Although anime is known for its eye-catching hair colors and styles, one trope consistently grabs the attention of viewers. A character's hair will occasionally start to turn white over time. This typically occurs following extended periods of emotional distress or trauma. The two most well-known characters in this trope are probably Dabi from My Hero Academia and Ken Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul.
Kaneki's hair turned white after ten days of brutal torture at Jason's hands in Tokyo Ghoul, and it continued to shift between black and white throughout the series. Kaneki's humanity was represented by the black, while his ghoulish half was represented by the white. In My Hero Academia, the villainous Dabi's hair gradually turned white as he overused his Quirk while competing for Endeavor's attention in the midst of a traumatic domestic abuse situation. This is known as Marie Antoinette syndrome. Here's what it's all about, and why certain anime characters experience it.
What Exactly Is the Marie Antoinette Syndrome?
A condition known as Marie Antoinette syndrome causes someone's hair to suddenly turn white after experiencing stress and unhappiness. According to legend, the night before Queen Marie Antoinette of France was to be put to death by the guillotine during the French Revolution, her hair began to turn white. In anime, the syndrome frequently appears after characters experience severe stress or trauma.
The concept of Marie Antoinette syndrome may not be too far-fetched, as scientific evidence shows that stress can cause gray hair. Of course, in anime, this process is sped up and dramatized for dramatic effect. After prolonged periods of stress, such as Kaneki's torture session, a character's hair typically turns white. However, there is a milder form of this condition known as the Mallen Streak, which only affects a small portion of a person's hair. This happened to Guts in Berserk after he first donned Berserker armor. The armor took a significant physical and mental toll on his body, leaving him with a white streak of hair.
This process does not usually occur in minutes or overnight, as in anime, but the medium is known for exaggerating certain aspects. The transformation typically represents emotional instability, physical evidence of a psychological wound, and bodily stress caused by overestimation of one's abilities. Anime frequently employs visual symbolism, with Marie Antoinette syndrome being one of the most notable examples. Those who go through this transformation also experience personality changes.
After Suffering Trauma, White Hair Transforms
In anime, a white hair transformation occurs after someone goes through significant physical or emotional stress. The transformation signals a severe mental breakdown in the worst cases. After Kaneki's hair turned white in Tokyo Ghoul, he became ruthless and disregarded the meaning of life. Before his torture, he wouldn't have hurt a fly. Afterward, however, Kaneki became the very kind of bloodthirsty ghoul he hated in his past.
Similarly, Dabi's transition from red to white hair represented the death of a part of him as Endeavor neglected him. The physical toll of overusing his Blueflame as a child and ignoring everyone who told him to stop was most likely a factor in his transformation. There's no denying that it was extremely stressful for Dabi, then known as Toya, to beg his father's attention only to be met with harsh words and screaming. Toya Todoroki's spiritual death was symbolized by the red-to-white transformation, as was the birth of the patchwork villain known as Dabi.
Other characters who went through this transformation included Naruto's Nagato, Hunter x Hunter's Knov, and Kakegurui's Kaede Manyuda. Nagato's hair became white after performing Rinne Tensei because the technique is so taxing on his body. Knov was transformed after the Chimera Ant King's palace was attacked. Yumeko beat Kaede in a gambling game, and his hair turned white. Kaede, unlike the others whose hair turned white, became depressed and lost his will to live.
When an anime character experiences Marie Antoinette syndrome, whatever the outcome, it always signifies a severe psychological breakdown and is a turning point. In some cases, like Dabi's, the hair gradually turns white during prolonged mental and physical distress periods. In other cases, like Kaneki's or Knov's, it happens overnight after they've reached a proverbial "breaking point," forcing their physical appearance and outlook on life to change. Marie Antoinette syndrome proves that sometimes, one bad day is enough to fundamentally change anybody.