What is it about pointy ears?
For some reason, the fastest, most reliable way to establish someone (or thing) is not human is to give them unusually pointy ears. Whether it be elves, aliens, or stranger fare, having those ears point skyward is all it takes to knock them down (or up) a peg.
The size, shape and length of the ears can vary, and this affects the nature of the species they're on. Normal ears with a slightly pointy tip? Probably a Human Alien, but might be a demon or even vampire, so be on your guard. Long and tubular pointy ears that are a bit ratty? Then it's a filthy monster/mutant that is Exclusively Evil and must be purged with flame. Dog-like ears that move, with tufts of fur? Probably a Beast Man or Wolf Man, back away slowly without making eye contact. Or perhaps long, gracefully arching ears? Then they're obviously elves or something far above mere human, and must be treated with respect and humility because they have all kinds of kickass magic and martial prowess.
Here's a short list of these pointy-eared inhuman hobgoblins:
- Aliens, most prominently Star Trek Vulcans.
- Vampires, especially those that Look Like Orlok.
- Elves and Fairies, most commonly any of the JRR Tolkien variety and its derivatives.
- Beast Men or part animal Half Human Hybrids, most prominently the Wolf Man.
- Demons and Monsters, usually Orcs and Goblins.
- Mutants, as is the case of several X-Men like Nightcrawler.
A subtrope of Unusual Ears.
Anime & Manga
- Elves in Record of Lodoss War, Those Who Hunt Elves, Rune Soldier Louie and many other imitators of Lodoss. Dwarves, such as Ghim, have smaller, less pointy ears that look a bit more humanoid.
- Henry in Chibi Vampire
- Inverted in The Big O, where all of the humans in Paradigm City have pointed ears. It's probably just the art style, but the show is so full of Mind Screw (it's the Trope Namer for Tomato in the Mirror) that you can't be sure of anything.
- The Zendtraedi of Macross have these, and Zentraedi/Human hybrids sometimes express these in later series. A Retcon as Zentradi from the original TV series had normal ears, but after Do You Remember Love? depicted their Zentreadi with pointed ears, the convention was picked up by later Macross productions.
- Agito of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, who also has bat wings and a pointed tail, giving her a demon-like look (if they come from Disgaea, at least).
- The Half-Human Hybrid Fairy people of Ubel Blatt Have particularly prominent angular ears. The more fairy blood they have, the longer the ears
- Princess Theodora of Mahou Sensei Negima. In fact, quite a few Beast Men, Demons, and other non-human humanoids in the Magic World have these.
- The demons (youkai) in Saiyuki.
- Ryoko in Tenchi Muyo!! has long, pointy ears... without the points.
- Along with Mihoshi, though hers are more subtle. This being the only time the word "subtle" can be applied to Mihoshi.
- Long and kinda squared-off ears are a common visual shorthand for Human Aliens in Tenchi Muyo! world. Most off-world characters have them, especially if they're from Jurai or Seniwa. And Wau, of course, have nekomimi.
- The Juraians are actually are the only ones who lack them, along with Cute Little Fangs, since they're basically just a different race of humanity with some artificial enhancements.
- Along with Mihoshi, though hers are more subtle. This being the only time the word "subtle" can be applied to Mihoshi.
- Hiruma from Eyeshield 21 is the only one in the entire series with special ears since it's about normal humans, but Hiruma has elf ears nevertheless.
- Probably because he's a Devil in Plain Sight?
- The demons in SHUFFLE!! have jigokumimi, while the gods have shorter pointed ears.
- Ashura in his clan in RG Veda.
- The demons of Chrono Crusade.
- The Abliarsec royal family in Crest of the Stars.
- The Count in Gankutsuou.
- The Medicine Seller from Mononoke.
- The Raalgon from Irresponsible Captain Tylor surely count.
- Mainly subverted thus far in Berserk. The main character has pointy ears, as well as roughly half the cast (including extras) early on. As of yet, there is no explanation for this, at least in-story; it may just be artistic/some weird way some people from Midland are different from people in real life, but that doesn't explain the lack of new characters with pointy ears. Then again, it may be because the author's style has shifted, and he decided to keep Guts' ears as symbolic. Elves, however, still play this straight.
- Most of the human-looking demons in Inuyasha have pointed ears to establish their inhuman status, most notably Shippo, Kagura, Kōga and Lord Sesshomaru.
- The half-elf Tiffania Westwood from Zero no Tsukaima. She has to cover them to avoid the prejudices against her people.
- A lot of the aliens and gods in Dragon Ball have pointed ears.
- This has actually been a minor plot point, as they helped Piccolo long-distance eavesdrop on Goku's conversation with Trunks near the beginning of the Android arc.
- In Ranma ½, the Musk Dynasty warriors, Herb, Lime and Mint, have slightly pointed ears, hinting of their partially animalistic descent.
- In Slayers, Elves, such as Memphis, have the classic small, pointed ears, although Mellyroon, an Elf from a Non-Serial Movie, inexplicably has bigger ears. On the flip side, Brau Demons have large, grotesque pointed ears. Zelgadis, a chimera, has decent-sized elfish ears because a Brau Demon was implanted into his genetic makeup via magic.
- Filia Ul Copt (a gold dragon who is usually in human form) is also revealed to have these in some official art, although most of the time you can't see them because of her hood with large green orbs on the sides. Other members of her race, while in human form, also have them. However, Milgazia of the Golden Dragon clan that serves the Water Dragon King in Dragon Valley and keeper of the Claire Bible however, has rounded ears in human form. His draconic true form is hinted at instead in the shape of his eyes and pupils in anime, manga and novel art.
- Some Claymores have pointy ears, and seeing that they are half-demon, the amount of yoki an individual has might have something to do with it.
- Kurumu from Rosario + Vampire has these in her succubus form.
- Merry from Yumekui Merry has these.
- In Blue Exorcist demons have long, pointed ears. Rin, being a half-demon, has only slightly pointed ears when his sword, which seals his demon powers, is sheathed.
- There's Moloch in Watchmen, but it went totally unacknowledged there as well as in the film (and was much more subtle).
- Several comic books in the Star Wars Expanded Universe feature characters of an unnamed species, very humanlike but with pointy ears. Fae, Aleco Stusea, and that one girl who was an obvious Expy of Princess Zelda. We don't hear that much about the latter two, but Fae was said to be a thousand years old, and was believed (at least by Obi-Wan Kenobi) to be immortal.
- They do have a name: the Sephi.
- The Sub-Mariner, a Half-Human Hybrid of man and mermaid has these.
- In Iron Man Noir, this is the mark of Captain Namor's pirate crew; they slice their ears to resemble shark fins.
- Elf Quest, duh.
- Many characters in the comic Gold Digger, including the main character Cheetah when she goes to human form.
- The elves in Poison Elves have exceptionally long, and very pointy, ears.
Films -- Live Action
- Piers Anthony and Robert E. Margroff's Kelvin of Rud series has two races of humans, one with round ears and the other with pointed ears. Ultimately this turns out not to have any great significance beyond a lame pun.
- JRR Tolkien's hobbits have slightly pointed ears (described as such in a letter to an illustrator, but never in the narrative). On the other hand, his Elves are never described anywhere, be it the narrative or meta, as having pointed ears. Yes, there is no proof of Tolkien-Elves having pointed ears.
- To be specific about it, Tolkien only ever wrote about elf ears once, calling them "leaf-shaped" in a posthumously published glossary of Noldorin tongue. This is essentially the origin of the entire "pointy-eared elf" meme in modern fantasy; "leaf-shaped" is generally interpreted as "pointy".
- Peter Pan in a few adaptations (most notably the Disney one), to give some more emphasis on the "pan" part of his name.
- In the prequel fanfic to the Disney version, Just a Little Bit of Pixie Dust, Peter starts out with normal ears, which become pointy when he starts making too much contact with the fairies from Pixie Hollow.
- The Elves of The Strands Series by Gael Baudino seem to have pointy ears, although it is never actually mentioned directly in the books. Still, it is implied several times when people who have recently been transformed into Elves because of their Elven heritage are encouraged by other Elves to cover their ears with their hair, so that they may move around in public without being recognized.
- In an otherwise mundane Verse, Emily of New Moon has slightly pointed ears.
- Though their ears are never described in the novels themselves, the Yuuzhan Vong from the New Jedi Order are often illustrated with prominent pointed ears. Otherwise, they're fairly humanlike (or would be if not for their cultural fixation on ritualized tatooing, scars, and general Body Horror).
Live Action TV
- The Vulcans from Star Trek.
- And their distant kin, the Romulans and the Remans.
- Several other Star Trek races. Halanans and Ramurans both have two points on each ear (and otherwise look human), while Arkenites have long ears that sweep backwards into points along the skull (as well as lumpy, bulbous bald heads and amber/green eyes).
- From Star Trek: Voyager, we also have the Ocampa.
- Gnomes from Special Unit 2.
- Hylians from the The Legend of Zelda series are distinguishable from regular humans (yes, such a race exists in the Zelda series) and similar-looking races by their ears. They don't exactly fall towards the lower measures, though, as the main characters in the games are traditionally Hylians.
- It's mentioned in some games that the big ears are so Hylians can "hear the voices of the gods". Notably, in Ocarina of Time, Ganondorf's ears go from normal to pointed after obtaining the Triforce of Power.
- Also, early in Wind Waker, pointy-eared girls are noted as being targeted by him for capture.
- The Kokiri also have pointed ears as do the Sheikah. Both of these are required from a storyline perspective as Link thought himself a Kokari and Zelda pretends to be a Sheikah. They also have other traits however that set them apart such as eternal childhood for the Kokiri and red eyes for the Sheikah.
- Some of the races in the Warcraft series fall under this. Mainly the Blood Elves and Night Elves. Their ears are so long and pointy that they extend past their head, making them the best example for this trope in Western video games.
- Oddly enough, elven rangers in Warcraft II had neat slightly pointed ears of roughly human size... in artwork and character portraits. The actual sprite has those huge flapping sheets. Of course, with such small figures running around the screen, the excessively long ears might been simply a way to say 'elf' at that resolution. Warcraft III, however, has both units and character portraits in 3D, and as a result, the elongated ears have snuck back into portraits and became canon.
- Many other races have pointy ones.
- Troll males have elongated ears, while females have theirs shortened as a part of enhancing the Cute Monster Girl appeal.
- Goblins and orcs have a more humanlike ear shape with a slight point.
- So do draenei, though theirs evoke the stern Spock expy feeling, being aliens and all.
- Worgen also have these for a different reason, due to their being lupine in appearance. Other Humanoid Animal such as tauren and pandaren avert this as their animal counterparts don't have pointed ears either.
- Magus from Chrono Trigger has them (as does the Goldfish Poop Gang that serves under him), but it's unclear whether or not this is due to his lineage, A Wizard Did It, or a Shout-Out to Dragon Ball.
- Pointed ears and Cute Little Fangs are the one truly consistent physical trait that all Nippon Ichi aka Disgaea "Humanoid" demons share, while the humans (and the angels, such as Flonne although she gains them both, along with a tail, when she becomes a fallen angel) don't have them.
- As do the demons of Makai Kingdom.
- The elf-like inhabitants of whatever world the Jak and Daxter series takes place on have exceptionally long ears, with a total "ear-span" that is usually three to four times the width of their faces. Subverted in that the ears are not used to indicate anything supernatural about them - they seem to just be quirky-looking humans, and have been referred to as humans on more than one occasion.
- Rena, uniquely among the Expelians in Star Ocean the Second Story. (and its anime, Star Ocean EX), because she's actually Nedian; the other Nedians have the same Unusual Ears. The Vanguardians who play a minor role in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time seem to have a similar appearance.
- Myuria Tionysus, and the entire race of Morphus in the game Star Ocean: The Last Hope exhibit extremely long ears, sticking out at an impossible angle.
- The Morphus aren't the only race in SOTLH to display dramatically sharp ears; the Eldarians also have very Vulcan-like points.
- Everyone's favorite greedy Anti-Hero/game designer, Wario, has pointy ears. He doesn't seem to be a supernatural being, though, at least not any more than Mario himself. His partner in the Mario spin-offs, Waluigi, also has this trait.
- Bird and dragon Laguz in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn have pointed ears in their humanoid forms.
- The Manaketes in the other Fire Emblem games sometimes have these, as well.
- Ghaleon in Lunar, despite apparently being fully human. The Beastman race (such as Mel, Jessica, Leo, and Mauri) also have them.
- Gulcasa in Yggdra Union.
- Serene in Riviera: The Promised Land.
- In Bunny Must Die, Bobomboi and Chelsea have these.
- The demon Lilica of Arcana Heart.
- City of Heroes features several lengths of pointy ears in its character creator.
- March and Salsa's actual ears arch out to the side. (They also wear things in their hair that seem intended to evoke bunnies.) They're not explicitly called elves, but the idea is the same. Although you're also nice to March because, in addition to being able to mop up the floor with enemies like her sister Salsa, she's just so sweet that you'd come off as a jerk to treat her otherwise.
- Final Fantasy Tactics A2 has the Gria and the Rev.
- The Fire Clan from Golden Sun have ears with two points (the usual pointed tips, and elongated, pointed lobes). It's not the first thing you notice about them, though.
- In Dark Dawn, the beastmen tend to have animal-like ears. Sveta in particular has the "pointy ears with tufted ends" variety.
- In Lineage II all races except the Humans have pointed ears. This is to show how the Humans were created as unintentionally inferior and flawed in the world's creation myth. The Kamael have pointed ears because they are genetically altered elves essentially created to be living weapons.
- Interestingly, Elves, Dark Elves and Fairies in the game have the standard anime-style jigokumimi while Orcs, Dwarves and Kamael ears only taper to more Vulcan-like points. The game's graphics don't render the point on Dwarf ears very well so they look round, even though official art depicts them with Tolkienesque 'leaf shaped' ears.
- Touhou has an... interesting history with this trope. Basically, ZUN can't draw ears, and usually hides them behind hair or hats. When he does draw them they turn out pointy regardless of whether they probably should. The first character to get ears, Parsee, is widely accepted as having Pointy Ears in fanon, and has had them semi-canonized by Wild and Horned Hermit.. The next, Orin, is a Catgirl, so the fandom mostly pretends that she only has cat ears. Then Double Spoiler gave ears to its Tengu protagonists, leading to something of an uproar in the fandom. Now some fans have decided that all Youkai have Pointy Ears, others stick with them for Parsee and the tengu, and the rest just stopped caring.
- Even more strange for Parsee since the hashihime youkai is the vengeful spirit of a cheated human housewife...
- In Tales of Symphonia, half-elves and elves have pointy ears, the ears of the elves are pointier however, much to the disfavor of the half-elves.
- It seems to vary by the individual: although none of them have ears as pointed as the elves, Botta's are quite tall, Kvar's rather shorter, and Yuan's are perfectly rounded, just to name a few examples.
- A few original characters in the Kingdom Hearts series have pointed ears, like Master Xehanort, Xigbar and Saïx. The reason that they have pointed ears is unclear, but seeing as the three men all have Eyes of Gold and Birth By Sleep shows that Braig (Xigbar's original persona) gains the gold eyes and pointy ears at the same time, they could be another sign of giving into Darkness.
- It turns out it's because they're actually becoming Xehanort, according to Kingdom Hearts 3D.
- Half of the races in Rift. Interestingly enough, this applies whether or not you split Humans by Any Other Name and elves by faction. (The Defiant, however, have the edge on pointy ears.)
- Fatima of Luminous Arc 2 has pointy ears, but she seems to be a normal human/witch and no one in-game comments on them.
- The Phantasy Star series has Numans/Newmans, a genetically engineered race that resemble elves. In the original series, the ears were different between the two instances. In Phantasy II Nei and Neifirst have very long pointed ears that go past their heads. Rika in Phantasy Star IV has smaller pointed ears with bits of black on the ends. Phantasy Star Online's Newman race have differing ears depending on their class. Hunter Newmans have ears like Nei, while Forces have long pointed ears that stick out from the sides of their heads almost horizontally. In Phantasy Star Zero, Newman ears are much smaller, but still pointy.
- While he's not yet been seen in the games, Metroid featured a pointed eared alien named Kreatz who was on Samus's squad back in her federation days. Kreatz and his partner Mauk (a hairy pig alien) were clearly designed to be shout-outs to the two founding extraterrestrial members of Star Trek's federation, the Vulcans and the Tellarites. Interesting because the races' personalities were inverted for Kreatz and Mauk (Kreatz's species being the insulting violent one and Mauk's being proud intellectuals but assumed to be Proud Warrior Race Guy (s) due to their appearances).
- Grimsley from Pokémon Black and White has pointy ears for.. Some reason. It's probably to emphasize he's a dark type trainer however he's one of the only - if the only- characters in the franchise to have Pointy Ears.
- The High Entia in Xenoblade Chronicles are winged humanoids who also have pointy ears. Quite are few of them are part Homs, and are (generally) distinguished by their smaller wings and lack of the aforementioned pointy ears.
- The Jägermonsters of Girl Genius, Super Soldiers created by the Heterodynes to serve as military personnel.
- The angels in Misfile have these. Since demons are basically fallen angels, this makes some sense. Angels have some obfuscation abilities, so nobody comments on them.
- The immortals in El Goonish Shive, complete with Lampshade Hanging by Mr. Verres.
- In DDG, Netta and Callista have pointy ears. By implication, so do all the other guides.
- Terinu and all other Ferin have pointy ears set on the level of their jawline.
- Malène the Succubus in Not Quite Daily Comic has pointy ears (and Hellish Pupils).
- The Cyll of Linburger.
- Most of the common vampires in School Bites.
- Everyone in Chirault has really long, pointy ears. In the words of the author, this is "for no adequately explained reason other than that this is not Earth, so why not?" Also, they're a Shout-Out to Jak and Daxter.
- In Order of the Stick, given the limited art form, the only kind of ears at all visible are Pointy Ears (unless you're an animal). True for elves, goblins, hobgoblins, sylphs, and a few others. Mocked with Pompey, a half-elf, who has a pointy ear... on only one side.
- Also the reason Half-Elves won't ever feature more prominently in the story. The Giant just can't take them seriously.
- Draculaura in Monster High has fairly subtly pointed ears.
- In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, creatures of Faerie and most Moreaus (animals that have been Uplifted to a humanoid form) have pointed ears.
- Everyone in Ears for Elves has this, and each different demographic of elf is defined by their ear design.
- In My Roommate Is an Elf, elves and trolls have these.
- Aelita of Code Lyoko has elf ears in her Lyoko form.
- Many races of characters in Wakfu have Pointy Ears. Among the main protagonists, you have Sadlygrove (Tristepin) and Evangelyne—probably Yugo too, but it's hard to tell under the Nice Hat.
- Beast Boy of the Teen Titans, and they're also green (the ears).
- Saffi, Dorkus, Molotov, Samy, and Peep on Jimmy Two-Shoes.
- Audio ears. Devoted cosplayers won't need their fancy latex ears anymore.
- That particular site has been found to be a hoax, but there is actual ear pointing surgery available.
- Some people are actually born with one or both ears pointed. However, it's usually operated on when they're young.
- her portrait had two sets of ears