And kanji with manga
Saturday, July 31, 2021

In Japanese, a circle (○), maru 丸, has multiple uses: it typically means something is "correct," that an answer is "right." In this case, "wrong" is either an X mark or a check mark (✓), and a triangle (△) is half-right. It's also used as a placeholder, specially to censor words.

This article is about the circle symbol, not about a "circle," saakuru サークル, in the sense of a group of people that do an activity like drawing doujinshi 同人誌.

Different symbols used to grade exams in Japan: check marks or ticks mean incorrect, circles mean correct, and triangles partially correct.
Anime: Bokutachi wa Benkyou ga Dekinai ぼくたちは勉強ができない (Episode 1)
Anime: Himouto! Umaru-chan 干物妹!うまるちゃん (Episode 1)
Anime: Nichijou no Zero-wa 日常の0話 (Episode 0, OVA)

Correct

The circle may mean an answer is "correct," or is the correct one. In this case, the X marks the wrong answer.

才色兼備
Anime: Karin かりん (Episode 11)
  • Context: someone gets a yojijukugo 四字熟語, "four character idiom," wrong.
  • saishoku-kenbi
    才色兼備
    (For a woman) to have both wit and beauty.
    • Correct, marked by the circle: saishoku 才色, from saichi 才知, "wit," and iro 色, "color."
    • Incorrect, marked by the X: saishoku 才食, with shoku 食 meaning "to have meal," or "to eat," taberu 食べる.
    • In this episode, a character who often uses four character idioms wrong makes this mistake when complimenting a girl for eating a lot of food.

Exceptionally, in grading school exams, a check mark is used for the wrong answers, while a circle is used for right answers.

Different symbols used to grade exams in Japan: check marks or ticks mean incorrect, circles mean correct, and triangles partially correct.
Anime: Bokutachi wa Benkyou ga Dekinai ぼくたちは勉強ができない (Episode 1)
Anime: Himouto! Umaru-chan 干物妹!うまるちゃん (Episode 1)
Anime: Nichijou no Zero-wa 日常の0話 (Episode 0, OVA)
  • Context: the more circles in a graded test, the better the score.

Double Circle

A "double circle" (◎), ni-juu maru 二重丸, is sometimes used to symbolize a grade above the normal circle.

  • In a student's report card, which may include things like behavior, a circle could indicate they're a good student, while a double circle indicates they're a perfect student.

Gesture

Making a circle with your arms by touching fingers over your head is a gesture that can mean approval or confirmation.

Tatsumi Koutarou 巽幸太郎 doing a circle gesture meaning approval, confirmation.
Character: Tatsumi Koutarou 巽幸太郎
Anime: Zombieland Saga: Revenge (Episode 7)

Making a circle with just your index and thumb like an OK sign is a completely different thing.

Hachikuji Mayoi 八九寺真宵, making a money sign.
Character: Hachikuji Mayoi 八九寺真宵
Anime: Nisemonogatari 偽物語 (Episode 1)
  • Context: a money hand sign, which has basically nothing to do with this article.

Placeholder

The circle, X, and triangle can be used as placeholders or to censor text, used in this order. For example: "thing X, thing Y, thing Z" would become "thing 〇, thing ×, thing △." For single-character placeholders, a single symbol is used. Variable-length words often use two of them instead, e.g.:

The circle and the X being used as placeholders for a date (maru-gatsu batsu-hi ○月×日, "month X, day Y"), and then an X gesture being used to say "no," in the context that they can't go somewhere on a certain date, that that date is "no good," dame 駄目, for them.
Manga: Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! 宇崎ちゃんは遊びたい! (Chapter 2, 後輩と映画館)
  • Context: two characters try to make plans.
  • One suggests a certain date (month X, day Y).
  • The other gestures an X, meaning that date is "not good" for her, dame 駄目.

Sometimes, a solid circle (●) is used as placeholder instead of the hollow one. There's no difference between them.

The circles can also be read as nanika なにか, "something." They're particularly used to show how affixes work. Sometimes, a tilde (~), read as nan'yara なんやら, is used as placeholder instead.

  • o__san
    お〇〇さん (or お~さん)
    A pattern found in several words, like omawarisan お巡りさん, "patrolling police officer," oneesan お姉さん, "older sister," okyakusan お客さん, "client," "customer," among others.
  • __kei
    〇〇
    A __ type, e.g. nichijou-kei 日常系, "daily life type," is a term for slice of life anime, while iyashi-kei 癒やし系, "healing type," refers to comfy, relaxing characters or series.

Censorship

Circles and other placeholder symbols can be used in Japanese like asterisks in English to censor words. The part of a word censored in manga is typically adapted as a beep, pii-on ピー音, "pii sound," in anime.

Vulgar words are often target of this sort of censorship.

ま○こーー
Manga: Detroit Metal City, デトロイト・メタル・シティ (Chapter 22, HIP HOP.2)
  • Context: Johannes Krauser II, ヨハネ・クラウザーII世, says a bad word.
  • ma*kooo
    ま●こ
    Pu**yyy.

Names of real people and products, brands, and so on are also censored this way.

ふぁ○たぐれーぷ ゴクゴク ぷはーー
Manga: Sen'yuu. 戦勇。 (Chapter 2)
  • Context: Ruki ルキ says what she wants.
  • fa*ta gureepu
    ふぁ○たぐれーぷ
    Fa*ta grape.
  • goku goku
    ゴクゴク
    *gulp gulp*
    (onomatopoeia.)
  • puhaaa
    ぷはーー
    *a beer sigh, or rather, a soda sigh*

Zero

When spelling out the digits of a number, maru 丸, the word for "circle," can be used to spell out the number zero ゼロ.

  • ichi-maru-kyuu 109, also called as maru-kyuu, is the name of a building in Shibuya 渋谷 that has a the number 109 on it.

Diacritic

A circle on the top-right side of a kana character is a diacritic called handakuten 半濁点. It only exists in the syllables pa-pi-pu-pe-po ぱぴぷぺぽ.

  • Exceptionally, Gintama 銀魂 ゜, the third season of Gintama, has an unpronounceable handakuten in its title following an anime tradition of adding weird punctuation to names of seasons that nobody has any idea of how to pronounce instead of just naming it season 2, 3, 4 like a normal person.
Dakuten and handakuten chart.

As Eyes

In anime, sometimes a character's eyes are drawn like white circles when they're overwhelmed or shocked.

See Circle Eyes for details.

Example of circle eyes, maru-me ○目.
Anime: Watashi, Nouryoku wa Heikinchi de tte Itta yo ne! 私、能力は平均値でって言ったよね! (Episode 6)

As Sweat

In anime, sometimes circles are drawn flickering over a character when they feel under pressure.

See Flickering Circles for details.

Hiraga Saito 平賀才人, example of sweating circles.
Anime: The Familiar of Zero, Zero no Tsukaima ゼロの使い魔 (Episode 3)

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