Facial Expression in Anime (or the lack thereof)
Let’s face it, anime is not known for its facial expressions beyond gritting teeth, screaming, and showing extreme emotion, a fact my dad loves to let me know every time he sees me watching it. To be honest he is right, even Myazaki and Shinkai films which, while being a step above the rest for their artistry, are still not known for very expressive faces. The lack of facial expression in anime is largely the result of two things.
To explain the first, we need to take a look at performing arts in Japan, specifically Noh theatre. Noh is a combination of several different art forms, some of which originated in China, that came together to form Noh in the 14th century. Noh is musical theatre where the performers wear masks for the duration of the performance. There are 450 different masks organized into 60 different groups. Sure, this gives a fair bit of variety, but it’s not nearly as versatile as the human face. Either way this meant that the performers focused on their acting and their voice. This style carried over into anime, where the skill of the voice actor or actress was an important part of how the character was perceived. This is just one of the stylistic points that makes anime unique when compared to other animation styles.
The second is much more mundane; the less movement there is in an animated sequence, the easier it is to produce. While that might have changed somewhat with the advent of computers and CGI, during the days of hand drawn cel animation it was much cheaper to make a scene if there was little to no movement. Case in point is the infamous elevator scene during episode 22 of Neogenesis Evangelion, which was during a time that Gainax was running low on money and needed to finish the series.
Additionally, the way that amine is produced is a bit different, where the animation work is completed and then sent out for the voice-overs. The voice actors then work to match their voice to the movement of the characters’ faces, so that very little if any editing of the animation needs to be done, unlike in the West, where editing will be done. A more expressive face would make this process more difficult. Now I know what you are thinking at this point: where is the science, and if there is any, what does it have to do with anime faces? Well, as it turns out there is a medical condition that would give an individual an expressionless anime-like face.
Moebius Syndrome is a rare genetic condition affecting only several thousand people worldwide and was first characterized in 1888 by German neurologist Paul Moebius. The condition is caused by a paralysis of an individual’s cranial nerves. The cranial nerves are important for the many of the functions of the head and other parts of the body as well.
The most common nerves affected are nerves VI and VII, which prevents the individual from forming any facial expressions. This can also include a lack of ability to move the eyes from side to side as well. Some other symptoms of the syndrome include limb and chest abnormalities and difficulty breathing. As you might have guessed, the lack of facial muscle control also affects the patient’s ability to speak, but this can be improved with speech therapy. Additionally, the difficulty speaking can cause a person to be labeled as autistic or mentally disabled when intellectually they are just as capable as unafflicted individuals. Sadly, there are no known treatments at this time beyond treating some of the symptoms, and while it is inherited, the genetics are not well understood. They have, however, found that it is a result of mutations on chromosomes 3, 10, and 13, but the full pattern of inheritance has yet to be discovered.
So while it is possible to have an expressionless face like that of an anime character it is not something that I would wish on anyone.