Anime Aesthetic

Of all of the cultural aspects examined during localization, the artwork and animation unique to Chrono Trigger were left untouched in both the video game and its physical ephemera. This aesthetic, known as 「アニメ」 anime, is a unique Japanese artistic expression that grew in popularity after the second World War. The anime aesthetic follows a complex visual language imbued with exaggerated facial and bodily expressions, unnatural hair styles and colors, and most characteristically, large, prominent, and expressive eyes.

These visual components are most obvious when displayed on the various posters, manuals, and boxes marketed to consumers. The primary discrepancies between the Japanese release and the North American release was the distinctive branding on the box and the inclusion of two double-sided posters for Western audiences. In particular, the box art differed by the fighting focus depicted on the North American Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) box and the more neutral and communal pose held by the characters in the Japanese release.
This ultimately reflects the separate cultures and gaming ecologies that were present at the time, as well as the marketing directives undertaken by Nintendo of Japan and Nintendo of America which were primarily male-oriented at the time. In March 1994 (a year before Chrono Trigger’s release), “in its annual consumer survey, the Software Publishing Association reported that 21 percent of the purchasers and primary users of video games [in America] are female.”1 Director of marketing and corporate communications at Nintendo of America, George Harrison, stated in a 1994 interview that, although Nintendo of America had game content guidelines, it had no official policy on the gender-bias issue "we tend to do what most publishers do follow our nose to where the business is. It has been less of an exclusion of women than it has been following our nose to where the business is."1 This gender-gap led to gender-specific marketing ploys, especially pertaining to box cover art which strived for a “macho appeal.” This concept is characterized as a “masculine-coded space,” that is colored with themes of “hypersexualized and objectified women, aggressive men, and signs relating to violence or war.”2

Because of this male-oriented market and the fact that this audience, overall, can better identify with a male protagonist the incentive to use a male protagonist was displayed in a majority of games (a trend that, in large part, is still prevalent today). This characteristic is very obvious when examining Chrono Trigger’s SNES box it depicts a fight against a huge menacing creature, with Frog bracing himself, Marle imbuing Crono’s katana, and Crono himself, charging head on. Although Marle is pictured in a nonsexual light, alongside Frog and Crono, she is in a less prominent position, taking on the role of a supportive class (i.e. mage, healer, etc.). This supportive class stereotype is present in many video games Japanese and North American alike including titles like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Age. More prominent video games tend to:
“include either no characters or one or more male characters in its box art, to place male characters in central positions, to include female characters only in conjunction with male characters, and to depict female characters (when they are present) as sexualized and non-central.”2

As such, the box cover art is still considered more masculine in nature, attracting the attention of more males than females. Interestingly, Japanese iterations of Chrono Trigger never ventured from the original artwork featured for the Super Famicom, meaning that, although Crono is still featured front and center and Ayla is depicted sexually (with exposed legs and buttocks) this cover art is far less aggressive and features more female representations. This difference between the localizations, reveals how the cultural Japanese anime aesthetic was articulated to North American gaming audiences with the added infusion of more masculine-coded themes.
In game however, no alterations to sprite animations or artwork is discernible. This is, in large part, due to the anime aesthetic itself, and how it translates seamlessly across international borders. The visuals, although outlandish and embellished at times, harness their strength through this diversity, making depictions of characters relatable and cross-cultural.

Especially memorable are the sprite animations that convey facial and bodily expressions, as well as translate the narrative visually to the eyes of players. Each party member, including Crono, in total, make up 590 unique sprites.3 Across the spectrum, all characters have a series of animations that express the same emotions and physical movements these include a walk, run, fall, and laugh animation, along with a nod and a shake of the head sequences. Sprite animations unique to characters also exist, with Ayla’s "blowing a kiss" and Frog’s "sword bearing" animations attributing more personality to the characters as the narrative progresses. Expressions faithful and stereotypical to the anime aesthetic are those that involve the character's eyes forming into complete arches (a common sign of happiness), the whimsical “tears” exhibited in Robo’s "falling" sprite sequence, the action lines featured in Marle’s "butt slapping" animation, the bubble that appears during Crono’s "rest," and finally, each character’s "surprise" animation. Each of these reflects the same exaggeration quintessential to the anime aesthetic, ultimately allowing more opportunities for the conveyance of emotions and experiences to gaming audiences.
A more speculative, but still informative, subject is the recurring patterns of hair and eye colors and the attributes they represent in the anime aesthetic. Not only do these hues make characters more interesting and memorable, but these hues of blues, greens, and reds, also carry an intended meaning, at times a strong visual cue built upon years of anime stereotypes.

Crono already wearing stereotypically oriental garments (sporting a white headband, tunic, and katana) has red fiery hair, indicative of his adventurous, dynamic and fighting personality. Disciplined fighters are also known to have crimson locks. Marle and Ayla, on the other hand, both have a blonde hue which has been used to indicate characters as foreigners, wealthy, or dimwitted. In Marle’s case, this color also has been utilized to refer to the status of “female protagonist” and “love interest” (a trend that holds especially true for 「少女」shoujo “for girls” characters). As for Ayla, she is both stubborn and charming — two qualities symbolic of the blonde color. Interestingly, Lucca’s dark pink hair symbolizes child-like qualities, and as such, this stereotype does not portray her personality accurately. Finally, Magus has a ruby glare and sapphire hair, revealing him to be an introspective and calm personality, but also painting him as a malevolent individual (a result of the red eye color).

All of these hues mentioned above, along with every other sprite unique to Chrono Trigger, were never altered during localization, and as such like the facial and bodily expressions are parts of Japanese culture that remained during the North American localization process.

Works Cited:

[1] Oldenburg, Don. "How The Post Reported on Gender and Video Games in 1994: The Electronic Gender Gap." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 21 Mar. 2014. Web. 28 July 2015.

[2] Near, Christopher E. "Selling Gender: Associations of Box Art Representation of Female Characters With Sales for Teen- and Mature-rated Video Games." Sex Roles 68.3-4 (2013): 252-69. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Web. 27 July 2015.

[3] "Chrono Trigger Party Sprites." Chrono Trigger Party Sprites. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 July 2015.

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