Hair Colors in Anime

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Mafty
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Hair Colors in Anime

Post by Mafty » Wed Dec 29, 2021 11:55 am

So unusual hair colors in anime are common(ie Blue, Pink, Purple, Silver, Green, and varying different shades), but when exactly did this process start? Has it been around as long as colorized anime? Or did it start taking off in the 70s and 80s?

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Seto Kaiba
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Re: Hair Colors in Anime

Post by Seto Kaiba » Wed Dec 29, 2021 4:01 pm

This one has a really well-documented answer.

In storytelling in general, unusual or impossible-in-nature hair colors have been a thing for longer than writing. The gods and other supernatural beings in many different religions and belief systems frequently had very unusual or impossible hair.

In comics and manga, it's basically as old as color printing.

In animation, it's pretty much as old as color film.

It's a very easy, very simple cheat to make a character visually distinctive without also making them significantly harder to draw.

Back when TVs and cinemas were in black-and-white, your only real options for making a character visually distinctive in an animated feature were their facial features, hairstyle, body type, and clothes. Doing readily distinctive faces was hard mode from the start because drawing a highly detailed face in every frame is extremely expensive and time-consuming to boot. Body type was a favorite way to distinguish characters and communicate their personalities in a form of visual shorthand for American animators. The clever characters were short, compact sets of stacked circles, the aggressive meatheads were a bulldog-esque V-shaped torso on a tiny pair of legs, the lazy characters were a pyramid shape with extremely wide lower bodies, the klutz was an extremely tall and rail thin character with big feet and hands, etc.

Manga and anime authors had pretty limited options when it came to giving each character they designed a distinctive face because of the art style involved, so they also fell back on clothes, hair, and body type. Of course, if you're setting your story in a school, a shrine, an office, the military, or anywhere where there's essentially a dress code, doing wildly different clothes often isn't an entirely feasible option either unless the character is a delinquent or something. So the obvious answer that worked for every character was hair. Of course, hairstyle alone only works with a limited cast, as giving everyone realistically black or dark hair means a lot of the detail will be lost.

Pretty much for as long as color printing and film had been a thing, artists had been cheating on drawing black hair. If you draw black hair as flat black, it has no definition and if you use actual black ink all you can do to add definition is to give it highlights. But if you color that black hair a very dark blue or purple, you can have black lowlights AND highlights and make it look more defined and textured.

From there, it was an infinitessimally short step from "I paid for the whole color wheel, I'm gonna USE the whole color wheel".

Giving a character an unusual or impossible-in-nature hair color became a very easy, very effective way to show that the character was abnormal in some way. A yokai, an alien, etc. If a character wore a uniform of some kind, drawing theirs with a different color helped them stand out. It took almost no time at all for artists to start playing with it extensively... not just as visual shorthand to show a character was unusual, but just to give character designs some added punch or for the sake of a terrible in-joke (e.g. Max in SDF Macross having blue hair to make him a "Blue Max", in reference to the famous award for flying aces).

It's a fair bit older than this, but the title most people would probably point to as establishing unnatural hair colors in the mainstream would be 1978's Urusei Yatsura, where the alien oni Princess Lum had vibrant green hair.
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Mafty
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Re: Hair Colors in Anime

Post by Mafty » Sun Jan 02, 2022 12:22 am

I agree that It really seems as though more mainstream (ie characters who aren't explicitly supernatural) came in the 70s(remember you go back far enough and tv's were in black and white), and really took of in the 80s. Look at FG most of the characters have natural hair colors (except for Garma, Lalah, Tem Ray, and M'Quve) by the time the 1985 sequel roles a round a number of major characters(Kamille, Four, Rosamia, Scirocco, Sarah, Haman, etc) and plenty of background characters all have rather unusual hair colors.

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Re: Hair Colors in Anime

Post by Seto Kaiba » Sun Jan 02, 2022 1:04 am

Mafty wrote:
Sun Jan 02, 2022 12:22 am
I agree that It really seems as though more mainstream (ie characters who aren't explicitly supernatural) came in the 70s(remember you go back far enough and tv's were in black and white), [...]
Even shows that were broadcast in black and white were not necessarily animated in it... some were done in full color, while others were done in carefully curated sets of colors to produce specific greyscale shades when photographed in the final stage of production.

(There's a beautiful example of the latter in the live-action Addams Family TV series. The show was filmed and broadcast in black and white, but to achieve a satisfactorily broad set of greys for the backgrounds and furniture the entire set was a garish pastel nightmare of yellows, blues, and pinks.)

Mafty wrote:
Sun Jan 02, 2022 12:22 am
[...] and really took of in the 80s. Look at FG most of the characters have natural hair colors (except for Garma, Lalah, Tem Ray, and M'Quve) by the time the 1985 sequel roles a round a number of major characters(Kamille, Four, Rosamia, Scirocco, Sarah, Haman, etc) and plenty of background characters all have rather unusual hair colors.
It's always been one of those stylistic trends that comes and goes as time goes on... though as computer animation's introduction has made it possible to do increasingly complex color work, we've seen a lot more complex gradiation in hair color, highlights, low lights, multiple colors and patterns, and other weirdness that wouldn't have been possible if animation were still being hand-drawn.

The 80's were a weird, experimental time for the industry so it's not surprising they went a bit nuts with hair colors on top of everything else.
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Re: Hair Colors in Anime

Post by MythSearcher » Tue Jan 04, 2022 8:09 am

Seto Kaiba wrote:
Wed Dec 29, 2021 4:01 pm


It's a fair bit older than this, but the title most people would probably point to as establishing unnatural hair colors in the mainstream would be 1978's Urusei Yatsura, where the alien oni Princess Lum had vibrant green hair.
Barely relevant, but Urusei Yatsura is going to have a new anime.
https://comicbook.com/anime/news/urusei ... shi-manga/

Also, talking about hair colour, I must mention Gundam 00.
I like how they play it very well that anime have strange hair colours and no one will suspect a thing when they see how a lot of people have different hair colours in the show, but it ended up that people with strange hair colours aren't human, but innovade.

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Re: Hair Colors in Anime

Post by Mafty » Tue Jan 04, 2022 4:37 pm

Gundam SEED also does this for the most part. The vast majority of characters in the CE Verse with unuseual hair colors are Coordinators, there are still cases of giving Naturals unusual hair colors however.

Plus Gundam does seem to flip flop between works that will give everyone a wide variety of hair colours (Zeta, ZZ, Victory, Turn A, AGE) and works that give mostly everyone more normal hair colors (ie CCA,F91,0080, 0083,Gundam Wing, Gundam X)

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Re: Hair Colors in Anime

Post by Seto Kaiba » Tue Jan 04, 2022 6:00 pm

MythSearcher wrote:
Tue Jan 04, 2022 8:09 am
Also, talking about hair colour, I must mention Gundam 00.
I like how they play it very well that anime have strange hair colours and no one will suspect a thing when they see how a lot of people have different hair colours in the show, but it ended up that people with strange hair colours aren't human, but innovade.
... some of them, anyway.

Feldt Grace, Soma Pierres, Michael Trinity, Neferu Naguib, etc. aren't Innovades and have unnatural hair colors... terracotta, lavendar, savoy blue, and white respectively. There are some impossible-in-nature shades of red going on with several characters too.

Not to mention the standard human being who was the template for Ribbons Almark - E.A. Ray - is shown to have had green hair in a flashback to a meeting with Aeolia, so the unusual hair colors probably aren't indicative of Innovade status.



Mafty wrote:
Tue Jan 04, 2022 4:37 pm
Gundam SEED also does this for the most part. The vast majority of characters in the CE Verse with unuseual hair colors are Coordinators, there are still cases of giving Naturals unusual hair colors however.

Plus Gundam does seem to flip flop between works that will give everyone a wide variety of hair colours (Zeta, ZZ, Victory, Turn A, AGE) and works that give mostly everyone more normal hair colors (ie CCA,F91,0080, 0083,Gundam Wing, Gundam X)
Tastes come and go... SEED kinda needed a lot of unusual hair colors, because the hair is almost the only way to tell the cast apart due to a terrible, pervasive case of sameface.
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Re: Hair Colors in Anime

Post by MythSearcher » Tue Jan 04, 2022 9:30 pm

Seto Kaiba wrote:
Tue Jan 04, 2022 6:00 pm
... some of them, anyway.

Feldt Grace, Soma Pierres, Michael Trinity, Neferu Naguib, etc. aren't Innovades and have unnatural hair colors... terracotta, lavendar, savoy blue, and white respectively. There are some impossible-in-nature shades of red going on with several characters too.

Not to mention the standard human being who was the template for Ribbons Almark - E.A. Ray - is shown to have had green hair in a flashback to a meeting with Aeolia, so the unusual hair colors probably aren't indicative of Innovade status.
Ah, forgot about Feldt. Yeah, pink surely aren't usual.

Soma Pierres and Neferu Naguib white/silver hair can still be natural, and Soma is not really entirely regular human anyway.
Michael Trinity, while not really innovade, is made from Ribbons' genes so...

E. A. Ray I always thought it was just a green shaded black like Wang Liu Mei, but after checking, I guess the screen I watch 00 on was too dark and yes, it is pretty green.

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Re: Hair Colors in Anime

Post by Mafty » Wed Jan 12, 2022 1:50 am

Its always a little odd when a work only gives some members of the cast unnatural hair colors, and the majority have normal hair colors. You can see this in CCA where Quess's Teal hair really stands out amongst almost every other character(some print versions give Quess blonde hair), likewise with Cima and Gato in Stardust Memory. Sometimes it makes it look like different characters are done in a different artstyle.

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Re: Hair Colors in Anime

Post by Seto Kaiba » Wed Jan 12, 2022 3:29 am

Mafty wrote:
Wed Jan 12, 2022 1:50 am
Its always a little odd when a work only gives some members of the cast unnatural hair colors, and the majority have normal hair colors. You can see this in CCA where Quess's Teal hair really stands out amongst almost every other character(some print versions give Quess blonde hair), likewise with Cima and Gato in Stardust Memory. Sometimes it makes it look like different characters are done in a different artstyle.
Sure made 'em stand out in your mind though, didn't it?

Most of the time, the goal of giving a character an unusual hair color is for added visual punch... either to make the character more visually distinctive among the cast, or bring together a look that involves other unusual colors. You could say Quess falls into both categories, since her hair makes her stand out on its own among the large cast of the film and pops even more against her bright red pilot suit.

(Cima doesn't have an unusual hair color though... her hair is black, though it sometimes looks faintly greenish with Zeon's frequently greenish-tinted metallic backgrounds.)
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