Bad Guys and Their Eyes

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.

inuyasha            InuYasha

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.

naraku2  naraku

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.

sess-inu2-sesshomaru-and-inuyasha-30376653-500-573     Animation Sesshomaru

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. 

  2 comments for “Bad Guys and Their Eyes

  1. rpatters
    March 29, 2013 at 2:08 am

    I agree with the viewpoint of eyes in animated works. A saying I feel can show this further is “The eyes are windows to the soul.”. This saying in my opinion means that the eyes show the most about the soul. Like what the blog said, it seems that the most important people you want the reader to know about have the more detailed eyes. I also noticed that masks seem to go along with bad guys as well. Like for example in the animated cartoon on Nickelodeon called The Legend of Korra, the main antagonist Amon, wore a mask. While you could tell by the things he said that he was the bad guy, you could not see his face until the very end of the story arc. This shows a sense of mysteriousness, not knowing the facial expressions and most importantly, how his eyes look for the most part.

  2. Mosty
    April 4, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    I noticed this too, when I was both reading and watching Inuyasha and I completely agree. In addition, the narrowed eyes seem to suggest an almost feminine quality in the evil or ambiguous characters, especially in Naraku’s case. His eyes are not only narrow, but taper at the ends, and have an eyelash. Sesshomaru, too, has eyes that taper somewhat, but it’s not quite as evident as Naraku’s, because they are just slightly wider. This confused me to no end when Naraku’s character was first introduced, because in manga, eyelashes are very specific to girls and rarely are used on boys, because they seem to be somewhat emasculating. Whereas InuYasha’s eyes are large, but they have no eyelashes, and his eyebrows are very thick, making him look very masculine, something which is evident in Miroku as well, though his eyes are not quite as piercing as InuYasha’s are, due to the fact that he is a human. In a lot of minor characters, too, they tend give very unexpressive eyes. A good deal of minor characters have just dots for eyes, eyes without the sclera, or very narrow, dull-looking eyes. I’ve always thought this was an interesting topic, and I’m glad someone wrote about it, it was very interesting and thought-provoking.

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