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Anatomically speaking Europeans don't look like that either. But most of the people look more European than Japanese, at least it seems to me ... Maybe it's the round eyes? And the non-black hair in some cases?

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Might wanna take some time and read through this: discussion Although there is allot of random talks there are some valid points stated about this subject –  Dimitri mx Feb 17 at 13:12
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Somebody will, I'm sure, post a more detailed answer eventually, but the long and short of it is that from a Japanese perspective, the characters do look Japanese, once you account for the standard alterations to facial structure that make animated characters look good. Contrast, for example, explicitly Caucasian characters like Dan Eagleman, who look distinct because they are specifically drawn to look non-Japanese / European. –  senshin Feb 17 at 13:13
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up vote 19 down vote accepted

Just like Senshin stated in his comment. For the Japanese people their characters do look Asian.

Why do the Japanese draw themselves as white? You see that especially in manga and anime.

As it turns out, that is an American opinion, not a Japanese one. The Japanese see anime characters as being Japanese. It is Americans who think they are white. Why? Because to them white is the Default Human Being.

There is a really nice atricle writen about this on thesocietypages And as stated there

Americans apply this thinking to Japanese drawings. But to the Japanese the Default Human Being is Japanese! So they feel no need to make their characters “look Asian”. They just have to make them look like people and everyone in Japan will assume they are Japanese – no matter how improbable their physical appearance.

In your question you also said "Maybe it's the round eyes? And the non-black hair in some cases?"

When you think about it there is nothing particularly white about how anime characters look:

The society pages also pointed out something about that

"The Default Human Being thing is so strong that lacking other clear, stereotyped signs of being either black or Asian she defaults to white."*

  • huge round eyes – no one looks like that, not even white people (even though that style of drawing eyes does go back to Betty Boop).
  • yellow hair – but they also have blue hair and green hair and all the rest. Therefore hair colour is not about being true to life.
  • small noses – compared to the rest of the world whites have long noses that stick out.
  • white skin – but many Japanese have skin just as pale and white as most White Americans.

Off course there are also exceptions a nice sample is indeed Dan Eagleman as stated by Senshin. The moment they need the feel to make somebody look non-Japanese they will try to design the user more to the american/european stereotype. Aka - Bigger noses - Blond hair/blue eyes/white - Speaks Fluent english

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Another things is the shape of face, non-japanese or maybe rather caucasian male characters almost never have round faces. Also facial features are distinctively more accented. Chin and cheek bones, jaw, brow ridge. To Japanese caucasian have pretty "rough" faces. We (speaking as a caucasian) probably look kind of Neanderatlic =). Of course this is relative to the style. There are anime where character are realistic to the point that they look "really" japanese - Aku no Hana anime version being on top of my head, –  luk32 Feb 19 at 9:46
    
So explain how Naruto is Asian-looking. -_- –  Alex-sama Mar 31 at 17:31
    
@Alex-sama have you even read the post above ^^ –  Dimitri mx Apr 1 at 4:30
    
@Dimitrimx Of course I did. Naruto has blue eyes. I wouldn't see how a Japanese person could associate that with being Asian. Blond hair, fine. Sakura has pink, Kakashi, white. No conflict there, but the eyes? Essentially for me, it's to convey the story to a western audience –  Alex-sama Apr 1 at 11:25
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@Alex-sama There are always deviations from the broad lines. Simplest sample i could think of is Muv-Luv where allot of people gather from around the world and still all look pretty much the same. No really exceptional changes. But it is not always needed to make the country of origin obvious anyway. So with my answer i just coverd the main misconception and offerd a small deviation. Otherwise I would have had to cover it on a per anime base. which would by far exceed the answer size/. –  Dimitri mx Apr 7 at 8:26
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I disagree that anime are portraying causcasian/european, because they're portraying Japanese obviously if they have Japanese names... therefore I agree with Senshin, and Dimitri mx

If you look at the Japanese subcultures, they like to dye their hair in different colors to defy the norm, which are largely dark hair, not trying to look caucasian. I hear people claim that anime looks caucasian/europe makes me sad, as it shows how limited their world view is... Not all Asian has small squinty eyes, I've known a lot of friends who has round and big eyes, there are even more if you go to Asian countries. It's like saying those Causcasians who like to tan their skin are trying to be African American, or those who like to dance hip hop or rap are trying to be African American, but are they? Maybe some of them are, but most of them tan their skin because they think it looks nice with their overall eyes and hair, just like Asian/Japanese dye their hair because they think it looks nice with their complexion, and that is reflected in anime with different hair colors etc.

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I agree that in Aku no Hana they actually do look Japanese. Let's face it, we all know that Japanese, Chinese, and Korean have small, almost squinty eyes. White people don't necessarily have big eyes either, but they're bigger than the ones a typical Asian would have. Some say that the Japanese are trying to take over the world by drawing their characters as Caucasians. I have noticed that in animes the major characters are always white. It's very rare to even have an African character pop up every now and then as a on the side character, but that's about the most culture variation you'll see.

Religion doesn't pop up either in animes, with the exception of the monks, and statues of Buddha that appear(only Japanese culture is allowed in JAPANESE anime and manga of course). And my point on religion and the appearances of the characters is that not every one has the same way of life or is comfortable wearing mini skirts. In a lot of religions they're not allowed to do some of those things that people on animes do. Like dating, flirting, going all the way before marriage, or even as a girl showing your thighs to another girl is not allowed. So, in the anime world every one is actually the same, even though the main character is usually some what different from the others, but in a way that we can't relate to because it's usually impossible IRL. Like in the anime series Naruto, he (Naruto) starts out as an out cast because of the fox demon sealed inside him. Therefore, treated differently by his peers in a negative way.

The thing about hair colour, well, Asians almost always have black hair. On the other hand, Europeans are more often found with hair that is red. But, I read that that it is possible for Asian and African people to inherit the two copies of a recessive gene on chromosome 16 which causes a mutation in the MC1R protein(causes red hair). Considering the facts, most red heads have European genes, which is why people on animes that have red hair or even blond hair with blue eyes AND white skin, look like white people. But when characters have randomly crazy, awesome and impossible IRL hair colours like BLUE, GREEN, PURPLE, PINK, TURQUOISE, etc. you know it's just part of the illustrators' design.

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sorry, but I'm not completely sure if you're answering the question here... –  hungerartist Mar 31 at 2:46
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