The Many Faces of Anime

In one of my previous articles I displayed an image to reinforce my argument on my concept of expressions, and today I want to explore these expressions a bit further. The image, which can be seen here, shows a number of different ‘expressions’ which I have observed as common expressions in Anime productions. Each of the expressions have their own unique touches, and in this blog I will draw similar images from my chosen anime Fairy Tail, identify them with one of the moods or expressions from the image, and see if there’s a way to link similar expressions together based on the characters eyes. Keep in mind that I may not be accurate in my identification, as this is a self-reflected study.

Happiness – Fairy Tail’s Mira Jane

The first face I want to take a look expresses happiness, while keeping the characters eyes closed. I have observed that it is quite common in Anime for characters to close their eyes when they smile. This idea seems unique to Anime, and may be based on the natural human reaction to slightly squint when you smile. An example that first came to mind was Fairy Tail’s Mira Jane, a character who is always very friendly and is rarely aggressive in the series.


Frustration/Anger – Fairy Tail’s Levy (left)

This face is one that demonstrates anger and frustration, often in response to an insult from another character. The hollow eyes effect, when used to signify anger, is a more visualized version of blind rage, where a character is so angry that their pupils dilate in anger. Fairy Tail’s Lucy often pulls this face in reaction to jokes or insults from characters like Natsu and Happy – the above image shows Fairy Tail’s Levy pulling the same face.


Anger & Iconography – Fairy Tail’s Happy (Left) and Natsu Dragneel (Right)

In this third image I want to explore the idea of iconography. Iconography is the use of visual language or iconography for expression emotion beyond the scope of the face. The identifiable feature of iconography in the image above is the mark known as a ‘cruciform’ on the character’s foreheads, which depicts popping veins. The above image depicts anger, through use of techniques such as the cruciform, as well as the sharp hollow eyes and the sharpened teeth that, in other situations the characters do not possess. Iconography is quite distinctive in anime and adds another dimension to a character’s expression.


Lust – Fairy Tail’s Gray (left) and Juvia (right)

Among Fairy Tail’s many story arcs, there are many side-stories that continue throughout the story. One of those recurring stories is Juvia Lockser’s obsession with Gray Fullbuster. Across the series she is seen following Gray, and often proclaims her love to him, particularly to other members of the guild. Juvia is seen in the image above with a look of love and lust, another expression which is often seen in anime productions.

Crying - Fairy Tail's Happy

Crying – Fairy Tail’s Happy

This is one of the few different ways that characters cry in anime. The idea of water flowing from the characters eyes is in fact not often used in emotional scenes of the anime. Over the 30 hours of anime I watched so far this session, I witnessed this style of crying mostly in situations where there is an inadequate reason to cry, such as Happy (pictured above) being denied fish.

As is evident in the examples above, there are a number of expressions that are used widely across anime productions to convey an expression or mood.


  1. You are not alone on believing that these expressions are purely anime. I have watched a lot of the more ‘popular’ anime’s (i.e Pokemon, Sailor Moon etc) and I have found myself constantly resonating those expressions to similar emotions. Anime seems very dependable in that sense. It feels as though it is almost a global language. I may not be able to speak Japanese or live in the same culture, however I find myself relating to these characters purely on their facial expressions.


  2. This post answered heaps of questions I just made on your last post. It’s interesting how these expression translate across anime. I have noticed all of these expression in the Pokemon anime series and the way character express emotions on their faces are very similar, even though they are different series. I also notice some similarities between the facial expressions you explore and some of the emoji faces on my iPhone. It would be awesome to explore how stylised emotion translate and the way that people use and interpret them across platforms as well as anime series and content . Awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The way Anime uses facial emotions is truly amazing, it can really make or break a show if they include good animation in the faces. I feel that with Anime they aim for an older audience compared to the cartoons we watched as a younger kid. Because of this they need to use details like the facial expressions to keep the viewers interested. The stories that some animes tell are ones that could be told in a live action setting and thus would have the advantages of live actors giving expressions to the emotions felt. In the anime format though the animators attention to detail in showing different facial expressions really makes the story work just as good as a live action production


  4. In my opinion the most recognisable face across anime is the crying face. I have never forgotten how they make the characters cry. From watching episodes of pokemon and dragon ball z before school when I was younger, I would always remember the ridiculously large amounts of water that almost consumed the entire face of the characters as they got emotional. Something I have noticed about anime characters as well is that they show emotion such as sadness and the act of crying a lot more regularly than that of western cartoon/animated characters. They present a higher level of emotion – with even male characters crying quite regularly. Your research has been extremely interesting and opened my eyes to multiple factors of anime I never really thought too much about before. Thank you. 🙂


  5. Hi! I’m really glad you wrote this post on the expressions and moods depicted in anime. I am currently learning about the different tropes in anime, these expressions (as well as others) being one of those tropes in identifying anime apart from other kinds of cartoons. I’m still a novice to the broad area of Asian culture but I like that you were able to identify one of the main parts that makes anime – anime. This post also helped me in identifying the different visual languages and markings I didn’t even know had names, such as iconography and cruciform.

    I think you did a great job in a personal narrative approach! I am interested to read your previous post and any future ones you may have.


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