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No Cartoon Fish

In most animated media, fish tend to be drawn hyperrealistically. Their movements are naturalistic, and they never exhibit any trace of personality, even when other animals or Mons are very iconic and anthropomorphic. This particularly noticeable in universes with other more cartoonish animals - and especially those with talking or sentient animals (though always averted in situations where said sentient animals are fish) - and also (if not most often) applies to fish being eaten, when compared to other food items.

In many animated universes, fish are actually the sole wild animals ever seen, possibly because it's okay to show people eating fish in a children's show, but not other meats, even for characters Raised by Wolves. (And even if they are wolves...)

Scott McCloud goes on in Understanding Comics about how Japanese comics can vary the level of iconic vs. realistic rendering: the more iconic the art, he states, the easier it is to identify with the characters. Making the fish look more realistic would make it easier to dissociate from it, and therefore easy to regard it as potential food rather than a living creature. More than one chapter examines the implications and uses of this trope.

Averted trope to Lazy Artist. See also All Animals Are Dogs. May be the result (or one cause) of What Measure Is a Non-Cute?.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Animal Land is a huge offender of this trope. The world of Animal Land is populated with Civilized Animals, some with more varying degrees of anthropomorphism (the tanukis look like bipedal teddy bears with comically over-sized heads, while the wolves are more like Talking Animals). Part of the manga's main themes is the issue of the strong animals eating the weak ones, yet no one raises a paw when the Tanukis catch fish to survive for the winter or when the adopted human offers a fish to a pack of wolves who previously attacked the Tanuki village to feed a starving cub.
  • Apollos Song, by Osamu Tezuka, had a chapter in which the main character is stranded on an island where none of the animals eat each other and he himself is not allowed to eat animals. Fish are, of course, exempt (and the character takes great pleasure in catching far more than he could possibly eat).
    • This is practically the only time Tezuka uses this trope, though. Most of his fish are pretty damn cartoony. The best example would probably be Mach Fumiake (named after a famous female wrestler), the prize carp from the Black Jack story Heart of a Giant.
  • In Azumanga Daioh, cats are about as unrealistic as you'd expect (not counting Chiyo-dad). For dogs, Mr. Tadakachi looks more like a plushie Great Pyrenees than a real one. But when the girls go scuba-diving during the class trip, the fish are quite realistic. Oddly enough, at one point Sakaki reads a cat magazine while planning a (short-lived) attempt to take a picture of Kamineko; the cat pictures she looks at are, appropriately, photorealistic.
  • Inverted in Crimsons: Akai Koukaishatachi, a manga about personified, anime-faced fish. They are sometimes drawn realistically for comedic effect.
  • Digimon Adventure 02 has a long hyperrealistic underwater sequence where we see, strangely, a turtle.
    • The first Digimon Adventure pairs this with Fridge Logic. In the Dark Masters saga, the DigiDestined go fishing in the digital world (where digital monster versions of marine wildlife also exist). One notable scene had Agumon swallow a realistic fish twice his size, which Squicks out the other characters.
  • Title character aside (and even he can look it when he needs to), all the animals are rendered realistically in Gon, and anthropomorphised with human expressions or emotions as needed in each story, fish included.
  • Jewelpet averts this with Aqua, the only Jewelpet fish, because all Jewelpets must be adorable, no exceptions. However, the fourth season plays it straight by introducing a village of saury, drawn realistically except perhaps for overly bulgy eyes. Said saury are also as intellectual as average humans, which might lead to the Uncanny Valley.
  • Played with in the Kimagure Orange Road OVA episode "I Was a Cat, I Was a Fish": the fish was originally realistic-looking, but after Kyosuke's mind was transferred into it, it got a lot cuter.
  • An episode of Kirby: Right Back at Ya! had Kirby feed a recently hatched limbless dragon, Galbo, tons of fish from a nearby lake. This taking place in a world where alot of the creatures, even some of the plants, are sentient in some way.
    • The same series also has a recurring character who is a cartoon fish.
  • A Monster Hunter manga applies this trope to all the monsters, aquatic or otherwise, possibly to justify the heroes cutting them down in huge numbers.
  • Nagasarete Airantou: A while after coming to Airantou, Ikuto finds he can understand and talk to the Mon-style animals of the island. In an omake, he learns that the original castaways decide they couldn't eat such cute, playful creatures and so only eat fish for meat. The fish, although showing some sign of intelligence, tend to be ugly and spiny but delicious.
  • Seems to have been averted in One Piece where all the fish, like everything else in the show, are unrealistically drawn. And they're still eaten.
    • However, whales have been drawn both unrealistically (Laboon) and realistically (the whales the crew see diving down to Fishman Island).
  • Pokémon oddly has both Mon fish and realistic fish. In the very first episode, one scene pans up through a lake - where we see first a school of regular fish and then a Magikarp swim by. The "real" fish have essentially been RetConned out of existence by now, and it's been hinted that Pokémon are used as a source of meat.
  • Ranma ˝ used a well animated koi in a pond as a standard part of their aspect montages.
  • In a somewhat unique case, all the animals in Shirokuma Cafe LOOK realistic enough. However, fish and dogs are the only seen animals that also ACT realistically. Fish are somewhat understandable since they're eaten freely, but no explanation is given as to why dogs can't walk and talk.
  • Sketchbook: There were some cats, a chicken and a crayfish (and briefly a lobster). The cats had big anime eyes and made un-catlike sounds; the chicken was extremely cartoony, and the crayfish could have been taken out of a field guide to North American streams.
    • Sketchbook ~full color'S greatly differs between animals and pets, as dogs, cats and chicken were displayed in a cute way while wild animals (fishes, crayfishes and insects) in a realistic way.
  • In one episode of Samurai Champloo, Jin is shown fishing; the fish are portrayed more realistically than the characters themselves or any other animals.
  • In one of many nods to M.C. Escher, Mamoru Oshii's movie Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer has a scene in which we see puddles, showing the reflection of the gang walking above, leaves on the surface, and a carp impossibly swimming below.
  • In Yotsuba&! the fish are depicted as living beings that bleed, much to the distress of Miura (depicted above). They get caught to be eaten and, once cooked into food, even Miura has absolutely no objections.
    • In fact, the only animals drawn cartoonishly in the series thus far are dogs (in part because one is a cameo by Mr. Tadakichi from Azumanga Daioh, done by the same mangaka). The farm animals and zoo animals Yotsuba's seen are drawn very realistically.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! both the consumed fish and some fish monsters used by Ryota Kajiki are hyper realistic (although admittedly the monsters mix cartoon and realism happily).
    • On the other hand, the sea monsters used by Shark in Yu Gi Oh Zexal are usually either cartoonish or downright fantastic in appearance. (Or both.)

Comics
  • The Phantom has a wildlife sanctuary where he has taught his animals to live in harmony. The lions eat fish, who are the necessary sacrifice for all the harmony.

Literature
  • Averted with the cover art of Etgar Keret’s Anihu, featuring a strange cartoony, half-skeletal fish.
  • In The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan makes many species into talking animals, but no fish (or other sea creatures) are included. There are mermaids, though, but they are probably altered humans. The first book chronologically points out that King Frank and Queen Helen's children wed dryads, nyads, wood sprites, etc. It can be assumed that any dryad-ish or sprite-ish traits were bred out of their descendants as more of them came into being to breed with. Also, the Telemarins were pirates who get into Narnia from our world through an island cave; it's possible that other human groups got into Narnia in similar ways.
  • In both the original Franklin book series and Nelvana's Animated Adaptation, Franklin has a pet fish named Goldie.
  • In Redwall, Matthias catches a fish for dinner, but almost all other animals are more or less anthropomorphic and never seen eating each other. This is addressed on the author's website.
  • In the Little Golden Book The Tawny Scrawny Lion combines this trope with some heavy handed Carnivore Confusion Apparently it's not OK for Lions to eat monkeys, kangaroos, zebras, bears, camels, elephants or rabbits But it's perfectly acceptable for them to enjoy some fish with their carrot stew.

Music
  • Nirvana's "Something in the Way" features these lyrics:
    And the animals I've trapped
    Have all become my pets
    And I'm living off of grass
    And the drippings from the ceiling
    But it's okay to eat fish
    'Cause they don't have any feelings

Video Games
  • Animal Crossing features fishing as a large part of its gameplay, which is strange considering the land of anthropomorphic animals that forms its core, which includes an octopus character. Strangely, you're not able to eat the fish... just sell them, give them to a friend, or donate them to the museum.
    • Wendell eats the fish, though, as well as Chip the beaver.
    • This is lampshaded by the octopus character, who says that that she loves to eat octopi but is afraid that she's becoming cannibalistic.
  • Averted in Binary Boy, where the fish you find are just as cartoony and cute as the rest of the game's surroundings. Not that it makes them any less lethal, though.
  • Played with in Dark Cloud 2. The fish Max can catch straddle the line between cartoony and realistic (as realistic as a fish shaped like a horse's head can be, anyway.) Meanwhile, King Garayan is a gigantic, flamboyant fish with huge puffy lips, curly eyelashes, and an impeccable (and quite creepy) toothy grin. The Frozen Tuna that Max wields as a weapon is as realistic as cel-shaded graphics can make it, however.
  • Mostly averted in Donkey Kong Country, where the fishes have 3D rendered sprites (as do the player characters) but with cartoony faces. The Under the Sea backgrounds, however, have a drab realistic look.
  • In the Harvest Moon games fish are depicted realistically, and they are the only animal that can be eaten.
  • Mostly averted in the Kirby series: almost all of the fish that appear are about as unrealistic as you'd expect from a video game about a pink puff. The most commonly-found piscine is the Blipper, essentially a sphere with fins, a mouth, beady eyes, and a diving mask. A realistic-by-Kirby-standards fish does appear in the intro to Float Islands in the first game, but when it's reused in Kirby Super Star (and, by extension, Ultra), it's changed to a Blipper instead.
    • One notable episode where it's played straight is in the anime— the episode with Dyna Blade. Kirby catches a whole basket full of realistic fish and is in the process of catching more when the angry armored bird-god arrives.
    • There are somewhat realistic schools of small fish in Dreamland 3.
  • Fishing in the The Legend of Zelda series.
  • The Mario series, in its 3D incarnations, has flirted with this one a bit. In many bodies of water you can see realistic fish swimming about... even though the series-mainstay fish Cheep-Cheep is by no means realistic and is found just as often.
  • Cats, rabbits, penguins, mushrooms, and bottles are anthropomorphized into playable characters in Phantom Brave. Fish are weapons.

Webcomics

Western Animation
  • In Pixar's Brave, the heroine uses her archery skills to catch fish in a nearby river for her mother who has turned into a bear. In fact, a playful musical sequence occurred where she and her mother tried to catch fish while bonding.
    • Although the only non-realistic animals in the movie are explicitly magical, so the fish aren't really exceptions to the art style.
  • Brother Bear exemplifies this trope, with the fish being drawn much more realistically, being consumed in droves by bears, and being shown decapitated... only to subvert it in the nastiest way After The Credits...
  • Averted in Family Guy, which occasionally shows fish characters speaking. (e.g. "You know what I really hate? A guy in a blue suit.") Larger, more dangerous mammals and reptiles, like bears, jaguars, and crocodiles, are at least as likely to be portrayed as savage, unintelligent beasts.
  • Averted in Finding Nemo, where all fish, even the huge shoals of salmon, are drawn very cartoony.
  • Averted in Fish Fry, that pits a cute Tweety Bird-type goldfish against a scroungy alley cat - "star" Andy Panda is practically a background prop.
  • Inverted in Fish Hooks; the fish, being the main characters, are extremely cartoony, while every other sentient being in the series is rendered realistically.
  • Averted in Fish Police. Like Fish Hooks above, all the characters are anthropomorphic fish, but all the action is underwater; nothing but sea life is ever seen. This also applies to the comic.
  • The same is true in the movie Happy Feet. Since it stars penguins, who only eat fish, it's inevitable.
  • Partially averted in Help! I'm a Fish!, which has a mix of both cartoon and realistic fish. The difference between them is due to those with the 'cartoon' look are either fish who've been exposed to the 'Anti-Fish' potion, or humans exposed to the 'Fish' potion.
  • An episode of House of Mouse features Donald (an anthropomorphic duck) and Humphrey (a cartoony goofy-looking bear) fighting over an ordinary-looking fish that both caught at the same time.
  • The Legend of Korra is populated exclusively by Mix-and-Match Critters...except for the realistic fish Korra catches in the first episode.
    • Regular animals have shown up in the universe before, such as a normal bear and multiple instances of what seem to be regular cats.
  • In The Lion King the insects take the place of fish, being the appropriately non-emphathetic food source for the lion.
  • This happens in Little Bear, which is fortunate in light of his father's profession as a fisherman.
  • The Little Mermaid, of course, has many examples of sentient sea life, but the fish seen getting chopped up and cooked by Chef Louis in the "Les Poissons" number are realistic, in order to enhance the Squick factor.
    • Every live sea creature is anthropomorphic. Including the little shrimp Ursula eats. Their faces look horrified. It leads to some Carnivore Confusion; sharks and eels are among the villains, but dolphins are good despite also eating fish. And what do mermaids eat?
  • In the animated movie Madagascar, the fish are the only non-anthropomorphic animals in the entire film, and thus the only things predators can eat without feeling guilty.
  • Averted in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, in which fish are cartoony, emotive, and still eaten (by ferrets).
    • In the episode "Dragonshy", we can clearly see Fluttershy feeding the fish to the ferrets. In the second season, we can clearly see that fish are in fact sentient, but like most smart animals in Friendship is Magic they can't talk.
  • Pinocchio has it both ways. When Pinocchio and Jiminy go underwater, they are followed around by cute cartoony fish. However, the tuna that are swallowed by Monstro - and which Geppetto catches to eat - are realistic.
    • Pinocchio is really an aversion of this trope. Gepetto's goldfish Cleo is as "cartoony" as his cat Figaro if not moreso (Cleo looks less like a real goldfish than Figaro does like a real cat). It does have realistic fish, but the unrealistic ones are more prominent.
  • Averted in Scaredy Squirrel, where a cartoon fish has a crush on Scardey.
  • Heavily averted in Shark Tale. In fact, the main character, his girlfriend and the Femme Fatale fish look more like humans than fish. The villainous sharks are the most realistic fish shown, but are still quite cartoony.
  • Both subverted and played straight on The Snorks. While earlier episodes featured realistic looking fish, they gradually got more and more cartoony as the show went on.
  • Applied to all animals in South Park since Art Evolution.
    • Except for cats and dogs, who are still done in the traditional style, probably so they won't clash with reoccurring Sparky and Mr. Kitty.
  • Inverted in Sponge Bob Squarepants. Any character who merely sits in the background like an "extra," or who utters a line or two but has no real characterization, will be cast as a Funny Animal fish. Apart from the news fish, who identifies himself as "a realistic fish head".
  • Averted in The Sword in the Stone. Even the predator fish is somewhat cartoony.
    • Only with the eyes. The rest is a very realistic and scary pike.
  • In Frozen, Sven the reindeer (and the duck and ducklings that Anna encounters) are depicted in a cartoony manner, but the jar of lutefisk at Oaken's Trading Post and Sauna look very realistic.



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