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I noticed something interesting the other day about an anime character’s face. I was trying to explain to my roommate why I found the above ‘tsundere face’ cute, but I had a surprisingly hard time describing her exact facial expression. All I could say was that the she looked something along the spectrum of feeling concerned, mad/annoyed, flustered, and/or shy.

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Now these aren’t all tsundere characters/faces, but these are the expressions in question. You’ll notice that they have two conflicting expressions in common: concerned or angry eyebrows and an embarrassed blush. What’s makes these faces even more interesting is that even though we can infer the emotion(s) that these characters are experiencing — via mirror neurons or something, right? — when you think about it, these expressions do not exist in real life.

Part of my job involves teaching kids how to derive emotions from facial cues. I’ve had to Google terms like “kid crying ice cream” or “girl proud game medal” and come up with a backstory to give contextual cues for the target emotion being taught. If I had to do that with these faces, they’ll be something like the following:

  • I like you but I’m mad at you for the fact that you don’t know that I like you
  • I’m embarrassed that you may have realized that I like you
  • I don’t like you but what you did just now was nice
  • Of course I like you, you’re my friend aren’t you

It’s this kind of self-perpetuated embarrassment that comes from establishing that you’re not the type of person to show feelings. My friend Helena offered a possible explanation that we as humans do actually make all these facial expressions as a reaction to a scenario but only one at a time, whereas these characters are showing all of the expressions in one dramatized face. This is certainly an interesting idea.

If I had to make a guess, I would say that these faces contain expressions of vulnerability that evoke moe. You get the feeling that you should be extra sensitive to these characters because they look strangely frustrated/upset. It’s the anime culture’s way of illustrating tsundere, characters known for struggling with such repressed reactions stemming from past trust issues. Somehow this translates to cute; idk LOL.

On a much broader topic of character design and their purposes, RCAnime has a video called What Goes into the Character Design (in Anime)? that you may want to check out.


[Source]

Images are from Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata, et al

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