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"You should've seen your eyes! They were as big as dinner plates!"—Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes
A sign that a character is absolutely terrified is if the eyes are wide open and the irises and pupils are shrunken to minimum, or even absent. Gives the impression that the character is screaming inside, even if they are silent with shock. It comes across as striking and, if done well, can even be Nightmare Fuel or its high octane equivalent. Often a warning sign that the character is about to Freak-Out. May also involve Tears of Fear.
Can also happen if a character is injured. It's a good way of illustrating shock.
Bonus points if the scene cuts away to a Scream Discretion Shot.
It can also happen if a character is very, very angry.
If this only happens to one eye, it is a case of Mad Eyes.
A very minor case of Artistic License Biology: while the pupil inside the iris can indeed shrink during moments of fear, the iris itself does not. Regardless, most artists consider it an Acceptable Break From Reality (see Open the Iris for reasons why).
Not to be confused with Sphere Eyes.
- Most characters on Higurashi no Naku Koro ni do this when they're really scared, but Satoko has a habit of giving particularly haunting moments. One of these is Satoko's reaction to Keichii standing by her best friend's corpse in Tatarigoroshi-hen. Satoko freaks out, believing that Keichii was responsible, and while doing so, gives a picture perfect demonstration of the trope. Her reaction upon getting out of the river and returning to her school and finding her friends dead elicits this reaction from her as well, and it is also the expression her classmates are wearing. Gives a truly ghoulish impression. Keichii does it a few times as well.
- Happens on a regular basis in the Bleach anime, usually when one character is impressed by another character's power/abilities.
- And Arisawa does this in chapter 410 when Aizen states he intends to kill her and draws his blade.
- Inverted by Maka and sometimes Black*star in Soul Eater; their pupils are invisible unless they're particularly shocked or angry. Everyone else in the series plays this straight.
- Most Code Geass characters do this, resulting in some pretty disturbing faces.
- Occurs often in One Piece- in Oda's art style, the shrunken irises are often split into two half-circles with a tiny dot in between for the pupil.
- Most others get a mix between anger and fear, but Luffy's is almost always rage when this happens.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion has some moments with this trope, especially when Shinji freaks out in End of Evangelion, upon seeing Asuka's dismembered Eva Unit . Epic Freak-Out ensues.
- And again shortly after, upon seeing the Giant Naked Rei/Lilith.
- Simon in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has this kind of eyes by default in the first half of the series, being a sign of his cowardice in the very first episodes.
- Tista's eyes do this whenever she has a Flash Back.
- Shaman King characters tend to do this, along with sporting white-colored irises for that instant.
- The OEL Manga My Cat Loki features this whenever the titular cat Loki is scared.
- Part of an Oh Crap moment for the villain of Domu by Katsuhiro Otomo. Reaches epic levels insofar as it is a silent panel the size of an entire two-page spread.
- Naruto. Since most of Kakashi's face is permanently hidden (usually just the one eye is left clear), this is what allows us to notice he's having an Oh Crap moment.
- Naruto himself gets a noteworthy set of these when Hinata gives him her Anguished Declaration of Love just before almost getting killed by Pain. Notable in that they are not momentary; he is so shocked, he has them for the ENTIRE SCENE.
- In Death Note, Light does this several times - most noticeably after he realises the titular notebook is for real.
- Also, Light gets them when he's starting to go insane.
- Mello also does this all the time.
- Dragonball Z already has most characters displaying proportionately small irises/pupils, but when they're frightened or under stress, their pupils shrink to pinpricks &/or go white.
- As a side note, Super Saiyans lack pupils, arguably, this makes them really scary
- In the third season of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, we have Quattro(see the image for Oh Crap), who has very good reason to be terrified.
- Edward Elric does this a lot in the first and second Fullmetal Alchemist anime.
- Accelerator does this quite a lot (because of his insanity) but the most prominent is when Amai Ao is about to shoot him in the head and he knows he won't be able to deflect it.
- Most Fairy Tail characters inverts this for their pupils are usually invisible unless shocked or angry.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, it happens to Relena when Heero raises his gun to her at the end of Episode 2. Of course, she's saved from his Ineffectual Death Threats by a Duo Ex Machina.
- Saionji does this in Revolutionary Girl Utena during a duel, not to indicate fear or shock, but focus on defeating his opponent. The quick shift makes him appear deranged and potentially murderous.
- Qwackerjack in the Darkwing Duck comic, after the Crimebots mention Negaduck.
- Shadowcat busts this expression out for a full four panels in X-Men Forever after Wolverine, who is supposed to be dead, ends up impaling her with his bone claws from the back.
- It occurs in The Three Amigos! during the duel between Ned Nederlander and that German guy.
- Psycho: Marion Crane's eyes do this, though in a You Fail Biology Forever moment.
- This happens to Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, in the only scene I can think of where you really get a good look at both her eyes ("Oh my God, it's DIIIIIIP!").
- And, indeed, her face looks more childlike (symbolizing her fundamental fear of Dip), and loses its more mature look, much like how many other toons have done when faced with an instinctual fear.
- Flik does this in A Bugs Life when he figures out his 'warriors' are really just circus performers. Thumper does this too in his Oh Crap moment when Dim roars at him.
- Scar in The Lion King does this shortly before he is eaten by hyenas.
- Simba did it, too...just before a stampede rains down on him.
- Happened in the American version of The Ring with a very good close up of Rachel's eyes when viewing the cursed tape for the first time.
- The Princess and the Frog: Facilier during the reprise of "Are You Ready?"
- In The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, when Midna discovers the Mirror of Twilight has been broken, her eyes do this.
- Thane's eyes in Mass Effect end up looking a bit like this while he's having a flashback - it likely just has that effect due to the fact that his flashbacks are the only times his irises are easy to make out.
- In Street Fighter IV, activating a Super Combo or Ultra Combo will make the screen darken and the action slow down. This is not terribly different from conventional 2D Fighting Games using 2D graphics, which usually darken and go slow-motion/pause for super moves as well. A nice touch that is different in this game (which uses 3D graphics) is that you often get to see the other fighter’s eyes slowly do this as they get that gut feeling that their opponent is about to open a biiiiig can of whoop-ass....
- Kaguya does this at 02:15, but it's not out of fear.
- Epic Mickey: Splatter the Shadow Blot with paint. No seriously, do it, it's priceless.
- Vincent pulls off a spectacular example for one of the promo arts of the game.
- World of Warcraft Cataclysm: Deathwing gives an absolutely beautiful example when he sees Thrall holding the Dragon Soul. Deathwing created the Dragon Soul, he knows perfectly well just how much damage it can do. It's probably the first time he showed anything besides rage in the game.
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, the main character does just this when he is very, very angry. Lampshaded in the Alt Text.
- The expression The Order of the Stick characters make when they're scared sort of evokes this. Including for Xykon himself: the skeleton with Glowing Eyelights of Un-Death suddenly gains Expressive Orbits.
- In Blip, Hester's irises are normally the size of saucers, so seeing them shrink to pinpricks really sells that she's in a state of shock.
- Souls in Jack have teeny irises, if they are unjudged or hellbound. Once they are judged ready for heaven, or if the hellbound seek redemption, the characters' irises get even bigger and more expressive than when they were alive.
- Corpses' eyes look like this as well.
- In The Other Grey Meat Pretty much every other strip.
- Homestuck gives us some of the best reaction shots ever, courtesy of a few trolls.
- Happens in Questionable Content, with lampshading by the author at least once.
- Black Mage does this a few times in Eight Bit Theater, though given the fact that his eyes glow like two little lights under his hat, its hard to really say if he's a true example, even if his eyes do visibly shrink.
- In Last Res0rt, while still used as an expression of shock, these eyes along with a slightly agape mouth are the telltale sign that someone's under the Compelling Voice of a Celeste.
- Frequently used in Everyday Heroes; for example, here when Mr. Mighty is scaring off the homeless guy who came to rob a convenience store.
- Strays here
- Mark, of Freak Angels, exhibits classic tiny, tiny irises as he goes into his furious, terrified rant in Episode 0134.
- Gunnerkrigg Court had Kat eyes doing this when she was told about certain Power Tattoo. Repeated in a later scene that ends in a triple Beat Panel and deserves it.
- Annie gets her turn on the last page of chapter 36.
- In Larry: The Little Knight, Pup the wardog does this when Kickit feeds him alcohol and then bursts at over 60 miles an hour with Larry onboard.
- Kim Possible does this when her boyfriend reveals he's actually an evil synthodrone created by Dr, Drakken and tasers her in So the Drama.
- Happens to Jet in Avatar: The Last Airbender when his Manchurian Agent brainwashing is triggered.
- Teen Titans' Beast Boy when he transforms into The Beast.
- The characters of Total Drama Island tend to do this during Oh Crap moments, the most prominent examples being Tyler and Noah due to their very visible brown irises becoming black circles when horrified.
- Used a lot in Veggie Tales, especially during the Oh Crap moments.
- Likewise, Jimmy Two-Shoes uses this in similar situations.
- Used in Recess during a few Oh Crap moments, mostly in the earlier episodes
- Frequently seen as part of the heavy eye animation of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. Sometimes combined with Open the Iris to express sinking terror.
- One of Chuck Jones' trade mark gags in his Looney Tunes shorts, some notable examples are in "Rabbit's Feat" before Wile Coyote gets hit by the train and Marc Anthony the bulldog when he fears for Pussyfoot's safety in "Feed The Kitty".