They look like no other kind of teddy bear you have encountered before, and they are growing steadily in popularity.
They look like no other kind of teddy bear you have encountered before, and they are growing steadily in popularity. With their oversize heads, enormous eyes and tiny—almost vestigial—limbs, they have the appearance of friendly aliens. In short, these are Japanese-inspired anime (pronounced “ah-ni-may”) bears, and they offer a completely new approach to bear artistry.
Strictly speaking, Westerners use the word anime to refer to Japanese cartoon animation, although in Japan the word is a blanket term for all kinds of animation, both domestic and international.
Though many different artists work in the anime industry, there are some common features that define a piece of work as being in the anime style. Chiefly, all human characters have huge eyes and large heads, often on child-proportioned bodies. Sometimes these bodies are further exaggerated into what is termed “Chibi,” or “super-deformed” style, with short, chubby bodies and stubby limbs. This is a peculiar Japanese drawing style, designed to make a character look cute and appealing.
Interestingly, Osamu Tezuka, who is considered to be one of the inventors of anime, was influenced by iconic American cartoon characters such as Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse and Bambi. Perhaps it is this cross-fertilization of cultures that has given rise to the popularity of the anime style here in the West. Along with the current fascination for all things Japanese, we also recognize something familiar.
From the above description, you can see how a short leap of imagination can adapt the anime style for bear making: large head and big eyes—check; little fat body—check; short arms and legs—check. However, to make a true anime bear you have to add that vital magic ingredient: Your bear can stretch all the rules of proportion and design to breaking point but must still exude an overwhelming air of sweetness. Most anime bears are small (under 10 inches), which adds to the impression of cuteness, so if you enjoy making miniatures, you may find anime an interesting style to try your hand at.
“I knew right away the anime style was for me. They are so fun and whimsical and each and every piece brings a smile to your heart. And most anime bears are smaller bears and that is what I have been making for the last two years,” says Jodi Falk, describing what drew her toward anime. “It just seemed to be the newest style that was perfect for me.”
Anime provides the perfect excuse to really go to town on your bear’s facial features. Some artists like to play with symmetry and position the nose higher than the eyes; some of these noses may be molded from polymer clay, or even a black glass eye or a button may be employed. Some artists like to use doll eyes or even hand paint their own, while many enjoy adding bright colors to their bears. For Falk, “personality plus” is what she strives for, and she feels the face is the most important aspect of the style.
Samantha Lutterotti, of Sammi Bears, agrees the head and face are key to the anime style. “The bigger you make the head the better!” she laughs. “I have learned a couple of things over the years, and one is that buttons make great anime noses. Another is that shading is key to giving your bear some character. And last but not least the eyes are the windows to your bear’s soul so spend the extra time and make sure they’re perfect.”
Chantal Giroux, from Canada, decided to immerse herself in Japanalia when she first found out about anime bears. Her daughters had watched a lot of Japanese cartoons as children, and Giroux was drawn to the stylized painting of the characters’ faces. As a painter herself, she saw immediately how expressive the eyes could be when the proportions were exaggerated.
Doing a little research, she discovered “amigurumi.” This almost a sub-form of 3-D anime is a traditional style of Japanese thread art: The word comes from “amu,” which means “to knit” (although most are actually crocheted), and “nuigurumi,” meaning “soft toy.” Amigurumi usually takes the form of small animals and share the same characteristics of anime, having large heads and tiny limbs. The idea is to achieve an overall effect of cuteness, or “kawaii.” There are plenty of patterns available on the Internet if you want to have a go at making your own amigurumi, and many anime bear artists work exclusively in this form.
For Giroux, anime bears have become a way of life. She thoroughly recommends them as another avenue to explore with your bear making. “Anime creations are magic; you will start with an idea and the result may be totally different,” she shares. “Don’t forget to give them tenderness in their features. For maintaining the anime style, it’s important that the bear maker expresses tenderness in their creations.”
Another bear artist who has taken to anime is Di Bester, from South Africa. An award-winning miniaturist of many years’ standing, Bester saw an anime-style bear in a magazine and says she was “totally hooked on the ‘big-headed’ little bear!” Her own interpretation of this art form is sweet and comical, and she pays great attention to the eyes in order to get the expression just right. Her advice to anyone who wants to experiment with anime is to “just let the creative juices flow.”
“Don’t be afraid to experiment with different fabrics,” she notes. “Big eyes play a part, and also where you position them on the head of your bear. You have to have a sense of humor, for sure, if you want to create such a wonderful, comic critter!”
So there you have it. If you love working on the faces of your bears, have a sense of the ridiculous and enjoy creating tiny creatures with huge personalities, then anime may be a style you will want to try out. A great number of resources are available—particularly on the Internet—to help you get started.
The beauty of creating anime bears is that it lends itself to a wide range of skills and interests: If you like making thread bears, then try your hand at amigurumi. If you enjoy sculpting and painting, then have a go at making noses and hand painting the eyes. If you are fascinated by the combination of different colors and textures, let your imagination take wing. All these things can be embraced and utilized in the pursuit of making an anime-style bear. Just remember the golden rule: It must be cute, cute, cute!