Time to take another break from discussing and reviewing specific anime titles to talk about something more general. For today’s Otaku Lounge, I’ll be going over one of the major visual cues of anime – something which many viewers of the medium take for granted, but bemuses (or simply amuses) others: hair colour.
Of course, there are plenty of anime out there that stick with regular shades of black and brown (and in the case of elderly characters, grey) hair tones. Creators and directors such as Miyazaki Hayao, for example, tend to maintain a more natural and realistic atmosphere in terms of character design. However, it’s also just as common to see hair colours in other titles ranging from ocean blue to bubblegum pink, particularly since so many anime incorporate elements of science-fiction and fantasy. These types of obviously unnatural hair colours are also frequently seen in straight comedy anime, where realism takes a back seat to pure entertainment value. And while strange and exotic hair colours might hinder realism, they also bring with them some positive aspects. One of the major advantages is that children are able to recognize and distinguish between characters that can otherwise look very similar – it’s no coincidence that the casts of magical-girl shows such as Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew, and Pretty Cure are all colour-coordinated, with hair colours that often match their clothing and magical powers.
Vast arrays of hair colour has never been limited to just children’s titles though, since they’re also responsible for enhancing characters even in the most serious of anime. One of the best known examples are Rei and Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion, whose behaviour and mannerisms are very tangibly represented by their icy blue and vibrant orange respectively.Far from compromising their designs, the choice of hair colours in this title has played a large role in making them two of the most iconic anime characters of all time.
The same can be said for characters in teen and adult-orientated comedy anime, as for instance with harem titles. Male characters are likely to have black or nondescript brown hair in order to emphasise their conventionally commonplace nature and set them apart from the females surrounding him; Tenchi (Tenchi Muyo!), Rin (Shuffle!), Tomomi (Ladies versus Butlers!), Kazuki (Maburaho), and numerous others all fall into this category. The same can be said of reverse-harems, where the female lead is more likely to have black or brown hair while her male suitors are flamboyantly coloured, as with Tohru (Fruits Basket), Haruka (Uta no Prince-sama), Ema (Brothers Conflict), and the nameless protagonist from Amnesia.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that hair colour is always an accurate reflection of character archetype. Rather than defining any given character’s personality, hair colour is usually simply an indication of what the creator thought best suited him/her. Moreover, as colour clichés have become more common over the years, creators have been playing upon these stereotypes and deliberately using them in a tongue-in-cheek manner, or else subverting them entirely in order to confuse or surprise viewers.
Nonetheless, there does still seem to be a rough correspondence between hair colour and personality type, and while there will always be exceptions to the rule, the symbolism tends to be relatively consistent. Black and brown hair, as previously stated, commonly denotes realism and a personality which is markedly more traditional, subtle, or ‘Japanese’ in comparison to the rest of the cast. By contrast, vibrant blondes (when not referring to some brand of foreigner) often become the well-meaning ditz or sometimes the delinquent, the latter especially in the case of darker or more orangey blondes – your typical Usagi (Sailor Moon), Mihoshi (Tenchi), Tamaki (Ouran High School Host Club), Rosette (Chrno Crusade), and Seiji (Midori Days) types of the anime universe. Moving a little further down the spectrum, orangeor red-haired characters are portrayed as the hot-heads of the show, loud and confidently assertive like Kyo (Fruits Basket), Lina (Slayers), Shana (Shakugan no Shana), and Misty (Pokémon).
Then we have the more unusual and extreme colours. Characters with light pink hair are often depicted as either ultra-cutesy and childish like Chibi-Usa (Sailor Moon), Yui (Angel Beats!), and Miwako (Paradise Kiss), or else especially innocent and idealistic like Madoka (Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica), Lacus Clyne (Gundam SEED), Princess Euphemia (Code Geass), and in many respects Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena – although in fact this character was originally a blonde). Green-haired characters are commonly aliens or else have some otherworldly power that stands out from the rest of the cast, particularly characters with lighter green hair such as Ryoko (Tenchi), Princess Lum (Urusei Yatsura), C.C. (Code Geass), and Ren (DearS). Blue and purple hair can signify particularly intelligent but soft-spoken or socially withdrawn personalities as with Ami (Sailor Moon), Yuki (Haruhi Suzumiya), Aoi (Ai Yori Aoshi), and Hinata (Naruto). When not age-appropriate, white and silver/grey-haired characters tend to be incredibly powerful in some way and often land the role of creepily evil or severely mentally unstable, with prime examples being Dio and Maestro Delphine (Last Exile), Dilandau (Escaflowne), Aion (Chrno Crusade), Vicious (Cowboy Bebop), and Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children).
And then there are those characters with multiple shades of hair or just plain weird shit going on. Exactly what the creators were thinking with these guys is up for debate, but it seems like a fun note to end this article on. I’d therefore like to award Crazy Hair prizes to Stocking (Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt) who getsdark blue hair with pink highlights, Kaga (Future GPX Cyber Formula) who has green hair with orange triangles on each side as well as a black tail, and of course, Yugi and Yami (Yu-Gi-Oh!) for their spiky black, red/pink and gold tri-coloured style… and as we all know from Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged, that one’s crazy enough for two people!
Question of the post: Have you noticed any particular trends with regards to your own personal character preferences when it comes to anime hair colours? If so, do these characters have any personality traits in common along with their similar hair colours?