When it comes to anime and manga characters, hair colors and styles can say a lot about their personalities without a single word needing to be spoken. For instance, pigtails — better known in Japan as twintails — are typically worn by characters who are especially innocent, child-like or emotionally immature. Meanwhile, red or orange-haired characters with pigtails, such as Evangelion’s Asuka, are often stubborn and passionate tsundere characters who are quick to lash out from possessiveness or jealousy.
In contrast to pigtails, the loosely-worn low side-ponytail, or sometimes side-plait, is commonly worn by older anime and manga characters, and particularly by loving, kindly anime/manga mothers and motherly figures. From classic mom characters such as Kusakabe Yasuko from My Neighbor Totoro to more contemporary examples like Rengoku Ruka from Demon Slayer, the ‘mom-style’ side-ponytail or side-plait has been around for decades and persisted until this day.
In fact, the hairstyle has become ubiquitous enough that certain similarities can be drawn between the numerous anime and manga characters seen wearing it and their personalities and/or everyday roles. For instance, since the style isn’t designed to be especially elegant or showy, but instead informal and low-maintenance, it makes sense that characters who usually have loose side-ponytails probably don’t have a job that calls for them to be in a professional office setting or involves rigorous physical activity where their hair would get in the way.
This type of hairstyle also frames the face, making characters appear softer and more stereotypically feminine. There’s a marked difference in personality, for example, between a mom like Dragon Ball Z’s Chi-Chi, who wears a high, tight bun that naturally makes her look somewhat strict and no-nonsense, and Toradora!’s Takasu Yasuko, who has a far more relaxed and easygoing personality. If a figure such as Isabella, aka Mama, from The Promised Neverland, wore a low and casual side-ponytail instead of her trademark bun with her hair scraped back from her forehead, it would give an entirely different feel to her character. Likewise, if the gentle and softspoken Kawamoto Akari from March Comes In like a Lion wore a tight bun rather than her loosely twisted side-ponytail, there would be an odd disconnect between her appearance and her distinct maternal role.
Needless to say, there are plenty of other examples of anime/manga mothers and housewives who can be seen wearing various interpretations of the low side-ponytail or side-plait. Many of them are likewise perceived by the rest of the cast as well as the viewer as warm, kind, attentive and unassertive, particularly when it comes to their families. They will support their children, protecting them with their lives if necessary, but otherwise will try to live quiet, peaceful lives without putting their loved ones under undue pressure. A handful of the most well-known includes Fueguchi Ryouko (Tokyo Ghoul), Carla Yeager (Attack on Titan), Yadomi Touko (Anohana) and Trisha Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist).
If the above list didn’t already make it obvious, another major trend among mom characters wearing variations of the side-ponytail, aside from their soft and nurturing personalities, is that they tend to die — typically fairly early on in the story or even before the main events of the present-day timeline take place. Ryouka is hunted down and executed despite her pacifist nature; Carla is devoured by a Titan; both Touko and Trisha succumb to an unspecified illness when their sons are still young children.
Indeed, the slew of moms with side-ponytails dying before their time has become so prevalent in anime and manga that it’s become a meme unto itself. Sometimes also called the “Dead Anime Mom Hairstyle,” the trend was noted by a user on Tumblr in 2014 and widely circulated online the following year. Lending some more credence to this meme is that even anime and manga characters who aren’t mothers, yet take on very maternal personas and are seen wearing this hairstyle, also commonly die (or are already dead) as part of the story, such as Hyakuya Akane from Seraph of the End and Kuramori from Haibane Renmei.
There is of course no hard-and-fast rule saying that all gentle and loving anime and manga moms need to rock a side-ponytail or plait, or that all of these types of characters who actually do are destined to die. Nonetheless, there’s more than enough evidence to suggest that characters who have a strong maternal instinct and just so happen to frequently wear low and loose side-ponytails are at a considerably higher risk of being killed off by their creators than their fellow cast members.