Anime-by-Example March 4, 1998 Update

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     Ah, eyes. Without them, we wouldn't be able to "see" our favorite anime/manga, now, would we? Eyes, to me, stand out as one of the most important features of chracter design, next to form and hair. Though I have not seen every anime/manga alive, I've seen enough to keep me busy studying style and I have found an innumerable amount of eye shapes, styles, and expressions.

The Eye Types:

     So you want to understand the deal behind eyes, right? For now, I have broken the eyes doen into four general (very, very general) categories, to kepp it equally very, very simple:

     Putting a different type of eye on an anime character may yield a significantly different character in purpose and in what the character look like he/she is capable of doing, even what he/she can do (without upsetting the boundaries of normal human expectations).

The Super-Drama, Squinty Eye

     A very linear eye-- sometimes the eye is so squinted that you'd think that the pupil is as big as the eyeball itself.

Examples of this are expressed in works like:

     Many times, the range of expressions using this type of eye is limited. What I mean is that characters who have these eyes have little or no room to act goofy. Of course, as you draw, this usually automatically pops up in your head without even having to think about it.

     Macross Plus, and other films with eyes very similar, have a little more room to work with humorous expressions. I suppose this is attributed in part to the retina/pupil being small enough to leave enough space to show the white part of the eye.

In general, use this eye to depict

The Eye Itself

Take a look at these eyes and their simplistic brerakdowns:

(a Super-Squinty eye from Ytoden-- Sako, I believe)

Very often, a Super-Drama character will have much sparkle and light glare in their eye. It makes the character's eyes looked more glased over.

Notice how the eyes is basically a horizontal slit-- the guy is squinting. Now what emotion does this convey to you? It sure is a piercing gaze, as if the character sees right through you. In addition, the character may not be very happy at all. The eyebrow creates the somber "frown look". For very serious characters.

Here are some other variations:

This is Minmei's eye from the original Macross. I had to outline the bottom of the eye in a solid black
so you could see the bottom edge. Normally, the skin color in the animation incorporates her eye
quite nicely. Notice how the retina is really big, but her expressions are limited to those used drama.
She could be sad, she could be bitterweet, she could be mellow-happy.
Eh? What's this? It's from Fushigi Yuugi. But why, you ask, is it here? Look at the eye structure as
compared to Minmei's. Though more of the retina shows, there is less white area which gives the
feeling of a "glazed-over" look-- as if she's staring out into space. In addition, she's got all that
sparkle in her eye. In the original picture, this girl was quite happy-looking. Could you tell?

Make no mistake! This is just a simple breakdown to help you decide how you want to draw. Add some creativity of your own so that your style is unique to you and fits your purpose.

The Middle-of-the-Road Eye

     I like this one the best, for it has the most potential. I am into a lot of "cerberic" stories (an Animerica Magazine term), that it, one which requires deeper thought beyond the surface story or expresses a philosophical point. The eyes in this style are difficult to really identify, for they have such a wide range of appearances, depending on drawing styles. They can very easily shift from comic expressions to serious ones equally well.

In general, the eye is usually an oval, not as much of one as the Super-Drama eye, but an oval nonetheless. This is what I think contributes to soberness looking of the eye. The more flatter the oval= the more serious the character.

Some examples include: Ghost of the Fireflies, Clamp's works (X/1999, Tokyo Babylon, Miyuki-Chan in Wonderland...).

What an I talking about? Well, here is where I would have to place works like Mamoru Oshi's feature movies Patlabor 1 and 2, as well as Ghost in the Shell (the movie). In addition, I think Evangelion is a perfect model for this section (and it's the anime I based this grouping on).

"So, what ISN'T middle of the road if it's so hard to tell?" you ask. Good question. Here's how I decide. Tell me you think differently: I take a work (anime/manga) and dfine its purpose. Next, I compare the eyes from something else I know FOR A FACT NOT TO BE SERIOUS. Many characters come to mind: Sasami from Tenchi Muyo, The gang from Urusei Yatsura (Lum, Ataru Moroboshi, Shutaru Mendou, Megane...), Lena Inverse from The Slayers. Then I try to picture the work in question with the eyes of one of these goofy characters. "Nope, the work wouldn't feel the same, and wouldn't deliver its purpose as effectively," I then think.

LOOK, IN NO WAY IS THIS SYSTEM ACCURATE. This whole classification is in total flux throughout a work, so don't take my advice as doctrine. If you have any comments of criticism or clarification, just tell me. I sure I'm not thinking correctly somewhere.

Examples: (Hard to define)

A better explanation of this probably lies in the classification of eyes in gradual gradations of change, ranging from Ranma to Fist of the North Star eye styles.

FNS -Ninja Scrl- Patlabr/GIS-EVA-Patlbr Series-Tenchi-Ranma

The Eye Itself

Here are some good candidates for "middle of the road" eyes:

It would also probably be better if I show you ranking of how I think the Serious --> Comic eye gradient goes:

Fist of the North Star

Fatal Fury

Ninja Scroll

Macross Plus

Ghost in the Shell

Patlabor Movies

Macross/Macross Do You Remember Love?/ Flashback

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Patlabor Series

Tenchi Muyo

The Slayers

Use this all-around eye as an all purpose eye, only if your character is somewhat serious and doesn't want to be cute-sie.

A note from the alter-ego editor Anti-Mahattan: "These Eyes don't exist! Manhattan is lying!!! Beware of lies!!!"
[Just my subconscious talking]


The Comic Eye

If your character is Happy-Go-Lucky and if they are extremely goofy or possesses infinite cute-ness to a point of insanely-cute, this eye is perfect for you.

Just a note, these characters are often limited to a goofy charcter, and if that's your intention anyway, it won't matter. But this eye causes your character to be static in emotions (not changing much in tone and overall attitude), which some character really must have to be who they really should be. For example, you just can't have Sasami brooding over the crushing pains of life! She's a cute figure and cannot tackle such a problem in a more serious work!

This eye is great for comic relief characters.

Warning! Don't overuse it, though, unless it's for satirical purposes, for it can get old fast!

Series like the Patlabor Manga, Sailor Moon (to an extent), Ranma, Urusei Yatsura (though Takahashi uses her eye very effectively in Rumic World Stories and in Mermaid Forest and Mermaid Scar). Specifying would be like killing anime altogether, though, so I will not continue. You know the "cute" when you see them.

The Eye Itself

This eye is usually round and/or tall.


Basically, any goofy character and/or cute character from any series, displaying too much emotion.

The Eccentric Eye

     Still Reading? Wow. Is this this helping any? Anyway, eccentric eyes are my way of grouping eyes I cannot really place anywhere else, for they are not really the true generic eyes I am used to seeing. Okay, when I speak this upcoming name as being a member of this group, don't throw things at me..... Dragon Ball! [I speak as I shield my head from blunt objects]. Why do I think that Dragon Ball is separate from the others? Well, it's that general mean expression that does it for me. it's a simple two-line, very straight style, which the other animations and mangas don't really follow. Now don't get me wrong, there are a lot of works with similar eyes, but Dragon Ball is case-in-point. Take a look:

The Dragon-Ball eye.

Dragon Ball fans!! Once I watch more Dragon Ball I'll retouch up on this. If any of you have any ideas about this, tell me. One of the most prominent features of these eyes is that the tops of the eyes are connected to the eyebrows. There are hardly any "tops" for the eyes. In addition, this eye can get pretty squared-off, as the eyes are generally triangles, and the surprised expression shown on one the examples looks more like "[ o o ]" than the more conventional rounded "( o o )". Obviously, other characters like Son Goku and Bulma have more frequent rounder expressions, but Dragon Ball stands out for the expressions of HATE!!! Personally, I really like this style, but I don't draw like this because it reminds me of how I coincidentally first started drawing eyes.

The Eyes of the Genders

     Ah, so are your characters too close and too cute to tell whether boy is a girl or vice versa? No? Well, are you in need for variation in drawing your eyes? No? Eh? I have found that drawing girls or women with really, really short hair can make them look like a man at times, especially for pictures with only their face. I had to add eyelashes to the women to distinguish them more easily from guys.

Take a look at Evangelion, and pay close attention:

Soryu Asuka Langley (female) eyes:

Notice the fin on Asuka's open eye. Drawers usually (I do too, and so does many other people on the web) put these fins on eyes. NOTICE!!!!!! Some people put these fins on any eye, especially the single-fins like Asuka has. However, notice her closed eye.

The Eyes of the Genders part 2: Eyelashes... Why?

Here's a close-up, with a little color-reducing to save loadin time:

Notice the 2 fins on the closed eye.  You have already seen the open eye with one fin.

Why are eyelashes such a big deal?? Well, eyelashes can help amplify a characters' personality. For example, Belldandy from the Ah My Goddess! Series has lashy eyes. For her, the eyelashes combined with her eyes provide the softness in her face and manner that her sisters don't have. Skuld, the black-haired youngger sister of Belldandy has no frilly eyelashes like her sister has. Skuld, in contrast, has a more simple manner and can even be described as "plain". Urd, the provocative woman-of-a-girl older sister has only one eyelash on the side, like Asuka has (previous picture). The Eyelash accentuates her almost devious squint in her eyes.

Well, heck you DON'T NEED EYELASHES. Many artists do quite fine without them. However, using eyeslashes adds another aspect of variety to a character. It's up to you.


If there are any comments, questions or requests for addition, please feel free to e-mail me at

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