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Yellow Eyes of Sneakiness

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They don't just look that way because of the reddish lighting here...

"We were trapped. There he stood, between us and the alley. Scut Farkus staring out at us with his yellow eyes. He had yellow eyes! So help me, God, yellow eyes!"
Adult Ralphie, A Christmas Story
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In fiction, when a character has yellow eyes, commonly the sclera, but can be the iris, it usually denotes that a character has a rather unscrupulous nature. Sure signs that a character cannot be trusted or is a bit of a Jerkass.

Historically, this is probably inspired by canines, felines, rodents, reptiles, toads, and birds of prey, which can have amber, yellow, gold, or orange irises, and are associated with being conniving, clever, and wise. Also reptiles and toads are sometimes associated with villainy, and can have yellow eyes. Ironically in these animals what you're usually seeing are larger irises which were probably mistaken for a yellow sclera. In particular, the visual itself might be related to the reflective eyes of many animals in the dark, which explains the particular bright palette in contrast with dark or dim figures.

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A variant of this trope is a sneaky or crafty character with yellow or light-yellow eyes that have green or yellow green centers to them. Sometimes, the green-centered yellow eyes are used to accentuate the character’s sneakyness, craftiness, meanness, and/or evil in relation to non-green-centered yellow eyes or to distinguish them as the crafty or evil ones within works made up of largely or mostly yellow eyed characters. Non-green-centered yellow, gold, or amber eyes are more apt to be portrayed as normal or least less decidedly crafty or evil and are more apt to show up on good and ostensibly good characters.

In Real Life, yellow and brown in the sclerae or the cornea, not the iris, in human beings is unhealthy. It's usually a symptom of allergies or liver disease — yellow sclerae are a typical symptom of jaundice.

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Compare Supernatural Gold Eyes, Black Eyes of Crazy and Red Eyes, Take Warning (both of which are commonly paired with this trope).


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Asian Animation 
  • Mechamato:
    • The Cone Konchos have yellow scleras. They construct a pool in the middle of a busy road and are violently destructive when provoked.
    • Amazeey has yellow eyes, and he likes setting up dangerous and elaborate mazes to confuse and trap others.
    • Paintasso has yellow asymmetical eyes and a perpetual sly grin. He steals paintings and tries to kidnap a child.
    • Apayapi is Payapi's enhanced form, and while the latter has Innocent Blue Eyes, his eyes turn yellow upon revealing his true colors.

    Comic Books 
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman (2016): Priscilla Rich, otherwise known as Cheetah, is a conniving amoral murderous Rich Bitch who has gleefully allied herself with the Nazis and has yellow eyes. This ties in to the traditional association with cats, even though she only picked up the attributes that would lead to her becoming the Cheetah in the final issue prior to the series cancellation.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Disney uses this trope a lot:
    • Big Hero 6: The villain Yokai is a Mad Scientist who wears a mask with yellow eyepieces.
    • Cinderella: Lady Tremaine has yellow scleras in the scene where she takes the key to Cinderella's bedroom and closes the door before locking it. And her minion Lucifer the mean, sneaky cat has yellow sclerae by default.
    • The Great Mouse Detective: The main villain of the movie, Professor Ratigan, has yellow sclerae (as pictured above), and has an Evil Plan to take over a kingdom.
    • Hercules: The main villain Hades, his minions, Pain and Panic, and Nessus have yellow sclerae.
    • The Little Mermaid (1989): Flotsam and Jetsam, the eel minions of the main villain Ursula, have yellow sclerae. To be more precise, each of them has one eye with a decidedly yellow sclera, while the other eye is much closer to white. When Ursula is scrying through their eyes, the "white" eye also turns yellow, and glows.
    • The Lion King (1994): The lions in the franchise have yellow sclerae by default, but the only one who plays this trope is Scar, who exemplifies it by being sneaky, crafty, and the main villain. Scar pairs his yellow slerae with green irises. The hyenas also have yellow sclerae and are pretty awful and sneaky in general.
      • The Lion King II: Simba's Pride: Zira has yellow sclerae paired with red irises and is pretty abusive and hateful, thinking that lions are intrinsically better than other animals.
    • The Jungle Book: Shere Khan, the main villain, and Kaa, the secondary villain have yellow sclerae .
    • Mulan: Shan Yu, the leader of the Huns, has yellow irises.
    • Sleeping Beauty: The main villain Maleficent has yellow sclerae as do her goons.
    • Wreck-It Ralph: Turbo has yellow sclerae and he coined the term "going Turbo" when he tried to take over other games out of jealousy.
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox: In the original book by Roald Dahl, the eyes of Mr. Fox are just black spots on white sclera but in the animated version he actually has irises. The color of Mrs. Fox's eyes is blue, while Mr. Fox has yellow eyes that emphasize his sneaky nature. With a little Fridge Logic involved, this can even turn into a spoiler: Ash Fox struggles to get his father to notice him, while his cousin Kristofferson gets constant praise from Mr. Fox. In the end, Ash manages to save the day rather impressively... and his eyes are the same greenish yellow his father has, whereas Kristofferson has light blue eyes!
  • Rise of the Guardians: Pitch, the Boogeyman, has yellow eyes that glow a bit in the darkness of his lair.
  • Ruber from Quest for Camelot has light yellow scleras alongside his small green irises.
  • In The Bad Guys, the devilishly charming Mr. Wolf, leader of the titular gang of thieves, has yellow scleras that immediately tell you the guy means trouble, until he reforms, then they just look cartoonishly adorable. Mr. Piranha has yellow eyes also, but they convey that he's batshit insane rather than sneakiness.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • In Good Omens, the demon Crowley habitually takes the form of a louche and cool young man in his mid-20s, but has to wear sunglasses to conceal his eyes - which are reptilian rather than human, yellow-gold with a vertical slitted pupil. He is a demon, the embodiment of all things wily, crafty and untrustworthy, and is implied to be the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
  • The Berenstain Bears has an odd Double-Subversion. In ...and the Green-Eyed Monster, the eponymous monster representing Sister Bear's envy has yellow eyes.
  • Amusing example in The Children of Man, where yellow eyes are the mark of one who can use yellow magic, the magic of art, illusion, and manipulation.
  • Author Simon R. Green uses this trope a lot in his fantasy series, having a particular fondness for ascribing "eyes as yellow as urine" to beings that are undead, demonic, unspeakably-vile, or all three at once.
  • Foxface from The Hunger Games. Her mutt-version is noted to have amber eyes.
  • Lord Foul in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant has glowing yellow eyes that are described as resembling fangs and are his only consistently visible feature. Though Foul never directly lies, he's very good at deceiving and manipulating people regardless; indeed, his motivation for not lying has nothing to do with any sort of respect for the truth and is more about asserting his own intellectual superiority over his enemies, proving that he doesn't need to lie in order to trick them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Big Bad of Legion (2017), Amal Farouk the Shadow King, is a villainous telepath who sometimes invokes this by appearing as a grotesque monster with gold irises, leading to his getting the nickname "Devil with the Yellow Eyes."
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Data's Evil Twin Lore is a Manipulative Bastard and an Omnicidal Maniac with yellow eyes. Subversed with Data himself, who is a kind and honest person.
  • Supernatural: Azazel, better known as the Yellow-Eyed Demon after his rare peepers, is one of the most intelligent beings in the entire Supernatural universe, he kept everyone guessing right up until it was too late do anything. Asmodeus and Dagon, two of Azazel's three fellow Princes of Hell who are signified by the same swirling yellow eyes, also have some degree of sneakiness of their own.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Animal Crossing: Roscoe, a Grumpy horse villager, gets yellow eyes when he gets angry or intense enough to narrow them.
  • GLaDOS from the Portal-series has one bright yellow "eye" on the front of her chassis. She's murdered every scientist in Aperture and forces the surviving humans to preform tests for her. She's also a compulsive liar and a Deadpan Snarker of the finest variety.
  • In BlazBlue, Hazama/Yuuki Terumi sports these when he actually opens up his eyes. This is one of the signs in Continuum Shift that foreshadow his villainy.
  • In Touhou Project, resident liar and (spell)thief Marisa Kirisame has yellow eyes, as does the very "youkai-like youkai" Yukari Yakumo (when they're not purple).
  • Criminal Case: World Edition has yellow irises on many suspects in the Oceania region, including Baxter Fraser and Veronica Salter. They are all assassins who underwent genetic treatment. Subverted in Baxter's case, as he wants nothing to do with that life.
  • Far Cry 4 features Amita, one of the two leaders of the Golden Path. She is a Himalayan woman with amber eyes, and despite appearing to have noble intentions, she's an Unscrupulous Hero who turns Fallen Hero in her ending if you bring her to power, converting Kyrat into a drug country and forcibly conscripting child soldiers. Those eyes should've tipped Ajay off Amita is not a nice person.
  • In the intro to Mario Power Tennis Wario and Waluigi's eyes turn yellow during moments of ill intent, something not seen anywhere else in the series.
  • Ridley, the draconic antagonist in the Metroid franchise has completely yellow eyes, and though he is crafty, murderous might be a better descriptor. In Super Metroid his eyes appear before the rest of his body becomes visible.
  • The Gerudo in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are a tribe of Desert Bandits with yellow and amber eyes who also have a habit of kidnapping innocent Hylians, while their king, Ganondorf, is a Sorcerous Overlord who wants to Take Over the World. Subverted by the time of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, however, where they keep the eye color but have dropped both the thievery and the loyalty to Ganon.
  • In RuneScape, the Mahjarrat all have black sclerae and red irises... except Sliske, who has yellow irises for no apparent reason but this trope. "How do you know you can trust me? That's simple. You can't."
  • The many incarnations of Xehanort, the Big Bad of the Kingdom Hearts series' "Dark Seeker Saga", are all known for having yellow irises. The Heartless, who are usually the main enemy type in those games, also commonly have solid yellow Glowing Eyes.
  • Big the Cat from the Sonic the Hedgehog series inverts this. His unusual beady, yellow eyes look more dopey than anything, highlighting his Kindhearted Simpleton nature.
  • Sir Jasper from Dragon Quest XI, who serves alongside Sir Hendrik and under King Carnelian in the Heliodorians' attempts to capture or kill the Luminary. Compared with the rough but still mostly chivalrous Hendrik (who has blue eyes), he uses more underhanded and deceptive schemes to try and nab the Luminary, such as tricking Doge Rotondo into believing the Luminary is the one who cursed his son into losing his voice. Also unlike Carnelian and Hendrik, Jasper is genuinely evil. While Carnelian was only pursuing the Luminary because he was possessed by Mordegon, and Hendrik was merely obeying "Carnelian's" orders, Jasper knowingly and willingly went along with Mordegon's plan to destroy Yggdrasil because he was tired of being Always Second Best to Hendrik.

    Webcomics 
  • The entire troll race of Homestuck have yellow sclera. As a whole they are significantly more blood-thirsty than humans, and deceit and murder are a huge part of their lives. However, the unsavory aspects of their culture turn out to be the result of an Eldritch Abomination socially engineering it to be horrible - before that, they were peaceful, making it a subversion.
  • Partially subverted in Girl Genius with Dimo. He's a Jaeger, who don't have the best reputation due to their Undying Loyalty to the Heterodynes, and is a bloodthirsty killer when he needs to be. But he is loyal to Agatha, since she's a Heterodyne, which makes him a protagonist. And although none of the Jaegers are particularly intelligent, he's one of the more cunning of the ones we've met.
  • Tiger from Consolers has yellow eyes, and is a sneaky Jerkass.

    Western Animation 
  • Many in the Fire Nation from Avatar: The Last Airbender fit this trope; Princess Azula in particular plays this trope deadly straight.
  • Ratty from Mr. Bogus, which is appropriate, befitting his conniving nature.
  • Socrates from Adventures from the Book of Virtues has these, to show that while he may be seem rather sneaky, he is actually shown to have a good heart because of his hidden innocence.
  • Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: Zombozo is redesigned with yellow eyes when he returns for the first time since the Original Series, and is he ever sneaky and nasty...
  • Final Space: Invictus, though its eye color in its true form and when it's possessing others is purple, exhibits yellow eyes in its disembodied devil-face astral form which has a red theme.
  • Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants, despite having only one eye, would actually also count for this, as he is often scheming to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula.
    • Squidward on his... sneakier days.
  • Wile E. Coyote from Chuck Jones' Looney Tunes has yellow eyes compared to the Road Runner's ivory white eyes, since he is always coming up with sneaky schemes to catch the Road Runner, although without any success.
  • Tom Cat from MGM's Tom and Jerry has yellow eyes in his early cartoons compared to those of Jerry Mouse, often scheming against the mouse. The yellowness would disappear by the time of the Cinemascope cartoons, but reinstated in all modern depictions after that.
  • The foxes in The Foxbusters have yellow eyes, to denote that they are always scheming to catch the chickens on the farm.
  • Super Mario Bros.: In all three DiC cartoons, sneaky Card-Carrying Villain King Koopa has these. He is constantly drawing up schemes, some with his Koopa Kids in the latter two series.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Discord, the mischievous spirit of chaos and disharmony, sports these with googly red pupils to go with them.
    • Garble, the one teenage dragon most hostile to ponies and Spike's nemesis, has yellow sclera and tiny pupils. Yellow eyes is a trait shared by some other dragons, but certainly not all.
  • Many of the villains and jerks in 101 Dalmatians: The Series had yellow eyes, including Swamp Rat and one of his henchmen, Cydne (who also happens to be a snake), Cruella De Vil (which is odd, since in the original movie she had white eyes), as well as most of her family of De Vils. Mooch also had yellow eyes to show off how much a Jerk Jock he is. Interestingly, Spot the chicken has large yellow eyes, despite being part of the main cast, as well as Sergeant Tibs the cat (yellow scleras with green pupils) who is the Colonel's most loyal rank member.
  • When Bill Cipher possesses people on Gravity Falls, they gain glowing yellow sclerae and slit pupils. Oddly, Bill himself has a slit pupil, but his sclera is white.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog:
    • Katz from has a pair of yellow eyes that help enhance his Obviously Evil appearance.
    • As does one-shot villain Fusilli.
  • In the earlier seasons of Batman: The Animated Series, the Joker has yellow sclerae, possibly a side-effect of the acciden that made him into the Joker. The later seasons gave him jet-black sclerae with white pupils.
  • She-Ra: Princess of Power: If ever a background object, particularly a blue one, suddenly shows a pair of these, it's a safe bet it's actually Horde Spy Imp.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has Double Trouble, an elf-like shapeshifter with yellow eyes and a penchant for causing chaos and discord among people.
  • In Muzzy in Gondoland, Corvax, the Evil Chancellor who serves as the main antagonist, has yellow eyes along with his green skin.
  • Xyber 9: New Dawn: Evil Overlord Machestro has copper irises with slit pupils, as well as yellow sclerae. The rank and file Machina soldiers also have yellow sclerae, though all other parts of their eyes are normal.
  • The U.S. Acres segments of Garfield and Friends gave Gort yellow eyes as one of the ways it made Orson's three bullying older brothers more distinguishable than their counterparts in the original comic strip.

    Real Life 
  • Many animals have yellow, gold, or amber eyes, and unsurprisingly, many of these animals are the types that people stereotype as malevolent. Snakes, foxes, cats, and certain dogs have this quality.
    • With domestic dogs, it depends. Weimaraners, despite having yellow eyes, are rarely portrayed as evil.
    • Birds of prey and gulls very often have yellow eyes as well, but they subvert it as they're rarely portrayed as evil.
  • Not so much yellow per se, but some people in real life with very light brown eyes, especially in the right lighting, might appear to have caramel or golden irises. Also, some people actually have amber eyes. As mentioned above, too, yellow sclera are decidedly unhealthy in humans and can indicate a few different types of illnesses.

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