Continuing the conversation on comic villains (Jeffery Dahmer: Villain or Person?, Why do fictional villains get all the love?, and Batman Villains and Mental Illnesses are just some of the posts on the characterization of villains), I thought it might be interesting to take a more in depth look into the depiction of the eye. There are an infinite number of eye shapes and colors in the world, yet there seems to be a trend among mangas in particular that the eyes can differentiate between a good guy and a bad guy.
Let’s take the popular manga/animated series InuYasha for example. InuYasha, the eponymous good guy, has large, expressive eyes. His iris is large and colorful with a well-defined pupil. There is a sizeable sclera (the white parts of the eyes) in order to really add emphasis to the eyes and draw the reader to the character more, not to mention thick brows to help aid in molding expressions.
This is in contrast to eyes of Naraku, the villain. His eyes are slimmer than InuYasha’s, and there is no visible differentiation between his pupil and his iris. The entirety of the eye seems simpler in a manner, with no great change in color. The iris and pupil are also significantly smaller than those of InuYasha, and there is not a reflective white spot, suggesting a dullness of the eyes.
But it’s not always as simple as slim eyes equal bad guys (or girls) and large eyes equal good guys (or girls). To complicate things, InuYasha has a half-brother, Sesshomaru, that has at times seemingly attempted to murder InuYasha. He is disgusted with the fact that InuYasha is a half-demon rather than a full one like himself and believes InuYasha to be a blight to the family lineage for his human blood. But interestingly enough, he later takes on a human charge. His eyes seem to reflect his nature. They may be slimmer than InuYasha’s, but it is still possible to tell the iris and the pupil apart, and his eyes are larger on the whole compared to Naraku’s. To me, this seems to reflect the fact that Sesshomaru has the power for redemption.
I believe that at least part of the reason for this difference is that larger eyes can be more expressive, and thus more relatable to the reader. It is the protagonist of the story that tends to be the one the storyteller wishes the audience to side with, and so in order to make the character as likeable as possible, the character needs to convey emotion; one (or two, in this case) of the best vehicles for this are the eyes. Although villains certainly do have a varied range of emotional expression, the largeness of the eyes for the heroes is over-dramatic and thus more easily conveyed, and almost with a stronger sense of emotion for it. Thus, we can better empathize with the character that shows more emotion (on a tangential note, this may or may not have anything to do with mirror neurons).
Of course, this trend is not a universal and can be (and has been) undermined, but I think it would be an interesting endeavor to determine if there are other visual cues that can help a reader determine whether a character is a good guy or a bad guy and how accurate they can be.
All credit for InuYasha and images goes to Rumiko Takahashi, creator, and Viz Media.