Friendship is Magic has a fantastic cast in Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie. They’re quirky, outspoken, neurotic, and nuanced. And colorful? Sure, I guess. There’s the blue one, the white one, the, um, the other blue one, the tan one, the…pale green one? This is harder than I thought. At least Pinkie’s got the answer right there in her name. When you look at My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic through the eyes of the colorblind, you gain a new understanding for how the show communicates its themes. Read on for more!
See, I’m a colorblind pony fan. While most people’s eyes contain millions of cone cells sensitive to the red, green, and blue wavelengths that make up the visible light spectrum, my eyes are missing an entire swath of these tiny photoreceptors. This condition, deuteranopia, affects approximately 1% of males and an even smaller percentage of females. My world isn’t black-and-white like The Wizard of Oz’s Kansas, but it’s skewed enough that countless everyday cues become incomprehensible. I don’t know if the power indicator on my Nintendo Wii is on or off. I’m paralyzed by paint swatches and fabric samples. And unless you’re cosplaying as Ronald McDonald, I can’t tell if you have red hair.
It can be difficult to explain, but I’ve found that the pictures at this link do a good job of approximating the world seen by those with deuteranopia in a way others can understand. If you have normal vision, you might be struck by how drab the rightmost images on that page seem when compared to their left-side originals. But people with deuteranopia can’t perceive any difference at all, and are left wondering what they’re missing.
I might not be able to spot redheads, but to be honest this visual deficiency doesn’t cause too many headaches. I had grown to love Friendship is Magic based on the strength of its characters, not the variety of its palette. But because this show employs a careful approach to visual design, color is one of the languages the artists and animators use to communicate. And, in time, I realized that I hadn’t understood entire paragraphs of the conversation.
That’s a simulated deuteranopia image created with the Vischeck tool. Most fans see bizarre color changes in this picture, some of them unpleasant. But those with deuteranopia simply see a normal frame from the TV show they love — the same pose they’ve seen dozens of times during the opening credits. (This is such an issue that I needed someone with normal vision to verify that I’d correctly uploaded the color-shifted image for this article, not the original screenshot.)
You can probably see that specific colors get lost upon transitioning to a deuteranopia view. I can’t see them, of course, but when this subject came up in The Round Stable’s forums, user Aramek helpfully outlined the major shifts. Twilight is now a close match for Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy’s mane has lost its luster. And Pinkie Pie is hardly pink at all.
Why does it matter? I admit my first reaction was simply to shrug my shoulders. People with deuteranopia are missing the necessary optical cones for full-spectrum vision and, barring a miracle in sci-fi nanosurgery, will never be able to see standard colors. So what’s the point in dwelling on what seems like a matter of aesthetics? But other fans of the show soon clued me in to the fact that the designers and animators of Friendship is Magic use color to convey a wide range of emotional nuance. And a lot of that is centered around Pinkie.
I hadn’t realized that Pinkie’s mane isn’t just floofier than those of the other characters, it’s more vibrant too. Even in a still frame, Pinkie is designed to stand out in a crowd. This announces her in-your-face personality before she unleashes her physical tics and vocal mannerisms, and it’s a quality that adds humor to her interactions with dull-brown characters like Cranky Doodle Donkey. The comparison shots above, showing Pinkie with her parents and sisters, illustrate how a deuteranopia viewer would miss the fact that Pinkie is clearly the oddball in her severe, Mennonite-inspired family. Pinkie’s hot-pink hue, which she carried for years before a sonic rainboom gave her a motivational jump-start, is actually a mark of destiny.
When you watch Discord’s corruption of the characters in “Return of Harmony,” you’ll note that the scene loses its punch for colorblind viewers. To us, the villain appears to be barely nudging a Photoshop slider. The purpose of the color-draining is to telegraph Pinkie’s distress and the overall “wrongness” of Discord’s tampering, but it’s a trick I’d barely noticed. Jokes can get muddled too — when “Ponyville Confidential” aired, I had to check online before I could be sure whether Mayor Mare had pink hair that she dyed gray, or gray hair that she dyed pink.
The color associations in the show don’t stop with Pinkie Pie. The pigments selected for each pony’s coat, mane, and eyes convey intangible information every time that character steps on screen. A colorblind person can’t detect these emotional halos, but forum user Scuderia Ferrarity helped explain some of the fundamentals:
- Rarity: Her combination of white and purple evokes purity and regal formality.
- Fluttershy: The pairing of light yellow and light pink create an association that is soft, young, and feminine.
- Applejack: Orange and tan are appropriately earthy colors, and carry connotations of Halloween and harvest season.
- Pinkie Pie: Her electrifying shade of pink is aggressively loud and girly, like the Barbie aisle of a Toys “R” Us.
Maybe you hadn’t thought about these associations consciously, but it’s almost certain that they registered in your psyche. On Friendship is Magic, a character’s color combo can convey as much information as their outfit, their body type, or their voice.
Take Twilight Sparkle. I’ve never been able to see the color purple, so people like me have no frame of reference for what we’re missing. When purple is indistinguishable from blue you end up calling everything blue, and the concept that purple is actually a distinct color is as alien to me as the third dimension would be to a resident of Flatland. But as soon as I understood that royal overtones are traditionally associated with purple, it clicked how it’s a fitting combo for Twilight, the favored protégé of Princess Celestia. The fact that Twilight has two stripes in her hair, not just one, is something I only realized after directed prompting.
Do the color-shifted images in this article look strange to you? If they do, remember that it’s only because they look different to you. Because colorblindness is genetic, people like me have seen the world this way since birth. Sure, I’d love to do a Freaky Friday body-swap and borrow somebody’s eyes for a day. But it doesn’t bring me down, since it’s impossible to feel a sense of loss over something you’ve never experienced.
So if you have normal vision, take a minute to appreciate an aspect of Friendship is Magic‘s visual design which you might not have considered before. And if you have deutranopia like me? Don’t despair! As it turns out, so do ponies.
“This shade of brown should only be used for accents”? Yeah, you’re not fooling me, Rarity. ■