Chibi (style)

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A character drawn in chibi style

Chibi, also known as super deformation, or S.D. is a style of caricature originating in Japan, and common in anime and manga where characters are drawn in an exaggerated way, typically small and chubby with stubby limbs, oversized heads, and minimal detail. The style has found its way into the anime and manga fandom through its usage in manga works and merchandising.

Word usage and etymology[edit]

The English term "chibi" derives from the Japanese chibi kyara (ちびキャラ, 'tiny character'),[citation needed] where chibi (ちび) is a colloquial word for very short people and children, itself deriving from chibiru (禿びる, v. 'to wear down'),[1] and kyara (キャラ) is loaned from the English "character".[2]

"Super deformed" and "S.D." come from Japanese deforume (デフォルメ, 'stylistic distortion'), itself from French déformer.[3]

Proportions and appearance[edit]

An example of a character being drawn with typical chibi proportions

Compared to the average anime character, usually about seven to eight heads tall,[4] the head of a super-deformed character is normally anywhere between one third and one half the character's height.[5] In addition to their modified proportions, super-deformed characters typically lack the detail of their normal counterparts. As a result, when a character of average proportions is depicted as a super-deformed character, certain aspects of their design will be simplified and others will be more exaggerated. Details such as folds on a jacket are ignored, and general shapes are favored. If a character has a signature characteristic (odd hair, a particular accessory, etc.) this will typically be prominent in the super deformed version of the character.[6]

The Chibi style easily falls under the Japanese category of Kawaii, with the specific proportions being exaggerated in the ways that they are. With it being as cute as it is, the Chibi style allows for easy advertisement in the culture, and even in other countries.[7]

Media usage[edit]

One example of chibi's usage in Japanese, which brought the term to the attention of Western fans, is Chibiusa; this diminutive pet name for the daughter of Sailor Moon comes from Chibi Usagi ('Little Rabbit').[8] The chibi art style is part of Japanese culture,[9][10][11] and is seen everywhere from advertising and subway signs to anime and manga. The style was popularized by franchises like Dragon Ball and SD Gundam in the 1980s. It is used as comic relief in anime and manga, giving additional emphasis to a character's emotional reaction.

The super deformed style has also appeared in anime-influenced American series such as Homestuck, Teen Titans and Avatar: The Last Airbender, which feature super deformed shorts.[12] It also appeared in French-Canadian shows such as Totally Spies! and Martin Mystery.

The main character of the manga, and later several anime adaptations, Astro Boy, is an early example of the evolving chibi style. Created in 1952, the chibi style was not yet what was known as today, and yet some of the characteristics were beginning to emerge. Astro Boy has the usage of exaggerated features, like very large eyes, round heads, and small rounded limbs, and as these features lend themselves well to it, this style is often used to represent children and child-like characters like Astro Boy.

Perhaps the most renowned use of the style is in the Hello Kitty character. An anthropomorphic cat with a head bigger than her body created in 1974 for a coin purse, Hello Kitty is one of Japan's biggest icons being featured in series, music, games, and books.

In May 2016, Rooster Teeth released the first episode of RWBY Chibi, a 3D animated series of shorts involving the characters popularized by their show RWBY.

In 2022, Disney Channel introduced the Chibiverse series that uses Disney animated characters.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 松村明 (November 2006). 大辞林 daijirin (in Japanese). 三省堂. ISBN 4-385-13905-9.
  2. ^ 日本国語大辞典 Nihon Kokugo Daijiten (in Japanese) (2nd ed.). Tōkyō: Shogakukan. 2000. ISBN 4-09-521001-X.
  3. ^ "Which Japanese words come from French?". sci.lang.japan.
  4. ^ "Body Proportion". Akemi's Anime World. Archived from the original on 5 August 2007. Retrieved 16 August 2007.
  5. ^ "Action Tutorial". Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  6. ^ How to Draw Manga Volume 18: Super-Deformed Characters 1: Humans. ISBN 9784766114355
  7. ^ Barton, David Watts (27 April 2021). Japan from Anime to Zen: Quick Takes on Culture, Art, History, Food . . . and More. Stone Bridge Press.
  8. ^ "Sailor Moon volume 3 translation". Archived from the original on 9 May 2008. Retrieved 23 May 2008.
  9. ^ "Japanese student turns philosophers into super-deformed anime-style characters - WOWJAPAN". 4 August 2017. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  10. ^ Rose, Mike (28 January 2013). "Clash of Clans '5 keys to success". Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  11. ^ "Why Japan Is Hands Down The Coolest Country On The Planet - SMOSH". Archived from the original on 31 December 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  12. ^ "Applying 2D Japanese Super-Deformed character to traditional American animation" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 November 2019. Retrieved 5 July 2018.

External links[edit]