Understanding “Chibi” With Hiro & Father Mateo

As used in anime and manga culture, “chibi” (ちび / チビ) refers to overly-cute or child-like drawings of characters from anime, manga, or other areas of popular culture. 

Chibi are often characterized by oversized heads, childlike features, and larger-than-normal eyes (though the latter is often true of anime styles generally, and is not unique to chibi).

16I05 Hiro and Father Mateo

Many Westerners, especially those who don’t read anime or manga (Japanese comics/graphic novels), may have trouble recognizing chibi–or telling them apart from other forms of anime and manga art–despite their growing popularity in the United States. Fortunately, I was able to commission some examples.

The protagonist of my mystery novels is shinobi detective Hiro Hattori–a 25 year-old assassin and member of the Iga ninja clan. Although my novels are written for adults, and not for children, Hiro drawn in the chibi style looks more like a child than the seasoned killer he actually is:

16I05 Hiro Chibi

Hiro’s partner in crime-solving, Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo Ávila de Santos, is slightly older than Hiro, but looks similarly young in chibi form:

16I05 Father Mateo

In both forms, however, Father Mateo remains allergic to Hiro’s cat.

These chibis were drawn by Warbabymoon (aka Taylor Hatake) – and you can see more of her art and other commissions on her DeviantArt page, here. I appreciate her drawing these for me, so I could demonstrate the chibi style here on the blog.

Manga and anime (Japanese animation) are important parts of modern Japanese culture; a large percentage of the Japanese population read manga (and watch anime films), and the stories and images they contain are far more diverse and wide-ranging than Western “comics.” Offerings range from fantasy and science fiction to historical, romantic, and even erotic fiction. Their topics and tones run the gamut from heavily serious to slapstick humor (and everything in between).

Although some Western readers think it strange to consider that “comics” have such widespread popularity in Japan, anime and manga encompass far more than merely “comic books.” Graphic novels are deeply embedded in Japanese culture – and as a writer, I think it’s a wonderful thing. The fusion of story, words, and art gives storytellers a dynamic, flexible platform – I’m glad to see them growing in popularity in the United States, and hope the trend continues.