Ponkotsu Yamada .com

Writing about Japanese comics

A comic expression of eyes not reflecting light

Eyes not reflecting light and our interpretation of them

In Japanese comics, most of characters' eyes are reflecting light, which we call "highlight" in Japanese. For instance:
("YOTSUBATO!" vol.2 p116)
We often see,however, a comic representation of eyes which don't reflect light.

For example:
("Ushio to Tora" vol.11 p143)
("Cynthia the Mission" vol.7 p66)
("G.S.Mikami Operation for Paradise" vol.11 p122)
We accept them and interpret as some kind of meanings without any explanation.

How do we interpret them?

In many case, we could regard characters who have eyes not reflecting light as "being out of their mind". I chose the three examples according to this interpretation. In the first, this character is manipulated by a monster. Second, she is losing her will by drugs. Third, he is a fake to which a monster is transformed, that is, his words are not explaining his "real" thought.

From these, we can make derivative interpretation.
("Eye-shield 21" vol.27 p179)
("Monkey-turn" vol.16 p221)
In the former example, she is dumbfounded by hearing shocking news. In the latter, he, a player of speedboat race, is depicted as enormously strong player.

Let me explain the latter example in detail. In this scene, he says slight appreciation to two young players after he won the championship, in which he had shown the amazing power. Two young men lost and were overpowered by his attitude toward the race. Light of his eyes are removed so that we can synchronize with two men who are feeling his overwhelming atmosphere.

Here, eyes not reflecting light mean that two men, who are facing the champion, cannot understand his thought, and also signify a psychological distance between the champ and them.

Accordingly, I can summarize them as "A person who has eyes not reflecting light and others are not on the same communicative level". No matter which is high or low, the person and others cannot communicate well each other.

Then, why do we interpret the eyes like this? No one has such eyes in the real world.

Why can we "see" with eyes?

First, let's think of eyes from biological point.

Eyes are acceptor of light. It means that we can "see" if eyes accept light. Though you have well sight, you cannot see in absolute darkness.

In other words, your eyes are necessarily reflecting light whenever you can "see". A person without depiction of eyes not reflecting light, thus, is not be able to "see".

This is only theoretical matter, of course. If a person really has such eyes, their surfaces must be uneven like frosted glass. When I was a schoolboy, a soccer ball hit my right eye, and a doctor examined me, "the ball made small wounds like traces swept by a broom on your eye." I don't know how the wounds weakened my sight, and how many wounds are there on my eye. This means, however, that wounds of this degree don't change looks of eyes. Now I don't have well sight, but it is a normal level. The wounds wouldn't harm my sight probably.

Objects come into view, but are not recognized

Next I shift the matter from the biological topic to comic expression.

In the examples mentioned above, the characters' eyes don't normally reflect light despite their well sight. Such eyes, I think, symbolically represent that the characters cannot "see" although objects come into their view. A person faces me directly, but I can't feel I am recognized by him/her. This is what such eyes represent.

I've happened to hear that there are persons who speak to others without looking at them. Fortunately, I have never met such a rude ones in real life, but often find in comics. If we really meet them, we might think, "I can't make communication with him/her".

A sign of incompleteness to communicate is represented by an attitude not "seeing" me. He/she speaks to me, but I feel I'm not recognized as a destination of words at all. The attitude make me feel I'm out of recognition.

According to "turn-taking system" in sociology, conversation goes well by throwing one's last word to others or being taken on by them. Voluntary taking on the last word occurs from not only speaker's intonation but also an exchange of glances.

In a one-to-one conversation, by a glance at a person you are talking with, you can notify him/her that your conversational turn has just finished. In more than three, by throwing your last word to someone and a glance at him/her, next conversation starts. Like this, glances play a very important role when we are making conversation.

Hence, a person who sees others but doesn't recognize them causes incompleteness of general communication evidently, so representation of the eyes not reflecting light symbolizes that bad situation.

In the examples, the picture of "Monkey-turn" would most clearly show this interpretation. Though the champion is facing two young men, they cannot feel that he is recognizing themselves. This incompleteness of communication symbolically shows a gap between the champ and two mens. That is to say, the young players cannot understand champ's thought because of large differences of their power.


O.K., let's compare two examples, one is reflecting light and the other is not.
("HUNTER×HUNTER" vol.26 p80)
("Hunter×Hunter" vol.26 p81)

Gon and Killua assault Neferpitoh in this scene. Gon's eyes are reflecting light in the former picture, still not in the latter. What had caused this change is Neferpitoh's incomprehensible words for Gon. Gon, who was burning with his anger, is confused by the words in the latter.

We, as readers, can understand Neferpitoh's words because there have been representation much enough to understand them. On the other hand, for Gon who is a person concerned in the comic world, Neferpitoh's words are out of understanding.

Killua cooler than Gon managed to guess what Neferpitoh really means, but angry Gon cannot.

Here, Gon is the most incapable of guessing each other's thought of the three. In other words, he is the most distant from a base of communication. Therefore, it is Gon who has eyes not reflecting light.


I don't know who started this representation, but this must be a great technique. As we say "The eye is the window of the mind", representation of eyes is also important in comics.

original article in Japanese:漫画表現の中の、光を反射しない眼について - ポンコツ山田.com