I recently was in need of new mascara and at the shop I came across “Mega Volume Miss Manga Mascara” from L’Oréal. Remembering the ad on YouTube that got on my nerves so many times, I decided to give it a try. Why were “Manga Eyes” suddenly introduced as a new esthetics in the West, I wondered?
I guess it has something to do with the popularity of manga and anime. These cartoon characters are most of the time depicted with large eyes. Especially in manga for young girls (少女漫画 shōjo manga), the eyes make up for almost half of the face. Notice that girls’ eyes are considerably larger than boys’ eyes. The bad guy always has small, almost closed black eyes, and a cold stare. The hero’s eyes are wide-open, full of kindness and love, sparkling in vivid colors.
The first manga artist who started drawing characters with big eyes, is well-known mangaka Osamu Tezuka. He got inspired by American cartoons such as Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters. But his biggest admiration was reserved for Scrooge McDuck (you know, that grumpy penny-pinching uncle of Donald Duck). Tezuka confirmed Scrooge trademarks (big head, large eyes) were the basis for his works, and consequently for the manga industry in total.
A second theory is that Japanese people believe that eyes are “the window of the soul”. A study at Hokkaido University proved that the Japanese tend to look to the eyes in search for emotions, while Westerners tend to look at the mouth. Japanese people are rather good at hiding emotions (“the Asian mask”), and therefore trust looking at one’s eyes more. Eyes are difficult to control and show one’s true intentions, thoughts and feelings. Take emoticons for example. Because the focus is on the eyes instead of the mouth, the emoticons are not to be rotated, and the symbol for the mouth can be left out or doesn’t add any information.
The last decades, Asian girls (Japan, South-Korea, China) yearn for big eyes. From elaborate make-up to false lashes over double eyelid tape, everything is possible to obtain this “pretty” effect. In every photo booth (プリクラ purikura), you can choose the option to make your eyes bigger. Circle contact lenses make the eye’s iris appear larger. And for the diehards, double eyelid surgery provides a permanent solution.
Apparently, big eyes are in vogue because the fortunate owner looks doll-like, youthful, cute, innocent and … foreign. It seems that big eyes are naturally attractive for people. When the pupil dilates, it signals that you find the other person attractive. Because Asian people tend to have smaller eyes, they are more attracted to big eyes because of their rarity. And of course the popularity of manga plays a role.
It’s funny that a product generating big eyes, something – according to the Japanese – foreigners naturally possess, is now sold to those same foreigners. If it’s a trend to make the eyes bigger and bigger every time, I think I should disagree. It looks unnatural and even scary perhaps. But the main reason is that I really like the specific form and smallness of Japanese eyes. Probably because this time it’s a rarity for me, but don’t you think it’s part of the Japanese attractiveness?
– Cracked about Tezuka en Donald Duck
– Livescience on the Japanese psychology behind big eyes
– Why big eyes in anime and manga on my.opera
– Kaomoji on the difference between emoticons
-Thank you Steven for the inspiration and explanation of both theories!