Anime is a medium that has been around for many decades, and with that much time to change, there have been many adjustments made to what’s considered standard in the anime industry. As with most artistic mediums, the style for most anime has changed drastically between classic and modern titles.
From the way characters look to the way that they express themselves, there are a lot of changes to explore. Here’s a look at how anime expressions have changed so drastically over the years.
Expressions Are Less Exaggerated
Anime, particularly those from the ’80s to the early 2000s, were known for having very exaggerated expressions. Giant mouths, bigger heads, bigger eyes — everything was expressed in a bigger and wackier way than they are today. Characters didn’t just get mad, angry, or happy, they felt it, and they really made sure that the audience could see it.
In the past, characters would literally drop to the floor if they were surprised or if they heard something silly. Giant sweat drops would appear if a character was exasperated. Big, flesh-colored lumps with a giant band-aid would form on the character’s head if they received a good beating in that area, accidental or otherwise. If a character was sad, a fountain of tears would fall down their face in a comical fashion. And if a character was especially angry, their head would turn red and grow bigger than their entire body, their mouth would grow sharp fangs, and a giant red vein would pulse on their forehead.
Modern anime characters still express themselves in ways only anime characters are capable of, but it’s much less exaggerated compared to their predecessors. Sweat drops and pulsating veins have diminished in size while expressions like the “anime fall” or the “anime lump” have become a rarity at best. When characters cry, it’s often shown in a more realistic fashion, as are injuries and expressions of anger or happiness. This is because most modern anime prefer to use more realistic expressions as opposed to the more cartoony expressions of old.
A Change in Art Styles
In addition to a change in expressions, there has also been a shift in how classic anime characters look compared to modern ones. Older anime were known for having large eyes and unrealistic proportions, especially for shows geared towards children and shojo anime. By comparison, modern anime feature smaller eyes and more realistic proportions, although many children’s anime still sport more cartoony proportions, especially long, ongoing ones like Doraemon and Crayon of Shin-chan.
Older anime characters also used to have sharper features, especially around the head area. Nowadays in both manga and anime, characters are drawn with much softer features, with emphasis on the softness around their cheeks. However, this new direction allows anime that have less realistic proportions to stand out more. Shows like Mob Psycho 100, BNA: Brand New Animal, and Ranking of Kings have all been praised for their more unique looks combined with stunning animation despite maintaining simpler art styles. This proves that having more realistic designs doesn’t necessarily guarantee a better-looking show and even allows the animators more freedom in expressing the characters within such shows.
Are The Changes Good?
So the question remains, have all these drastic changes been for the better? Ultimately, the answer to that question is subjective. There are pros and cons to the expressions of old and the expressions of new. The older expressions were more distinctive, so much so that many western shows frequently used them when mimicking or parodying the anime styles, like the 2003-iteration of Teen Titans.
But the shift to a more realistic look and way of expression works in favor for more serious shows. Having characters cry literal waterfalls from their eyes would look completely out of place in a show like Attack on Titan, but the very same expression would fit in just fine in the more comedic spin-off, Attack on Titan Junior High. In that sense, what type of art style and expression works best also boils down to a show’s genre.
This may be why a lot of comedic anime still retain some of the more exaggerated expressions present in modern anime. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean that all comedic anime do this. Most slice-of-life anime, or really, any anime grounded in some level of realism, will lean more into less exaggerated expressions. For those shows, a lot of the time the jokes will end up relying more on the voice actor’s delivery of the lines. This is where the exaggeration comes in. In the tone of voice, rather than a character’s facial expressions.
Even shojo anime, which have been known to be the biggest perpetrator for anime’s more infamous bug-eyed art style, has shifted away from that look in recent years. Again, it is mostly shojo anime aimed at younger girls that still retain this style. Compare and contrast shows like Orange, My Little Monster, and My Love Story! to older shojo anime like Alice Academy, Ouran High School Host Club, and Special A. The characters from the latter shows have much larger eyes and lankier proportions compared to the characters from the former shows.
Even just comparing how the characters from the 2001 version of Fruits Basket to the 2019 version would be like comparing night and day. Again, the characters from the 2001 version have much larger eyes and lankier proportions compared to how they appear in the reboot. This is also consistent with the manga’s art style, as the older volumes also feature less realistic designs compared to later volumes.
It remains to be seen if these older expressions will ever make a comeback, but there are certainly fans who miss them. Many of them have become nearly anonymous to the anime medium, so much so that they’re still used to this day, albeit in smaller doses. Like most artistic mediums, anime is one that’s ever-changing, and it’s very likely that it won’t stop changing and evolving any time soon.