I was going to go wit the Eyes Have It but it turns out that’s already a trope name and it referrers to something different. Booh!
What I’m talking about is the tendency in anime to mark a character as special (and often as powerful) by giving them mismatched eyes. Whether that means different coloured eyes or an eye patch or even some type of sigil or mark in one eye. It’s also a chuuni favourite because of how common this design element is.
For me Black Butler and FMA immediately come to mind. As well as Matoba from Natsume’s book of Friends, although in that case the eye itself isn’t what’s special but the entire circumstances of the character are represented by that eye patch. This season, we are seeing it used on the Jūnikizuki in Demon Slayer. There are a lot of examples out there and it’s likely the trope will endure for a while because of cosplay.
I recently read an article about how cosplay culture was influencing character design. Something that’s easy to reproduce and not too uncomfortable to wear but distinguishable enough to make a cosplayer clearly identifiable as the character in a convention crowd is apparently an actual consideration when it comes to modern character design. I’m not entirely sure ho I feel about this.
In any case, it makes the classic Eye patch of Power trope particularly desirable. It fairly cheap and easy to make of buy an eye patch or single contact lens and for the most part, it’s one of the least obstructive cosplay accessories.
I have to admit, aside from the interesting little social economical tie in I just explained, I have always been fairly indifferent to this trope. To me, it was just something to make a character look cool. Like a wallet chain. Why do so many anime characters have wallet chains?
However, I recently saw something that piqued my curiosity. I read a manga in which one of the main characters has hetochromia and it’s never mentioned. You can see it in the illustrations but it’s not part of the story at all and the characters don’t talk about it. This fascinated me. It’s so weird that when it’s an important plot point, I couldn’t care less but when it’s not even mentioned, I can’t stop thinking about it!
I spent that entire story just going “why does that guy have different coloured eyes?”, “does it mean something”, “wait is there magic in this story?”, “he’s going to turn out to be a villain…right?” None of the above. It was a fairly down to earth slice of life story. Quite a few chapters in, the character casually mentions that when he was a kid, he was embarrassed by his eyes so he grew his fringe out to hide one of them. The conversation moved on to something else and it never came up again. I was enormously relieved that it had finally been acknowledged in universe and I no longer thought about it either. I was also a little disappointed.
Despite my apparent laissez-faire attitude towards this trope, it seems some deep dark part of me had held some fondness for it.
Eyes are an important symbolic feature in just about every civilization. Windows to the soul and all… We experience the world through our senses as such they dictate what reality is for us. And sight is often the most impactful. Not to say it’s the most important necessarily but it’s immediate and the information it gives us is very easy to parse. As such, many of us are visual creatures. And because of our eye’s very real effect on our lives and understanding of the world, we also tend to assign all sorts of powers to them.
It’s one of the most common motifs and often linked with spirituality. We have a much more deep-rooted fear and history of things that cannot be seen over things that cannot be heard, touched or smelled. Way before any anime trope came into being, power eyes were a “thing”.
I realized on my little mind journey that I had underestimated this trope. Not only does it have a very long and illustrious history, but it bridges cultures. It’s one of those weird elements that keeps coming up no matter where you uhm…look.
And this is the random story of how I ended up rediscovering this very old trope and finding new appreciation for it, through a work that didn’t make use of it. Do you like the eyepatch of power trope? Does it just fade into the background like it did for me? And do you drive yourself nuts when the characters in the show don’t acknowledge something? That last one is probably just me.