by Kai and Yi.
Anime has always been a world filled with visuals of thorough imaginations. There are quite a number of interesting anime looks, like the presence of fangs for one, or animal ears. There is however, one other intriguing thing—the art of “eyes concealment”—through the use of long bangs.
Among an anime characters’ physical features, none is more expressive than the eyes. The range of emotions and information contained in one’s eyes supersedes other non-verbal signals. Particularly, in a medium often limited by and styled through simplification, characteristic distortion, and constrained motions, anime relies heavily on the eyes to convey the subtle details that may otherwise be lost. Disgust, for instance, is a universal expression that presents a very distinguished, but relatively understated look—a wrinkled nose and raised upper lips and cheeks. Yet, anime aesthetics forgo the details that a disgusted face wants. The alternative: a simple distortion of the eyes (and perhaps with some shadows for added effect). If eyes are so important for expression, what then does concealing them do?
At first glance, characters with concealed eyes almost seem like he is nothing but a “blank state”, he has no unique trait or quirk—a pretty ordinary dull person that is easily faded into the background as compared to other more outlandish people. However, that lack of traits creates a mystery sensation that he is perhaps more than he seems. Nobody could easily notice whatever they are hiding, whether or not it be emotions, or a plan. If one is normally calm and collected, coupled with a poker face; a sudden smile under that eyes-less face changes everything from dullness into spookiness. Perhaps he may had broken down from all those piled-up negative emotions; perhaps he is the manipulating type; or perhaps he is thinking of a heinous plan so evil, yet solid that he could turn everything in his favor.
Covering the eyes gives the character an impression of decreased identification. Vague characters such as these create a pretty mysterious appearance. With their eyes concealed, it made it seems like they are hiding something, a painful emotion perhaps, that he does not want everyone to notice he is currently experiencing; he does not want to share the pain with everyone else. Or perhaps, for a character suffering from an extremely heavy mental stress, with his head lowered down, his eyes covered by his hair, eye concealment shows that he is still somehow keeping his mind from breaking down, defending whatever sanity is left.
When a character suddenly has his eyes covered, it also makes it look like he is planning something. He may look like he is doing something outrageous, something reckless and incomprehensible, but surprisingly enough, he has a foolproof plan under that careless facade; one cannot outwit him and let his guard down, because it, of course, wouldn’t end pretty for him. People like them sometimes even fool their own allies, since, per the famous saying: “In order to fool your enemies, you must first fool your allies.” Akiyama Shinichi from Liar Game is a prime example for such a personality; he plays a sort of survivor game that involves deceiving other people and tricking them for their money. His eyes are obviously invisible most of the time, especially when he is in one of the rounds of the game. Not coincidentally, he is also a psychologist so he is well-versed in how humans think and act.
The underlying thread of the above ways of eye concealment and relevant examples is anonymity. The characters hope to maintain a low-profile. Blank-state, broken emotions, calm, trickster, depth, ominous history, tension—whatever those characters without eyes are defined by, they all just want to be left alone, even if it is just for the moment. But they are still be defined. Fringes offer a convenient way to hide the eyes without attracting too much attention. Unlike glasses or other accessories that inherently give additional sources of information, long bangs come naturally to the default look of anime characters.
Further, they still maintain a base level of characterization—suits, hair color, height, weight, gender—thereby avoids relegating to shadowy figures of true nameless anonymity.
Indeed, long bangs are such a perfect, exact, yet easily applicable way to achieve a wanted effect that the look has become universal in anime. Somewhat ironically, for a look that intends to obscure and hide telling information and emotions—and it does so for the character on screen—we the audience have come to know exactly what lengthy fringes, shadows, and concealed eyes imply. As well, the variations and counter-examples that arise from this look all come with their own contextual meanings. This certainly highlights the dynamic understanding between anime style and audience interpretation.
About the Guest Author:
Over at deluscar, Kai writes on interesting topics and often hosts anime projects for the anime blogging community. When he contacted me about a collaborative project, I happily took the opportunity. The result is this cute piece from us on eyes and hair, two favorite and lovely features of anime. Be sure to visit his blog for more wonderful writing!