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Editorial Synaesthesia

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Since most media is experienced exclusively through vision and sound, anything that a fictional character perceives by other means (such as smell) cannot be conveyed directly; when it's important for the audience to sense it, the artist must find a way to visually portray whatever it is the character is sensing (especially true of the Smelly Skunk and Technicolor Toxin).

This is especially common in printed media such as comics, which (unlike television and video games) must rely on their visuals exclusively.

Sub Tropes include:

Named after Synaesthesia/Synesthesia, a phenomenon where sensory areas in a person's brain overlap/interconnect, so they may see sound, taste letters and so on (see the book The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard Cytowic).

See also Rule of Perception.


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  • In the "Dancer" commercial for Kellogg's Pop-Tarts, the pastries in the toaster give off a visible vapor. Ten percent of the vapor is strawberries, representing the ten percent fruit in the filling.
  • That's why Perfume Commercials look so weird most times. As the sole feature of the product, its smell, can't be reproduced in most media, the producers of those ads have the need to portray the smell in visual and metaphorical ways.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Many cooking themed manga and anime such as Food Wars! use over the top visuals to help viewers imagine the tastes of the food and also to make the shows more visually exiting.
  • Localized removal of Life Energy in Ayakashi Triangle causes complete loss of feeling in the affected area, which made one victim briefly think their arm disappeared. This is visualized by showing their body missing huge pieces; naked if clothing it would obscure things.
  • One arc in Mononoke depicted smell with colors, whereas almost everything else was Deliberately Monochrome.
  • In Saint Seiya, the background switches to a wireframe and a background color scheme themed to the character firing up his aura. Hyoga for instance gets a white/blue-ish background when using his cold-based powers, and as he senses the presence of a fellow cold powers user, to give the audience the visual cue that he is somewhat familiar with it, the background changes to this. Also counts in some ways as Aura Vision, but it's mainly there to give the audience an insight on the surnatural perceptions that the Saints possess.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Rose is Rose, garlic breath is represented by skulls surrounding the person with it, while flowers, rainbows, and smiling suns represents peppermint breath.
  • In Footrot Flats, when Jess is in heat she exudes little hearts.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Disney's Fantasia, every scene is a representation of the images that the music invokes in the artists' minds. The segment that is the purest example of Editorial Synaesthesia is the one of "The Soundtrack", as abstract forms flowing into each other. Other segments are full stories that the music evoked for the artists.
  • Ratatouille:
    • There are scenes where taste is represented by abstract shapes dancing to jazz.
    • Anton's little "memory" of his childhood when he eats ratatouille counts as well. It doesn't display the taste itself, but it certainly shows the feeling the taste evoked.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the film version of Anonymous Rex scents carried by particular dinosaurs are often displayed by the main character talking about the scent as well as vivid visual depictions of the scent items. For example, one dinosaur smells of peaches and cream and, as the main character talks about it, images of brightly lit peach slices falling into cream appear on the screen.


    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI: Bloodhound-O-Vision - the visible world was shown in black and white smells were colourful spots on it. In reality, dogs don't see in black and white but compared to us have a reduced number of colours they can see, with colour vision equivalent to red-green colour blindness in humans (deuteranopia).

    Video Games 
  • If a video game will allow you to drink outside of a cut scene, it will often portray drunkenness by either continuously skewing your view, or by changing the configuration of your movement slightly, so by going forwards normally you end up tilting your character slightly to the left or right. See also Interface Screw.
    • Mass Effect 2 does this.
    • Played with brilliant simplicity in the old, slightly crazy 2D platformer Mission Elevator, which offered many ways to "spend money" (lose points from your score!) in between running around shooting baddies (or flipping light switches, letting off fire extinguishers, bothering nuns...). Besides prostitutes (!) and dice tables, you could buy drinks from the many bars littering the spy-ridden hotel's floors. Cheap milk or soda did nothing. One beer, also. Subsequent beers completely reversed your controls for a short while. A double whiskey did you for much of the rest of the level. Given how you knew it would happen, the game-pause offered by the drink-buying process, and the easy way of working around the problem in the late 80s by simply turning your joystick 180 degrees, the semi-random point at which you sobered up some time later was FAR more troublesome than the initial reverse, typically ending with your pixelly avatar suddenly getting bored of ducking bullets and leaping right into them instead. That's some bad whiskey right there.
  • In BioShock 2, the Little Sisters can detect bodies with ADAM from a long distance, and it's shown as a trail of white mist. The corpse also glows white.
  • In Far Cry Instincts smell is shown as a coloured aura and trail.
  • In Discworld Noir, while playing as a werewolf you can indeed see scents as patches of coloured mist. They can be 'collected' like items and you have to match the patterns to ones you've encountered before to track where characters have been.
  • The xenomorph from Alien vs. Predator series of games sees smell as a coloured aura around other players, even through walls.
  • In Red Dead Redemption, John Marston can get drunk at the bars. He'll start shaking his head and then will stumble back from the bar. If too drunk he staggers and might even fall over and stay on the floor for a bit.
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers, Skuntank and Koffing's stink is portrayed visually as a purple cloud.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • Sveta's Track Psynergy in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn allows her to find scent trails, which appear as a streak of white vapor close to the ground. This is used all of twice in the game.
  • The Sims 2 uses green particle effects to visually show smelly things, like rotten food, stinky clothes, and odorous sims.
  • Don't Starve Together has the lore video for Warly the Culinarian, "Taste of Home", using color and focus for the senile Mama Angeline's awareness of her surroundings. Everything is grayscale, blurry, and unknown, but the smell and taste of a meal fill the scene with color and clarity as she recognizes and interacts with Warly.
  • The Crown Shadow Of The Vale Alex is a blind woman. In order to visually represent her perception of the world around her, there are motes that float in the air that keep their position in space when Alex turns her head or walks around. These motes seem to represent motion, as they become streaky during chase sequences, or drop vertically when it rains.

    Western Animation 
  • In old Merrie Melodies cartoons a smell was often depicted as a ribbon which snaked through the air toward a character, and (if pleasant) would even lift the character into the air and carry him toward the source of the smell.
    • Other times, WB cartoons depicted it as a coloured aura or mist instead - notably, Pepe Le Pew's... er, unique body odour was a murky green fog, which other characters only smelt on visibly inhaling it (ie they could not "see" it themselves, unlike the way your player character can in games using this idea). Similarly perfume as a pink one or delicious food blue-grey, though these did often cross the stylistic line into "ribbons". Either way, it's a surprisingly powerful and identifiable representation of how smells curl through the air...
  • To match the Merrie Melodies example, bad odors would usually take that ribbon and form a boxing glove to hit characters.
  • "Stink lines", often accompanied by hovering insects in cartoons.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the vision of an animal which uses its sense of smell to 'see' is represented in streams of different colours, each representing a different scent.
  • In Camp Lazlo other campers were unwilling to take a bath after getting extremely dirty. So they hide from Lazo behind a bush. Unfortunately for them, Lazlo saw their stink lines above the bush.
  • In the Classic Disney Short "R'coon Dawg", Pluto's ability to track down prey is shown by having whatever he was smelling appear before him, with the narrator explaining that it was as if he could see with his nose. The raccoon chasing him takes advantage of this and uses a fish, a frog and a horseshoe to lose his scent, causing poor Pluto to see bizzare raccoon/fish/frog/horse hybrids.
  • Lampshaded in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Misperceived Monotreme", when Major Monogram sees Carl the intern eating a peanut butter, banana, and sardine sandwich (complete with stink lines), and claims "I can see the smell from here!"
  • In the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Missing Identity", Mr. Krabs's boot and Spongebob at the end of the episode after he digs through the dumpster both exhibit green stink lines.
  • In The Transformers episode "Starscream's Ghost", a visible stench from alien food wafts towards Octane's nose and he audibly sniffs it.
    Octane: Sheesh, what have you been eating?


  • Commercials for painkillers and other pharmaceuticals typically illustrate pain as an animated red circle that fades out towards the edges. The growing and shrinking circle is reminiscent of the throbbing nature of some kinds of pain.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Texhnolyze excessive pain from mutilation is depicted with the entire picture going purple monochrome, and all the sounds except the gasps of pain getting muted. In a scene where a man is shot in the genitals its taken even further with rapidly expanding disortion of both the visual and audio tracks.
  • In Pokémon: The Series bright flashes of light are used to indicate pain, especially from electricity or blunt force trauma.
  • Happens in the first episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, when Sachiel breaks Unit 01's (and, by extension, Shinji's) arm. The sensation of pain is rendered with a still outline of Shinji panning against a bright-red, almost psychedelic background.
  • Several anime illustrate sudden and unexpected severe pain, such as a character getting stabbed by surprise, by briefly switching the colors to color negative. Naruto and Bleach both frequently do this.

    Films — Animation 
  • Done slightly differently in The Transformers: The Movie, where Sludge (the Brontosaurus) is smacked down so hard at one point, his eyes get momentarily left behind before telescoping back into place. Ouch.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Mad Max, when one of the bikers headbutts a guy they splice in a single frame of pure white. Maybe conveys "impact" more than "pain," but it's rad as hell in any case.

    Video Games 
  • What modern console game DOESN'T have the controller vibrate when your character takes damage?
  • Physical pain in FPS's is often represented with an "ow" sound and usually red-bars in the direction you were hit from (in older FPS's, the whole screen flashes red instead). This is to give players knowledge of where the damage is coming from, which they would have in real life but not in a game.
  • Asphyxiating underwater is almost universally represented by the screen flashing blue and your view jerking slightly.
  • Many if not most recent generation first/third person games introduce various synaesthesia when your character is close to death. Popular tropes used to represent near death include your visuals turning black and white or bleaching of color, the sound of your heart in your ears, visuals fading red or black at the edges of your screen, and either more dramatic music playing or the game music fading entirely. Some games use the vibration function to communicate near-death status to the player.
    • Fallout 3 takes this further with your ears ringing and vision blurring if you head is crippled and a your heart beat getting louder as you get closer to death.
    • The James Bond games do this. Some of them even use the "blood runs down the screen" effect used in the "gunbarrel" sequence.
  • Followers in Populous: The Beginning have white circles appear above there heads and an electronic tweeting sound when they were badly injured.
  • In BioShock your heart stopping for a moment in response to the 'code yellow' trigger phrase is shown as blue mesh across your vision, similar to seeing the blood vessels in your eyes. Your character also stumbles in pain.
  • Receiving a powerful shock or hit, or experiencing earth shaking explosions (etc) will cause the player "camera" to violently shake in many titles... even 2D ones... and often even an overlaid control GUI will rattle around in sync just to rub in how much you - or the game world - have/has been shook by the force of that blast/impact. See also Screen Shake.

    Visual Novels 
  • Done skillfully in the BL Visual Novel DRAMAtical Murder, wherein Aoba's headaches can almost be felt by the audience due to the abrupt assault of red cracks on a darkening scene, in conjunction with an eerie, pulsing ambiance.
  • A similar visual effect is used in the visual novel Katawa Shoujo to represent Hisao's heart trauma.
  • Used in the Heaven's Feel route of Fate/stay night in the form of static appearing in the background to show Shiro's decreasing ability to keep Archer's arm from shattering his mind and a blood CG being used to show injuries caused by the mental and physical strain. Averted in the other two routes, as all injuries have a sound effect due to being in battle.

    Western Animation 
  • See Circling Birdies.
  • Also, parodied in an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, when Rocko has an attack of appendicitis. The doctor points out the pain stars on Rocko's chart and says that all they have to do is replace them with wavy lines of relief.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, pain is indicated by a faint pinging noise, similar to that of the tweeting of Circling Birdies, and accompanied by quickly flashing stars that fly from lines connected to the injury.

Heat, noise and hazards

  • Played with in a Demetri Martin sketch on lines... he drew a cup of coffee with wavy lines. "That means this coffee is hot". He flips to another sheet with a drawing of a coffee cup but with the wavy lines straightened out. "Now it's loud." Then he placed the lines to one side. "Now it's fast."
    Demetri: If you hear hot coffee coming at you, you better move.

    Comic Strips 

    Western Animation 
  • A Magic School Bus episode had goggles that let the kids see sound with "The Producer" later explaining that seeing sound is impossible and was just done for the episode.

    Real Life 

General sensation (e.g. touch)

  • Wind is sometimes represented as moving white lines.

    Comic Books 
  • The "tingly sensation" Spider-Man gets when his Spider-Sense buzzes is usally depicted as a series of lines around his head.
  • Vibrations, like noise, may be depicted with expanding circles or arcs around it, usually rendered more jittery the more grating or powerful it is. To show vibration or impact powerful enough to shake everything, there's sometimes the Faux Film technique of shaking the entire panel, depicting everything in it as a double-image along the vector of the shake.

    Films — Animation 

Statler: Man, that music smells terrible!
Both: Heheh.
Waldorf: And those costumes taste ridiculous!
Both: Hehehehe.
Statler: And don't get me started on how ugly the scenery feels!
Both: Do-ho-ho-ho-hoh!

Alternative Title(s): Artist Synesthesia, Editorial Synesthesia