Anime's most common stylistic device is the appearance of the characters themselves. Many, but not all, creators take their lead from Osamu Tezuka (himself working in imitation of the Fleischers' Betty Boop and Disney'sMickey Mouse) in using visual "pedomorphism"-many anime characters have skulls more like those of babies than adults, with large, widely spaced eyes and a drastically reduced lower jaw line, often creating a pointed chin and small mouth. Much imitated by foreign artists who claim to draw in a "manga style," this tradition is more related to the concerns of anime, with large eyes to help convey expression and emotion, and a reduced mouth size to lessen the time spent animating lip movements. Perfected with Tezuka's Astro Boy, this drawing style is now commonplace in anime, in manga based on anime designs, and consequently in much graphic art from Japan. It is merely one of many art styles used in Japanese comics, but the one most likely to appear in the kinds of works that are usually adapted for animation.
Unreal proportions do not merely apply to the faces of anime characters. In anime for the young, the baby motif is often continued for the whole body, with an outsized head and, occasionally, feet and short legs. In anime for older viewers, torso and leg dimensions are elongated to create tall, elfin body shapes, although, as in Western comics, the boys are sometimes given carved, muscular physiques, and many girls get large breasts. Regardless of the proportions of characters in a show, they may sometimes devolve into squashed down, "super-deformed" (SD) cartoon versions of themselves in moments of intense agitation, or sometimes in entire SD spin-offs in which the cast remains permanently in a cartoon parody state.
Anime hairstyles have their own traditions. Period pieces like The Tale of Genji will sometimes use natural shades for all characters, but the combination of black Asian hair and limited animation can make it difficult to tell them apart. In general, anime characters are differentiated by blatantly unreal coloring-it is not unusual in a cast of all-Japanese characters to find black hair alongside foreign variants like red, blond, and brown, and artificial shades like pink, blue, and green. Similarly, many characters have instantly recognizable hairstyles. Anime boys have quiffs and spikes in their hair that remain in constant position for ease of animation (but may occasionally droop into their line of sight), while girls have complex accessorizing. Drawing plaits or braids is unnecessarily fiddly for artists on a short deadline, but bows or ponytails with distinctive scrunchies are much quicker to draw and often present another excuse for brightly colored adornment. Such hairstyles can make anime girls seem younger than their age, but help make a hero's five love-objects at least a little different.
Anime clothing is similarly differentiated, with a cast line-up of girls likely to be dressed in mini-skirts, trousers, shorts, and long dresses, usually in direct reflection of their characters. Some anime, such as Hummingbirds, even feature the rather desperate inclusion of a pair of pants with one long leg and one short-an apparent attempt to do something offbeat. The only place where clothing is not set apart in this way is in female underwear, for reasons based on animation concerns and erotic subtexts. Animators at Studio Fantasia, long-time purveyors of soft-core titillation like Agent Aika, reported that overly lacy or frilly underwear was simply too time-consuming to animate. Distinguishing underwear with straightforward colors often backfired, since a pair of red or blue panties could look too much like gym-wear or a swimsuit, and hence lost much of its erotic edge. Instead, the default setting for anime underwear became plain white panties (Studio Fantasia taking this to an extreme, where they had their own identifiable style of panty, worn by both protagonists and antogonists), which are not only easier to draw, but can also carry an erotic charge based on Japanese censorship-a blank space in the image as a substitute for what is hidden beneath it. The slapstick and externalized emotions common to cartoons around the world also play a major part in anime comedy. Lechery can be signaled by drool or nosebleeds (a sign of high blood pressure caused by sexual arousal), or an elongated philtrum that accentuates pursed lips; anger by enlarged and throbbing veins, red face, or steam coming out of the ears; panic or relief by an exaggerated sweat drop on the brow or hair; romance by the sudden eruption in the frame of hearts and flowers. Sight gags can work even when the visual grammar of the medium is a little unfamiliar. One does not have to know much about Japan to enjoy many of the visual gags in Project A-ko, whose very title is a spoof on a Jackie Chan movie, or to get the joke when Lupin III, eyes bugging out and body suddenly rigid as an arrow, spots yet another cute girl.
Another visual trope in anime is the exaggerated freeze-frame. The use of a single still image for a prolonged period represents an obvious saving in animation costs (taken to ludicrous extremes in later episodes of Evangelion), but also accentuates moments of high drama. A samurai holding still, waiting for his opponent's head to fall off, or a freeze-frame of kung-fu action, inadvertently resembles the mie-a held-pose used to similar effect in kabuki drama. It has since been much copied in live-action science fiction, most notably the "bullet time" sequences of The Matrix (1999), which ironically spent large amounts of money imitating an anime trope originally designed to save on a budget. Sometimes, a heroic pose is accompanied by a gleam of highlighting on a character's sword or armor with a chiming sound effect.This can also be parodied by a self-confident (male) character producing the same effect from his white teeth, or even his glasses. Unconfirmed popular myth asserts that this is the origin of the Jamaican slang term bling, for jewelry or other conspicuous accessories.
Anime excels at adapting visual devices from manga and inserting them into action. Sudden crash-zooms into character's eyes, often accompanied by a bling sound effect and the narrowing of the screen, can denote steely resolve or intense rivalry between two characters. Watery, starry eyes and a sudden outbreak of hearts, flowers, or soft-focus is used to show a girlish crush or adoration. Silence itself can be illustrated by a sound effect, with an uncomfortable pause, perhaps in the wake of an unfunny joke, marked only by the calling of distant crows. A clonking sound of hollow bamboo is a reference to the shishi odoshi ("deer-scarer"), a pivoted bamboo tube used as part of a Japanese water landscape that fills up with water until it tips, hitting against a stone, and denotes the passage of time. Sometimes anime will even steal sound effects directly from manga and write them onscreen. There is even a manga "sound effect" for total silence-the word shiin, which can sometimes be seen onscreen as an additional visual gag.
Until the advent of video, anime's audience was primarily juvenile, and anime fictions often deal with the politics of exclusion and inclusion, filial duties, and family obligations-such as Astro Boy's Pinocchio-inspired yearning to become a real child and, when that fails, his Superman-inspired quest to do good for the human race. Juvenile and teenage anime viewers are in an a permanent liminal state, facing the pressures of puberty and adolescence, and wishing both to grow up fast and never to grow up at all. Anime deals with these concepts by injecting story lines of transformation, allowing its characters to experiment with becoming something different-the superhero duality of Clark Kent and Superman, later remodeled with the symbiotic existence of Ultraman, but also that of the "magical girls" like Marvelous Melmo (1971), able to transform into an older, more sophisticated version of herself. Anime for girls had often drawn directly on the cross-dressing traditions of the Takarazuka musical theater, particularly Osamu Tezuka's Princess Knight (1967) and Riyoko Ikeda's Rose of Versailles (1979), creating a subgenre running all the way to Utena (1997), in which heroines become their own knights in shining armor. The notion of girls assuming men's clothing is given the weight of history in Yotoden (1987) and Otogi Zoshi (2004), where the heroines assume the roles of dead or sick brothers. Despite the inclusion in Mospeada (1983) of a hunky hero who likes women and also dresses up as one, men's cross-dressing efforts often get less respectful presentation-such as a gentle comic sideswipe at school cross-dressing in Here Is Greenwood (1991). In the same year, Okama Report and 3x3 Eyes presented more sympathetic cross-dressers, but in 1992 Go Nagai lowered the tone of the whole girls' school genre with Delinquent in Drag. The right and wrong way for a samurai to cross-dress is graphically illustrated in Peacemaker Kurogane (2003). Note that transvestism is distinct from transsexuality, a topic most famously treated in Ranma 1/2 (1989), whose hero regularly transformed into a heroine and back again, forcing him to deal with both sides of the battle of the sexes.
One of the most important innovators in the anime of transformation is Go Nagai, who gave male viewers the sight of a superheroine whose clothes regularly disintegrated in Cutey Honey, and another whose "costume" left her almost completely naked in Kekko Kamen. These, however, were mere diversions compared to his true achievements in the boys' market, notably the pilotable robot Mazinger Z, which could combine with other robots to form a super-robot. This simple device not only generated a powerful pester factor among children who would demand all the toys in order to re-enact their favorite moments from the show, it also allowed for a prolonged transformation sequence, and hence the weekly reuse of preexisting anime footage.
Such transformations have been a common feature of anime ever since, reaching their apotheosis with Macross and the Transformers, created during a general reduction in the size of toys during the 1980s. Smaller toys were easier to store and transport, not just for children but for toy companies, and the reduction in size was compensated for by increased variation-more intricate moving parts that allowed each model to be "two toys in one."
Anime is currently engaged in one of its biggest transformations, its format and scheduling shifting from a communal experience delivered at set times in theaters and on TV to infinitely mutable packets of data accessed on a handheld device. This reflects a change in society, camouflaging the big idea in a colorful wrapper. New tropes and transformations will doubtless emerge as a result.