Anime Hair Colours

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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!

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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?

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25 thoughts on “Anime Hair Colours

  1. I totally agree! In fact, this post inspired me to pay homage to one of my favorite anime from the 80s in my next post. lol. How about those white haired characters like Inuyasha’s bro, Sesshōmaru, or Jiraya from Naruto? Their personalities tend to be as enigmatic as their hair color. 😉

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    • Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
      Sesshōmaru’s definitely another good character to put up there among the other white-haired ones, although I’m not sure about Jiraya. While I’d certainly describe him as being enigmatic in some respects, his age (I believe he’s in his 50s) means that having white hair could actually be fairly natural. (That said, I don’t watch Naruto, so I have no idea whether or not Jiraya is portrayed as having white hair even in his younger years, assuming there are any flashbacks to that time.)

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      • Male characters with white hair and red eyes are mythological allusions to Japanese gods of death.

        Sorry I don’t have the scholarly references at hand, but I can find them if I dig.

        Basically, for hundreds of years, in Japanese myth, male characters with white hair and red eyes have been gods of death or “grim reapers.”

        White-haired male characters in anime are continuing this tradition.

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        • Interesting – I hadn’t thought of that. I would be interested in seeing those references if you have time to track them down at some point – I should brush up on my Japanese mythology anyway, and they might make for a good starting point.

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  2. Thanks for this brilliant article. After reading I realize how hair color has always been an attraction in anime for me. From the earliest shows I watched I always thought how cool it would be to have green or blue hair. Your article really made me think about the reasons creators have for giving their characters their particular hair color. Personal preferences would be pink and though a lot of these characters are cutesy as you say, there’s quite a bit of variety. I’d say another common trait among the pink haired characters I like is strong determination, as in Yuno from Mirai Nikki and Sheryl Nome of Macross F. Oh yes and I loved your crazy hair awards. 🙂

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    • Glad you enjoyed the article. Haha, I know what you mean about wanting a different, anime-like hair colour when you were younger – I always wanted blue hair myself. 🙂

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  3. I personally tend to find myself siding with more green or green hair flavored characters the most. It certainly is often applied to the more otherworldly characters like in the Ryoko and Lum examples, and something else that often tends to crop up with the color seems to be a sense of focused aggression in one way or another. Spunkiness than the more explosive or hot-headed red department.

    It also seems to be a color that can “contaminate” others more prominently when mixed. Lufy in the original Gall Force OVA’s for instance is definitely overwhelmingly blond in sheer volume, but has a lone shock of green, and is the insanely cocky ace fighter pilot far before any notion of “blondness.”

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    • That’s an excellent point about many green-haired characters showing focused aggression. I haven’t actually watched the Gall Force OVAs, but I’m vaguely familiar with the story and can see what you mean by that.

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  4. Oh Utena, you crazy almost-ginger freak.

    I remember as a kid first getting exposed to anime (pre-Digi-days, when I thought all Japanimation was weird) I remember how much Ami’s blue hair in Sailor Moon stuck out to me as crazy. At first all I noticed was blue hair, until it dawned on me that some were actually purple… oh, and pink, how did I not notice that pink? Years later, I remember taking part in a coloring contest with an outline of a male character and thinking of my options: blue hair? No… green hair? No… white hair? No… normal colored hair? Definitely not! Ah, I’ve got it! BRIGHT YELLOW HAIR! Oh wait–that just makes him blonde.

    As an artist, I really love the freedom that comes with commonly accepted weird hair colors, but I tend to stick with normalish tones anyway. Now that you mention, though, it’s probably because I’m aiming for that sense of departure from reality, but it’s that departure that really sucked me into the world of anime to begin with.

    I get this sense that if I were an anime character I’d have some shade of pink hair, and that was even before reading your analysis.

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    • I always wanted either really long hair (that was always perfect and blew around poetically in the wind), or else blue hair like Sailor Mercury. Or both. (… Clearly neither of these things worked out for me.)

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      • Well, yeah, of course I’ve always desired the poetically blowing long hair that is perfectly manageable able even when it’s past my ankles, but we don’t always get what we want! I think I’m just too used to you as a blonde to see you as an anime character with blue hair–I feel if you were to have a crazy color, it would be in the off-white shades like a really light blue or light green. Interpret that as you please!

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  5. The fun thing about anime is that it’s fine for the anime to be realistic, having black and brown color hairs, but at the same time, it can also be unrealistic and have their characters with vibrant hair colors like blue, pink or green and yet, the anime can just make them look as if it’s their “natural” hair color all along. Indeed, one thing that bolsters the dynamics between Rei and Ayanami is their very opposing hair colors – a great flashing contrast between read and blue.

    As for having weird hairstyles, I would add that Rikuo of Nurarihyon no Mago would fit in too – I was always baffled how his long hair was floating at the back as if on static electricity, though maybe it had something to do with his yokai form, still a weird design though.

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    • That’s true, I also appreciate how anime can be so dynamic with hair, and can present obviously unnatural colours that can still be thought of as perfectly normal.
      I haven’t watched Nurarihyon no Mago, but from a quick image search I see what you mean. He certainly wouldn’t be the first anime character to have gravity-defying hair, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen something that extreme outside of a young kids show.

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  6. I have this ridiculous thing for pink-haired characters. To me, they represent the epitome of the “pure-pure” anime girl appeal. Especially if that pink hair is long and flowing. Feels very feminine to me.

    On the other hand, pink-haired anime girls can have EXTREMELY annoying personalities. They’re a mixed bag, but my favourite female characters almost always have pink hair.

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    • I usually hate that ultra-hyper, ultra-loud personality that many pink haired anime characters have, but there are some that I’ve loved despite myself. For example, I never would have guessed going into Angel Beats that Yui would become one of my favourite characters, but it somehow happened anyway.

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  7. Nice post. When I think of anime hair colour I immediately think of the blonde from Bamboo Blade, who once commented on her own hair color, freaking out when a non-blond foreigner walks in…talk about ironic.

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  8. I’ve had people point out to me in my pervy posts that I have a thing for blue-haired anime characters. So this post has enlightened me a little. Great post. And this will come in as a useful reference later, I’m sure of it.

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    • I quite like a lot of blue-haired characters myself, although I attribute this mostly to the fact that I like that colour in general, and that I thought Sailor Mercury was cool back when I was a kid, than the personality traits that often seem to go along with blue-haired anime characters.

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  9. Pingback: The symbolic value of white hair in modern art and pre-modern myth | vulture of critique

  10. Pingback: Love in the Moe Realms – A Concise ‘Dere’ Guide | OTAKU LOUNGE

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