Lately, I’ve been reading Patti Bellantoni’s “If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling”, because I love learning about color. I promise that my obsession with purple it’s not related to that catchy title, although I have to admit that it’s a color that always seems to find me.

While reading this book (which use live-action films as examples), I got the idea to kickstart what I hope can be a series of “spotting” the use of color in the shows I’m watching. This is mostly because I find interesting how anime and cartoons can get away with portraying things in more exaggerated, artificial ways, meaning that artists can take certain liberties that live-action filmakers might not. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’s use of color it’s a very interesting example.

We often perceive most of this instinctively, even if we aren’t always able to explain why. With this series of short posts I hope I can help others (and me!) understand the language of colors a little better. Hopefully, I can come back to this one day a compile everything into a nice video. So, let’s do this!

Purple it’s often used in female characters, especially when it comes in lighter tones like lavender. Because of how rarely we find it in nature, purple can be associated with nobility and wealth. Look no further than Daphne from Scooby Doo or Benten from The Eccentric Family for purple that sells its characters as beautiful, refined ladies. For Benten-sama, as she’s called by most of the Eccentric Family cast, purple it’s certainly fitting. The light shades of her hair not only refers to her beauty and her status, it also contributes to her menacing, mysterious aura. Purple, you see, it’s a color used to foreshadow death as well, thanks to (as I mentioned before) how rarely we see it in the natural world.

It doesn’t always have to be literal, though. Sometimes, it can be a little more complex, like the death of a rivalry, or your old self. However, we can always find cases like Sucy Manbavaran from Little Witch Academia, who puts emphasis on “other worldly”. Hers is a purple of mystery and the paranormal. Pretty straightforward.

More paranormal purple in character design on My Hero Academia

It’s clear that color can play a big part in characterization, but how about scenes?

A couple of weeks ago, My Hero Academia wrapped up one of its darkest arcs yet. Wether or not you are following this show (you definitely should), you probably don’t need any color to tell you that “Stain: The Hero Killer” it’s not fooling around when he claims that he’s out there to murder the unworthy. But colors are there anyway, and when they don’t reveal new information, they support it.

Although Stain has many memorable moments, there is one that caught my attention not only for the dialogue, but for its use of purple as well. Take a look at this picture and see if you can see why.

Have you noticed? Purple and red dominate the scene. For some, it might look like a simple sunset, and perhaps I’m terribly wrong and that’s all there is to it. But I believe that in good storytelling, color choice is rarely a coincidence. And what are the colors telling us here?… I have one possible interpretation.

Here we have Stain, contemplating Hosu city before he commits his next murder. There are some green highlights on the buildings. One possible reading of green is evil (Maleficent, anyone?), but I’m not going to focus on that. Red can simply mean anger, blood or danger. With various shades of purple surrounding it, this is where it embodies the phrase “if it’s purple, someone’s going to die” perfectly. And the way this color combination plays out it’s pretty interesting.

If you look at the first image below, you’ll see that red it’s far more subtle than purple. This is when Stain starts to talk about his motivations, his desire to “purge” a society that has lost sight of what it means to be a hero. As his speech gets more and more vicious, red consumes the background. When he says “Until this world realizes his mistake, I will continue to appear”, for a moment, purple is barely visible. Red it’s there, screaming “danger!” right in our faces.

But here’s the thing. After being intercepted by Iida, Deku and Todoroki, Stain plans are frustrated. He doesn’t actually kill anyone. Did purple deceived us? … Well, depending on how you look at it. Purple can be the color of change too. After all, the complete version of Bellatoni’s phrase is “If it’s purple someone (or something) is going to die (or change)”.

The trio’s fight against Stain leads to his capture, stopping his purge. But thanks to media coverage and internet, Stain’s philosophy spreads. With his conviction and charisma, he has a big impact on the scattered villains (courtesy of number one hero All Might), which inspires them to seek The Villain Alliance, believing it’s connected to him.

Judging the reaction of other characters, we can already tell that Stain’s influence plays a fundamental roll in what will ultimately unify villains under a single power (presumedly the power of the main antagonist, Shigaraki). This definitely changes the game, which was foreshadowed by the use of purple before Stain’s last attack.

Bonus

There is another instance where we see the red and purple combination: the scene when Stain goes all out, paralyzing everyone with his aura. The red here it’s pretty straightforward(anger! blood! danger!) and the purple… well, see for yourself.

Here, Stain seems to be presence out of this world. He looks like the one of the death who have risen to torment unsuspecting people on a Halloween movie. Hell, he looks like death itself coming after you. So when he challenges the other heroes with a “Try and get me, you fakes!” it’s truly disturbing. All of this is emphasized by the ominous, other worldly purple.

To summarize

Purple in character design: Beautiful, refined, wealthy, mysterious, paranormal, other worldly.

Purple in scenes: Foreshadows death (therefore, it might be a bad omen or signal danger), change. It can show something unnatural or paranormal as well.

Purple it’s very complex, and the meanings I covered today are far from being all the possible readings for this color. But enough of my analysis already. How about you? In what other characters and/or scenes have you noticed the use of purple? Have you ever notice any of this possible meanings? Do you disagree with the readings I showed you here?

Until next time.


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