From Super Saiyan Transformations to Deku’s One for All: Full Cowling Infinite 100%, hair color changes in Anime characters, especially those with long hair, typically denote a significant shift in a character’s ability or psychology.
Tokyo Ghoul is no different.
Ken Kaneki embracing his overwhelming Ghoul side and transforming to defeat Yamori (aka Jason) is one of the most iconic moments in the series. It’s a pivotal moment in the young protagonist’s life.
It’s the first time we see a badass Kaneki, moving around and toying with his enemy, in contrast to an awkward and nervous-looking half human half Ghoul.
But what is the meaning behind Kaneki’s transformation? Specifically to his hair? And why does it go back to being black later on in the series? This shuffling between black and white confuses fans to this day.
So this article is an attempt to shed light on the matter and get a sense of Kaneki’s adjustment to his Ghoul side. Without further ado, let’s get crackin’!
Why did Kaneki’s hair turn white?
There are three prevalent theories that attempt to explain this phenomenon. Let’s go through them one by one.
The first time we see Kaneki transforming is when Yamori tortures and drives him insane. The founder of the White Suits forcefully removes Kaneki’s toes and nails.
He uses an RC suppressant that is typically used for Ghoul surgeries (Dr. Kanou probably gave it to him). Once the drug enters the body through a syringe, the RC cells slow down their dividing and multiplying, making the body less sturdy.
But he has to enter the needle inside Kaneki’s body…
A Ghoul’s membrane is one of their weak points. And it exists at the corner of the eye. So Yamori strikes the needle at that location to inject the RC suppressant.
As a result, Kaneki becomes weaker and weaker. The body is no longer able to withstand ordinary tools like knives and pliers.
Yamori proceeds to pluck out Kaneki’s toes one by one. The RC cells are not fully suppressed so the Ghoul regeneration ability still works. When the drug’s effects wear off, it grows back.
Kaneki described this circumstance as being more than the “absolute worst pain imaginable,” and counting backwards from 1,000 at 7-point intervals kept his sanity intact.
When he realizes that there’s no purpose behind this torture other than for Jason’s sadistic pleasure (he should have died sooner. Just because he was victimized in a similar fashion doesn’t give him the license to do the same), he feels nothing else but despair.
And here’s when his hair starts turning white for the first time.
The Anime incorrectly shows Kaneki’s hair turning white almost instantaneously. Whereas in the Manga, it happens gradually.
So Anime-onlys, if you say “That doesn’t make any sense”, remember the popular phrase “It probably does in the Manga” always. Nrfufufufufu. Oh God. Animehunch’s content manager’s mindset is rubbing on me. Probably have to recheck my brain.
So why does it happen? Let’s explore the first theory.
Theory 1: The Marie Antionette Syndrome
This is the most popular explanation amongst fans for Kaneki’s iconic look.
The term “Marie Antoinette syndrome” refers to a condition in which someone’s hair abruptly becomes white (canities). This illness was named after the French queen Marie Antoinette, whose hair allegedly went white unexpectedly before her execution in 1793.
As her country slid into violence and bloodshed in 1793, Marie Antoinette witnessed the abolition of the French monarchy, the execution of her husband (King Louis XVI), and the kidnapping of her son.
Finally, she was hauled from her prison cell and sentenced to execution by guillotine with only one day’s warning. Just a few hours later, she was executed alone, in front of a congregation applauding for her death.
Her Majesty’s lady-in-waiting Henriette Campan recalled (as recorded in the book “The Memoirs of Maria Antoinette”), “The first time I saw her following the dreadful incident of the Varennes journey [a foiled escape attempt]…
She pulled off her cap and wished me to notice the impact that mourning had left on her hair.” “It had turned as white as a woman in her seventies in the span of one night.”
Quite tragic isn’t it? It is exactly the word used by Kaneki to describe himself if he were to write a book about himself.
There are some pieces of evidence of this actually happening but mind you, it is kinda rare.
FYI: the syndrome is also known as Canities Subita. The following research is based on 196 case reports published.
So, basically, the stress and anguish Kaneki had while being tormented by Yamori 2-3 times per day for 10+ days caused him to develop white strands of hair.
Knov from Hunter X Hunter too faced a similar situation. All his life, he had black hair. But after feeling Pitou’s aura, his fear caused him to have a mental breakdown, resulting in his hair changing to white.
He began to age quickly as time passed, causing his hair to fall out and his body to become emaciated. By the end of the Chimera Ant arc, he was nearly bald with wrinkly skin. Looked like an old man.
While it’s possible Sui Ishida might have had the syndrome in mind while narrating the hair color changes but, I don’t find it convincing enough. It’s neither hinted at in the Anime nor the Manga. That’s where the next theory comes into place.
Theory 2: The Ghoul Ageing factor
According to this theory, Kaneki’s hair turned white cause’ he was ageing faster than normal.
In Tokyo Ghoul:re Chapter 131, Nishiki explains the process of Ghoul ageing. He begins by mentioning that the cell can divide a certain number of times. Each time this occurs, the Telomere or the ends of DNA get shorter and shorter.
Once the Telomere are short enough, the cell cannot divide anymore. This reduces the number of activities performed and hence causes ageing.
While using the Kagune, cells reproduce at a rapid rate but because of the enzymes contained within the RC cells, Ghoul can endure the rapid reproduction.
However, in Kaneki’s case, since he didn’t cannibalize other Ghouls nor consume any humans during the Jason incident, his RC cell count is low. He has been using his Kagune and healing powers with a dropping fuel tank. Hence, his cells divide faster than normal.
In other words, Kaneki has been ageing at an incredible rate and could die sooner than usual. This faster ageing rate could be why he has had white hair for most of his life.
Kaneki had to heal his toes over and over again, all the while being tortured and practically starved. His body was basically weakening because the cells were wearing out, which is why his hair turned white, as it does with individuals as they age.
Torture is also why Takizawa from Re: had his hair turn white.
Kaneki’s hair turns black again for the same reason, because he is no longer subjected to torture.
Ageing at a faster rate seems to be a problem for human-turned-Ghoul. Takizawa might be having the same scenario to deal with.
The thing is, fans are puzzled about Kaneki shifting between black and white multiple times. That’s where the most compelling and complete theory comes into play.
How did Kaneki’s hair turn black again?
Kaneki’s hair change is a symbolic representation of the changes in his mindset as the series progressed.
The half-human half Ghoul was in full-on denial mode initially. He couldn’t accept the fact that his life has changed forever and he cannot live like a normal human being anymore. He despised Ghouls and the thought of eating humans repelled him.
The black hair signifies him containing his humanity despite being a ghoul. Which continued to dominate until the torture scene.
Kaneki’s hair changing from black to white for the first time represents the deep anger and frustration that runs in his mind – Yamori’s torture and the betrayal of his mom, whom he loved the most.
His mother had told him that it was preferable to “experience pain than to hurt others.” But it was this trait that led to her death.
She passed on to the afterlife due to overworking herself, all to accommodate her sister’s debt.
And the sister treated Kaneki harshly. So much so he didn’t feel like he was part of their family anymore. He moved out and hence loneliness crept in, until he met Hide.
Kaneki was so enraged that he believed his mother had abandoned him and chose his aunt over him. She would still be alive if she had let her sister fend for herself.
And Kaneki wouldn’t have to deal with the problems he encountered when living with her and her family.
So to save someone, you need to sacrifice something or someone. That’s what Kaneki learned while having his internal exchange with Rize.
At that moment of understanding, he lost his humanity, and his hair became white – a sign of maturity as well as a symbol that he had lost his humanity and human feelings, fully accepting himself as a Ghoul.
Also, he needed that power to save himself, Touka and the others who were imprisoned by the Aogiri Tree.
Suzuya Juuzou, Arima Kishou, Seidou Takizawa, Tooru Mutsuki, Renji Yomo (silver hair), and many more major characters have this symbolism of a lack of humanity.
In fact, Inuyasha, the half-demon, too experience this switching from black to white hair back to back.
During the new moon’s night, he’d switch to his human side, causing his body to become brittle and feeble. He wouldn’t regain his demon powers until the sun rose and his hair became white again.
Whenever he lost contact with his sword Tetsusaiga, he’d transform into a full-fledged demon, losing all sense of self and discrimination. In that form, his eyes become red and he develops purple scars on his face.
TLDR: Red hair – Human. White hair – Demon.
In addition, Inuyasha has claws and fangs in his half-demon form. Kinda like how Kaneki has long black fingernails in his white-haired form. Also, Inuyasha faced the same societal problems as Kaneki just because they were different.
One might pose the following question: “How come Kaneki continues to have white hair after the Jason incident?” Well, after leaving Anteiku and teaming up with Tsukiyama and Banjo, he faces constant danger so he can’t keep his guard down.
This means there’s no question of suppressing or forcefully controlling his RC cells.
The stress and anxiety he faced on the road with no safe place to rest added to the gloominess of the situation.
Now, moving on to Haise Sasaki.
He had white hair with black patches on top.
Sasaki, from the P.O.V of the other Quinxes in the CCG, had an abnormally high RC factor – 2753, while the others in his team had somewhere between 600 and 950.
He had to take a lot of RC suppressants to not go haywire and maintain his composure as an investigator. That’s why there’s a mix of black and white.
However, the black portion slowly takes over until all of his hair became full black after the Tsukiyama Family Extermination Operation. I’ll explain the connection between suppressants and hair colour in a minute.
As far as symbolism goes, the mix of black and white hair represents the uncertainty in his mind. He has no memory of his past and didn’t know who he actually was. Plus the CCG suppressed his RC cell activity to some extent. So he’s more human than before.
However, the mental battle he undergoes every day on whether he’s a good or a bad guy agonized him. Was he truly part of the CCG or part of Anteiku and the Ghouls he fought with? Human or Ghoul? Black or White?
Having regained his memories and finding out the truth, he was devastated. But it did really turn him into a real badass instead of a coward (Ken Kaneki – the Black Reaper).
In Tokyo Ghoul:re Manga, Kaneki explains why he had full black hair in this scenario.
Melanin is a pigment found mostly in hair and skin that is responsible for colour. The more melanin you have, the darker your hair/skin is. The RC suppressants temporarily increased melanin production.
Another reason could be is because he consumed Eto’s kakuhou. By this, his RC cell production would have drastically increased.
To suppress it and continue working as an investigator, he would have taken additional RC suppressants to adjust to the unexpected rise, generating more melanin production and turning his hair completely black again.
Symbolically, the black hair represents sadness and grief. The truth was painful to accept. Meaning he had to betray his loving Quinx Squad members and became their target.
He started being cold and rough. And later he went with the plan of saving Hinami from the clutches of the CCG.
Then he felt more depressed and lost the will to live. Told himself there’s no meaning in life so what’s the use of living? This changed when he faced Arima once again.
How did Kaneki’s hair changed to white again?
Arima was testing and teaching him how to live (cause both he and Eto knew that Kaneki is the true one-eyed King). During the fight, Kaneki had to use a lot of RC cells to power up and regenerate to heal himself.
This means, as the battle progressed, he was slowly getting the RC suppressants out of his system and fight with full potential in order to survive. We can see that the whiteness is slowly forming.
He was under a lot of stress from the sheer intensity of the battle and the fear of dying. Not to mention the nervousness of battling his former mentor.
As he started to lose hope, he thought of Hide.
The Hide inside his head tries to convince Kaneki that he’ll find a reason to live in no time. Kaneki always says he wants to die or vanish but life isn’t meant to be thrown away. It needs to be cherished with your friends and family.
And for Kaneki, he had Hide and Touka, the two most precious people on the planet. His best friend wanted him to keep living with him despite what he had or will do. No matter what, Hide will always be with Kaneki.
Seriously, if only there’s someone like Hide in real life. Man, Anime is throwing all sorts of false hope into our hearts. It’s saddening. No wonder Animanga fans feel sad all day.
That empty feeling in our hearts might linger on while hopelessly trying to search for perfection.
As he discovers the desire to live, Kaneki’s hair goes white as he flushes all of the RC suppressants from his system, allowing him to unleash his full RC factor potential and battle Arima for his life.
This potential allowed him to form giant Kagune structures.
When we look at things symbolically, Kaneki getting his white hair back tells us that he’s accepted who he is and what he has in life. And that pushes him to continue living.
In this case, the white hair also represents his wish to live to protect the lives of his near and dear ones. He has found purpose in life once again.
After defeating Arima and Eto and unveiling their plan to raise a one-eyed-Ghoul who stands as a symbol of hope for all Ghouls, Kaneki announces himself as the One-Eyed-King to all of the Ghoul assembled in the area and forms the organization known as the G.O.A.T.
To sum up everything I’ve explained under this sub-head, Kaneki’s hair change represent the 5 stages of grief.
- Denial – the starting point (Black hair)
- Anger – the torture scene (White hair)
- Uncertainity/Bargaining – Human or Ghoul? (Mix of black and white hair) Clinging to a false sense of securtiy
- Depression – the Black Reaper phase (Black hair)
- Acceptance – Finding the will to live (White hair)
The Symbolism answer feels more satisfying to me as it makes the most sense. It’s present throughout Ishida’s works and I think the hair changes magnificently demonstrates its beauty.
If you’re still unsatisfied with our reasoning, there’s still one explanation left. And that comes from Gigguk’s Tokyo Ghoul in 5 minutes.
Yamori: What?! Why has your hair turned white?
Kaneki: Cause’ it makes me look more badass.
Yamori: So why have your nails turned black?
Kaneki: Cause’ it makes me look FABULLOOUUUSSSS!!!! (last word said in a high pitched tone)Tokyo Ghoul in 5 Minutes, Gigguk
So what do you think of Kaneki’s hair colour? Do you agree with our reasoning? Which theory appealed more to you? Let us know in the comments below!