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Visual Development

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Elan: You know, I had just assumed that your short hair was somehow symbolic of your character growth.
Haley: Me too! Guess it was just a crappy haircut.

You've missed a few episodes of a show you are watching. Shouldn't be a big deal... wait, when did Alice grow her hair out? And why did Bob shave his beard? And did they just kiss!? When did they get together? And why does Charley look so different? And suddenly so much better at sports? Looks like you missed the Wham Episode and some Character Development.

As vision is our primary sense, using that to show how characters have changed is helpful. In real life, people who go through dramatic changes do sometimes change their appearance. Two people who just had a Relationship Upgrade might change their appearance to better appeal to their significant other. Someone who just lost someone might dress to reflect their grief. The connection may not be made clear, but the visual change coincides with the emotional change.

This trope is very useful in Long-Runners, as it allows for the fanbase to differentiate between major arcs by the visual differences. Sub Tropes are Important Haircut, Expository Hairstyle Change, Significant Wardrobe Shift, and Evil Makes You Ugly (for falls to The Dark Side). Not to be mistaken for Art Evolution.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • My Hero Academia:
    • Deku steadily gets more muscular and gains scars over the course of the series as he settles into his roles as The Hero and heir to the legendary All Might.
    • After Todoroki's character development following the U.A. Sports Festival, he got rid of the ice hiding the fire half of his body signaling his acceptance of his fire powers, and changed his white hero costume to a dark blue one with a utility belt.
    • When Shigaraki was first introduced, Shigaraki had one of his dead family's hands covering his face all the time to the point where panics whenever he gets separated from him. However, he slowly becomes less attached to it and willingly takes it off sometimes. By the time of the Meta Liberation Army Arc, Shigaraki spends most of the battle without "father" on showing how confident he is as a leader, culminating in him finally destroying the hand as he doesn't need it anymore.
    • Endeavor has flames on his face that he wears all the time but when he's at home around his family and even around his subordinates, it's shown that he stops using the flames on his face, which he used to keep lit at all times to intimidate those around him symbolizing his character development.
  • Naruto: Naruto stops wearing his village headband for a while after vowing to bring peace to the world. As fate would have it, a shinobi alliance is formed and creates its own new headbands.
  • One Piece: "Surgeon of Death" Trafalgar D. Water Law's appearance after the Time Skip coincides with his new Warlord title, level of power, and manners: from the laid-back, smiling yellow-themed hoodie-wearing hipster-style Supernova to the lugubrious terrifying Warlord who is clad in black, The Grim Reaper-like Black Cloak, complete with the High Collar of Doom. Between Punk Hazard and Dressrosa, he goes back to the hipster look (seemingly coinciding with his start to fall into the pace of the Straw Hat crew), before hybridizing the two for his "disguise" outfit in Dressrosa. However, he is always wearing the same spotted skinny jeans.

    Comic Books 
  • In Scott Pilgrim, Ramona Flowers changes her hairstyle and dyes it a new color every three weeks. That is, until her relationship with Scott deepens. Scott suspects that he's the reason she goes so long without changing it.

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: Ari changes a lot in the book. While Dante is in Chicago for almost a year, Ari becomes toned over the course of the year and lets his hair grow a bit more. By the time Dante returns from Chicago, he has cut his hair shorter and grown to be taller than Ari, as well as losing a lot of boyishness for a more grown-up look. This change represents how much they changed when they were apart and how they've become closer to the end of their youth and adulthood.
  • In The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyon notes that Haruhi has stopped changing her hairstyle everyday, and takes this as a sign she's interested in someone. Sure enough, she chooses Kyon to be the first member of her new student group, the "SOS Brigade".

    Live-Action TV 
  • In season two of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Valencia goes back to the bold makeup and skimpy clothes she was often seen wearing in season one, to reflect her being a friendlier and less intimidating person.
  • Farscape: Crichton spends much of season one in his astronaut jumpsuit, one of his few mementos from his life on Earth. In later seasons, after he Took a Level in Badass, he tends to wear the Peacekeeper leathers, which look frickin' awesome. Later, he upgrades to a Badass Longcoat.
  • At the beginning of Joy Of Life, Fan Xian has loose hair, side swept bangs, and a nice but unobtrusive outfit. As time goes on, he parts his bangs, wears progressively fancier clothing, and wears his hair up. This all coincides with Fan Xian's progressive involvement in politics, schemes, and the struggle for power.

    Video Games 
  • The Fable series changes the Hero's appearance based on game developments. A good Hero gains a Holy Halo and healthy complexion, while an evil one gets Horns of Villainy and Glowing Eyes of Doom. They become more muscular as they invest in physical skills and gain Power Tattoos from magical ones. Some plot developments change the Hero directly, like growing a Time-Passage Beard on a difficult sea voyage in Fable.
  • Commander Shepard's unhealed scars in Mass Effect 2 will become more prominent if s/he follows the Renegade path but heal almost completely if s/he is a Paragon.
  • Setsuka from the Soul Series (making her debut in SoulCalibur III) is a woman of European descent who was adopted by a Japanese master and taught to live like any normal Japanese girl from the 16th century. Shunned for being a foreigner, Setsuka dyed her blond hair black to fit in better (this could be discerned only if the player chose Setsuka's 2P costume in III). However, in IV, Setsuka completely ditches the hair dye in both outfits and reverts to her natural hair color.
  • In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series, the player character gets more healthy-looking if they follow the Light Side on the Karma Meter, or more pallid if they lean towards the Dark Side.
  • Throughout Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Sister Nia, a traveling nun who becomes one of the castaways, becomes noticeably more tan after an Action Dress Rip and she spends more time outside actively helping the village as part of her character development.


    Web Videos 
  • In Dream SMP, Slimecicle's skin as of the Las Nevadas finale shows him properly re-developed after dormancy, yet much more overtly slimy than he looked earlier. This ties into his rejection of the manipulation he is subjected to by various characters, something which in his previous appearance he referred to as having taught him to be human — this new look visually signifies his departure from trying to be something he's not.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: For both Zuko and Azula, the state of their hair tends to demonstrate their state of mind. For Zuko, the messier it is the better he's doing, as he steps out of his father's shadow. For Azula, it gets messier as she becomes more stressed, more alone, and less stable, culminating in her messily chopping her own hair soon before she has a complete breakdown.
  • Bojack Horseman: Diane's arc over the final season has her finally facing the issues that have been plaguing her entire life. Part of that progress involves taking antidepressants, which the show acknowledges typically lead to weight gain. Her becoming heavier is a visual cue of her increased mental stability.
  • With the exceptions of Superman himself, the Flash, Aquaman, Lex Luthor, Darkseid, and Professor Hamilton to a lesser extent, most of the character from Superman: The Animated Series who appeared in Justice League more or less looked the same as they did in S: TAS at least initially. This can't be said for General Hardcastle, who did look visably older in his brief appearance during Unlimited.
  • Infinity Train: In the first season, Amelia dons a dark cloak, a messy braid and looks quite slim. When she returns in Season 3, she now wears a gray jacket, which she removed to reveal a clear gray tank top, has a neat braid, and has buffed up a little, this seems to relate to the fact that she is no longer trapped in permanent grief (getting past the dark moment in her life), and has since been exploring the trains, finding the bugs she inflicted on the train's code. Not to mention that grey is a combination of black and white, reflecting that she's no longer clinging to the black cloak (which was presumably a reminder of her late fiance, who wore one of them) and she's moving forward.
  • Legend of Korra: As part of the Time Skip, Korra wears her hair short for most of the fourth season. The other characters wear different clothes as well, while the younger characters are visibly three years older.
  • The Owl House: Season 2 sees multiple characters changing their appearance reflecting their character development:
    • Lilith, having been kicked out of the Emperor's Coven and losing her powers, stops wearing her pristine uniform and switches to looser, raggedy clothes from Eda. Her hair also becomes gradually less sleek, and she starts wearing her glasses again as she takes up a career in academia.
    • Amity dyes her hair from green to purple and changes the style, switches out her necklace, and wears a different dress as she begins moving away from her mother's control and bonding with Luz and Willow. In particular, her mother had dictated her hairstyle so that she would match her siblings, and the necklace was actually a gem her mother used to telepathically communicate with her.
    • Gus undergoes witch puberty to get a more mature appearance as he starts appearing less as comic relief and more of his insecurities come to light.
    • Willow changes her hairstyle and outfit to reflect her less delicate, more active role in her own life.
    • King gets his broken horn repaired and adds a design to the tag on his collar as he starts digging into his mysterious past in an attempt to learn his real identity.
    • The Golden Guard loses his mask and Emperor's Coven trappings as he transitions into identifying more as confused teen Hunter than as the Emperor's right-hand man. After learning he's a Replacement Goldfish clone of someone Emperor Belos had killed and that the Emperor feels no particular attachment to him, he completely ditches what he had left of the uniform and takes to wearing the only other outfit he has (the Flyer Derby uniform from his undercover assignment at Hexside).
    • Emperor Belos himself, particularly in "Hollow Mind," which chronicles his transition from human Phillip Whittebane to the most powerful and feared witch in the Boiling Isles. He takes up wearing the deer-like mask and body-concealing cloak to add to his mystique and also hide the ravages his body is undergoing thanks to his dark magic. He publicly reveals his face as the Day of Unity draws near, to indicate the (faked) transparency of his intentions. On the Day of Unity itself, when his plans are about to come to fruition, he sheds all his magical attire and reverts back to his original outfit and appearance, as he no longer needs to hide his goals and wants to experience them as himself.
  • The Simpsons: When Milhouse's parents are thought to be dead, he becomes a Bad Boy loner (including a change of wardrobe) and the girls really go for him.