An art style can make or break an anime; For example, an art style with a superb use of color theory can enhance an anime, but one with a complete lack of understanding anatomy would absolutely ruin it. However, there’s one element of an anime’s art that stands above all the others, ready to wreck devastation onto the animes that don’t use it: We’re, of course, talking about the funny faces.
Anime fans everywhere know that funny faces are a staple and a signifier of a good show; These expressions are an indicator that you’re in for a good time, whether you’re watching the anime itself or just simply posting about it online. It’s basically telling its viewers “Are you ready for fun? Because it’s time to have fun!” After all, who doesn’t like to have fun?
To start our analysis of why funny faces are pivotal to successful anime, we’ll have to go back to anime’s humble beginnings: Anime originally started in the 1910s, much like many other cartoon industries from around the world. Not unlike the rest of the world, Japan was following in the same footsteps as everyone else: They took up sound when it was invented, they took up making animated feature films when they realized they could do that, they then— Well, you get the idea already.
Predictably, this would lead Japan to follow in the footsteps of western animation companies such as Disney and Fleischer Studios, and become inspired by their expressive characters. In fact, Japan liked them enough, Fleischer Studios even sent Betty Boop over there to perform once!
…That, and the fact that Donald Duck basically invented modern anime/manga. How could we ever forget about his influence on anime?
While anime characters have always been expressive due to their traditionally-cartoony roots, another element would later come into play of the effectiveness of funny faces: Reaction images.
You see, all of these animation companies made sure to consider the classical principle of “emoticons” in their work. Dating back to a simple drawing of a smiley face in 1653, emoticons were instantly incorporated into animation to help make their characters easier to draw (especially repeatedly) than having to draw realistic human faces for nearly every frame.
However, it wouldn’t be until 1982 that the idea of emoticons being used digitally was taken into consideration. As the internet and other digital mediums grew, people began to develop new kinds of emoticons to use in their communication, such as smilies, sideways emoticons, kaomoji, emojis like the ones in The Emoji Movie, -and of course- using gifs/pictures of shows to express one’s feelings. Naturally, anime funny faces ended up being a common occurrence among all of the gifs and pictures people used.
Meanwhile, back in the anime industry, all of the companies were starting to notice that images of their show’s funny faces were starting to be posted nearly everywhere online. Originally, the anime industry was considering suing everyone who used reaction images into oblivion, but as soon as they noticed all of the “what anime is this?” comments near many of the anime funny faces, it turns out they found free advertising for the shows themselves.
As soon as many studios released again how much impact funny faces could have on their anime (getting people attached to their characters, free advertising in the form of reaction gifs, its fun to draw and animate, etc.) they made sure to provide plenty for their audiences to enjoy. However, what happens to an anime that doesn’t use funny faces?
Maybe it’s a deep, serious drama that can’t see itself using wacky expressions? Perhaps they spent too much of the animation budget on special effects? Or maybe they’re just complete brutes who don’t like people having fun while watching their shows?
However, what if an anime is nothing but funny faces? One example would be the soon-to-become-an-actual-anime, Pop Team Epic; It plays with this idea, having it’s main characters faces always look adorable and funny, while engaging in all sorts weird, oddball scenarios, mainly since it’s a comedy series.
In conclusion, anime funny faces is a time-honored tradition dating back to the 1930s that also still holds up to this very day, and very likely into the future. Everybody loves and relates to them, they’re fun, and they’re an indicator of whether a series is truly good and worth watching, especially as we go further into the digital age; Wherever there’s pictures, there will be anime funny faces!