A character's age isn't always easily apparent. There's "youngin's" who are Older Than They Look or Really 700 Years Old, and "adults" who are Younger Than They Look. However, sometimes the character's age is obfuscated — not from the rest of the cast, but us viewers. For whatever reason, the artist has taken Artistic License in how they depict the character's age. They might be drawn as younger or older than they really are, or in vague enough strokes that we superimpose whatever age we want on the characters. This can serve a few different purposes:
- The character is younger than he or she looks. This is often done in order to depict Fanservice, violence and other mature behavior that would otherwise be very inappropriate if the characters actually looked as young as they are. Some viewers might still find it inappropriate upon learning the character's canonical ages. This is much like a drawn version of Dawson Casting. See also Really 700 Years Old.
- The character is older than he or she looks. Artists probably do this to have mature storylines without losing younger viewers (and depending on the genre, it can also be applied for a particular kind of fanservice). This is somewhat like casting Hollywood Homely and Generic Cuteness, in that everyone is drawn in such a way that they seem attractive, or in this case the same age.
- The character models are sufficiently undefined that the player/viewer can superimpose whatever age they want on the protagonist, thus effectively bridging most any age gap to draw in a wide spectrum of viewers. Older and younger viewers will feel surprised after they find out their real age and realizing it's not the same as theirs.
- The character's precise age never figures into the design and is meaningless except in very broad terms from a story standpoint; it's specified only because of the common insistence that audiences can only relate to characters their age.
Examples of Type 1.
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Anime and Manga
- In Saint Seiya the protagonists are all depicted as young men in their late teens/early twenties, but are actually 13-15. Considering the violence in the series, this may be to avoid the connotations of violence against children. Considering they all underwent Training from Hell around when they were ten years old, there are fans who consider their adopted father to be an inordinately cruel man rather than a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
- Case in point, this◊ is, at most, a 15 year old girl and that's assuming at least 1-2 years have passed since the beginning of the series to that point.
- The Spin-Offspring anime Saint Seiya Omega somewhat averts this. The new protagonists are around the same age range as the original ones and actually look like it, except for Haruto, who looks like he's, at most, 16.
- The main human (or equivalent) cast of Bleach look at least nineteen but are actually in the 15-17 range. Ironically, Rukia looks the most like that age, but is Really 700 Years Old. What makes this even more bizarre is that Chad is explicitly Younger Than He Looks on top of that.
- The manga version of Battle Royale suffers from this. They are all supposed to be 15 to 16 years old, the usual age to be during your last year in middle school, but the artist's style has most of them look at least like they are old enough to be close to graduating high school around age 18. Shogo and Mitsuko are two of the worst offenders, looking (and acting) like they are in their twens.
- Some of the students suffer from Type 2, where they look to be about 10 years old and being pretty small for their age.
- According to Word of God, Yoko◊ from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is around 14 years old. The same age as Kid Hero protagonist Simon, who is quite a tad shorter.
- It has been explained that living underground for so long (with no visible sun) has messed up the calendar, and Nia is the only human with an accurate age.
- Also, Simon himself falls more towards the opposite extreme (perhaps to emphasize his Kid Hero aspect) as he's pretty damn short for his age (he's 14, but most people estimate him to only be about four feet tall).
- Note that Yoko's appearance barely changes after the Time Skip when she's twenty-one.
- Almost everyone in Revolutionary Girl Utena, a show where middleschoolers look like highschoolers while the highschoolers look like they're in their twenties. Considering what kind of messed-up stuff goes on later in the series, this may actually be a good thing. The only exception is that elementary schoolers look like elementary schoolers, which makes Nanami look like one hell of a shotacon for liking Tsuwabuki, despite the fact that she's only thirteen herself. In fact, the only teenagers that do look their age are thirteen-year-old Miki (who's voiced by a woman in the Japanese version and is given a more boyish voice for English) and Shiori, who seems to be the same grade level as Juri (first year of high school).
- Most of the characters in Slayers actually look their proper age (fifteen-year old Lina, twenty-two year old Gourry, and fourteen/fifteen year old Amelia, who, despite her roundish face and large bustline, is mid-height), Zelgadis definitely doesn't look like he's the sixteen years of age he is in the anime. It isn't just his chimeric appearance either; his voice is deeper than Gourry's is. In the original novels, he's a far more plausible twenty.
- Except for Echizen Ryouma and a few other first-years, none of the players on The Prince of Tennis look like they're supposed to be in middle school.
- Lampshaded when Kawamura's father thinks team captain Tezuka Kunimitsu is the coach, and offers him booze.
- Konomi Takeshi originally intended for the characters to be in high school, but was asked to change the setting to middle school for whatever reason. He agreed, but didn't bother changing the character designs.
- Witch Hunter Robin. Robin is 15. She falls in love with Amon, who's 25. You wouldn't be able to tell they're supposed to be different ages without being told - they both look mid-twenties.
- Show of hands: who here thinks Masaru and Toma from Digimon Savers look fourteen (especially considering that nineteen-year-old Masaru looks exactly the same in the Distant Finale)?
- In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing everybody in the central cast looks older than they should. For reference, here are the protagonist Heero◊ (age 15) and The Rival Zechs◊ (age 19), except for Quatre (also 15) who looks younger.
- Until you see one of the Gundam pilots standing next to an adult.
- Of course this is just following a long Gundam tradition: some particularly weird ones are Judau Ashta◊ (age 14; looks at least 17), Bright Noa◊ (age 19; looks at least 22), and Kacylia Zabi◊ (age 27; looks at least in her late 30s). Though Heero at least looks closer to his given age without the near-permanent scowl.
- The main characters in the Battle Royale manga are all supposed to be 9th graders, ages 14 to 15, (except Shogo, who got held back) but most of them look like they're in their twenties at least. Possibly to make all the extremely graphic violence a little easier to swallow.
- Shogo looks like a 40 to 50-year-old Shell-Shocked Veteran. He's...oh, sixteen?
- There are also some characters that are type 2; Yutaka, for example, appears to be about ten. This, however, is Truth in Television: there are quite a few people in early high school who look younger than they actually are.
- Umi and Fuu from Magic Knight Rayearth should've looked a bit like 16 or 17. But they're really 14 years old. By contrast, pint-sized Hikaru is a Type 2 —the two others first thought she was in grade school, and she admits she's a little small for her age...
- Show of hands: who here could tell Son Gohan was no older than eleven/twelve in the Cell Saga, just by looking at him? And who here thought he was at the very least sixteen? No wonder videogames call this form TEEN Gohan, instead of giving that monicker to...well, teenaged Gohan from the Buu saga (who is just "Gohan"). The manga makes this worse. While he looks relatively shorter, his well defined muscles still makes him look like a teenager, and he's nine!
- Also, Goku barely looks any different when he's 12 at the first world tournament he attends than he does at 15 when he's at the second. He only shows a significant change in appearance in the Time Skip where he went from 15 to 18. Same applies to Chichi, albeit she never appears as a 15-year old in the manga.
- In addition, Goku's look never changes from the time he turns 18 to the time he gets de-aged by Black Star Shenron at about fifty. This was hand-waved in one of the dubs by Vegeta, who says that Saiyans age much slower than humans so that they can fight for longer.
- Naruto does this a lot, mostly with antagonists. The Sound Five were fourteen years old and look 17/18, except Kimimaro who is 15 and almost looks like a 30-year-old (though that's at least partially because of his super-stern attitude/look on his face and illness). Hidan is 22, but looks about 30. Deidara is 19 and Jugo is 18, but they both look like they're in their mid-twenties (although when he stands next to someone else it becomes apparently that Deidara is relatively short). Itachi already looks significantly older than his official age of 17 when he's introduced, and a static character design leads him to look almost the exact same during flashbacks when Sasuke was 8 (which would make him only 13).
- A family photo◊ shows that he's always had those weird creases that make his face look a lot older than he is even as an adult since he was apparently born with them.
- The 15 year Orihime from Bleach is famous for her rather large breasts. Likewise Ichigo and most of the other male teenage protagonists have exceptionally mature, chiseled bodies.
- Yumiko from Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou is 15 years old, but her body frame is closer to Misa, who's in her 20s.
- In the classic mecha series Invincible Steel Man Daitarn 3. Banjo, the main character, is 18 years old, but looks, acts, and is treated as a man at least in his late-20s, possibly even early 30s. More of one of the early-bloomer types.
- In Black Cat, Woodney, Train's imposter, is revealed to only be 20 years old. He doesn't look 20.
- Jin from Samurai Champloo has a face that looks more like someone in his early thirties, but he's actually only 20. Him complaining about his back hurting in one episode doesn't help either.
- Lucia, from Venus Versus Virus is only fifteen years old, though she looks like she is at best eighteen. The fact that she smokes doesn't make it any better.
- She looks more her age in the manga, beginning at volume 4.
- Rei and Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion appear roughly seventeen despite being fourteen, presumably for the sake of The Merch. Contrast them with their alleged classmate, Hikari.
- Zoro and Sanji of One Piece are a lot younger than they look. Neither of them were twenty before the Time Skip, but looking at them, you'd expect them to be in their twenties already.
- Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch has this (especially with 13-year-old heroine Lucia), mainly because Hanamori Pink can't seem to draw any female character (besides Yuuri and Seira, both very young girls) flatter than a D-cup. And that's why changing Lady Bat to a girl instead of a Wholesome Crossdresser doesn't work.
- Zettai Karen Children. Before the Time Skip, the main heroines are 10 and look 10, but afterwards, they're 12 and look more 15-16.
- Wandering Son has a few characters, mostly Doi and Chiba (especially Chiba). The latter did look like a ten - eleven year old at first, but starting around volume 4 her appearance became more of a mid-aged teenager. It matches her mature, and angsty personality, too.
- The predecessor to the manga, Shikii no Junin, relied heavily on Artistic Age. The characters can't be older then 11, but they all look like they're at least 16. It doesn't help that with Art Evolution, whenever Shimura draws the protagonists in her Wandering Son styles, he looks like his actual age (and a lot like Nitori).
- Eyeshield 21's characters have appearances based on their personality, maturity, or whatever their shtick is, despite all of them being around the same age (15-18). The series is very self-aware, however, and never fails to lampshade how absurd some of the characters look.
- In Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-chan, Zakuro is canonically 9, when physically she looks about 18, due to her... features.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure appears to take place in a strange alternate reality wherein twelve-year-old boys look like they're twenty.◊
- The main protagonist of Only Yesterday looks 40-50 years old sometimes, because of the lines on her face and her homeliness. This is to emphasize her Christmas Cake status. Her actual age? 28 years old.
- Fresh Pretty Cure!: Due to trying to expand the audience range, the art style is given a mild Hotter and Sexier, with more mature looks and visible breasts (but not that big). However, late on the series, it is stated by a supercomputer that the original trio, Love, Miki and Inori... are 14 years old.
- Arguably in Azumanga Daioh: Yomi being the Only Sane Man, she sometimes looks as old as her teachers. It helps that her teachers also sometimes look younger than they are, as well.
- All over the place in Sugar Sugar Rune The ten-year-old characters look like they're around 13, while all the junior high characters look like they're in their twenties. Not helped by the show's bad case of Most Writers Are Adults.
- Most of the main cast in Sailor Moon. They are only 14 years old, but look like they are around 17, if not more.
- This is most noticeable with Haruka and Michiru and the Sailor Starlights, they are around 16-17, yet they look very mature and almost old as Setsuna, who is in her early to mid twenties.
- Hellsing: Integra Hellsing is a young woman in her early twenties, but due to the way she's drawn, how tough she looks thanks to the Crapsack World she's in, and her no-nonsense personality, you'd be forgiven for believing she's in her late twenties to early thirties.
- Pretty much all Western comics, especially Marvel and DC. Characters who are supposed to be in their early- or mid-teens are regularly drawn with the musculature and...endowments of someone much older. This is so pervasive that listing the exceptions would be easier.
- Likewise, most Western comic artists are sketchy on drawing small children, so often kids who are especially young will look a couple of years older for simplicity. Valeria Richards, for example, is supposed to be four or five but most artists draw her to look closer to nine of ten. Other times, particularly unskilled writers will just give children the proportions of adults but make them as tall as children.
- Angela in Silent Hill 2 is actually nineteen, even though she looks to be mid-thirties or so and often adopts the mannerisms of a little girl. This was done to make her look more than a little off.
- Eddie, meanwhile, is 23 according to the Book of Lost Memories, but his attitude, appearance, and backstory seem more suited to a high school senior or college freshman.
- Crisis Core has an odd example: when Cloud first shows up in the game he's only 14 years old...but, Cloud doesn't look any different than usual, and is voiced by Takahiro Sakurai and Steve Burton, like always. The only reason you buy that he's a kid is his attitude.
- Looking at Angeal, you'd think he's hitting his mid to late thirties, what with the muscles and the Perma Stubble. Turns out he's actually 25 years old, born after Genesis.
- Super Mario Bros.: Mario and Luigi look like they're in their late 30s, but they're actually only 26, according to a Japanese trophy in Super Smash Bros..
- Ages are amazingly hard to judge in general in the Final Fantasy universe. For an excellent example, let's take Auron from Final Fantasy X: he's widely considered to be a great warrior from the past generation, has plenty of wrinkles and greying hair, and yet is only thirty-five. Then again, his life has sucked badly enough to make him prematurely decrepit. And being dead and still aging probably didn't help either.
- This causes a lot of problems in the spin-off Dissidia: Final Fantasy - Bartz looks and acts closer to Zidane's age (16) and is practically babysat by the extremely mature and stoic Squall. This tends to shock people to learn that Squall is only 17 and Bartz is his senior (and in fact one of the oldest heroes) at 20.
- Final Fantasy XII's Balthier counts as well. In the English dub, he sounds and acts like he ought to be mid-thirties or so (the age of his voice actor, basically.) The manual puts him in his early twenties, which rather ruins things. Plenty of stuff that sounds pleasantly snarky from an older man just sound like a young punk talking when the character is so young... Except for the fact that, being trained to become a Judge since early childhood, he can easily back up everything he boasts about...
- Same with Larsa. He's keenly intelligent, manipulative, and definitely one of the big movers of the plot, ascending to the throne of Archadia by the end of the game. How old is he? Twelve!
- Many of the playable characters in Pokémon look at least three or four years older than their supposed age (usually given as eleven). This is especially noticeable when it comes to the female characters, who tend to be more...developed than an average 10-year-old (and sometimes more so than half the adult female cast).
- A common complaint with Red and Blue in the remakes is that they no longer look eleven. In the timeskip, where they're fourteen now, they look around sixteen or seventeen.
- Many characters could also count as Type 3s.
- One Super Robot Wars 4Koma pointed this out by comparing Sanger Zonvolt and Tetsuya Onodera. Sanger is 29 but looks like he's in his mid to late thirties, making him a Type 1, whereas Tetsuya is the same age but looks like he's in his early to mid twenties, making him a Type 2.
- The Legend of Zelda is full of this throughout the titles. In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess we have Shad, who looks and acts like someone in his late 20s minimum, but is apparently the same age as Link... Which is 17.
Examples of Type 2.
Anime and Manga
- Manabi Straight is all over this. All of the (18-year-old or so) students are cute and rounded, looking about 10.
- Same goes for Manga//Lucky Star, where the girls end the series as 18-year-olds that look like middle-school children or younger. Fans of the series have to constantly fend off lolicon jokes. Doubly so for Konata, who even by the standards of the show looks young. And then there's Ms. Kuroi, who is canonically in her late twenties, but could pass for a teenager.
- 7 Seeds has Koruri. She's the same age as the rest of her team, but being underdeveloped and having a rather cute, round face makes it easy for others to mistake her as being younger. Harumi is surprised to learn that she's actually a year older than him.
- All those classmates of Nagi in Hayate the Combat Butler? Yeah, they're 13-14. They look about 10-11. The 16-17-year-olds look like 14-year-olds. Except Maria, who looks her age (17) despite Hayate claiming she looks older. (Note that in the manga, it was the READERS who asked that...go figure)
- Transformers Kiss Players. So very much. For reference, the titular Kiss Players are all in their twenties. They are all drawn to look somewhere around 8 at the oldest, and very disturbingly sexual things happen to them. Artist Yūki Ōshima says he did it "to make jaws drop". It worked◊.
- Most of the main cast of Eden of the East don't quite look their listed ages of 22 or 21, but rather more like 15-17 year old teenagers (or, in Micchon's case, like a preteen).
- The manga and first anime series of Yu-Gi-Oh! lampshade this; little Yugi is so short that he has a hard time convincing people that he's a high schooler.
- Kosuna from Desert Punk looks about 10-12, but is supposed to be 14.
- In the splatter-horror manga Bio-Meat: Nectar, Kiryuu Shinpachi is the new character added in the final act. He appears to be six and a half feet tall, looks like any beefy hair metal guy from the late 80's and is 13 years old. He also has a job as a fisherman and can operate a boat expansive enough to house almost 4000 people.
- While many characters from Naruto fall towards the other side of this, Haku looks almost the same age as the rookie from Naruto's class, but Word of God states his age to be 15.
- The fact that Haku's first appearance prompted Kakashi to state there are people stronger than himself but younger than Naruto (12 at the time) probably adds to the confusion.
- Despite the fact that L in Death Note is intended to be twenty-four, he appears to be younger than the seventeen-year-old Light.
- In 31 Ai Dream, a shojo manga by Arina Tanemura, the main character is a 31-year old woman who is returned to her teenage years. However, as her 31-year old self, you'd expect her to be around her early-to-mid twenties, because of her natural beauty, the fact that she's a Meganekko, and the manga's art style.
- Scott Pilgrim is a major offender. Thanks to O'Malley's artstyle, all the characters that are in their 20's, including Scott himself, who looks a lot teen-ish for a 23~24 years old.
- Iji is supposed to be twenty but she looks like she's about high school age. Despite canonically being a decent height for a man, the size of her gun gives her the appearance of Small Girl, Big Gun, and she lacks certain assets that could make her look older.
- The protagonists of the Animal Crossing games are implied to be adults but look like elementary schoolers. New Leaf fixes this a bit by making them into lanky Noodle People.
- Everyone in the Harvest Moon series. The main characters (in particular, your own character and potential spouses) often look to be about 12 to 17 despite getting married and drunk. Your potential spouses' parents tend to look maybe in their 30s or 40s, but anyone younger almost always looks like they haven't even hit puberty yet. Bonus points if the game is in chibi style.
- EarthBound: Does Ness seriously◊ look 13?
- Note that those in charge of localizing the American version clearly didn't think so, and made a new clay model that makes him look considerably older, to the point that he could almost pass for 13. Compare the two models for yourself◊.
- Nearly the entire cast in Touhou to greater or lesser extents.
- The Legend of Zelda: Link in A Link to the Past is obviously in his mid-to-late teens in his official artwork and this applies to him in Link's Awakening too. The portraits in the latter game make him look prepubescent but in the Oracle games he looks several years younger. Even though according to Hyrule Historia the three Links are one and the same and the ''Link's Awakening'' and ''Oracle'' games take place later in the timeline. There are two versions of the main A Link Between Worlds official art: One with in the ALTTP style◊ and another in Oracles style.◊
- Krile in Final Fantasy V is fourteen and drawn as such in Amano's designs. Her ingame sprites, however, make her look much younger—capes and robes trail on the ground, her White Mage hood has kitty ears, and there's a lot of pink. To cap it off, her battle sprite faces the front like the child characters from Final Fantasy IV, none of whom were over ten years old.note
- Almost all the kids from Destiny Islands in Kingdom Hearts. Sora and Kairi are fourteen in the first game but could easily pass for someone two or three years younger. Tidus and Selphie both look even younger, and it isn't helped by Selphie's love of jump roping or her dress which are commonly attributed to younger kids, though in Tidus' case he has a little bit of muscle.. Remedied in the sequel, where puberty has caught up with the kids.
Examples of Type 3.
Anime and Manga
- The anime Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis has some combination of 2 and 3. The protagonists range in age from "children", teenagers, middle aged and 50-something, yet they're all drawn with the same simple and aesthetically pleasing lines and generally short/young-looking bodies. Though the adults are clearly adults, their age seems to hover anywhere from 30 to 60, and the younger protagonists can be misidentified as having any age from 12 to 20. This seeming of childlike innocence is contrasted with the very dark and grim setting and plot.
- In Final Fantasy IX all the characters are chibi, so their real age is hard to pin down by just looking at them. Their ages ranged from a 6 year old white mage to a 33 year old knight and Quina, who's an nonhuman gag character with little in the way of biographical information like age or gender.
- Most characters in Disgaea may be Really 700 Years Old, but that doesn't mean that characters don't find themselves subject to this by merit of just comparing age. We seriously doubt that you would have guessed that Mao and Raspberyl are about the same age (1578), that Yukimaru is 20, or that Adell (17) is younger than Almaz (18), without looking at their listed ages.
- In the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, while Sonic's age is stated to be 15, his actions, size, design, and manner of speech make it just as easy for him to be whatever age the player is, though it has been noted that he was once much younger than he is in the current game series.
- This was actually a retcon on Sonic Team's part. The original design was given the age 16, making him even older than current Sonic. For Generations they decided to make him a younger Sonic due to his shorter, chubbier design and the fact his adventures were before the modern design.
- Two words: Mickey Mouse. And any other Classic Disney Shorts characters, really.
- The Zeta Project makes it hard to tell who's what age. Agent Lee and Agent Bennett are particularly ambiguous, while fandom assumes West is younger than the other characters due to his personality. But everyone else is arguable.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: the ages of the mane cast are intentionally vague to the point that they could really be interpreted as being anything from teenagers to being around thirty or so. The Apple Family Reunion episode revealed that the cast was (1+8*x) years old, leading to a fandom riot about whether the cast was 17 or 25.
Anime and Manga
- Class 3-A in Negima! is all around 14-15 years old. Their actual character designs run from Type 1 (Mana, Kaede, Chizuru) to Type 2 (the Narutaki twins), and even some who actually look like teenagers in the middle. This has gotten numerous lampshade hangings.
- Katekyo Hitman Reborn! have largely avoided this with the main cast (especially the girls) actually looking relatively like 14/15-year olds. Bianchi (18) and Adult Lambo (15) who are Type 1 and the two 5-year olds who are Type 2 are some of the more noticeable exceptions.
- Really jarring when, in a flashback, Gokudera is of a normal height at three years old.
- Baccano! has a case where three major characters (Firo, Luck, and Claire) were all roughly the same age (19, give or take a year), but don't look like they could be. Firo's Type 2 status has been pointed out in the books, but few would ever pick up on the fact that Luck is physically (and chronologically) younger than Claire unless they looked at their family photos.
- Kamichama Karin has both Type 1 and Type 2; the younger characters (around 12-13) look more like elementary schoolers than middle schoolers, where as the older characters (14-15) look more like highschoolers.
- Everyone except the older characters is drawn as a chibi, which makes accurately ageing them just by looking very hard to do.
- In Attack on Titan it's all over the place. The 104th trainee squad consists of 15-17 year olds, some of whome look their age, and others who don't. This trope come more into play, however, with character's whose ages are never mentioned. Levi, Hanji, and Petra all look like they could be close in age to the protagonists, though they could be anywhere from three to ten years older. Levi is also quite short and much smaller in stature compared to some of the others, making him appear younger.
- Homestuck, amusingly enough, plays this trope both ways with the same characters. In the standard art style, the thirteen-year-old cast looks much younger (somewhat justifiable in that everyone was almost set to be ten years old), but in most of the alternate Art Shift styles which regularly crop up, everyone looks between sixteen and eighteen. Admittedly, no-one actually acts like they're thirteen; it's pretty clear that age is meaningless beyond protagonist John Egbert's birthdate being an Arc Number.
- Aggravated even further with the post-Scratch universe. The new set of protagonists are explicitly stated to be fifteen years old, but they look identical in age to the original four heroes.
- There are also the pre-Scratch trolls, who are all confirmed by Word of God to have been around nineteen years old at the time of their deaths. Their ghosts have the same childlike sprites as every other protagonist does.