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Throughout history, creators have crafted great works of art inspired by significant events, impressive scenery, and of course, beautiful women. Some of the most iconic works of art were inspired by a woman’s beauty. Japanese animators also try to capture beauty and express it visually. Appearances can make all the difference. This is even more true in the world of 2D art. One trend that Japan has set for itself relies solely on the beautiful nature of its characters. As a category that is typically suited towards a male audience, Bishoujo stand above all other characters in beauty.
Bishoujo roughly translates to “beautiful young girl”. Countless anime showcase characters with round faces, exaggerated expressions, and large eyes full of emotion. To the outside observer who can recognize maybe one character based on clothing, it would seem as though a lot of anime characters share a set of similar features. Characters are, however, drawn to suit their audiences. You can almost always pick out the main cast from the insignificant background characters. It’s also simple to identify a rival, an antagonist, or the weak and helpless victim who needs rescuing. The Bishoujo, however, stands out even more so.
Not only is there a difference between how characters are drawn for the audience, but also how characters within the anime react to them. We will explore some examples of beauty in Japanese anime, as well as how beautiful 2D characters are received in Japanese culture.
It wouldn’t be beautiful if it wasn’t drawn to be. Creators craft their works to evoke an emotion in every medium, and Japanese animators are no different. More than just the typical notion of “moe” or “kawaii”, the Bishoujo is an unrealistic standard of beauty. It is supposed to be impossible, even to the other characters within the story. Almost a goddess, but directly within one’s view.
Also, a Bishoujo, by definition, has to be a young girl. In contrast, a Bishounen is a young boy, typically a teenager with androgynous features. There is also another word for beautiful woman, a Bijin. A Bishoujo is a girl going through adolescence. Often there is the school Madonna who has everyone pining for her, whom the main character never stands a chance with but is fated to meet. Other times, there is an ensemble cast of beautiful girls whom the audience watches because they’re drawn to be attractive. In either case, the difference between a Bishoujo and their surroundings is their superior beauty.
Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon Crystal (Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Jul. 2014 - Jul. 2015
Sailor Moon is the story of Tsukino Usagi, a 2nd year middle schooler who is pretty much below average in every way possible. After a particularly unfortunate day, she encounters a talking cat named Luna which bestows her with the power to transform into a beautiful warrior. With this new power, she and her friends must transform and battle enemies that hope to disrupt peace in the world.
Not only does the title have Bishoujo in the name, but the cast is comprised almost entirely of beautiful super warriors dressed in sailor school uniforms. While the original was perhaps technically less impressive by today’s standards, this remake was very much designed to attract the eye and appeal to its audience. Even many of Sailor Moon’s villains were drawn to be beautiful. Going from ordinary school students to powerful and beautiful Sailor scouts features important transitions. The characters typically bear comically stylized expressions during their normal activities, but as Sailors they are drawn seriously and beautifully. The very definition of Bishoujo.
Sailor Moon Crystal - Official Trailer
Their Effect on Boys
Beautiful women have an effect on men. This is even more true for boys going through puberty, which is the quintessential time period for anime storytelling. The idea of there being an objective “prettiest girl in school” is a trope borrowed from gal-games (dating sims) and is also found in popular anime and manga. The Bishoujo is an unattainable and unapproachable queen who rules the adolescent world by merely existing. That status and reception of these characters typically affect the plot in some way or another.
Saiki Kusuo no Ψ-nan (TV) (The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.)
- Episodes: 120
- Aired: Jul. 2016 - Dec. 2016
Saiki Kusuo is an ESPer with nearly every psychic ability in the book. Unfortunately, reaping the benefits of such gifts for personal gain and glory doesn’t really match his personality. He sees them as nothing but a burden, and every encounter he has because of them is an annoyance. While casually trying to live a quiet life off the radar, he has a chance meeting with classmate Teruhashi Kokomi. She just so happens to be the most beautiful girl in school, an opinion both she and everyone else shares. Teruhashi is used to getting her way from every boy she meets, however, repeated attempts at getting the same reaction from Saiki yield no results. He wants to avoid the spotlight at all costs, and she exists within the gaze of everyone.
A series comprised of over a hundred 5min short episodes, the series revolves around Saiki Kusuo and his powers. However, we are frequently given short glimpses at how Bishoujo Teruhashi can influence her classmates with little to no effort. She is more than a bit conceited, believing that she isn’t actually doing anything, it’s everyone else who is behaving naturally to give her her own way. Not all Bishoujo are this self-centered, but their effects on surrounding characters are just the same. Except in cases like Saiki Kusuo’s, who absolutely wants no part in her mischief whatsoever.
Saiki Kusuo no Ψ-nan (TV) PV
In modern society, the concept of beauty has become skewed in great part due to the rise of digital photomanipulation. While super star actors and actresses were always considered handsome or beautiful, every photo of them now is touched up or altered to some degree. In Japan’s case it has become more and more common to see fans that have become infatuated with 2D drawn characters. Seeing “waifus” and “husbandos” isn’t too rare an occurrence.
Bishoujo and Bishounen characters add another level of impossible standards in society. While it is possible to be stunningly attractive, it is impossible to become 2D. It’s not such a rare occurrence to see individuals abandoning the so called 3D world for one more to their liking.
Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata (Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan. 2015 - Mar. 2015
In Saekano, high school 2nd year Tomoya Aki is known as “the” school otaku. He has changed school policy to cater to his interests, has a successful blog discussing his hobbies, and works several part time jobs to support his purchasing. He only focuses on 2D, believing real women to be completely inferior to any he can find in anime, games, manga or novels. One day, however, he has a chance encounter with what he believes to be a mysterious beauty, which turns out to be his fellow classmate, Megumi Kato. Inspired by her beauty in the moment he met her, he decides to make her into the ultimate 2D heroine for his game.
Tomoya isn’t the only character in fiction or individual in Japan to completely abandon reality, but he is perhaps the most passionate and boisterous in doing so. He is resolute in his one track pursuit of creating the ultimate heroine, even though Megumi herself is quite a plain girl. Aiding him in creating his game are a host of beautiful girls who are actually successful creators in their fields. They all, for various reasons, have their eyes on Tomoya. However, he himself is completely absorbed in 2D heroines and is continuously declining their advances. The show features gratuitous up close and fan servicing shots for viewers, despite the fact that the subject matter and dialogue is often very smart. At times it can even be surprisingly deep as it both makes fun of and uses tropes from the harem comedy genre.
PV Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend
The Bishoujo emphasises beauty above all else in Japanese anime. Genres featuring these types of characters have casts that may or may not rely on their beauty to advance their goals, but the audience is enraptured by their appearance all the same.
What are some of your favorite anime with Bishoujo? Do you have a character that you consider to be more beautiful than all others? Let us know in the comments section!