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Cartoon hair colors tend to be a little on the loud side. For instance, it's not uncommon for old people, normally thought of as gray-haired in Real Life, to be purple-haired. Or perhaps for seemingly raven-haired characters to really, upon closer inspection, have blue highlights in their hair. This can also be done for art reasons, as actual black tends to look very poor in animation.
Long-term exposure to these exaggerated hues will eventually make characters' hair look more "normal"-colored than it actually is. After looking at garish hues for a few minutes, your mind's going to fill in a few details and tone things down a bit. The John or Jane Q. Everyviewer might see the blue-haired Mr. Burns after watching an episode of The Simpsons, and yet manage to remember him as gray-haired. Their toned-down, more "realistic" mental image of Burns has gray rather than blue hair.
You can find this phenomenon with all sorts of hair colors that are separate from what we perceive them to be. For instance, lavender-haired characters can also appear to be gray haired. People with bright orange hair can appear blond, redheads can appear to be brunettes, and those with hair in all sorts of odd grayish tones can just look like they have mouse or light brown hair.
This is typically not even realized or noticed by viewers until attention is called to it in some way, such as using the inkdrop tool in a paint program over a graphic from the show in question or having another person point out the character's "true" hair color. Adding to the issue is that many artists, especially those who often work in specialty mediums like black and white, may have multiple ways of coloring the exact same characters.
In a way, it's a form of Weirdness Censor. Alternately, it's similar to the practice of exaggerating motions and forms to make them look right when animated; when trying to exactly mimic realism, it can come across as slightly off and dead. It's not so much the Weirdness Censor acting up as an intentional manipulation of the eye and how it perceives color.
Note that most of these are Truth in Television, since hair, seen in certain lighting conditions, can appear this way. Black hair appearing blue or purple is so commonly noticed that it is developing into its own trope (in no small part due to its prevalence among the Japanese).
If the hair is actually supposed to be a strange color, it's You Gotta Have Blue Hair.
- Akira Touya of Hikaru no Go has green highlights.
- Sailor Pluto's hair is like this in some shots and artworks. Officially, it is black.
- Some fans believe that Jun's hair in Science Ninja Team Gatchaman is a case of this, insisting that it's so black that it only seems to be green. Later artwork, merchandise, and the sequel series have her hair lightened/brightened to be more obviously green.
- Tracey in Pokémon had a full head of black hair in the Orange Island saga, but then it developed a greenish tint in later seasons.
- Fakir in Princess Tutu appears to have black hair, until he's in bright enough light that it has lighter shading and you realize it's been colored green the entire time.
- Lenalee's hair is officially black, but dark green in the anime. The same thing happened with Kanda, who has blue hair in the anime, and possibly Komui, whose hair is purple.
- I'm pretty sure that Leon's hair from Black Cat is supposed to be a stylized black.
- Mobile Suit Gundam Wing is a confusing example, since official sources are inconsistent. For example, some say that Heero's hair is moss green, while others say it's dark brown (which is what it actually looks like).
- Mobile Suit Gundam's Captain Bright's hair is officially black, and is even noted in-show. Cima Garahau from Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory has hair that switches between this and its normal colour.
- Nina Einstein's official hair color is black, though it has a greenish tint in the anime.
- Whether the photophobic (and possibly porphyric) Nekozawa on Ouran High School Host Club has a black or green wig (or even just deep shadow turning his hair green) is at least occasionally disputed amongst fans.
- General consensus is that Gaara is a redhead, but there are some pictures (mostly manga covers) where he appears to have brown hair (like his father and brother).
- In the original manga, his hair was indeed brown. Because the manga pages are in black and white, it's hard to tell what colour anything is supposed to be. The anime made his hair red because they didn't know any better, and it was retconed by the manga to fit.
- Spike Spiegel of Cowboy Bebop fame has dark green hair.
- Annet Myer from El Viento has black hair in the American box art, but green hair in the game.
- Inverted by Jade of Beyond Good and Evil--given that everything else on her is green, and the lighting of the game, it's often claimed that her hair is green. It's actually more or less pure black, but she's frequently depicted with greenish-tinged hair in Fan Art.
- Lisa Nielson in Snatcher, who's described by Metal as having black hair.
- The Sakamoto family and the Doctor in Cave Story look supposedly Japanese, and they have green hair.
- Uraha in AIR (the Visual Novel) is said to have deep black hair in the text, but it is more like a dark grey with a green tinge so slight you might not even be able to tell against green backgrounds (or her green clothes--the "ha" in her name means "leaf", by the way). In other AIR media (like the anime) and a lot of fanart, the green is more noticeable.
- Luigi's sprite in Super Mario Bros, due to technical limitations of the time.
- Frog Raccoon Strawberry's human friend, January O'Kaye, has normal black hair, but it is outlined with minty green.
- Jake from American Dragon Jake Long.
- Shego from Kim Possible.
- Depending on the lighting, Stork either has black hair or very dark green.
Examples of gray hair represented by blue or lavender
- Rei Ayanami's distinctive light blue hair, although she isn't intended to be albino. Possibly chosen to distinguish her from another character with actual white hair.
- Yuki Nagato from Haruhi Suzumiya, whose pale hair usually edges closer to purple in merchandise to avoid comparisons to the above work, has light blue hair.
- Ryoko's hair is supposed to be considered silver, but everybody considers her hair to be cyan/light blue/turquoise.
- Sakata Gintoki from Gintama.
- In the Spiral anime, Eyes Rutherford's hair is white (sometimes with gray or light-blue shades). In color images from the manga, it ranges from white with light blue highlights to sort of lavender-ish to light purple in the most recent pieces. It's officially silver.
- We have Bryan Kuznetsov from Beyblade, whose hair is a light-ish pink/lavender colour in season 1 of the anime, but is shown as grey in season 3. His official colour is still in dispute.
- The title character of To Aru Majutsu no Index is described in the original light novels as having silvery-white hair. Most artwork of her, even in the light novel illustrations but especially in the anime adaptations, however, depicts her hair color as light-blue.
- An episode of Screenwipe had David Quantick, talking about how soul-sapping it is to participate in I Love the Exties shows, recount a time where he was asked to describe Blake Carrington's hair as blue, when, in the picture they had on the monitor, it was clearly just gray.
- Franziska von Karma from Ace Attorney appears to have blue hair, but many fans believe it to be white. Capcom's no help: some of the promo art tinted it green.
- The Viera race from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance have purple or green hair, and it's obvious that they're supposed to have white hair (especially in the art), right? Ritz's albino hair in St. Ivalice seems light lavender, though her friend comments that it's "as white as snow".
- Inverted with Super Macho Man in Punch Out - his hair is supposed to be silver-blonde, but it looks gray. This, combined with his leathery skin, leads people to think he's an old man; he's actually twenty-seven. (His skin is leathery because he tans way too much; the Wii game makes this clearer.)
- Cecil of Final Fantasy IV has white hair in art and all succeeding iterations, but his original map and combat sprite has blue hair.
- Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. The fact that his hair is grey sometimes doesn't help matters.
- In early episodes, Mr. Smithers also has blue hair. And he's black.
- Possibly lampshaded when Homer says that Marge's real hair color is gray but dyes it blue.
- Tom and Jerry Cat.
- Remy from Ratatouille. Rats can have his color of hair, but it is uncommon in the wild. Here is a picture of Remy for comparison.
- Likewise, Georgette from Oliver and Company probably counts as well.
Examples of mousy or light brown hair represented by gray
- Karasuma Kirika from Kamichama Karin.
- In Pokémon Special, Sapphire is supposed to have brown hair, as does her other counterparts. Instead, it looks grey.
- In The Prince of Tennis, Atobe's hair in the anime can only be described as a mix between dark gray, steel blue, and purple. He even has silver hair in the Musicals.
- Miles Edgeworth from Ace Attorney has brown hair in all the artwork, but in-game, it's most definitely grey. A big question amongst the fanbase is "What the hell hair colour does he have?!"
- In Metal Gear Solid, Otacon's hair is often grey in artwork, while in-game, his brown hair seems to get darker as the series progresses.
- Jack from Gunnerkrigg Court is drawn with grey hair, but it took this troper a while (and an image editor) to realise that, because it's a darkish grey that looks like it could just be a particularly muted shade of brown. And until Annie actually said he had grey hair in a recent comic, it wasn't really clear whether his hair really was grey or if it was mousy brown hair (similar to his father's) with some artistic license applied to the colour, like how Annie's hair is red in-universe but shown as rosy pink.
Examples of blonde hair being represented by light brown
- Nuts/Natsu from Yes! Pretty Cure 5.
- Omiya, the Edo counterpart of Miyako (Bubbles), from Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z.
- More than a few fans seem to consider Nunnally, the young Charles, and Odysseus from Code Geass to be blondes, despite having what seems to be really light brown hair. The belief is enough that Odysseus was considered to be a candidate for the Blond Guys Are Evil article (despite not even being all that bad a guy).
- Uno's bios says his hair is either blond or light brown.
- Calvin in Harvest Moon: Animal Parade. His official art clearly shows that he's a golden blonde, but in-game, his model has light brown hair.
- According to the script on the Making Of compilation, Iroquois Pliskin in Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty.
- Bianca in Dragon Quest V has blond hair, but it looks light brown in the SNES game. The DS remake makes her hair look a very bright yellow color instead, which can be a noticeable difference if you are used to the old version.
- Rosalina from Super Mario Galaxy.
- Link in the first two The Legend of Zelda games.
- Heloise in Jimmy Two Shoes looks brown, but she's actually dirty-blonde.
Examples of blond hair represented by reddish shades
- Mello of Death Note.
- The anime seems to use hair color more as symbols than anything else: in particularly dramatic scenes, L and Light inexplicably have vivid blue and red hair, respectively.
- As do the rest of their bodies, what you're seeing is the dramatic lighting effect that's used when the main characters are thinking dramatically. Matsuda does it too, once!
- The anime seems to use hair color more as symbols than anything else: in particularly dramatic scenes, L and Light inexplicably have vivid blue and red hair, respectively.
- Shirley Fenette may be this.
- Matsumoto seems to be this, supposed to be blond but, like Orihime, has the same hair colour as Ichigo in the anime.
- In the original television series, Seras Victoria has hair that could best be described by the crayola crayon "orange-yellow".
- Inverted in the two live-action Tintin films, "The Golden Fleece" and "The Blue Oranges", where red-haired Tintin is played by blond Jean-Pierre Talbot.
- Hurdy from Final Fantasy Tactics a 2.
- Roxas and Ventus in Kingdom Hearts have blond hair in the production artwork and in high-def cutscenes, which turns orange in anything using the game engine.
- Final Fantasy V has Lenna/Reina, a platinum blonde in the official art, a very loud pink in her sprite. Faris is similar, going from the same platinum blonde to bright purple. Justified Trope in that there's a status effect that turns a character's hair white, and all five characters' official arts were either platinum blonde or white.
- Peach in the original Super Mario Bros.
- In The Legend of Zelda a Link To T He Past, Link has pink hair in-game.
- Agatha in Girl Genius.
- Gadget from Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers. Note that this isn't even constant; her hair changes its color from episode to episode. Her Doppelganger Lahwhinie, however, is only shown with orange hair that's supposed to be blond.
- Inverted in Disney's Cinderella. In the film, she has orangey hair, but in all the merchandising, it's yellow.
Examples of blonde hair represented by light green
- Kio Kaidou from Loveless. While usually a true blonde in the anime, the manga (and most fanart) gives him greenish locks.
- Momoko from Ojamajo Doremi almost always has a strange green tint to her hair in merchandise.
- The recurring Pathfinder NPC Shalelu Andosana has been portrayed with pale green hair at least once in official art. Until she was confirmed to canonically be blond (and for some time after, as well), this was the subject of much fan debate.
- Tina/Terra Branford in Final Fantasy VI is officially a blonde, but her sprites depict her with green hair (presumably due to palette limitations).
- Sniper Wolf of Metal Gear Solid.
- All characters named Nina in the Breath of Fire series have blond hair, but the hair of the fifth Nina tends toward a greenish hue, possibly due to underground lighting/living conditions.
Examples of brown hair represented by reddish
- Gaara in Naruto
- Orihime from Bleach supposedly has chestnut-brown hair. In practice, it's so orangey that it looks the same shade as Ichigo's, the odd color of which is a plot point.
- Lina Inverse from Slayers. Though, in the novels, her hair is specifically stated to be chestnut, the anime gives her an auburn shade that, over the course of the series, turns bright red. It's easy to forget that it used to be brown.
- Kallen's mother and late brother.
- In Death Note, Light (and Yotsuba Group member Mido, for that matter) have chestnut-to-red hair, which, judging by the series' colour palette, would translate to Real Life as reddish-black.
- A complication arises with Kurama of Yu Yu Hakusho, who was originally intended to have long black hair which was highlighted pink/red to match his school uniform in some official art. The anime then gave him inhumanly red hair for effect, which then became his official hair color. Opinion is extremely split on whether Shuichi Minamino goes around with long magenta hair, a more human/foxy shade of orange, or a merely reddish-brown believably Japanese color exaggerated for effect. Also about whether the color is Kurama's fault, since he was a grey fox in his first life.
- Kuwabara's hair is generally taken by fans to be this trope, since he's a Japanese human, the abnormal bright orange color of it never comes up, and alongside extreme redheads like Kurama, Jin, and even Mukuro, it looks positively understated. To the extent that people grouping Kuwabara with the redheads get seriously assaulted by Fan Dumb.
- Italy of Axis Powers Hetalia is probably supposed to be a brunet (like most Italians). In old official art, this was quite clear. But once the anime and Art Evolution came along, it became difficult to tell if Italy's brown hair is just strongly saturated by the pretty colors or he's become a fair-skinned redhead. The fact that there are no characters who are officially red-haired, and that the author is very inconsistent with color schemes, doesn't help.
- Post-Crisis Lois Lane of Superman.
- Inverted in Tintin. The eponymous character appears to have brown hair but is actually a red-head.
- When perky blonde Lu Ann receives her makeover during the I Dressed in the Dark storyline of Apartment3G, the stylist compliments her on her new "rich brown curls", yet Lu Ann's hair is inked the exact same color as her canonically redheaded roommate Tommie. The Comics Curmudgeon lampshaded this at one point. Stylists Kat and Kit receive similar treatment, as their (presumably) brown hair is just an orange a few shades lighter than Tommie's.
- Razputin in Psychonauts. Although sometimes rendered in fanart with brown hair, in the game, it's actually a purplish red.
- Other fanart takes this to the opposite extreme and makes his hair an even louder, more exaggerated shade of red or purple.
- The same goes for the character Lili, who has brownish-red hair, but is depicted sometimes in fanart with either darker brown or brighter red, and, in one case, purple (???).
- In Earthbound, some of the NPCs have reddish brown hair.
- Kratos from Tales of Symphonia is often drawn with brown hair in fanart. Like dirt brown. It confused the hell out of me. Still does.
- A character in Fire Emblem: The Sword of Flame refer to Priscilla as auburn-haired. Her official art is slightly excusable, but her game sprite clearly shows her as a redhead.
- Ryu from the Street Fighter fighting games, whose hair is depicted with a lighter shade of brown that almost looks red in Street Fighter and the Alpha series, despite being dark-brown and black in every other game.
- Princess Daisy from the Super Mario Bros games.
- Daisy actually has more orange-toned hair, to the point that it ranged, since her first two appearances, from burnt-orange to bright-orange. Like her first two appearances, it was recently reverted to being so orange as to match the shade on her clothing. It has also been depicted as auburn in a few artworks regardless of the fact it has never been so in-game.
- Regardless of the fact that her hair has been stated by Nintendo as orange, fan-art constantly depicts her with dark brown hair. Although this is strange as even real redheads have burnt-orange hair that ranges in brown tones of light shades.
- In the NES versions of the Double Dragon games, Billy Lee's hair color is colored red in the games, even though its actually depicted as a dark brown or black in the official art. To make matters more confusing, it was actually blond in the original arcade game.
- Sodina from Thousand Arms, who has red hair on the game's cover and one of the discs but brown hair in game.
- Torn from Jak and Daxter has either brown or red hair depending on who you ask. The concept art is clearly brown, but in-game, it's slightly red.
- Misty from Grand Theft Auto III is portrayed in the official artwork as having brown hair, yet her hair is a bright red in-game.
- Questionable Content has several characters with supposedly brown hair of varying shades that appear red or orange. Specifically Faye, Angus, Sven, and Steve. Oddly enough, Sven actually did have brown hair in his first few appearances.
- All too common in Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the late 80's and early 90's.
- Anastasia from the 1997 20th Century Fox film, Anastasia. In reality, she was apparently a strawberry blond.
- Fandom is pretty evenly split over whether Fujiwara no Sai has purple or black hair.
- Misato Katsuragi has purple hair, although it's debatable that it's supposed to be black.
- Faye Valentine is another example of purple-seen-as-black.
- Marg Helgenberger is a natural redhead. Therefore, the writers of CSI consider the character she plays, Catherine Willows, to be a redhead too. However, somewhere between the show's hairdressers, the lighting, and the effects of sunlight on light red hair, she almost always looks blonde. Fair enough: if redhead Marg Helgenberger can turn blonde, so can redhead Catherine Willows. The problem comes in when scripts - which are written with no idea of how red or blonde her hair is going to look on the day of filming - have people who've never laid eyes on Catherine before referring to the very blonde woman as "the redhead".
- Minsc of Baldurs Gate is bald. Because the game engines cannot render baldness (having only one hairstyle of various, limited colors), his in-game model has white hair.
- Inverted with Wolf Link of The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess. He's gray and cream with a green mane and tail, but in fanart, he's often green and cream or green and white.
- It's debated amongst the Sonic the Hedgehog fandom whether Dr. Eggman is a redhead or a brunet. His mustache color is brown in the pre-Sonic Adventure games, more explicitly red in the American cartoons, auburn in Sonic X, and anywhere in between in the comics and every game after Sonic Adventure.
- Yuri Lowell of Tales of Vesperia has black hair to go with his black outfit but it's often depicted as purple.