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Wide Eyes and Shrunken Irises
As Pooh would say, "Oh, bother."

Calvin: What do you do, wait until you see the whites of my eyes?!
Hobbes: You should've seen them! They were as big as dinner plates!

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 scary. 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.

See also Oh Crap, and Open the Iris for the trope's physical opposite.

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.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
    • It's also used fairy often to show a character is going Ax-Crazy, to the point that most instances of Nightmare Face in the series include this.
  • 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.
      • This notably happens only for the male characters. The female characters (and sometimes Chopper) avert this trope, because even though their eyes widen, their irises (which gain thicker outlines) and pupils stay the same size. In addition, their irises become white (only in the manga. In the anime, their irises gain a lighter shade of their regular eye color) and lose their shine. For example, here's an image of a very angry Nami.
  • 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.
  • 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. And then he, quite understandably, goes berserk. Oh boy, does he.
  • In Death Note, Light does this several times - most noticeably after he realises the titular notebook is for real.
  • Dragon Ball 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 Fullmetal Alchemist.
  • Accelerator of A Certain Magical Index 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.
  • Yuno Gasai has some horrifying examples in the anime version of Mirai Nikki. Bonus points when she's smiling or laughing maniacally.
  • This happens on occasion in Axis Powers Hetalia, such as when Germany sees that the invading aliens have rendered his tanks useless in The Movie.
  • In Digimon Tamers, Guilmon is a childlike, friendly dinosaur Mon. He's also crazy powerful by Rookie-level standardsnote  and when in a battle mindset can be feral and scary even to his friends. The signal that you should stop d'awwing over him and get out of his way in a big hurry is when his pupils suddenly shrink to pinpoints.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • In a Ghost Rider tie-in to World War Hulk, Doctor Strange gets these when the Ghost Rider spirit takes over from Johnny Blaze. Blaze might have defeated the Hulk and saved the Illuminati, but the Ghost Rider decides Hulk is in the right and rides away.
  • This happens in Godzilla Rulers of Earth when Godzilla sees a Destoroyah juvenile kill a man in front of him.

    Fan Fic 

    Film 

    Video Games 
  • In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Link does this whenever he is hurt or surprised.
  • 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 from Touhou 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 from Catherine 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.
  • This happens a lot in the Joe And Mac series. It occurs whenever Joe, Mac, the enemies, and even the bosses receive damage. It's especially funny in Joe & Mac 2 considering that the dinosaur bosses in that game look more realistic compared to the other entries in the series.
  • In the animated short Night of the Werehog, a tie-in to Sonic Unleashed, when Sonic notices the full moon, the camera pans in close to his eyes, and we get a shot of his pupils shrinking in both fright and shock... you know, before the painful transformation into a werehog kicks in.
  • Used to hilarious effect by Ludger in Tales of Xillia 2, after he tests out a mind-reading device on Musee and learns that she's a lot wackier then she lets on; the accompanying dumbfounded facial expression making it all the more priceless. However, it's also used in a serious fashion throughout the game, often as a result of a mortal wound.
  • Male characters in the original Tales of Phantasia on the Super Famicom spot funny popping eyes when they take damage.
  • The "Shocked" expression for characters in Final Fantasy V have notably small eyes with wide open mouths.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • The Gmod Idiot Box episode 9 has Alex react this way when driven over the edge. As he stares motionlessly, one of the widened eyes actually falls out of his head, revealing his normal eyes underneath.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
    • Cleverly done when Azula first hears of the solar eclipse, her eyes stay the same size but her irises suddenly shrink. Other than this, she gives no outward indication of fear.
    • In the sequel comic The Search Azula is still more than a little crazy, which is shown with her eyes constantly being in this state.
  • 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 VeggieTales, 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”.
  • The Legend of Korra: Tahno does this as Amon is taking his bending away.
  • This happens to the Thief in The Thief and the Cobbler when he realizes his hands are about to be chopped off.
  • A rare realistic depiction in Paranorman. Norman gets a vision of the famous witch trial of Blithe Hollow, in the position of the accused. Norman tries to defend himself, until he hears someone behind him, crying. His irises narrowing in shock is a nice touch to The Reveal that the "witch" was a little girl who talked to ghosts.
  • Gary does this when SpongeBob SquarePants tells him he's going to take a bath.
  • Happens to Mickey Mouse in Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers when he is trapped in a dungeon that begins to flood and fully realizes the danger he is in when he sees an inscription high up on the wall reading "You Must Be This Tall to Survive This Dungeon".


What Beautiful EyesEye TropesWindows of the Soul
Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?Fear TropesWorrying for the Wrong Reason
The Many Adventures of Winnie the PoohImageSource/Animated FilmsPooh's Grand Adventure

alternative title(s): Wide Eyes And Tiny Pupils
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