Originality is not something that you can really find in even things like anime. From each decade, there is a certain style of anime that became extremely popular and other series that tried to copy off its success. These big series also go on to influence other popular series in terms of animation, art style, character design, and a lot of things. Character designs can last a lot longer than that. They borrow from the decade they are around from, but iconic ones can last for a long time.
There is a finite variance of everything. Music titles, voice acting roles, anime genres and styles, but I think similar character designs can hurt anime the most. Since they are a visual thing in a visual art form/medium, it is possible to tell what kind of personality a character has, what role they will play in a story, or what story the show is going to be just based on how characters look. This is a huge meta cultural knowledge thing that people can acquire by watching years of anime or watching anime in a short period of time when one-character design is copy and pasted into another show.
Of course, this is never a completely bad thing. A show should rely on its own strengths to be good. A similar character design is not going to hurt a show automatically. It depends on how well character types are used and how well each character is explored. Entire studios like Kyoto Animation and Studio Bones use similar character designs all the time, but each show has their own character range and style that separates them from the rest. Just because a person knows what to expect when watching something doesn’t mean that there isn’t room to be completely surprised.
Here are some examples to show you that I have at least a general idea of what I’m talking about. (Maybe, I could be completely insane)
90’s anime women:
This is a good way to display how shows during an era had similar art styles. This is from the 90’s and not every character looks exactly the same, but there are a lot of similarities between each. What’s strange about today is there are characters that look similar to each other, but it’s not as well saturated due to tons and tons of art styles.
Seed Character Designer:
This is another easy one to explain. When shows have the same character designer, of course the characters are going to look the same. This is the same as saying that Arslan and Edward Elric look the same. They are both manga from Arakawa so that’s obvious. Still, Seed’s character designer is still getting a lot of work by studio Xebec and Arakawa has had a few popular series (FMA, Silver Spoon, Hero Legends, and Arslan)
The Rei Clone:
This one is ironic because of spoilery reasons and true on so many levels. Ever since the advent of Evangelion, there have been a lot of character archetypes borrowed/lifted from the show. While none of these girls look exactly like each other, they have the same traits. The white hair, the very different colored eyes, and the minimal and robotic personality. This follows my argument of already knowing what to expect from these characters just based on their design.
The Three Point Banged Male Character (Not sure what to call this):
This is a modern trend that I seem to have noticed. Especially since there have been two characters that have looked the same this season from Battery and 91 Days. Very different anime, but yet very similar main protagonist character designs. In fact, being the protagonist might be the only thing that this design is defined by. I don’t think these character design always has the same type of personality, it’s just worth noting for the reasons of seeing this character design more and more.
The Kirito Protagonist Type (Light novel protagonist 1)
This is more along the lines of a character design also shows off what kind of show the story is. Since Sword Art Online became popular (blech). It seems like this protagonist design is used in a fantasy rpg video game setting which also seems like a harem. A big sign to people like me to stay away from this kind of series. I suppose this could go along with the picture set above it in some ways, but that just plays into anime protagonists are beginning to look similar.
So once again, having similar character designs may hinder a series at the start, but if the character writing is good and each character is well defined in who they are, then it doesn’t damage the series in anyway. It’s always when characters are just an archetype with no additional depth that the damage is already done. This more of a visual level, but the same could be said for similar sound tracks, voice actors, directors, writers, and everything else that can be thought of.
What similar character designs have you seen? How was the experience of watching the show affected by it?