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we saw wut u did thar, paramount
Visual Essay: Aang's Character Design 
13th-Jul-2009 08:37 am
My friend mrcab over at IMDB made some pretty impressive manips of Aang to illustrate how white Aang really is.

To start this, let's have a look back at all the discussions about how Aang looks white. The most arguments we all heard at some point were along the lines of:
  • the creators made him look white
  • he doesn't have slanted eyes
  • he has big blue eyes
  • he has white skin
  • etc. etc.
So according to these people to make Aang unmistakeably Asian he has to look like this:

Pretty ridiculous, isn't it? Especially for the fact that Asian people do not look like this in real life. Makes me wonder if people who think like this have ever met real Asians. /facepalm

Then again we all know how these kinds of stereotypes are still in use - yes, Xiaolin Showdown, I saw what you did thar! - and how people are downright brainwashed by the media. It's hard to look beyond these stereotypes when you grew up with them.

Anyways, we're living in the 21st century and it's no problem whatsoever to get some education and open your mind. :3
I think by now we all know the essay "The Face of the other" and that youtube video "Are anime characters caucasian or japanese"  which are both explaining how Japanese character design is lacking stereotypical racial markers when portraying themselves and how the shape of the face is a simplification of Japanese facial features.

My stance on this issue is the same as these two authors - though when it comes to Avatar I'm going one step further. I am confident that despite the stylization Mike and Bryan made a serious attempt to convert the faces of real Asian/Inuit/etc. people into their cartoon counterparts. I even remember an interview with Bryan where he's stating how much anime character design is based on the real world. (Can't find it right now. Anyone knows what I'm talking about?)
In short: They made the characters look like Asians/Inuit.

I am also confident that if Mike and Bryan would have really wanted to make a story about Caucasian kids dressing up as Asians they'd be capable of conveying Caucasian features into their character design and Aang would look like this:

This is what White!Aang would look like in Avatar's animation style with Caucasian facial features - complete with big blue eyes and a more accurate skintone. Obviously, that's not what Aang in the series looks like.

In particular this manip reminds me of many World Masterpiece Theatre series (which I loved as a child) that are using a character design similar to Hayao Miyazaki's work - not that surprising since he worked on "Heidi, Girl of the Alps" back then in the 70s. Also Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's character designs look somewhat similar - like Jean from "Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water". So the artists and artworks that were a huge inspiration for Bryan and Mike are absolutely capable to depict Caucasian facial features. So why should Bryan and Mike fail so hard when trying to mimic them? Because they didn't try to. They did draw Asian facial features not Caucasian ones!

And that's why Aang looks like this:

Can you still think he looks white?
Can you still think that the creators wanted to make him look white?
Can you still think that he has a "white" skintone?
Oh and can you finally see that Aang does not have blue eyes at all? XD

13th-Jul-2009 01:19 pm (UTC)
This is amazing, dude. Can you do me a favour? I'd love to have this up on the racebending.com site, because I am a sucker for visuals that speak volumes. Would you be able to as your buddy mcrab, or perhaps give me his contact info so I can ask his permission to use?

Thank you so much for posting this!
13th-Jul-2009 01:58 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure he'll give his permission. I wrote him a note - so we just need to wait until he's online next time. :3
13th-Jul-2009 02:17 pm (UTC)
This is absolutely awesome. In makes the point in a very simple way, and it works (for me, at least).

I even remember an interview with Bryan where he's stating how much Anime character design is based on the real world.

Just wanted to touch on this real quick - many people don't realize that professional anime and manga artists spend a lot of time studying art and the human form. Not until Picasso, many learn how to draw incredibly realistically, and then work their way back done to the cartoony style. Scott McCloud talks about the level of iconography in his graphic novel Understanding Comics: "[...] Japanese comic artists took the idea a step further. Soon, some of them realized that the objectifying power of realistic art could be put to other uses. For example, while most characters were designed simply, to assist in reader-identification, other characters were drawn more realistically in order to objectify them, emphasizing their 'otherness' from the reader."

He also talks about how many cartoons keep their characters drawn simply so that it is easier for the reader to put themselves in the character's place. My personal theory is that manga/anime artists have done that a bit too well, as we see in so many people claiming that anime characters are 'white' - the reader has just projected themselves onto the character too well.
13th-Jul-2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, Scott McCloud is an absolute must-read for everyone who's interested in comics! I can't believe how many self-proclaimed anime fans I saw during these discussions that are not familiar with the concept of simplification and stylization. O_o

I also agree that certain anime/manga artists have taken it a bit too far. Yet I think Mike and Bryan did a step back and were really trying to go a less unrealistic route. Sure, Aang has exaggerated facial features. But when you compare him to the Caucasian!Aang design it's obvious that even with him they used features that look pretty Asian. (At least for me.)
13th-Jul-2009 05:11 pm (UTC) - MRCAB
Glad to see everyone liked it. I'm okay with others posting these(of course) but yeah, it sure is nice getting credit for something that helps the cause.

13th-Jul-2009 05:19 pm (UTC) - Re: MRCAB
You did a great job!
13th-Jul-2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
I love this post so hard.
13th-Jul-2009 09:46 pm (UTC) - Daily show story suggestions
Not sure where to place this but since this is currently the newest post here goes:

Has anyone thought about posting this issue and appropriate links onto the "The Daily Show with John Stewart" Story Ideas forum? A quick look through that section of the forum shows quite a few postings by the Producers, Production Assistant and other show staff. With one of their correspondents on the movie, I'm not sure if they would touch the issue or not, but it will at least help spread the message.

Link to the forum: http://forum.thedailyshow.com/tds/board?board.id=story_suggestions

13th-Jul-2009 10:49 pm (UTC) - Re: Daily show story suggestions
As Daily Show is owned by Viacom, I don't know if they would ever cover it. Worth a shot, though.
13th-Jul-2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
You win.
13th-Jul-2009 11:29 pm (UTC)
Oh and can you finally see that Aang does not have blue eyes at all? XD

Yeah. The idea that everyone in Avatar is white seems to boil down to this argument:
  • Toph has green eyes, and only white people have green eyes, therefore she's white!

  • Sokka and Katara have blue eyes, and only white people have blue eyes, therefore they're white!

  • Aang has blue eyes, and only--what? Brown? Black? Well, uh... only white people have brown or black eyes, therefore he's white!

  • Zuko has gold eyes, and only white people have gold eyes, therefore... wait, does anyone in real life have gold eyes? No? Well. Um... if anyone did have gold eyes, they'd be white, therefore Zuko is white!
14th-Jul-2009 12:47 am (UTC)
/Sokka and Katara have blue eyes, and only white people have blue eyes, therefore they're white!/

Somebody should show these people a picture of Indians with naturally blue eyes. Notably, a picture of the famous Bollywood actress, Aishwarya Rai.

And if the same people protest that only the "whiter" Northern Indians can have blue eyes because they're descended from the "white" Aryans, let them know that Aishwarya Rai is from southern India, which is dominated by the "darker" Dravidians and that she is not an exception.
14th-Jul-2009 04:41 am (UTC) - Blue eyes?
I always thought Aang had gray eyes.

Sorry if this has been brought up before; I don't really frequent these boards much: I've always felt that gray eyes showed a bit of his "immaturity". Babies are often born with gray eye, and I know for a fact that chickens, or at least the ones I've raised, do not get color in there eyes until maturity. I know this idea is not "human" but I think it would apply to who his character is: an un-matured avatar.

I think in some pix, like the one above, Aang's eyes look brown bcz of the sunset/sunrises.
14th-Jul-2009 06:04 am (UTC) - Re: Blue eyes?
I always thought Aang had gray eyes.

Officially he does (a lot of the times you can't really tell in the animation--they look more black or brown). As far as I can tell, most of the Air Nomads do.

However, we've encountered people who insist that Aang has blue eyes (and is therefore white).
14th-Jul-2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
14th-Jul-2009 07:19 pm (UTC)
I always thought Aang had gray eyes; the 'Aang has blue eyes!' people are really wtf for me.

In some attempt to be nice, a lot of the rl people I've met who have blue/gray eyes... well, it's harder to tell (particularly if their eye color is into changing colors every once in awhile).

But really: Aang hangs out with a pair of blue-eyed people for most of the series, the comparison can be made right there!
15th-Jul-2009 07:36 am (UTC)
Yes, Aang has grey eyes, though sometimes like in that screenshot they appear brown due to the light. I start to wonder what happened to the kind of fans that notice these details? Oh wait, they are probably all here. XD

Btw, I also have blue/grey eyes and compared to Aang's eyes they look kinda blue, cause his eye colour is grey or grey/brown. The contrast is even more evident with Katara and Sokka. /facepalm
(Deleted comment)
15th-Jul-2009 07:37 am (UTC)
Yeah. Makes me wonder if they watched the show in grey-scale or something and then they're projecting colours based on their believes like "Aang is white so he must have blue eyes!". lol
15th-Jul-2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
Wow, thank you for this! It's very enlightening. The visuals really help.
27th-Sep-2009 02:47 am (UTC)
They did draw Asian features, but they did not draw not-Caucasian ones. It's not that Aang doesn't look like he could be Asian; it's that he doesn't look like he couldn't be Caucasian. And yes, he does have a skin tone that many Caucasians also have. (That first picture doesn't make him look Asian; it makes him look jaundiced.)

The story of Avatar makes it clear that Aang is his world's version of Tibetian (and therefore that casting a white actor to play him constitutes whitewashing). However, the drawing style does not. Aang is drawn, deliberately or otherwise, in such a way that does not nail down whether he's Asian or Caucasian.

No, the artists didn't give him specifically Caucasian features, but they didn't have to. Think of it this way: I don't have to give a character red hair and freckles for him to be Irish. If I'm drawing a story about Cuchulainn, then he just has to look like he could be Irish.

Aang looks like he could be East Asian, and the story confirms this, but if someone unfamiliar with Aang's story saw just this one frame of his face with none of the context, then it is not unreasonable for that person to think he might be white. It doesn't mean that the person is racist, deliberately or otherwise. It just means that the person has eyes.
13th-Nov-2009 08:29 am (UTC)
You call it eyes. I call it an horrifically underdeveloped detail recognition with a dash of insensitivity to other people's race/culture.
5th-Feb-2010 06:29 am (UTC) - La raza de Aang: ¿Caucasoide o Mongoloide?
Found this the other day. It's this post re-worked into Spanish:


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