What is Chibi? [Definition, Meaning]

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sailor moon chibiusa wallpaper

According to the Japanese-English dictionary, chibi is a Japanese slang term that means small and is used to refer to: a child, short person, midget, dwarf, small animal or runt. It can be used to mean pipsqueak, small fry, shrimp and such as well. Chibi is also used to describe small, cute versions of manga and anime characters, typically with oversized heads. That’s a whole lot of meaning for a word that represents smallness!

Ok, so let’s split this up in two. First we have the Japanese slang term which is used mostly as either a taunt or a term of endearment. If you’ve ever seen Fullmetal Alchemist, you’ll recall Ed has a bit of an issue with his short stature and is often referred to as chibi (shrimp or small fry in the translations) which usually leads to a very ticked off Ed. Sometimes a character will call out to a young child as chibi, which can be translated as something like “little guy” or “shorty”. And we can even see it in names like Chibiusa from Sailor Moon which is short for Chibi Usagi (lit. Little Rabbit) since she’s basically Usagi’s Mini Me.

The second way the term is used – and let’s face it, probably the main reason you ended up here – is to refer to those tiny, extra cute versions of anime (or manga) characters with big heads. Known in Japan as Super Deformed or SD, this style makes all characters look like small children, (though sometimes the curvier females tend to keep that quality). SD and chibi are used interchangeably by most non-Japanese fans and it can be easily identified by disproportionately large eyes and heads and –most of the time - little detail in regards to things like wardrobe or even fingers or feet, these sometimes ending in pointy stubs instead. Some features like noses and mouths can be lost as well depending on the emotion being presented.

What does Chibi look like?

puchimas wallpaper

While there is some anime which is completely in SD/chibi style, it is most widely used to express emotions in an exaggerated way. For example, a character can be in his usual style until someone calls him “shrimp” at which point he proves the person right by turning into a tiny, stubby, adorable version of himself with a huge head, no nose, exaggerated angry eyes with no pupils and a big screaming mouth. Sounds familiar? Other characters turn chibi when they are being super cute, energetic, sassy, shy, or yes, even sad! This style is used mostly to enhance an emotion by making it exaggerated, funny and 99% of the time, pretty cute!

As for the shows that are all in chibi form, they usually tend to add the normal amount of detail to wardrobe and extremities, just keeping the cuteness of having a bunch of tiny, rounder, softer, cuter, big-headed characters running around.

Now that you know way more than you ever thought necessary about chibis, here are some shows you can get your chibi fill from!

1. Attack on Titan: Junior High (Shingeki! Kyojin Ghuugakkou)

Shingeki!-Kyojin-Chuugakkou-Attack-on-Titan-Junior-High wallpaper
  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: October 2015 – Currently Airing

Attending a junior high school that is half humans and half titans, Eren and his classmates must deal not only with junior high life but also with the, generally mean, titan bullies next door. The storyline, while set in a school setting is based on the original Attack on Titan story and iconic scenes from it.

This is a great– not to mention adorable! - example of an anime that completely commits to the chibi style. All the characters are little and look more like grade-schoolers than junior high kids, their eyes are big and so are their heads. However, there is a lot of detail in their little tiny uniforms and they even have fingers!! Not only will this show give you your chibi fix, it also lightens up the characters’ original backstories and makes the whole thing very lighthearted. Just like chibis are supposed to do!

Advance! Giant junior high PV

2. Himouto! Umaru-chan

Doma Umaru Himouto! Umaru-chan wallpaper
  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: July 2015 – September 2015

Umaru is a beautiful High School girl who is also at the top of her class, super athletic, kind, funny, refined and generous. The boys are all in love with her, and every girl wants to be her friend or be like her. However, when she gets home, it’s a whole different story! She spends all her time playing video games, watching anime, reading manga, eating junk food, drinking cola and basically just being a lazy slob. While this annoys her brother Taihei who gets stuck doing all the chores, he still loves her and spoils her rotten.

Unlike the previous title, Umaru only goes into chibi mode when she’s being herself at home. As the uniform comes off, she becomes a little big-headed cute ball of lazy! Because she spends so much time in this mode however, there is some degree of detail. She usually has – incredibly tiny – fingers but her feet are typically stubs and her normally fine featured face turns into that of a chubby cheeked creature. This is another great anime that can give you the chibi experience you’re looking for!

Himouto! Umaru-chan Trailer


3. Dragon Half

Dragon Half wallpaper
  • Episodes: 2
  • Aired: March 1993 – May 1993

Mink is a half-dragon girl who is in search of a way to become a full human because she’s in love with a famous teen-idol who also happens to be a dragon hunter. In her quest, Mink is chased by a magic user who is her rival in love and targeted by a corrupt king who wants to use Mink to get at her mother who is a dragon. Mink and her friends face all kinds of situations while at the same time poking fun at anime tropes.

This is an oldie, but one of my favorite examples of chibi and SD. If you want to see what chibis were like in the 90’s, you have to check out Dragon Half! (Mink has the biggest thighs you’ve ever seen on a chibi). And with only 2 episodes, this Fantasy Parody anime is really not much of a commitment. The chubbiness, exaggerated reactions, stubby limbs and a closing song that was made for chibis, will fill your heart with chibi joy! Don’t be misled by the cuteness though, Dragon Half is considered rated R for violence and profanity.

DragonHalf (1993) HD Trailer

Conclusion

So there you go. Chibi isn’t just about being cute; it’s mostly about expressing emotions. Though the cuteness doesn’t hurt! Chibis make appearances in a vast number of anime and the list of suggestions could go on and on. I settled on the three I mentioned because they showcase a nice spectrum of situations in which you may encounter chibis in anime. Plus, 90’s chibis! A lot of shows won’t use chibis as often as the ones mentioned and will only reserve it for one particular character or only in certain situations, and in fact shows like Attack on Titan: Junior High are rare.

I hope this article was enlightening and entertaining. What do you think? How do you feel about chibis? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Need ‘em!? What chibi-featuring anime would you suggest? Let us know in the comments below!

Nya~!

wallpaper Himouto! Umaru-chan
Lizzy Nyanko

Translator/Writer

Author: Lizzy Nyanko

I’m a Mexican-American gypsy cat-girl living in Tokyo. I love all kinds of anime, all things Japanese, photography, cats, food and I live for new experiences! When I’m not writing or watching anime, you’ll find me in thrift shops, roaming around Tokyo, hiking, festivals or at an izakaya. I’m always busy doing something, but I answer comments as soon as I see them, so let me hear what you have to say! Nya~!

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