Anime Facial Expressions

I wrote about the visual language of anime a while back. However, there are a few things I left out. Anime also has a large range of facial expressions. Although generally facial expressions are easier to understand than visual shorthand like speed lines, there are some that just make you wonder how they came about. Many of these facial gestures were developed for the black and white manga format. The format required concise and quick communication of emotions in a limited space and format. Unlike American comics, manga traditionally couldn’t leverage colors to convey mood. Instead, they developed a system of exaggerated expressions and gestures. These can be rather jarring until you get used to them. They certainly look and feel different from the more standard look and feel the anime or manga normally has.

Akanbe

This childish gesture involves pulling down one lower eyelid and sticking out the tongue. Sometimes the character will also say beeda. It is considered an infantile taunt similar to thumbing the nose and sayingneener neener.The gesture is typically done by teenage girls or elementary boys and girls. The expression is rather odd for us Westerners where it isn’t all that common. We like to thumb the nose and waggle our remaining fingers.

The word akanbe is a corruption of akai me, or red eye. It refers to showing the red of the lower eye lid.

Orz

Orz really isn’t a facial expression. It involves a character falling over, kneeling, or bowing on all fours. It shows complete and utter defeat. A character who orz has utterly given up and/or pleading for help from another character. It has a feeling of a character being crushed by events. Although, sometimes it is also used for comedy relief. The posture is often accompanied with purple stress/illness lines or clouds.

The name for the posture originated in 2002 because it looks like the posture. “orz,” or also _| ̄|○ looks like a person kneeling in defeat. The R and the Z forms to arms/torso and legs respectively.

The Blush

The blush is pretty self explanatory. In older anime, it was represented by a red squiggle line or slanted lines. Now it is mostly a splash of color. Some characters seem to permanently blush. This is done to make them appear cuter or even more sexual with adult characters. Extreme embarrassment is often handled by a full face blush where the character’s face “fills up” with ruddy color.

The Blush can also be used to portray illness or distress when purple or blue is used instead of red. It is also used to show sexual arousal in adult oriented genres.

Beady/Squiggle Eyes

These are classic anime expressions used to expression confusion or hopelessness. They can be combined with the Blush or even an Orz when needed.  This expression also has a visual feeling of being overwhelmed or dazed.

Extreme Happiness

The emoticon for the Extreme Happiness expression is “XD.” It shows when a character is utterly overwhelmed with happiness (or sometimes annoyance). This is a very exaggerated expression. The eyes create an X and the mouth opens to impossible sizes. This expression can appear to look odd. It can be difficult to non-anime watchers to know what the character is feeling without context. It often looks psychotic.

Deanimation/Cut Out

This odd expression involves the character abruptly transforming into a pencil sketch or some other primitive cut out shape. This expression is used for extreme surprise, shock or feeling dumbfounded. This typically shows up as a comedy relief and in reaction to something another character says or does. Usually only the audience is aware of the deanimation, but sometimes even the other characters notice the shift in look for more comedic effect. Like the orz, it usually involves the entire body. It can be quite jarring.

Anime is famous for its enormous eyes. These both play a part in facial expressions and audience expectations. Eyes from the expression and personality of the character. Serious characters have realistically sized eyes. More outgoing, young, or personable characters have larger eyes (and consequently more exaggerated and noticeable expressions). Large eyes in general allows the artist to convey expression and a character’s thoughts more easily.

There are a wide range of expressions in anime. There are also the famous sweat drop and popped vein. There are even more specialized expressions for certain genres or even individual characters. Luckily most are easy enough to understand: anger, happiness, shock/fear, and other mainstream expressions. The more genre specific expressions can be understood from context.

The interesting part about expressions is after you see them enough, the stylized look will only mean a certain emotion. While people seeing the expression for the first time may not understand the emotion in isolation. It is much like reading emoticons. When you first see XD, you read it as an ‘x’ and a ‘d.’ After you realize it is meant to express an emotion, you will start to see it only as that expression as opposed to letters. This is the same for other emoticons: ; ), ^_^, and the like. However, until you understand what the style shorthand means, they don’t make sense. Anime expressions work in much the same way. I remember when I first started watching anime, many expressions looked like weird animation mistakes or an abrupt switch in artistic style instead of a portrayal of an emotion.

11 thoughts on “Anime Facial Expressions”

  1. The Bush one I’d from Ouran High School Host Club, correct? I could’ve sworn that was Tamaki…

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what anime it came from. I found it one day on Google Image Search and thought it illustrated the expression nicely.

  2. When I started watching anime I really wasn’t confused by the expressions…
    While I don’t read :) as colon parenthesis, I still read XD as xd for some reason.

    1. Emoticons have helped us decode anime expressions easier. Many of the emoticons seem to be based on anime expressions: ~(@^_^@)~, ~O(∩_∩)O~. I noticed my Asian pen pals like to use more elaborate emoticons than our standard XD, : ), and others.

    1. Anime is very good at creating expressive characters. Although sometimes the expressions look odd or are misunderstood by those who don’t normally watch anime.

    1. Many of them make sense like orz, when you think about them. Some expressions are called by their emoticon more than having an actual name.

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