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Normal, happy people's eyes shine and reflect their environment. This is because the coating of tears over the exposed eye to keep it from drying out reflects light sources within a certain distance.

In anime, though, when a character is feeling sad, very tired, depressed, or is about to lose it completely, their eyes lose all the natural shine and have the appearance of being lifeless. Depending on the art style, this can range from merely a lack of highlights to the iris turning into a flat disc of the afflicted's base color. May or may not be accompanied by tired lines in the face. This trope is never a good sign.

Often goes hand in hand with the Heroic BSOD, and can betray a Stepford Smiler to the audience, all though none of the characters in-story seem to notice the eye problem.

This can be Truth in Television, because sad, shocked or tired people tend to slightly lower their head, which causes the upper part of the eyes, which is normally reflecting the light, to be concealed. When the person recovers naturally or when dealing with a recent trauma, this is a case of the Thousand-Yard Stare; Dull Eyes of Unhappiness is a chronic problem that does not show noticeable improvement over time.

For similar appearance but a different meaning, see Mind Control Eyes.

Examples of Dull Eyes of Unhappiness include:


Anime and Manga

  • As Mima from Perfect Blue loses her grip on reality, she does this more and more often.
  • Utau gets these for two panels in Shugo Chara, and that's about it.
  • Tokyo Mew Mew has an interesting version; the iris goes completely grey, but still has shines on it.
    • The same thing happens to Nana in Plus Anima, but only once.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Fate Testarossa gets these during her Antivillainous BSOD after her mother Precia reveals what her origins are.
    • Subaru gets them in her fight against her sister in StrikerS.
  • Yami from Time Stranger Kyoko has eyes like this all the time.
  • Ikeda Kana in Saki, when she's at death's door due to having 0 point in the game.
  • Happens to Futaba in the second episode of Puni Puni Poemy.
  • Nayuki Minase has a severe case of Dull Eyes during her Heroic BSOD after Akiko got hit by a car. Power of Friendship snaps her out of it, though.
  • In Houshin Engi, during Taikoubou's first Heroic BSOD (where Dakki threw all the people from the village into the snake and alligator pit to get eaten), he is shown to have eyes like this. He gets over it within a few pages, though.
  • In Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, Sousuke is shown to have eyes like this during his Heroic BSOD. More pronounced in the Sigma manga, where there are several pages with his eyes looking like this. In fact, his eyes losing the light and reflectiveness in them is actually brought up in-series by Gauron, who laments how Sousuke has lost the beautiful, untainted emotion and clearness in them (including a flashback shot of Sousuke's eyes being incredibly sparkly and glowy, in a Gaussian Girl manner).
  • Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess gets Dull Eyes of Unhappiness whenever she experiences jealousy over seeing other women flirting with Keiichi, after which she tends to accidently make stuff blow up
  • Fullmetal Alchemist's Edward Elric has these during his first meeting with Mustang in the manga and Brotherhood with good reason.
  • In various instances, these happen in Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch whether by mind control or through the effects of the songs some villains sing.
  • Hei from Darker Than Black always seems to have this combined with Black Eyes. Though, knowing his Dark and Troubled Past it really isn't all that surprising.
  • Asuna in Mahou Sensei Negima is drawn this way based on the her state of amnesia regarding her Dark and Troubled Past. Upon regaining said memories, she went into a blank catatonia for days.
    • She also sports these in the first anime when she dies.
    • She also has these again in chapter 352 upon seeing Negi's grave.
  • Naruto has these shown throughout after he is told that Jiraiya is dead.
    • Sasuke has these constantly due to his horrific past and present which is especially noticeable following the Time Skip.
  • Digimon Frontier: Taking advantage of Koichi's loneliness and sadness, Cherubimon erases his memory, resulting in his expressive blue eyes becoming pale black (and making a small slasher smile), before using his tainted Duskmon form to digivolve into Velgemon.
  • Sakurako from Ai Kora gets these from time to time. Since the protagonist, Maeda, thinks she has beautiful eyes, he's quick to notice this (and freak out).
  • Sailor Moon: after Rei fights a youma in the finale of the first season and is killed, after all the other inner scouts have died fighting, Usagi's eyes become blank and she shuts down.
    • People's eyes also become blank when their pure hearts are taken in the S season.
    • Around half of Super S, Usagi gets these eyes again when her Dream Mirror is shattered in pieces.
    • This also happens to Usagi when the silver crystal is shattered on reentry at the end of the Sailor Moon R movie but it could be because She's dead. It's about like it is with the before mentioned Dream Mirror.
  • Light Yagami of Death Note has these in episode 1 before finding his "purpose." Also in episode 26 when trying to adjust to a world without L in it.
    • Naomi gets these too once Light tells her he's Kira and she walks off to die.
      • Although, considering how and why she's going to die, they could easily be another look.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Shadi's eyes always look like this.
  • Kaede of Shuffle starts displaying these in the anime at her mother's funeral, when she starts losing her will to live. Much later, the same happens after Rin starts spending more time with Asa.
  • Hunter X Hunter's Gon gets these in chapter's 304 and 305 after finding out that Kaito is dead.
  • Momo Hinamori in Bleach gets them when finding Aizen impaled to the wall with his sword. It lasts until Gin shows up. Her rage turned out to be stoppable, sadly.
    • She gets them like that again much later, when Hitsugaya is tricked into impaling her. By Aizen.
  • Albert in Gankutsuou gets these at times.
    • Franz gets these in episode 9 while musing about his unrequited love for Albert.
  • Revy of Black Lagoon always has either these or the Slasher Smile when in "kill" mode.
  • In both the manga and the anime, Oz of Pandora Hearts has these upon finding out about Alice's death in Cheshire's world. The eyes remain as his BSOD ends in favor of trying to destroy the entire dimension. This, of course, would be very bad for everyone still inside.
  • The Magical girls from Puella Magi Madoka Magica get this after their Soul Gem is taken away from them.
    • Though they're dead at that point, since the name of the Soul Gems is quite literal.
  • In Change 123, this is the distinguishing feature of Zero.
  • Done chillingly with both Asuka and Shinji in Neon Genesis Evangelion during the respective points at which they reach catatonic levels of depression.
  • All three main characters from Berserk have these eyes at one point or another during their angst filled stories, most notably:
    • After Guts assassinates Count Julius and killed his son, which he was not anticipating and was quite disturbed by the aftershock.
      • Guts seems to have these persistently after the Eclipse. Guts has these mainly because his remaining eye is almost always in shrunken iris mode and he is almost always either angry or sad. However, one notable moment gives life back to his eye when he learns that Casca might be cured again, and he gives a genuine smile to match.
    • When Casca almost commits suicide by jumping off a cliff upon realizing her dream of being Griffith's sword and woman were over.
    • Post-tortured and Post Heroic BSOD following Guts leaving him Griffith. All the time.
  • Matt and Sora get this in Digimon Adventure when they're being affected by the Dark Ocean.
  • After Enishi's apparent murder of Kaoru, the titular character of Rurouni Kenshin shows these eyes.
  • Happens a lot in Elfen Lied, especially to Nana. Though it's hard to imagine why.
  • Played for laughs in the Yuru-Yuri anime with Akari getting them after Chinatsu, rather forcefully, kisses her in Episode 5. Complete with teardrop for added effect.
  • In Pokémon Special, White gets these (as well has having them full of tears) after her Tepig abandons her for N and she falls out of the Ferris Wheel out of shock.
  • The title character of Morita-san wa Mukuchi plays with this; sure, she's got the eyes and freaks people out, but she's really just a fairly normal, if quiet, highschool girl.
  • Sion from No. 6 gets these in episode 10 when killing the guard who tried to kill Nezumi.
  • In Wolf Guy Wolfen Crest, poor Aoshika is totally lifeless after being horrifically stripped of her personhood after undergoing hours of continuous gang rape.
  • Mirai Nikki: In episode 11 of the anime when Yuno and Yukki are taken into the police station for questioning her eyes go dull when she decides to try to find a weapon.
    • Yuki has these as he's being held captive by Yuno.
  • Simon suffers an extreme case that lasts for several episodes on end as he falls into a horrific stint of grief. The cause was the death of his beloved blood brother and greatest friend, Kamina.
  • In Samurai Champloo, we watch as this happens to Okuru's eyes in his flashback. He returns to his village to find it destroyed and in flames, and his wife collapses and dies right in front of him. Over the course of a couple of seconds his eyes change from normal to dull. Watch for yourself. Mugen later compares them to the eyes of someone who is already dead.
  • This is the way all eyes are drawn in the Chobits anime, at first seeming to be a stylistic quirk until a major shift occurs: Chi's program gives all the persocoms normal-looking eyes. By contrast, the human characters continue to be drawn in this style. There are multiple ways to interpret what this means.
  • Koharu of Koharu no Hibi does this when the love rival shows up.
  • Sekai and Kotonoha and even Makoto get this once or twice in School Days.
  • When Kirika's eyes get like this, run. It means she's just gone from dangerous to Death Incarnate.
  • Louise of Zero no Tsukaima gets this whenever she's about to cast a powerful spell.


Art

  • A characteristically understated field of modern art is neo-realism and its era/culture-specific splinters, such as the New Objectivity of Weimar Germany. While this trope is obviously not used in every single example of every single school, it is at least somewhat common when depicting and using the human "gaze". Examples include many works by Christian Schad (NSFW warning - some paintings depict nudity and sexual themes) and Meredith Frampton.

Comic Books

  • A rare case of the trope happening in western comics: in The Twilight Zone: The After Hours, a young woman who believes she's being stalked by the department store's mannequins, discovers that she herself is a mannequin. Unable to accept that her entire life and memories as a human were all an illusion, she enters a very brief semi-catatonic state, where her eyes glaze over her tired face.


Video Games

  • Ventus from Kingdom Hearts is shown to be like this during one of the cutscenes.
    • Terra, too, when he is manipulated by Maleficent into stealing Aurora's heart.
    • There's also that time during the first game where Kairi is missing her heart.
    • To sum up: In Kingdom Hearts, Dull Eyes indicate that something is not entirely right with your heart. Still, for some reason the Nobodies lack this, despite having no heart at all.
      • Alternately (to try to explain the Nobodies), Dull Eyes indicate that your memory is screwed up. Kairi's dull eyes were from that absolutely no memories in her body (as her Heart was... elsewhere). Ventus' dull eyes were from a horribly maimed Heart. Terra had his mind presumably wiped by Maleficent The Nobodies' hearts may be in Darkness, but they remember themselves.
  • Yurika Kirishima of Rival Schools has these almost all the time, largely because she's a reluctant Lady of War and her younger brother Kurow's a domineering Psycho for Hire.
  • In Gungnir, most characters' eyes will have some highlight to them depending on the angle, but not so for Julio, the protagonist--in every released piece of art featuring him thus far. As it's also apparently his destiny to cause mass destruction with a horrifically powerful demonic weapon, it's fair to say that something is up with this kid. It doesn't show in his perky, cheerful disposition, but it sure shows on his face.
  • Orson from Fire Emblem the Sacred Stones, after we learn that not only he's a traitor to Renais, but that he been gone off the deep end for a while already..

Visual Novels

  • In Tsukihime, this is what Kohaku's facade looks like every now and then by the end of Hisui's ending; however, rather than appearing sad, it's actually rather creepy.
  • In Melty Blood, Tohno Shiki's eyes completely lose their light and pupils whenever something angers him to a certain extent. For example, in Actress Again, Roa's very presence causes Shiki's eyes to become this way. Rather than unhappiness, this is meant to signify complete erasure of emotion; it's meant to show his will to kill.
  • Souichirou Kuzuki of Fate Stay Night does not have light in his eyes at any point during any route. Nor does he smile, or show any expression at all. He only has an important role in UBW, and his character is explored enough that it's understandable.
    • Also of the Nasuverse, Shiki from Kara no Kyoukai. Although her eyes reflect highlights just fine, they're never drawn with pupils; just dull brown irises. Shiki's personality isn't as simple as 'unhappy', but it's one of the first indicators that she's not quite right.
    • Kotomine Kirei has these all the time as well; both no irises and both no eye reflection. He had them ten years ago back when he was younger, too. It's most likely a reflection of his personality the same way as Shiki's above-- that he's an "empty" person. Kiritsugu's are drawn the same way and probably for a similar reason.
  • Same with Kotonoha from School Days. She gets better but only briefly.
    • Koto has them in the two bad endings involving her (when she's Spurned Into Suicide and when she cuts off Sekai's throat and kills her), but Sekai has those too in the original game. Only once, but it's more than enough: it's during the other bad ending, the one where she stabs Makoto to death.
      • However, in the new Play Station endings where Sekai kills Kotonoha by either pushing her in front of a train or stabbing her off-screen, she does not have these eyes. This implies that while Kotonoha is effectively Yandere in her bad endings, Sekai is sane in hers, except for the Makoto-killing one. And the fandom has reacted accordingly.
      • And none other than Makoto gets them in Cross Days. See them here. For worse, it's during quite the Tear Jerker scene: when you fail to get Yuuki's good ending -- which means, Yuuki leaves Makoto's life completely and despite his own love for Makoto... who then gets these eyes as he crosses the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Happens in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni frequently; Satoko (once shown above) gets these when she is in the hands of her uncle, and Rena when it's her turn to break and when she's under influence the syndrome or remembering her dealings with Oyashiro-sama. It happens to Rika whenever she dies. Or when anyone dies, for that matter.
  • Bernkastel of Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Always. For some reason. Battler gets these during his Heroic BSOD in the anime.
    • Beatrice gets this after Arc 4, where she can't leave the board until someone wins. This persists into the fifth arc when she becomes a hopeless, living doll. Also, Battler, when he gets trapped in a logic error.
  • Komari's bad end in Little Busters! Add to it the creepy music and dialogue, and the brief moment that she shows her "sad face" instead is the silver lining of a very, very dark cloud.


Western Animation

  • Stu in Rugrats has these when he's lost control of his life.
  • Daria. Although the style of the show leaves most characters' eyes simplistic looking, hers seem flatter and more expressionless compared to everyone else's.
  • Lemongrab of Adventure Time. Seeing as how he's perpetually unhappy and has problems relating to people in social situations, it's understandable. (Of course, they'll get bigger and more expressive if you bother him enough...) Interestingly, his eyes are USUALLY like this, even when he's screaming.) He's one of the few examples where completely dull eyes are hilarious, because his facial expressions often don't match his SCREAMING tone of voice.
  • Quilby from Wakfu has one of these after witnessing the 12 royal members of the World of 12 bicker selfishly amongst themselves about the minor details of who will pay for when his people escape from the dimension. How the camera focuses on his eyes at this time heavily suggests he is not pleased.


Real Life

  • The Thousand-Yard Stare on this Chinese waitress has undergone Memetic Mutation.
  • As mentioned above, this has a tendency to show up with depression, but equally so with natural tiredness, so don't read too much into it if you happen to see this trope in public.
    • Also tends to happen with naturally shy people, who have trouble making eye contact, even if they're perfectly fine emotionally.
    • Used extensively against various celebrities to prove they are "Crazy" or "Depressed" or "something happened to them". Despite the fact out of all the things in the all the world to use as evidence for an issue like that, THAT'S one of the most subjective things you could pick. IT is Extremely open to interpretation and day to day impressions. You can't judge a persons entire mental state from one moment of doubt in their eyes.
  • "Blank" or very unexpressive eyes are often an outward symptom of several kinds of autism- a mental disorder whose primary symptoms include difficulty expressing emotions and social interaction. It doesn't mean that an autistic person with a blank expression or "dull" eyes is unhappy- they may be in a pleasant mood, but their mood may not register as a facial expression.
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