A Few Things I’ve Noticed Looking At Anime Eyes

“Looking at anime eyes” sounds kind of creepy. As if I’m sitting in a café somewhere, wearing a nondescript raincoat and looking over the edge of a newspaper to catch a glimpse of an anime character’s eyes… The nerdiest peeping tom, Yup that’s me…

I won’t blame any of you for not knowing that I’m actually referring to one of my Pinetrest boards called anime eyes. I mentioned it months ago in my Pinterest journey posts and promised that I would eventually try to figure out some patterns in there.

It’s a bit hard to really do that though. Anime characters’ eyes are in fact as different as real people eyes varying a lot in shape and colour and when you look at them out of context like that, it just becomes a jumble of irises and lashes. Ok that sounds creepy again. It’s almost like writing a post focusing of disembodied eyeballs has something inherently creepy about it. How odd.

Because I give too much importance to colours, the first thing I did was to divide the eye caps I got by colour. I should mention, except for a few fan art exceptions, the 850 or so pins I have in there are all screencaps I’ve taken while watching shows. As such, there is an issue of biased sample here. Namely, I’m going by the eyeballs of anime characters in shows that interested me enough to watch. I have a pretty varied taste mind you but it’s still not a completely neutral representation.

Colour wise I have noticed that more recent shows do tend to feature yellow/amber/golden eyes a lot more than older series I have been watching. This may be a new trend to look out for. It’s still pretty unusual for now though. What was surprisingly common is red or pink eyes, and mostly red. Not just for evil or possessed characters either. Red as a “normal” eye colour. I think it may in fact be meant as an extreme variation of brown and it can in fact look rather mundane which is impressive. There are some very interesting looking red costume contact lenses but I’ve never tried them out.

However, the number one most common eye colour in anime (that I have watched…) is…. drum roll please…. cast your votes… blue. Yep, just blue. And if you were to throw purple in there then it would just overwhelm any other colour. That’s how frequent it is. Now blue is in fact the second most common eye colour in real life. Heck it’s my eye colour. We can simply assume that a super common eye colour is simply translating into a super common eye colour in art but I don’t think we can completely disregard geography here.

I’m not sure if it’s because blue eyed folks aren’t that interesting, but there really aren’t that many tropes associated with the trait. The most promising lead I have is the “evil or occult eye”. As in the talismans or amulets. You know those blue eye thingies.. wait let me just find one. This:

Evil eyes are part of very old and very widespread mysticism, and they are always blue.

Since the evil eye was mostly prominent in the Mediterranean and West Asian cultures, it’s been long believed that xenophobia had a role to play in the choice of colour. Most people from those cultures do not have blue eyes however the colour is conventional enough that you can easily imagine most people would have seen someone with blue eyes. A completely unnatural colour would have been more unnerving and striking but the choice of a possible eye colour changes things up a little. And there have been historical cases of bullying or shumming people in certain parts of the world because the had blue eyes and were therefore “cursed.

There is also long held connections between the colour blue as well as blue gems like lapis lazuli, and magic. So that might have played into it but evil eye talismans are often colours glass.

I should warn you, you are about to be completely dazzled by my anime knowledge! Whoa!!! So a lot of anime is created in Asia! I know you might need a second to digest l this new information. Specifically in Japan although we are seeing productions get outsourced to Korea and China more often. And traditionally, that’s a culture with fairly low blue eyed population. I should mention that although blue is the second most common eye colour, brown eyes do make up about 79% of the world’s population. So that number 2 spot is in fact less than 10%. In all likelihood, an average japanese high school wouldn’t have more blue eyed students. Or any high school for that matter. So in relation to real life or common demographic experience, those blue eyes are out of the ordinary in anime.

I don’t think that the blue eyes in anime are a form of xenophobia. If anything it might be the opposite. But I d think they are a way to distinguish a character as “special” or “different” without making them “alien”. Those blue eyes stand out and set them aside from the crowd but not completely beyond the realm of the relatable.It’s normal enough that you won’t necessarily even notice it but if you do, you now that one character is different than the others.

Since characters that get their very own spaghetti western style eye close ups are pretty much always part of the main cast (or at east leading antagonists), it stands to reason that those would be the characters marked as special by their design. Tis said, I’m only looking through my board here, I should try to pay closer attention to the eye colours of mob characters. Do they even have eye colours or are their eyes just black?

By the way, in my opinion, when isolated from the other features, pink eyes are the creepiest. I know they often go with adorable girls and when you see the entire character it’s really quite cute. By itself though, for some reason, pink eyes freak me out. A lot more than red ones. Maybe that’s just a me thing.

I also want to throw  little random observation here. I wanted to discuss eye shapes at well but those are extremely varied. The one thing that did strike me is that when the image is focused entirely on the eye, I can’t tell the bad guys from the heroes. I thought for sure the shape would be a giveaway but it seems that it has more to do with facial proportions, placement and eyebrows than I thought. In fact even gender can get a little tricky to guess.

Do you have a fascination with anime eyes like me? Please say yes, I don’t want to be the only weirdo!

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Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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22 Responses

  1. Vote no. 2 for Laser-Eyes Haruka (yes, that’s how I remember her).

    COVID-19 has meant I have more time for fanart – because I’m so detail-oriented, it takes me ages to do one piece (I don’t show most of my pieces to anyone though, because there are so many fanartists who do much better than me). Normally the eye design and placement is some of the hardest stuff to do, so I have to substitute it out for my simplified design…During lockdown, I’ve been drawing Hypnosis Mic characters, who mostly have a striking line of highlight on the top of the iris (e.g. blue eyes with light brown highlights – the craziest one is purple eyes with bright green highlights). The exception is the related characters with heterochromia, which lack the highlights. The reason I ramble on about this is that you don’t realise it until you stare at eyes for a long time, but the style, placement and design of the eyes is a key contributing factor for what makes characters – anime or otherwise – look like themselves.

  2. foovay says:

    I decided to watch the simulcast of one of this season’s shows solely because I suddenly fell madly in love with the eyes. And it isn’t the first time this has happened. Beautiful eyes can keep me watching something I don’t even care about just like a beautiful background or other art will.

  3. Krystallina says:

    I’ve always thought that Haruka from Uta no Prince-sama had awful eyes. Out of all the anime/manga I’ve seen, it just always stands out to me. I think it’s the color that looks horrendous on her. But I think my favorite eye style is cat eyes, maybe because they usually are on fun characters.

  4. Inskidee says:

    I really like those anime eye zoom-ins, but usually because they can make the lamest things seem so dramatic. Like, a person could literally be watching paint dry but then BOOM – sudden eye-zoom! Dramatic! Even if it was uncalled for and kinda unnecessary, it gets me oddly excited for whatever is happening on-screen. And it’s just mesmerizing to look at in general! Though, I don’t feel that way with other abrupt zoom-ins – like jawline zoom-ins or hair zoom-ins, for instance.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Apparently its a thing in anime where if an anime character say Hikigaya Hachiman or Ryuji Takasu has fish eyes its often refered to being a troublemaker for whatever reason in Japan. Its called Sanpaku in Japan
    -K(rogueotakugamer)

  6. Dawnstorm says:

    Eye design is one of the very few things I remember positively about Amnesia. Those concentric circles, sometimes with inlays from other colours, gave them all a slightly off-kilter, psychodelic feel. Loved them.

    Then, there’s House of Five Leaves, with the overly large irises, and the pupils barely visible if at all. (Sometimes light reflections take the place of the pupils.) I really need to get back to this show some time. It’s awesome, but I’ve only seen a few episodes.

    Then there’s this eye-design, where they do away with the pupils, just hinting at them with outlines. The first time I noticed that was with Mikakunin de Shinkoukei, which relies a lot on strong outlines in general for their character designs.

    Also, eye colour is often closely tied to hair colour. Sometimes they match (especially noticable, if the colour is unusual for both hair and eyes), sometimes they’re a deliberate contrast.

    And then there’s the whole topic of chibi eye shapes (dots, circles…).

    Yup, I’ve always been fascinated with anime eyes. (And I love the golden-eye trend. I think, one of my favourites is Nanami from Pet Girl of Sakurasou; she has that ponytailed girl-next-door look, but they do give her those highly unusual eyes [and it’s not overdone, so it’s not cheesy either].)

    • Irina says:

      The curtains matching the windows trope seems to be dying out a bit and I’m kind of happy about that.
      I agree, the eyes in amnesia were beautiful and I hope it’s a design element we get to see again. The game was much much better than the anime

  7. When an anime eye is done really well it’s one of the first things I notice in character designs and close-up shots. They were a lot elss varied way back when I started watching anime, and seeing how that part of the art has developed is a lot of fun.

    • Irina says:

      One of the pictured I used is an anime from the 70s!!! Can you figure out which! It’s not that though

      • At a guess, I’d say it’s the last one on the first group, with the guy reflected in it, but I couldn’t say what the anime is. That does surprise me though, most of the stuff we had on vhs in the UK back when I was a kid seemed to feature eyes that looked like Jubei (Ninja Scroll) or A-Ko (Project A-Ko) with little variance.

        • Irina says:

          That would be Tsurune – it aired fall 2018. so not that one. I was surprised how difficult it can be to identify anime when you isolate eyes

      • Dawnstorm says:

        Hmm, a challange. By process of elimination, I’d have to say either the very first one, or the one below Gridman, but the one below Gridman has too many perfect circles, so I’m leaning towards the first one, but there still seem to be too many geometrical shapes. The colours may work, though. (Is it a remastered version, maybe? It feels too shiny. Not that I’m any expert.)

        To be fair, I have to say that I don’t know what the one below Cat is either, but that looks way too digitally processed to me. (Possibility, though.)

        I don’t recognise the one below Kyousougiga, either, but I’m 100 % sure I’ve seen this as it aired.

        That’s surprisingly difficult. I would have thought a 70ies anime would stand out more. Anyway, I’m leaning towards the first one.

        • Irina says:

          It is the first one and from what I know it is a remastered Goldorak image. The one below Gridman is Rui from Demon Slayer. The one below cat in All Out as for the one below Kyousougiga, you have seen it , it’s Tsubaki from Rokuhōdō Yotsuiro Biyori.

          • Dawnstorm says:

            Ooh, Rokuhoudou. Now that I know it, I can see it. I’ve never seen All Out. So there was a third Demon Slayer picture. (There’s actually one other I didn’t recognise: below Log Horizon, which was pretty difficult, too, because I kept thinking OreImo. Interference is the worst: It took me pretty long to figure out Angels of Death, because I kept thinking Nisekoi. Those connections are strange…)

            Ramble/off.

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