Editorials · On Characters

「K」 and the Language of「C」olor

Glorious 「K」artwork by  雪見 at Pixiv

First off, I can’t really say anything without linking to illegenes’ and wendeego’s article at Shibirerudarou. It was the inspiration for this post, so make sure to check out their blog!

As any person who’s seen the show has probably noticed, 「K」 is a highly visual experience. From the over-the-top wave battle between the Red and Blue Kings to the budget smashing skateboard scenes seemingly filmed through a fish-eye lens,「K」 boasts about its enormous visual prowess and sexy, unique style.  The show constantly panders to body instead of the mind, pushing out jaw-dropping action scenes and a wide variety of character archetypes common in anime today. Like a male peacock,「K」proudly wears its visual style on its sleeve.

However, the first thing which stands out about K’s unique style is the gratuitous use of color, to the point where it’s not even subtle. Hell, what 「K」 does with the color is incredibly unsubtle to the point that the scales tip in its favor (aside from a couple of bleeding eyeballs). For the first three episodes, the show chooses to momentarily sideline proper exposition and formula in favor of hardcore, blinding visual audacity. Depending on what’s happening, blue and red filters will dominate the screen and often take precedence over the actual events. However, the absolutely extreme use of color dictates the screen and actually works as a symbolic and psychological tool for influencing the mood of the viewer and striking their subconscious. In this sense, 「K」 takes the “show, don’t tell” policy to an absolutely ridiculous extreme and cranks it up past eleven:「K」 uses the supersaturation of colors to promote feelings instead of thought within the viewers.


Here’s some quick nature trivia for you readers: in the ocean, many fish make use of pigment-changing and light-reflecting organelles called chromatophores for survival. Despite the common misconception, fish scales are actually very clear: it is the organelles underneath which change the color of the scales and reflect different colors of light. However, chromatophores are not only used for blending in with the environment. Many fish such as the zebrafish use their color-changing abilities to mate or communicate a message to another fish in the vicinity.  Other fishes of the same species are able to interpret their colors and contrarily, other predators such as the lemon shark are often turned off by colors other than yellow. This form of communication is common to many other fish species and several species place their ability to survive and convey information on these color-changing properties. Changing and emboldening colors allows a large number of fish species to communicate and send both messages and even emotions to onlookers.

As much as we’d like to separate ourselves from fish and other lowly animals, humans are actually deeply affected by color as well. A large part of the marketing business is based on color since it can arouse emotions, influence behaviors, and create symbolic associations. The associations we make with color are often determined at an early age and gain meaning as we grow older. We learn red is hot, green and purple are somehow poison, and that things that are brown probably don’t smell so nice. Colors can even affect people on a biological level, as well. When someone sees the color red, their brain releases endorphins which cause the said subject’s mouth to salivate, one of the main reasons why McDonald’s added far more red to the background of their signature logo. Color can affect our emotions, appetite, and identification abilities. In other words, color is a powerful expressive tool.

「K」takes color’s expressive and symbolic properties and takes it an extreme. Arguably, the show’s most defining characteristic is the heavy use of color. Color is so entwined into 「K」’s premise that even the clans and the character designs suggest coloration schemes. Everything, even the city, in 「K」is associated to a color in order to suggest a subliminal message to our brains. Sometimes the use of tint is so overboard that it borders on desperation, but it really does enhance what is being shown to us. The prolific use of coloration allows for the viewer to strike a chord with the events on the small screen.

The symbolic matador of the show. Notice the cape-like sweatshirt appendage.

Another fun factoid: Hispanic matadors  are often well-known for their signature red capes. While we often see the cape as a method to incite the bull’s anger, bull’s are actually very colorblind. The crimson, bloodied color of the cape is used to excite the audience so that they may continue to spur on the matador fighting the bull. The Red Clan, otherwise known as HOMRA, is constructed of members known for their ill tempers, violence, and most of all, passion. Of all the colors, red is the most emotionally suggestive and carries an extremely high number of meanings depending on the tone. The color also heavily suggests blood, a thematic seen in both the Red Clan’s willingness to draw it and their brotherly bonds. Of all the character groups seen so far, the HOMRA members are by far the closest to family and have a fierce will to protect their friends; their biggest taboo is the murder of a fellow clan member.

Red is also the color of vitality and power, and it very attractive to people searching for intensity and raw enjoyment. Upon the sight of red, a person’s blood pressure, metabolism, and rate of respiration increase. It’s also the most eye-grabbing color and stands out the most on its own. This is especially notable in the show’s city environment, where everything is dyed green, blue, and purple, the three colors directly opposite of red on the traditional color wheel. HOMRA is made up of ruffians whose brusque actions contrast the orderly city life. They’re passionate and lawless. In fact, the only scenes where we see a red filter take place in the Red Clan base, which is immediately disrupted by Yata’s brawl (and is quickly dissolved by the second-in-command). Just as with the clan itself, the red hints at violence, disruption, but at the same time, camaraderie and brotherly blood inside the bar. The Red Clan embodies the disruption, violence, and the outstanding passion and wide level of emotions that the red color brings to our senses.

Too blue for a coincidence.

Contrarily, the Blue Clan represents the opposite: serenity, peace, and law.  Once again coming from a biological perspective, the color blue also releases endorphins upon sight, except this time to relieve the body and make us feel better. In fact, it even does the exact opposite of red and slows and relaxes the metabolism while suppressing the appetite. Aptly, blue is commonly associated with tranquility and order: blue is a common color amongst social workers and is oftentimes attributed to the police force (the Po-Po, 5-O, other slang cop mumbo-jumbo etc). Like the cops, the Blue Clan act as the enforcers of the 「K」 world. They dedicate themselves to controlling the chaos caused by HOMRA and defend the city. Hell, this symbolism isn’t even close to subtle; the Blue Clan has a literal jail inside their offices. They maintain the chaos and violence in the city by working as a shadow police force. Opposite of the violent Red Clan, the ultimate goal of the Blue’s is order and security.

Blue is also a serious, professional color often used in the business environment for an impression of contentment and reliability. Again contrasting the wild Red Clan, the Blue’s follow a typical corporate structure. Their mainstay isn’t a bar, but an actual business office drenched in professionalism. They have roots to the nation’s heads and order around the prime minister of Japan around as if they were his boss. In opposition to emotionally (and you know, literally) warm colors like yellow, orange, and red, blue is linked to intellect and thought. It’s a dead serious shade of color and represents the callous and cold Blue Clan perfectly. The cool, calculating nature of blue is a perfect match for the business-like and overly serious Blue Clan.

Aside from the leads’ Yin-Yang motif, note the marriage of colors on the room’s walls. The room is a safe zone.

The final additions to the dualistic, Yin-Yang nature of the show are the two male protagonists, Shiro and Kuroh. Again putting emphasis on the surface,「K」doesn’t even try to conceal the opposing color in the Shiro and Kuroh (for god’s sake, they’re named after the colors themselves!). As the naming suggests, the two are complete opposites in terms of personality and characterization: Shiro is careless, free, and innocent, while Kuroh is serious to a fault, well experienced, and a hardened veteran. However, while Kuroh’s distinction as a griever neck-deep in elegance (the color again being a dead give away) I’d rather spend more time talking about the other half of the pair.

Contrary to popular belief, the major arcana in tarot are used to tell a quite fascinating story. From the Sun to the Moon, to the Empress to the Chariot, the twenty-two cards of the tarot tell a story of gradual growth, with each assigned Roman numerals to track their order. However, at the very beginning of the deck lies a numberless card, the zero, lying untouched by any foreign influences or evils. The Fool, the alpha and the unnumbered, often accompanied by small animal of sorts, is the beginning and end of the tarot. His potential is limitless, and when added to something he can become anything. A surprisingly cunning prankster and hopeful idiot, the Fool is an innocent characterized by his goal to enjoy life, with all its paradoxes and dilemmas. It can be no coincidence that Shiro, the embodiment of the Fool and the hero of this journey, is represented by the untainted and stainless color white, the color of beginnings and boundless potential.

Stray Snippets

  • Personally, the abundance of blue color hurts my eyes. It’s effective for conveying symbolic messages, but still, it freakin’ hurts like hell sometimes.
  • Don’t fool yourself,「K」has depth, but paradoxically on the surface, not in the story. Don’t think, describe. 「K」isn’t deep, it’s just really stupid in a really smart way.
  • I’m either a genius for finding this, or just going crazy. Both are a possibility.

2 thoughts on “「K」 and the Language of「C」olor

    1. Thanks, mate! While there are several films and series which utilize the use of cool and warm color filters (The Shawshank Redemption, for starters), K cockily rolls around in it without any subtlety at all and I absolutely love it. It’s hardly discreet at all, but it goes well with the show’s natural bravado and moxie (or at least whatever the creators are going for).

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