I’m not sure when I started having this fascination with colours. It’s not like I wear any. But at some point, I started to really notice them in all things and particularly in cinema and anime. I do know that I’ve been fascinated with tropes since I was small. I would see archetypes come up in books or shows and wonder how they came about. How come our dreams (i.e. fiction) started to take on these patterns and forms and what this can tell us about each other. It sounds lofty. I should probably disclose that I mostly have no clue what they tell us about each other, but I guess it’s that mystery that keeps me interested.
So when you combine tropes with colour theory, it’s like a candy coated cocktail for me. My similes are way too self-revelatory.
The Red Oni, Blue Oni trope is fairly common in fiction. It’s when your two main characters act as foils for each other with one being passionate, wild, assertive even occasionally aggressive (the Red Oni) and the other is more intellectual, introverted and controlled (the Blue Oni). The formula can be applied to entire races of civilizations as well.
Like I said, it’s a fairly standard narrative set up. As you probably guessed from the word “oni” in there, the trope name is in fact from Japanese folklore tradition which has multiple tales featuring these types of characters in their respective colours. In Western tradition, the colours aren’t as prevalent. It should be noted that there is no inherent morality involved, neither archetype is necessarily “good” or “bad” with relation to each other.
In anime, we see it a lot! Assassination classroom is a pretty obvious example with blue Nagisa and red Karma. Secondary characters in both Chobits and Card Captor Sakura often use this pattern. More subtlely (at least colour wise) Chuuya has a generally warm palette while Dazai is in cool tones, especially back in his Port Mafia days, in Bungo Stray Dogs. Natsu and Grey from Fairy tail, Allen and Kanda from D. Gray-Man, Ed and Al from FMA… I’m going to stop now cause this is going to last for ever. O.K., just one more Kuruko and Taiga from Kuroko no Basket (it’s one of my favourite examples).
So why bring this up now? Because of Given. Given has…um…given me… al lot of food for thought. It’s not a very flashy show, but in its unassuming way, it subverts a lot of classic narrative templates, including this trope.
The two main characters of Given, Mafuyu (Mayu to friends) and Ueno are very clearly colour coded. Mafuyu is obviously a Red Oni, his hair is orange (the show sticks to natural hair colours so this is as close to red as you can get), he wears a matching orange sweater in most scenes and even his street clothes tend to a bright reddish orange. His guitar is actually red.
By contrast Ueno is the blues thing in the show. He’s not in fact blue, he has raven black hair and wears a black gakuran most of the time, but he has dark blue jeans outside of school. His guitar is black too. I know what you’re thinking, that’s a lot of black and very little blue… But you see, Given is a warm show. Most images have a orange colour filter over them creating a distinctive palette, Ueno is the only one the is regularly coloured with blue undertones and even shown in blue atmospheric lighting in certain scenes. At first glance, these two seem exactly like a tradition Red Oni, Blue Oni pair.
But their personalities don’t match up. Well they didn’t match up…
In the first few episodes Mayu was a stoic, very quiet even a little gloomy character. He didn’t react to much. While Ueno was inpatient and short tempered. All together the livelier one of the two. However, as the episodes progress, the two characters are slowly, very slowly, starting to embody their respective colour coded archetypes.
As he’s coming out of his shell, Mafuyu shows fits of passion towards music and the band. It turns out that he’s in fact much friendlier and more sociable than we thought. He also shows a stubborn streak that a lot more combative than the rest of the characters. On the contrary, Ueno who was suffering from a loss of direction had become impatient and snippy. But as his own passion for music gets reinstated, the rest of his personality has evened out and mellowed a lot.
It’s a little thing. Tiny, in fact. However, the authors took one of the most common and long-standing tropes in anime, made sure to colour code it to make it recognizable then subverted it at the start and slowly evolved it back to the classical state. That little bit of narrative acrobatics is awesome. Most of the time tropes are either thrown in all rigid and straight, you know exactly what to expect or subverted into the opposite for effect.
This is a bait ‘n switch ‘N switch. Basically, the trope and colours were foreshadowing the emotional evolution of the characters. How awesome is that! And right now, they are slightly more recognizable as their respective onis but still in a halfway state. The season is only halfway through, they could reverse once again! Maybe I’m reading too much into this… I’m pretty sure I’m definitely reading too much into this. It’s just that to me, this is the most interesting use of the trope I’ve seen in a very long time. Even if most of it might only be in my head.
Have you very noticed the Red Oni, Blue Oni trope in anime? Do you have a favourite iteration of it? Am I the only one who pays any attention to this type of thing?