Graphical Abstraction and Political Correctness

When we talk about anime and other graphical medium, both Western and Japanese (I’m not speaking of other cultures, because I simply don’t know well about them) features abstraction when they are drawn.

In Japan, it could be anime, and also chibi characters such as Nendoroid. Though a lot of features on those characters are abstracted drastically to the extent they don’t resemble typical humanoid figures, there is one part Japanese characters that rarely, if not never abstracted.

Can you guess what it is?

It’s number of fingers. Except for cases where fingers are not drawn at all. (e.g. it is too small, or illustrated someone standing very far.)

Let’s go back and take a look at Nendoroid again, take a look at this character. This particular character is 6.5cm high, so it’s still small, yet features 5 fingers. It is also obvious work like Shin-chanclearly shows 5 fingers.

It’s interesting to see some contrast to shows in the US, for example, take a look at Family Guy. You can see Peter’s hand are drawn with four fingers. (three where his thumb is not shown.)

This 4 finger figure seems to be quite popular in animated series in the US. For example though it is not really a illustration of human, humanoid characters in Spongebob Squarepants are shown with same style as well as the Simpsons.

This probably comes from difference in cultural sensitivities and political correctness to people who actually do not have one more fingers between Japanese culture and Western culture. (Perhaps Japanese culture is oversensitive about this.) But it is interesting to see the difference.

By Hideki Saito

In the video game industry for for more than 15 years. Currently working for Nintendo of America Inc. as a Localization Engineer, developing the translation solutions.