On Blue Hair in Anime

A friend told me an interesting anecdote recently.  One of her labmates was from a rural-ish area in Asia, where everyone more or less looks the same.  Certainly the same skin tone, hair color, eye color, and general body type.  So, when identifying the looks of other people, this labmate relied on feature Americans generally don’t, like face shape.  The ancillary effect of this is that this person couldn’t remember eye color or hair color of others well, which Americans do often use for identification.  There was a gap in communication when talking about others — which makes it difficult to pass on identifying information about people with unknown names.

An observation: when Americans encounter Japanese anime for the first time, they are often confused by the unnatural hair colors — specifically blue and pink.  Or rather, Americans aren’t confused by these colors as choices for storytelling purposes (since broadening the spectrum of hair colors can help a viewer keep track of a large cast of characters), but are confused by the fact that no one in the anime universe finds these hair colors particularly odd (these hair colors can exist even in anime otherwise devious of fantastical elements). 

So, I posit this hypothesis: the non-naturalhair colors in anime don’t seem wildly outlandish to the Japanese viewership because any hair color other than black, and maybe brown, is unusual in Japan (or wasunusual, perhaps, when a lot of the norms of anime were set).  The pink or blue hair seems particularly odd to Americans because we’re used to using hair color as a major visual identifier, and have a pretty well defined parameter space of which colors are natural or not.

Generally, I’m uncomfortable about making broad generalizations about entire nations of people.  Hopefully, I didn’t somehow insult some strong contingent of genetically blue-haired Japanese folks.


One Response to “On Blue Hair in Anime”

  1. Isidro Takiguchi Says:

    Hair color is the pigmentation of hair follicles due to two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Generally, if more eumelanin is present, the color of the hair is darker; if less eumelanin is present, the hair is lighter. Levels of melanin can vary over time causing a person’s hair color to change, and it is possible to have hair follicles of more than one color.,

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