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Exactly What It Says on the Tin: A character's ears are used to express his or her emotions.
Unlike its cousin tropes, Expressive Hair and Expressive Mask, this trope actually leans toward being realistic because this is one way many animals in Real Life communicate their feelings. This obviously doesn't apply to human ears, though, so it's guaranteed all of the characters who use this trope are Not Quite Human. In many animated series, characters that have ears on top of their heads will often sport hats or helmets that allow them to stick through. This trope is probably part of the reason why.
Anime and Manga
- Many Pokémon, including Pikachu and Meowth
- Elves and other long-eared folk, or even folk with anything approximating long ears, in anime often have expressive ears. It's rare for a long-eared character not to have Expressive Ears.
- Expressive ears were found on Deedlit in Record of Lodoss War. Being the first of those foot-long eared elf varieties helped.
- In Utawarerumono, the people have expressive tails as well as expressive ears.
- Holo from Spice and Wolf, whose ears twitch when she hears something interesting and sag when she is feeling sad.
- Very weirdly, there's an episode of Tasogare Otome x Amnesia in which one girl is put into a Catgirl Maid costume, and at one point, her ears are shown to fold down in response to her feeling sad.
- In Blacksad characters ears will go back when they are threatened (or are being threatening), they'll droop when they are sad, and perk up when excited. The creators know their animal mannerisms.
- Kill Wolfhead in The Incal series.
- Na'vi in Avatar are another example.
- In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and Godzilla: Final Wars, King Seesar's ears would perk up whenever he was excited or surprised.
- The Empire Strikes Back: When Luke manages to lift the X-Wing fighter partly out of the swamp, Yoda's ears rise slightly in awe. When Luke fails to lift it all the way out, Yoda's ears droop down.
- Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon.
- Sloth from The Goonies.
- Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.
- Ogier in The Wheel of Time.
- Bibwit Harte from The Looking Glass Wars.
- The Huanni in the Star Trek Novel Verse.
- Eo from Argo has unusually expressive ears for an android.
- Seen on the titular character in Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama picture books
- Oddly, in the Drake Majstral books by Walter Jon Williams, humans have developed these -- presumably through some kind of genetic modification while they were dominated by the alien Khosali, who wanted their subjects to share at least some of their body language. (As imperialist conquerors go, the Khosali were surprisingly easy-going, even egalitarian.)
Live Action TV
- Star Trek parodies and spoofs often give this attribute to Spock: This advert for lager, for example.
- Star Trek: Enterprise has the antenna like ears of the Andorians that seem to do this.
- Garfield will sometimes lay his ears back when he's angry, when he's frightened, or when he's groggy in the morning and hasn't had his coffee yet.
- Similarly, in Peanuts, Snoopy's ears rise when he is startled or receives good news. In one strip from the 1950s, Schroeder was listening to music on the radio, and Snoopy made a square with his ears.
- Dogbert from Dilbert has ears that fly up sometimes. He's used the "cuteness" factor to manipulate people.
- And sometimes he is "being sarcastic with his ears".
Table Top Games
- The Traveller Adventure: Vargr [bipedal wolf] characters were shown as having Expressive Ears, including flattening the ears against the skull when afraid.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, a number of monster races have this, depending on how much focus the writer puts on them other than "Kill them and take their stuff." Goblinoids are a common example.
- Blood Elfs in World of Warcraft do this with the emote system: if they're sad or scared, their ears will droop, and when they cast spells in general, their ears wiggle along with the casting animation.
- Laharl and Etna's ears from Disgaea change with their mood.
- Ratchet and Clank likes to make use of this trope. The first game in particular features a lot of ear movement, as Ratchet is essentially the Lombax equivalent of a moody teenager; later games tone it down, though his ears will still droop if he's low on health or otherwise in a particularly negative mood.
- Absolutely any Furry Comic has this. The author of Gene Catlow even admited that he liked to draw furries because it's easier to draw their expressions when using things like tails and ears.
- The angels in Misfile, particularly Rumisiel.
- Frequent for any long-eared characters appearing in Awkward Zombie.
- Lackadaisy Cats is a webcomic where the creator received several awards based off the expressions of her anthropomorphic cats.
- In Drowtales the elven races have expressive ears, as seen in the first and third panel.
- Corner Alley 13 demonstrates this regarding elves.
- In the Mega Crossover fancomic Roommates: Misto (he IS an anthropomorphic cat) and Jareth (It's not clear yet if this is a family trait or not in his case).
- Many characters in Precocious, but of the main characters Autumn's "mood ears" are the most versatile.
- In Concession, Clive's ears hang down, while his alternate personality Ernest's ears stick up.
- Eerie Cuties has this done by Kade Whiteclaw, on account of being a werecat. When he's enthusiastic (which happens often), the ears pop up, starting from his first appearance. The local ocelot-girl Tabitha doesn't seem to emote with ears, except leaning them forward when she focuses attention - but then again, she's constantly excited about something.
- Schlock Mercenary got Fobott'r, represented by Corporal Andy Thnempha. Whose ears definitely can droop.
- With the change in animation software between V3 and V4, Blake from RWBY -- who'd always had cat ears -- acquired new expressibility with them, which the production crew called "Ear Acting".
- Stitch from Lilo and Stitch.
- Disney uses that trope a lot, especially for rabbits (Bambi) and elephants (Dumbo, Tarzan).
- The Beast has these in Beauty and the Beast.
- Orko from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe has been shown to have his ears droop down when sad.
- Toothless in the film of How to Train Your Dragon has ear-like projections that serve the same function.
- The ponies of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic have these. And it's based on the body language of real horses.
- Next to his eyes, Gromit's ears are his most expressive feature. It's also seen on some of the characters in the Aardman productions Shaun the Sheep and Timmy Time.
- Human example: Dopey from Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs.
- All the animals in Bambi, Bambi and Thumper in particular.
- Roger Rabbit's ears are all over the place.
- Pluto has expressive ears. Goofy, however, seems to have lost that ability.
- Rabbit on Franklin will generally droop his ears when he's sad about something. Snail also these little ear-stalks that will droop when he's sad.
- Roo on Winnie the Pooh does it when he's sad. I'm not sure if Rabbit does it, but I've definitely seen it with Roo.
- Used with Rabbit and possibly Mouse as well on My Friend Rabbit.
- Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Slaver Weapon". The Kzinti (cat-like humanoid aliens) lay their ears back when angry.
- Fievel in An American Tail, who's ears go down when he's sad and up when he's alert. There's also a couple of scenes in which he shifts them around to try to listen for his father's violin. They're forced down whenever he wears his iconic hat though.
- Horton in Horton Hears a Who!.
- The Nutbrown Hares on Guess How Much I Love You: The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare both express emotions through their ears, though it's generally much more noticeable with Little Nutbrown Hare, whose moods, as a youngster, shift much more frequently. Some of the other characters can do it, too.
- Sometimes seen with Buster on Arthur. Lampshaded in the teaser of "Arthur's New Glasses" in which his ears are in a continuously droopy state and Muffy thinks that he's sad, but he keeps insisting there's nothing wrong.
- Skip the rabbit on Wild Animal Baby Explorers has ears that he can droop and move about. It's sort of Lampshaded when the characters are observing real horses and he notes that they can move their ears, just like he can.
- Ear movements and positioning can be key in reading the body language of dogs, rabbits, horses and cats. Possibly other animals as well.
- Apparently Japanese inventors have managed to replicate these in real life. Good grief...