So a few years ago I was watching KonoSuba and having a right old marvellous time at it, when Aqua, having had a few too many (girl after my own heart that one), had to duck into an alley and spew forth a glorious vibrant rainbow of too much fun.

That’s when I realized that I hadn’t seen the rainbow vomit trope in a while, and I had missed it. As a fan of tropes and rainbows… I started to wonder where the tradition had spouted from in the first place. The internet let me down. I mean it didn’t entirely let me down.

rainbow barf 4
it’s more subtle — that makes it classy

A very quick search of the use specifically in anime led me to classic boxing series Ashita no Joe where a scene has Joe throwing up a glitter bomb. Well, actually it’s sparkly droplets of something. That aired before I was even born so I figure there’s nothing before that. I very much doubt they had electricity before that, let alone anime…

I’m not sure when the transition from sparkles to rainbows happened but let’s face it, for all intents and purposes they’re pretty much the same thing.

Know your meme also tells me there was a puking rainbows meme in 2006 (which in meme years makes it a billion years ago). It’s attributed to a blog article on I-mockery about visiting Little Tokyo neighbourhood in LA:

I took a bunch o’ photos of these packages and I’ll be putting up a new Shorts piece to showcase them a little later this week. In all seriousness, it looks like a rainbow threw-up all over their snack section and forever stained the packages with a million bright colors.

Hmm, a rainbow throwing up a rainbow of colors. I don’t know why, but I like that idea. Tell ya what. To any of you who draw me picture of a rainbow throwing up a rainbow of colors: I will post your pictures here in the blog. Do we have a deal? Alright then, get to work on those nauseated rainbows and email your pics to me!


rainbo barf 3
that seems a little painful

It’s nice to see that it had a brief period of relevance, but I doubt this particular meme can be considered the originator of the trope…because you know, originators usually come first and such.

The actual existence of the trope is pretty easy to explain in practical terms.  It’s a quick way to get around censorship when showing something kind of gross and potential out of place in shows aimed at a younger audience, and it’s a classic comedy device to layered dissonant imagery (in this instance cute fluffy rainbows) over something disturbing or inappropriate. The reasons couldn’t be more plain but they’re also sort of boring.

I’ve been meaning to write my origins of rainbow poke post forever (well over a year) but I kept putting it off because I just couldn’t find any fun or interesting origins to write about. Well you know what they say, if you want something done right, do it yourself, fake it till you make it, tomorrow is another day… what the heck was I talking about?

Oh yeah, I’m going to invent a history of rainbow barf!

rainbow barf 3
even psycho killers are not immune to rainbow stomach trouble

Very few people know that Rainbow Barf is not a completely fictional concept. Although extremely rare, there is a condition that affect the natural bacterial flora of the human intestine leading to the secretion of chemicals which can turn digestion by-products into a variety of different colours at once. As this also affects the digestive tract in general, it’s not unusual for sufferers to have a bit of trouble keeping food down and this can result in bright multi coloured…discharge.

Because cases are so rare there hasn’t been much relevant research done on the condition. Anecdotal evidence seemed to suggest some correlation between people that were predisposed to catching it and people with more naturally active metabolisms, higher levels of collagen and quicker synaptic response. In cases where people lived with the condition for a long time (as it is fairly harmless it is possible for people to leave this condition untreated for ever if they wish), it could affect overall pigmentation leading to very vibrant and occasionally unusual hair and eye colours.

In modern times the condition is almost nonexistent and it as always extremely rare, however it was slightly more prevalent in the aboriginal population of Japan. Aside from some mild stomach upset and some chromatic effects, the condition is pretty much harmless and noncontagious.

rainbow barf 2
whoa flowers too???!!!???

It is said that in the olden days, people suffering from it, where considered to have been blessed by the gods and their wisdom was sought far and wide. Local folk tales would therefore frequently depict characters ho were able to produce these wonderful rainbows and this mythic tradition lived on in Japanese culture.

To this day, anime portrays characters that have these traits as a way to set them apart and pay some small tribute to their cultural tradition. To those not necessarily familiar with the background of this trope might think of it as a little lacking in gravitas. We rarely think of those moments where our tummies decided to fight back as high points.

But that’s in fact part of the mystic. Taking an experience which is traditionally associated with physical weakness (illness) and transforming it into something beautiful and magical shows boundless inner strength. Something like real beauty is on the inside, well these characters are so beautiful that their insides are filled with rainbows! WOW.

Eventually, in 2006, this little piece of folklore finally made its way across the ocean and got started to be known in North America but it hasn’t yet permeated the popular culture the way it has with our brethren to the East.

This has been a completely factual account of the roots and history of the rainbow vomit trope. I hope you all took notes!

Rini 2020 (4)

21 thoughts

  1. I love this explanation. That said, I think the origins may be even earlier and from more than one source. I’ll just say the Damn Yankee I married in 1976 sometimes referred to vomiting as “the rainbow yawn”. So when I first saw it depicted that way in anime, I chuckled, but immediately accepted it. I mention the Damn Yankee part because for 8 years we were constantly finding things that the Damn Yankees did different from my more southern U.S. based culture, from language to habits. No telling where he picked it up, but I can’t imagine the king of cool watching anime. I don’t recall having heard the expression before I met him though.

    Skittles and Koolaid might be the perfect formula. I do have VIVID memories of the aforementioned King of Cool vomiting bright green, because he was freaking out and screaming about it. The culprit there was cheap mint flavored vodka (and lots of it). I became rather casual about puking bright red – cherry vodka was my favorite drink back then. We will NOT discuss the Sangria incident, but I will say it was colorful. You don’t mind if I leave any future experiments to you younger folks.

    1. For some reason people keep referring to dan yankees this week. I should really see it…
      My completely not made up origins date back to the 13th century. 1264 to be precise. I mean it’ not fictional so naturally there’s a historical record. cough.

      …now I kinda want to discuss the Sangria incident…

      1. I’ll just say, it wasn’t pretty. And for years afterwards just walking past Sangria in the liquor store made me nauseous.

    1. Actually I have seen censored bugs as well… Maybe they’re just really hard to draw and animate?

  2. First one I can remember is Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? Of the Dead (the second season – youtube vid of the scene). But I paid attention because people on anime fora were talking about rainbow puke, so it’s very likely older. Even possible that I’ve seen it before without remembering. So my oldest definite find is Spring season 2012.

    Crowdsource this. Maybe one of the commenters can find an older one (if you want a definite rainbow and not just light refraction in liquids, like the rainbow Anna creates in Shimoneta [not via vomit…]). I haven’t seen Ashita no Joe to gauge how rainbow-like that was. Wouldn’t surprise me if we could count this.

    It’d be fun if the first rainbow puke were to appear in black-and-white Astro Boy, heh. Wonder how you’d portray that in black and white?

  3. I always thought of it as a comedic trope and never really thought that hard of it but now after looking at the workings behind it with this article now it gives me a whole new perspective of it.

      1. My understanding is that, like Eskimos and snow, the Aussies have a large number of words for it. I’ll leave further research as an exercise for the reader.

  4. Hmm so if we can reproduce the bacterial flora in our bodies in a certain way perhaps we could enforce vomiting rainbows? .. It does seem very on brand for me to do so if they ever need guinea pigs I might offer.

    Then again I just could live on a diet of skittles and that will do the same. Still selling people a condition that makes them vomit rainbows sounds oddly marketable to me. If people want to drink corpse fluids from a ancient sarcophagus this will be a goldmine.

    Plus think how much better England and popular spring break locations would on Sunday mornings!

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