art style. One bullet list appears more “positive” than the other, but this is more of a representation of overall opinion on it.

  • Western animation:
  1. Tends to have more exaggerated/varied facial features and expressions per character
  2. More exaggerated body types, sometimes even making someone appear geometrically shaped that usually tells of their personality (i.e. round for cute characters, triangle shapes for smart or evil characters)
  3. One is able to usually tell immediately which series a character comes from as each western show often portrays a much different style than another series’

This acute need to develop a unique art style in the west usually results in overemphasizing many features of a character to make them distinguishable, either to the point of charming quirkiness, or downright zaniness. One of the best things about western animation is not only the vast differences in art style, but the many ways these visuals can be presented. Shows like Tom and Jerry are all show and not tell, and musical numbers like that trippy sequence in Dumbo are very abstract by nature. There are huge liberties in portraying it with a certain mood, and there are just less negative reactions or backlash towards it as each animation style in western animation can feel like a refreshing new start when starting on another series. Criticism of the style would be times when expressions and emotions are so exaggerated such as dropping jaw to the floor when surprised, and these aspects makes this type of animation “too childish” for some people to watch anymore as the style deviates from real life norms. This however is mostly a culture issue, and doesn’t make the message any less expressive to those who do end up watching.

  • Japanese animation (anime):
  1. More concerned with aesthetics and sympathy factors of a character that will directly appeal to the audience. Everything is also usually shinier when colored/animated
  2. Less variety in facial features (i.e. dots/small lines for noses, nearly identical head shapes of almost every character, etc), and bodies tend to be very cookie cutter shaped among characters
  3. Less variety in art style in general: a majority of the time, rather than being able to judge by art style to see which anime series a character comes from (i.e. for Western animation one would automatically know whether a character comes from Fairy Odd Parents), people would ask “what anime is the character from”

It is this latter problem that makes art teachers  tell students “not to draw in anime style, to branch out on a style of their own.” This concern for students only drawing in anime style is not unfounded: a lot of people do fall into the pitfall of only consulting “how-to draw anime” books and drawing exactly how the book teaches without improvising on the style further. However, I do think it is a little unfair to totally dismiss anime style altogether as it closes doors on certain positive aspects of aesthetics in anime such as the fine details in hair and clothing wrinkles. And while not focusing on artistic expression as often, it is a good platform for serious works as it tends to reflect real life in a way that you don’t often see square/triangular people in large head shaped varieties, nor can you tell who is evil or good just by looking at them. Works like Full Metal Alchemist is a good example of portraying a serious storyline, and managing to have characters who look unique without having to resort to extreme shapes.

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Ultimately, there are so many exceptions to both which I can provide with plenty of examples in comments if you address them. Bottom line is, if anyone who wants to draw illustration, storyboards or animate have no idea where to start getting their inspiration in honing skill, I think it is okay to draw inspiration from -even piggyback for a while on- a style from any country, regardless of how generic the style may be in the beginning. In the end, there is no better teacher in creating authenticity than taking a great amount of motivation by observing everyday life, taking some courses that teach basics that you might already know (but will force you to practice and get better with those skills regardless!), and just having fun drawing whatever it is you want to draw in general. No matter how different or ordinary the art style may turn out to be, if someone enjoys it regardless, I think at the end of the day the issue becomes irrelevant if the message or emotion behind the work is meaningful.

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