It is All About the Hair: The Meaning of Red

Anime is famous for its unrealistic hair color. Okay, we can dye our hair to match anime colors now. Anyway, originally the wild colors of hair were used as a way to distinguish one character from another. Manga also didn’t have color since it is a black and white medium. However, over time hair color as become another short hand for character stereotypes or personalities.

Hair color as a characterization tool isn’t a hard science. Many authors simply color their characters a certain way because it looks cool.  Often eyes and hair are the same or complementary colors for the same reason; the author doesn’t place any conscious meaning on the design.

Over time, certain hair colors have gravitated toward certain types of characters. There is a fair correlation now between certain personalities and hair types. Like other cliches, manga and anime authors like to play with character expectations. This series will look at general trends in characterization in relation to hair color.

Seeing Red

Red hair was originally a European characterization. Most Asians have black or brown hair. Red hair is associated with a temper or an outgoing personality. That core idea exported into anime. Red heads are full of raw energy and often associated with fire.

Red heads are resilient; they seek to survive at all costs. The color is associated with both death and life in psychology. Death is one side because people bleed and die. Life is the other because childbirth is a bloody affair.

Red is also considered very sexual. Female characters with red hair are sometimes the temptresses of the story.  Since red hair is a fairly rare color, even in American and Europe, it get a lot of attention. It can even have a fetish aspect to it. Red heads also tend to be tsundere characters because of the fiery nature of the personality and the sensual, warm side of red.

Characters with red hair that also dress in black are often villains or dark personalities. Black and red is a combination that is unsettling and even fearful.

Probably the most famous anime red head is Asuka Soryu Langley from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Asuka speaks her mind regardless of how horrible or hurtful they are. She certainly has a temper fueled by her competitiveness and insecurities. Asuka can be considered a tsundere character (albeit loosely). As Evangelion progresses, she has moments of warmth toward the protagonist Shinji. Although she does spend most of her time on thetsun side of the character trope: fiery. The story writers use the raw energy expected of redheads to advantage later in the series.

[Mild Spoiler]It is unusual for a red head to be completely crushed by events. Normally their primal energy and will to survive is enough, but the EVA team take this expectation and shakes it. Asuka spends most of her last appearances wanting to die. [/Spoiler]

Another famous example of a red head is Cowboy Bebop’s Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV, better known as simply Ed.

Ed is a 13 year old girl ( although the crew of Bebop were uncertain for a long time about that) that exemplifies raw energy. Ed is a gifted hacker. She also speaks in third person and cannot sit still. She is constantly moving with flailing arms, somersaults, or walking on her hands. She has only a touch of the temper associated with red; namely it comes out when she is hacking and runs against a roadblock.  She isn’t as complex as Asuka or has the sex appeal of red heads. Considering she is a kid, she shouldn’t have that appeal anyway. She does illustrate the energy and will to survive. She was abandoned at an orphanage when she was 5 and left the orphanage to live on her own on a ravaged Earth.

Red heads certainly are not “beings with no souls” as South Park describes them. In anime, they are a European import and have a foreign or exotic feel to them.  They stand out against their black and brown haired co-characters. They are not always the fiery, energetic type. You will find some quiet library oriented characters with red hair; however most of the time they will follow the now famous Asuka Langley template.

3 COMMENTS

  • It never clicked with me that different hair colors were used for different personality types in anime o.O. I do have a question though: Does pink hair fall in with red, or is it in a separate category all its own?

    • Pink is its own category. I will cover it in another article. Upcoming colors: blonde, orange, green, blue, purple, pink, white, and black. Each color has a personality type associated with it. Some, like pink/mauve and orange are a mix of archetypes. Pink is actually the most complex of the families. It can move toward 3 different personalities depending on the hue of the color.

    • pink is for reckless personalities

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