In this article series, Lucy Rubin breaks down anime analysis for Around Akiba and shows how we can use it in our everyday anime-watching lives. This time, we will explore character design.
Character Design in Action
This may sound like a very general term… ~style~ but in practice, it is a very flexible term. Film style is the selection and arrangement of different visual elements that all contribute to how we, the audience, make sense of and are emotionally invested in a work of film. (Style in Anime Introduction)
Last article we introduced the concept character design as also another critical component to style. This time we will examine how character design impacts the audience in Hosoda Mamoru’s Summer Wars.
In the real world, we are supposed to understand Kenji as a nerdy not very popular high school student – and his character design reflects that. Kenji is relatively petite and slender, wearing clothes with little attention-grabbing color or graphic shapes. Once his avatar has been taken over, it is only fitting that his substitute avatar is a meek, chubby, cutesy, frequently panicked squirrel. In losing his avatar, he has lost a great deal of agency, and the weak-look of his new avatar following this incident visually manifests that feeling.
In comparison, consider Kazuma Ikezawa’s real appearance to that of King Kazma. In reality, Kazuma is a quiet hikkikomori-type. But in Oz, he is tall, fast, and universally recognized. No one would dare challenge him until Love Machine appears. King Kazma’s powerful and striking character design in comparison to Kazuma’s appearance in the ‘real world’ tells us that Oz is his true domain – Oz is the place where Kazuma feels the most in control and has the most agency. Due to this dichotomy established so heavily through character design, when Kazuma/King Kazma is challenged, and ultimately defeated periodically throughout the movie, this contributes so significantly to how we the audience process the emotional gravity that losing in Oz holds to Kazuma.
As is seen through Summer Wars, character design can greatly influence how we come to understand who a character is and process their emotional development. In this way, character design is exemplary in demonstrating how elements of film style impact the way in which we understand narrative and come to have an emotional connection to characters and story.