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I keep a file of wallpaper images on my computer at work. The other day I posted a Sailor Moon pattern. There she was: Usagi Tsukino, with golden hair, angel wings, and those eyes. Those big, huge, expressive, highlight-dominated eyes.

If there's one thing that marks manga and anime, it's the drawing of characters' eyes. They haven't exactly been the first to discover this, of course; according to Fred Schodt, artists have long been aware of the importance of eyes, and have intentionally enlarged them or otherwise made them more prominent. The Japanese, however, have taken this to an undreamed-of extent and, as Schodt writes in his book "Manga! Manga!", "the Japanese girls' comic represents an extreme in this tendency."

Who gets credit for starting the trend? Probably the man who wrote the rules for manga in general, Osamu Tezuka. He bestowed large, expressive eyes not only on his robot creation, Astroboy, but also on one of the early heroines of manga, Princess Sapphire, in his series "Ribon no Kishi."

The series ran from 1953 to 1956 and dealt with a girl born to a King and Queen in a Disneyesque medieval land. The couple raises her as a boy in order to have an heir to the throne, though she knows full well she's a woman. She thus also becomes the first in a long line of gender benders reaching down to and including Ranma Saotome.

But aside from Tezuka, there's another name of which otaku should be aware. One man who demonstrated that drawing girls with huge eyes isn't merely an aesthetic decision, it just may have a scientific basis. That man was Konrad Lorenz.

Konrad Zacharias Lorenz (1903-1989) was an Austrian-born zoologist and a Nobel laureate for his work in the field of ethology. His groundbreaking work in animal behavior has led to a better understanding of what used to be dismissed as mere instinct. He is perhaps best known for his work on "fixed action patterns" or imprinting. These, he maintained, were innate, already hard-wired into the brains of baby animals. He demonstrated this by hovering around newly-hatched ducklings in order to let them "adopt" him as their mother. If you've ever seen a photograph of an old man in Speedos wading into a pond with a line of ducklings following him, chances are it was a photo of Lorenz. p> But the process works both ways. Animals, and it is argued by sociobiologists humans, respond to certain "sign stimuli" as means of communication, aids in hunting, and avoidance of predators. It's a concept we honor whenever we use the phrase "street smarts." And large eyes are a powerful sign stimulus.

You may have heard the Rodney Dangerfield remark about a difficult child: "Now I know why tigers eat their young." Sometimes, you have to wonder why more animals DON'T. According to Lorenz's research, it may have something to do with eyes.

In looking at an infant's face of just about any species, it's easy to see that the eyes are the most prominent feature. The eyes are large at first in relation to the nose and mouth, and they stay prominent throughout early childhood. There's nothing really new about it, as I said. As someone who's seen enough of those sad-eyed-kids-painted-on-black-velvet, I know it's been around for a while and has been deliberately used to tug at the heartstrings. Carlo Rambaldi, a special effects modeler in Hollywood, kept this principle in mind when he designed the title alien for Steven Spielberg's "E.T."

We as a species seem to be hard-wired to turn to mush at the sight of someone with really big eyes. We get to feeling all domestic and protective. Our sympathies go out to them, no matter how unconsciously. It's no coincidence that warm, sympathetic characters such as Sasami in Tenchi Muyo!, Usagi Tsukino and her Sailor Scout friends, or any of a number of Reiji Matsumoto heroines, have been blessed with huge eyes. By contrast, villains and cold- hearted characters have eyes that are so beady they look like ball bearings rolling around on a plate.

So thanks to the researches of Konrad Lorenz, there may be a rational, scientific explanation as to why manga and anime characters have those enormous eyes. I have yet to find out, however, why so many male characters have eyebrows so thick they look like they were modeled on those of Groucho Marx.

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