Kimi ni Todoke (“From Me to You”) is a manga (Japanese comic) series that ran from 2005-2017. The first third of the manga was adapted into a two-season, 38-episode anime (Japanese animation) series that aired from 2009 to 2011. Today’s post will focus on one scene from the anime series wherein the series’ protagonist, Sawako Kuronuma, expresses her interest in changing her hairstyle for reasons that she herself did not yet entirely understand. The ensuing conversation that she has with her friends provides important clues on whether we should view characters in Kimi ni Todoke who have non-black hair as actually having non-black hair or as being portrayed as such for artistic purposes. This inquiry is part of my series on anime hairstyles and hair colors.
Do note that this post contains no meaningful spoilers about Kimi ni Todoke.
Jan. 5, 2023 Update: I wrote a short follow-up on the Kimi ni Todoke anime series after noticing that more people have been visiting this hair color analysis piece after Netflix added the classic shoujo romance to its anime line-up. Jan. 9, 2023 Update: The images in the original article we sub-par. I used Upscayl on the images to improve the quality, but the images you see are just higher quality versions of the originals with no other changes.
Introduction to Anime Hair Color Series
I have written several posts about hair styles and hair color in Japanese animation and manga.
One with passing familiarity with anime will be aware that characters in anime often have outlandish hair colors. My series was prompted by my coming across a poll wherein anime viewers were asked whether they understand characters who are portrayed with unnatural hair colors as actually having those hair colors (whether naturally or through hair dye) or whether they accept that the characters are depicted with strange hair colors for artistic purposes.
My first two articles on the subject dealt with the portrayal of characters in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (also known as Oregairu). The first article dealt with a Japanese character who the lite novels expressly stated had naturally brown hair. My second article dealt with a Japanese character who was described as having black hair in the novel but was portrayed with brown hair in the anime.
Conclusion: Sometimes the rules for understanding hair color are not constant within a series.
How should we understand hair color in Kimi ni Todoke? Before we answer that question, I will offer a brief introduction to the series.
A Very Brief Introduction Sawako Kurunoma and Kimi ni Todoke
Kimi ni Todoke, like My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, is an anime set in a high school. Similarly to the subject of my first two hair color pieces, the series aims for realism and contains no superheroes or super powers.
The protagonist of the series is Sawako Kurunoma, a shy, socially awkward young lady who begins the series wanting friends but having no idea how to interact with people (her classmates think she is weird and unfriendly).
There is a contemporary tendency to resort to “autism” (of the high-functioning variety) to describe socially awkward characters in fiction (and often, in reality) owing to the diagnosis having become trendy in recent years. It is not correct in the vast majority of cases, but there are exceptions to every rule. Count me as concurring with Pixy Mesa of Ambient Irony in the following conclusion: “If you check the Wikipedia page and search for Asperger’s you won’t find it, but heroine Sawako Kuronuma is an absolute textbook case. It’s quite a good study of it, in fact.”
The series is generally positive and uplifting. Sawako’s classmates grow to like her as they get to know her, without her having to change who she is. She gains close friends, falls in love, and all the while causes herself a great deal of angst through her lack of self-confidence and tendency to be blind to context as she tries to intellectually discern the true meaning behind every social interaction. The second season leans too far into using misunderstandings to manufacture drama, but the series is, on the whole, a strong piece of work.
This brief introduction to Sawako will be instructive to understanding the hair style anecdote that I will recount.
Hair Color in Kimi ni Todoke
Kimi ni Todoke has a real-world setting in Japan. That, in and of itself, does not mean that all of the characters have natural hair colors. Many of the characters in the show, including Sawako and her love interest, have black hair. However, some of the characters (mostly, but not exclusively, girls), including Sawako’s two best friends, have brown, reddish brown, or blonde hair.
The characters are easy to tell apart even without different hair colors.
With one possible exception in the second season, all of the characters in the series are Japanese and none are expressly noted to have a non-Japanese parent. While it is possible for a Japanese person to have non-black hair (see the case of Iroha Isshiki in Oregairu), it is distinctly uncommon. Thus, we are left with a question. Do we interpret the characters in Kimi ni Todoke who have non-black hair as actually having those hair colors? If so, does the series intend to portray their hair as being natural or dyed? In the alternative, are the characters depicted with non-black hair shown in that way for artistic purposes?
To help answer that question, let us consider an anecdote from episode 9 of the first season (New Friends).
Sawako Considers Changing Her Hair Style
(Note: The characters are depicted in chibi form in all of the screenshots in this section (all taken from episode 9 of season 1 of Kimi ni Todoke on Crunchyroll. Sawako’s actual appearance is seen in the first screenshot in this article.)
Sawako asks her two best friends, Ayane Yano and Chizuru Yoshida, if they think she would look good with a perm. Hair makes the 2D girl, after all.
They do not.
Ayane asks Sawako why she styles her hair long and straight. According to Sawako, she thinks that it is feminine.
Of course, her hair style, combined were her oft-blank expression, had earned her the nickname “Sadako” – after a character from a horror series.
But this article is not about Sawako’s personal circumstances. It is about hair color in Kimi ni Todoke. Below, I will reprint the key dialogue as it was translated on the version of the episode available on Crunchyroll:
Ayane: Then how about you keep the length, but lighten the color?
Chizuru: Oh, right on! Brown hair, brown hair!
Sawako: With brown hair…
Note that Ayane has reddish brown hair and Chizuru has brown hair.
Sawako begins thinking about the girl whose hair had inspired her sudden question. That girl has light brown hair. However, Ayane and Chizuru start picturing Sawako with brown hair and different hair styles. None work for them. Sawako appears to see their visions of different potential hair styles and yet grows disheartened. Ayane and Chizuru assure Sawako that her current hair style is not only good, but that she should keep it for the rest of her life. Sawako decides to not change her hair. While she gives up on her short-lived dream, the decision is in line with one of the overall themes of the series.
The hair conversation continues a bit, but we will leave the conversation to focus on the main subject of our inquiry.
Sawako’s Hair Style Understanding Hair Color in Kimi ni Todoke
Sawako’s hair color conversation sheds some light on how we should understand hair color in Kimi ni Todoke, although it does not provide a decisive answer to every question.
Ayane’s suggestion that Sawako lighten her hair, and Chizuru’s suggestion that she color it brown, shows a recognition of hair dye in Kimi ni Todoke. Sawako is understood to have naturally black hair. In light of the fact that Ayane and Chizuru, who both have non-black hair, suggested (jokingly) that Sawako consider dying her hair brown, we may conclude that it is likely that both Chizuru and Ayane dye their hair.
All three of the most prominent female characters in Kimi ni Todoke – Chizuru, Ayane, and the girl who inspired Sawako’s sudden question – have brown hair. Yet Sawako, her main love interest, and a third male character who plays a featured role in some parts of the series, have black hair. The split between boys and girls is not complete, however. Several male characters who play lesser roles have brown or reddish-brown hair, including the class’s annoying teacher. However, most of the adults who are depicted have black hair (although there are exceptions, including the teacher). There is one male student in the second season who has blonde hair, but he is implied (albeit it is never expressly stated) to be at least part non-Japanese.
The Main Take-Away for Hair Color in Kimi ni Todoke
Based on the evidence in episode 9, I think that the hair color depicted in Kimi ni Todoke can generally be taken literally. It is clear from Ayane’s suggestion that the school attended by the main class does not prohibit hair coloring as part of its dress code. The recognition of hair dye suggests that many characters who are portrayed as having non-black hair are dying their hair (note: some characters with very dark brown hair may be understood as having retained their natural hair color as well). To be sure, this may not be a universal rule. The anime team may have simply given some characters brown hair to diversify the appearance of the cast. However, in light of the fact that the minor characters tend to have similar hair colors to the main characters, there is little to suggest that the animation team thought hair color was necessary to distinguish the main cast.
Unlike Oregairu, all of the characters in Kimi ni Todoke have hair colors that, for lack of a better term, exist in nature. In my second article on hair color in Oregairu, I noted that some of the characters had silver hair or blueish hair, including at least two characters who would have been very unlikely to have dyed their hair based on their characterization. Thus, while Oregairu recognized the distinction between natural hair color and dyed hair and made a point of highlighting when one Japanese character had naturally brown hair, the hair colors in Kimi ni Todoke appear to be even more likely intended to depict the actual hair colors of the characters.
Watching Kimi ni Todoke
For those who are interested, the entire Kimi ni Todoke anime series is available on Crunchyroll (as of August 19, 2021).