What defines an anime character? Digital idol Hatsune Miku’s most distinctive features are her long, turquoise blue pigtails – or twintails as they’re known in Japan.

But take those away and is she still Hatsune Miku?

What started out as an idle idea on a bulletin board has, I feel, revealed a pretty deep question about what makes an anime character.

▼Is the cute blue-haired girl below still the Miku you know and love?


Cute, right?! Most Netizens agreed, although they did acknowledge that it fundamentally altered her appeal. Some even suggested that she’d never have become so popular without her famous twintails.

Sure, this is one of those things that you could point to as evidence that otaku have way too much time on their hands, but it does also raise some interesting questions. Anime character designs are simple, and the most distinctive characteristics are usually hair style and colour, and eye shape and colour. This is probably why clothes also become such an important part of the design, and anime characters rarely seem to change out of their designated outfit, which is often some kind of instantly recognizable uniform.

Otaku scholars such as Hiroki Azuma, author of Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, have suggested that these days characters a designed from a “database” of traits which all have established associations and invoke particular moe responses in consumers. Companies are savvy to what turns otaku consumers on, and are able to draw from this pre-existing knowledge-bank when creating new characters in order to make them as marketable as possible. So Miku’s twintails could very well have been carefully chosen to initiate some kind of Pavlovian response from anime fans and get them to part from their cash, and without them she would have been nothing, or at most a flash-in-the-pan that was quickly forgotten about. Of course, now that she’s a famous and firmly entrenched character even variations on the theme will still be recognised, but in the early stages consistency and easy recognition are paramount.

Well, that all got a bit deep and cynical, didn’t it? Just in case you’re worried we’re turning into some kind of scholarly journal, we leave you with the image below to assuage your fears.


Source & Images: 2chan via Seiyu Fan
Header Image: Miku Wing