I’m sure you’ve all come across a character that almost never seems to open his or her eyes (although in my experience it’s more commonly “his”). Although this could simply mean that the characters are squinting because they are short sighted, they do tend to have a few things in common that has little to do with actual eyesight.
One thing that I have noticed lately is that closed eye characters are often very jovial and seem to fall in two opposite categories. Either they are the gentle caring types, the “moms” who can be relied on to calm everyone else down or they are tricksters and trolls, gleefully causing mischief and living their best happy go lucky life.
Traditionally, the trope was associated with characters who happen to hold some type of deep wisdom. It seems the visual is on some level associated with kitsune and as such these characters may know way more then they let on, but they can’t always be trusted.
One thing generally holds true across the board though, when a character with eternally closed eyes actually opens them, things are about to get real!
I have to admit, when I hear this trope my mind generally goes to Brock from Pokémon. It’s ironic that he may be one of the best-known representatives of this trope when he doesn’t exhibit much of the secondary characteristics at all.
Although for me, another well known squinter is Ranpo from Bungo Stray Dogs. He is a little more in line with the general trope. He is almost always happy and tends to not take anything too seriously. But when something really bothers him, or when he happens to get serious about a situation, we suddenly see those big green peepers.
Another well known character that uses the trope as a visual narrative device, is Ling from Fullmetal Alchemist. Mini Ling spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen FMA, be warned!
When we first meet ling and for quite a long time, he pretty much always has his eyes closed. You could almost think that it’s an outdated design stereotype meant to give him a more “Asian” appearance when compared to the other characters. But as the story progresses, we realize it goes a bit deeper than that. Eventually, Ling becomes “possessed” by Greed but manages to retain his consciousness intact in the process. In fact, at times he even gets some degree of control back.
When Ling is himself, he’s the normal affable and kind closed eyed guy we all know and love. But when Greed is in charge, his eyes are wide open making it easy to tell them apart. Greed is prone to anger and quick to action unlike the measured and sensible Ling who fits the trope much better.
It’s a pretty great way to use the trope on many levels and a smart design choice I only realized after having watched the series. Kudos!
END OF FMA SPOILERS
Another notable character and a great use of the trope is Watari from Death Note. He fits the caring parental archetype of the trope but the particularly interesting use in Death Note is that Watari parallels L in this regard. L is notable for pretty much never closing his eyes. In fact, he is specifically designed with particularly bulging eyes and dark circles that give the impression that he never sleeps.
Ok more spoilers ahead. This post is just completely spoiled… This time for Death Note, obviously.
Sure, the whole Watari’s eyes are always closed while L’s are always opened thing is cute enough as it is. But the trope becomes poignant in the climax. When L’s gambit works killing them both in the process, in each of their final moments, Watari opens his eyes for the first time, while L peacefully closes his.
This symmetry was surprisingly tender in a story that is often careless with its characters.
END OF DEATH NOTE SPOILERS
More recently, All-Might has his almost always shut while Yagi has his eyes opened. Implying the it’s another affectation meant to make him seem heroic and optimistic!
I’ve mentioned before that eyes, as a character design element, get a lot of attention in anime. They change colours, the get patched or covered up by hair, they have strange sigils in them. Cameras zoom in and focus on characters eyes to convey emotion and mood. Lately, that has evolved to include different body parts… but eyes are still a common device.
When a character’s eyes are always closed it’s a very easy shortcut to showing the audience when a moment is particularly important for that character. Simply make him open his eyes and we all know something big’s about to happen. That’s a great practical device and as such I’m not surprised that the trope has endured for so long in anime and still seems to be fairly popular.
Do you have a favourite closed eye character? Can you think of a lady as an example? Aside from family members of other characters, I’m drawing a blank here!