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Wide Eyes and Shrunken Irises

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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 good sign that a character is absolutely terrified is if their eyes are bulging wide open and the irises and pupils are visibly shrunken, or even absent. This gives the impression that the character is screaming inwardly, even if they're speechless 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 badly injured, with bonus points if the scene cuts away to a Scream Discretion Shot. On the flip side, it can also be used when a character is very, very angry.

A very minor case of Artistic License – Biology: while the pupil inside the iris can indeed shrink due to fear, the iris itself does not. Regardless, most artists consider it an Acceptable Break from Reality (see Open the Iris for reasons why).note 


Frequently overlaps with Oh, Crap!. In Anime, this may be replaced with Blank White Eyes instead.

Contrast Open the Iris, the trope's physical opposite. If this effect only happens to one eye and not the other, it's a case of Mad Eyes. Not to be confused with Sphere Eyes, which always look like dots.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Most characters on Higurashi: When They Cry 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.
  • Shaman King characters tend to do this, along with sporting white-colored irises for that instant.
    • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann also has this happen both with human and Beastmen characters. In both series, this usually happens when someone is really shocked, horrified or furious. Simon ends up Locked into Strangeness after Kamina dies, with his eyes in a constant state of this combined with them turning white.
  • 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.
  • In My Hero Academia, All Might himself develops these after hearing from All For One that Tomura Shigaraki is the grandson of All Might's mentor; Nana Shimura. What follows is All Might suffering a huge Heroic BSoD during the fight.
  • 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 realizes the titular notebook is for real.
  • Dragonball 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 Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, we have Quattro(see the anime image for Oh, Crap!), who has a 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 Future Diary. Bonus points when she's smiling or laughing maniacally.
    • Marco Ikusaba sports a pair of these in his backstory. A perfectly understandable reaction to witnessing your girlfriend being gang-raped.
  • This happens on occasion in Hetalia: Axis Powers, 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.
  • An understandable reaction from "Speed O' Sound" Sonic running junk-first into the fist of the titular One-Punch Man in the anime. Yes, it's Sonic's fault because he's the belligerent loony while Saitama comes off as sharp as his head.
  • Popuko of Pop Team Epic naturally has wide eyes, but when she gets angry (which happens very easily), her irises shrink to the size of periods.
  • Happens to Vicious in Cowboy Bebop when Spike shoots him during their final duel.
  • Shinji in the 2010 movie adaptation of Fate/stay night sometimes looks like he crept his way straight out of the Higurashi anime. Not surprising, since both are Studio DEEN productions.
  • In the animated short Sonic: 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.
  • In the first chapter of the Asteroid in Love manga, Ao gets this when the other new member says she wants to find an asteroid. Downplayed when it is adapted in the first episode of the anime, when her irises only shrinks a little when that other member's companion calls her "Mira". This is a benign example, however; the reason Ao gets this is because she had The Promise of "finding an asteroid together" with this Mira many years ago, but soon parted due to her family Really Moves Around.
  • In Sgt. Frog, this is Tamama's default expression whenever someone pisses him off.
  • In a flashback of Kotoura-san, this is used to show Yuriko's horror when she found her mother Driven to Suicide.

    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.
  • As noted in the Page Quote, this happens to Calvin frequently when Hobbes attacks him.
  • Captain America villain Zaran showed an Up to Eleven version of this once, i.e., with no irises

    Fan Fic 

    Films — Animated 
  • Numerous animated films (both hand-drawn and CGI) uses this trope for a character's reaction. Some of them can be found below.
  • In Disney's The Jungle Book, Mowgli when Kaa tries getting Mowgli to look at him, and when Shere Khan first tries to attack him.
  • The Princess and the Frog: Facilier during the reprise of "Are You Ready?". Also the leader of the frog hunters after Ray flies up his nose and when he gets the crotch of his pants blasted off.
  • In Hercules, the title character is a wide-eyed individual. Even when frightened or scared, Hercules eyes grow wide or bulge out.
  • Darla Dimple in Cats Don't Dance does this at the end when she sees that her attempt at sabotaging Danny's show actually improved it.
  • This happens to the Thief in The Thief and the Cobbler when he realizes his hands are about to be chopped off.
    • Happens again with Zig-Zag when he enters One-Eye's tent.
  • Meowrice does this a couple times in Gay Purr-ee first when Juane Tom catches up to him while he's making his get away with the kidnapped Mewsette on a train, then later when Robespierre bites his tail.
  • Providing the page image, Rabbit's memorable freakout scene during The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which was fittingly animated by Don Bluth.
  • Flik does this in A Bug's Life when he figures out his 'warriors' are really just circus performers. Thumper does this too in his Oh, Crap! moment when Dim roars at him.
  • This occurs to Clayton in Tarzan, just as he falls from a tree while trying to untangle a vine coiled around his neck. As he tries to desperately save his own life, his eyes grow wide and bulge out while he also delivers a bloodcurdling scream of absolute terror before the vine stretches taut, hanging him and killing him.
  • Scar in The Lion King (1994) does this shortly before he is eaten by hyenas. Simba did it, too... just before a stampede rains down on him.
  • Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story does this right before RC slams into him.
  • Happens in Monsters, Inc. when Mike and Sulley see Boo running through the restaurant.
  • Mickey Mouse does this in Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas during the Disaster Dominoes sequence of Pluto wrecking his decorations.
  • 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".
  • In Help, I'm A Fish!, Fly's eyes do this just as a crab slashes one of its claws at him and slices his side open.
  • 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.
  • Happens to Goofy himself in An Extremely Goofy Movie, after he takes a considerable fall in his daydream and hits the pavement hard.
  • In Aladdin and the King of Thieves, this was the giant turtle island's reaction when Genie entered inside it as a distraction.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In Dragon Bones, Oreg, who is magically bound to Ward, gets increasingly uncomfortable when Ward is too far away. After they have been separated for a considerable amount of time, Oreg's pupils are described as "small as the points of needles", and he's in a state of shock.

    Video Games 
  • Dragalia Lost has this happen to Euden in Chapter 15 when some damning revelations come out. He learns from Nedrick that the man in front of him is the ACTUAL Euden who was said to have died of wyrmscale as a baby and the one that the main Euden is a Replacement Goldfish. To prove his claim, Nedrick shows him the book that will only glow for those of Alberius's bloodline. It glows for his twin sister, Zethia, but when it's Euden's doesn't!
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • 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.
  • Ollo in The Sunny Valley Fair: Ollo's first reaction to seeing the prize-winning tomato.
  • 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 Project 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 & 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.
  • 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.
  • When Toy Bonnie attacks the player character in Five Nights at Freddy's 2, his irises are noticeably smaller than normal.
  • Used to varying effect in Yandere Simulator. In the case of Yandere-chan, they slowly shrink when the player gets a Game Over by way of Senpai rejecting her or a teacher expelling her. For everyone else, they appear in the same fashion when they see something bad happen (either you killing someone or happening across a corpse). If they see you commit a murder, but you get away with it, their irises remain shrunken as a way of saying that they know you killed someone and they're going to damage your reputation continuously by spreading the word of your crime around the school.
  • The intro cinematic for Jazz Jackrabbit 2 shows the titular Jazz wreaking havoc on a few helpless mooks... before coming face to face with one three times his size. Cue the Oh Crap Face, before little brother Spaz bails him out.
  • Eternal Senia: Hydrangea After The Rain: Little Fairy has such an expression, but with no iris at all, she's the character in the Start Screen and tapped, when she says:
    Ahh! Careful Senia! You almost hit me!

    Visual Novels 
  • Doki Doki Literature Club! has two examples:
    • Yuri develops a habit of making her eyes look like this as she undergoes Sanity Slippage. Occasionally she throws in a nice big grin for good measure.
    • At the end of Act 2, Natsuki gets these when she sees Yuri's decaying body, upon which she vomits and runs out of the room.


    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.
  • Kirito in Sword Art Online Abridged is sometimes seen with this expression on his face, but not for the usual reasons. If he expresses this look, you might want to vacate the area...
  • The infamous statue Momo has this.

    Western Animation 
  • In the episode of American Dad! where Roger tricks Steve into joining a drug manufacturing operation by telling him it's Hogwarts, towards the end of the episode Roger gets knocked face first into a pile of some unspecified drug. When he pulls his face out, his pupils first dilated rather large, and he proceeded to disarm and kill every thug attacking him, and shoot a bunch of rounds into the ceiling because we was wired. Then, with one thug left, Roger realizes he has run out of ammo to use against the last armed thug, which causes his eyes to shrink to a pinpoint, and him to touch the TV in the room and call "Ah, TV is base!"
  • Inverted with 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.
  • Daria used the angry version. When Brittany meets Tommy Sherman and tells him that her boyfriend, Kevin, worships him, Tommy barely acknowledges this before propositioning her. Brittany's pupils shrink to pinpricks in response.
  • Mr. Herriman of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends gets this way at the mere mention of dogs. Somewhat understandable considering he's, well, an anthropomorphic lop-eared rabbit.
  • Likewise, Jimmy Two-Shoes uses this in similar situations.
  • Kaeloo: In Episode 92, this is Mr. Cat's reaction to seeing the Grim Reaper when he opens the door.
  • 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.
  • The Legend of Korra:
  • Happens pretty often in Life With Loopy when the characters are scared.
  • One of Chuck Jones' trade mark gags in his Looney Tunes shorts, some notable examples are in "Rabbit's Feat" before Wile E. Coyote gets hit by the train and Marc Anthony the bulldog when he fears for Pussyfoot's safety in "Feed The Kitty”.
  • 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.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: Bubbles's pupils shrink in "Bubble Boy" when the Rowdyruff Boys try to force her to eat a roach.
  • Used in Recess during a few Oh, Crap! moments, mostly in the earlier episodes.
  • Gary does this when SpongeBob SquarePants tells him he's going to take a bath.
  • Teen Titans' Beast Boy when he transforms into The Beast.
  • Many Total Drama characters have big, expressive eyes, with irises that tend to shrink visibly during Oh, Crap! moments. Heather is the most prominent example, partly because she has the most expressive eyes of the entire cast and partly because she simply has more screen time than most.
  • Used a lot in VeggieTales, especially during the Oh, Crap! moments.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: The show is usually known for its characters drawn with Large Pupils. But as an artistic style or storyboarder/character design choice, the character's eyes are drawn very small or with just small dots for the irises as a moment of worry or any weird expression.
  • Steven Universe: Future: In "Rose Buds", Steven's reaction to seeing three duplicates of his dead mom had his irises shrink. Amethyst has a similar reaction when she sees Steven surrounded by three duplicates of his dead mom.
  • In the Donald Duck cartoon Donald's Tire Trouble, after all four of his car tires go flat, Donald's eyes briefly shrink before spinning wildly into spirals — and then, as he is wont to do, he goes berserk and simply drives off with flat tires.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Wide Eyes And Tiny Pupils


"Rose Buds"

Steven's reaction to seeing three duplicates of his dead mom.

How well does it match the trope?

4.79 (19 votes)

Example of:

Main / WideEyesAndShrunkenIrises

Media sources:

Main / WideEyesAndShrunkenIrises