Trope Talk: We're Not So DifferentJun 17, 2021
Hey, quick, the hero and the big bad are dueling. The bad guy is ready to say something devastating. What is he going to say to our hero? "We're not that
different, you and me." Exactly! Now, did you flinch as soon as I said that? I know I did, and here's why. It's because every time that line is removed, it's completely false or skipped entirely. In fact, it is so overused and misused that it has almost completely lost its impact. The case that bothers me the most is when the villain is 110%
talking through his ass. Usually this is when the villain is just playing the hero or trying to get into his shoes, which is smart, but annoying because the hero always takes him to heart.
No, dude, just because you have a common background element doesn't make you like the guy who kills for fun. Now why is this annoying? Because the hero is being stupid, and that's always annoying. Now, it would be one thing if the hero really thought about this and realized that he was acting like the villain, but instead, the hero throws a tantrum until his friends remind them of the obvious. is weak. Now, I can see why this is used, because if you want to unbalance the hero, comparing him to his nemesis is a good place to start, but in a sense it's empty because he's blatantly fake.
Sure you can have a hero afraid of becoming the villain and react because of it, but more often than not, it's played like the idea of having anything in common with a bad guy is worthy of a meltdown. Not to mention, if you have a bad guy smart and sadistic enough to torment the hero with the prospect of being like him, wouldn't it make sense for him to tap into the hero's real weaknesses? Because this is never played for real trauma. The hero will end up ignoring it just as quickly as he accepted it in the first place.
See, he always goes like this: "You and I are not that
different." "NOOOO" "No, you're not." "I'm much better now." "HNNN" If the villain wants to mess with the hero, this is the dumbest way to do it. That's why the
tropeis so much less annoying when the villain is actually *telling the truth. Look, there are a lot of things that can be done with a hero and a villain that mirror each other. Not only are they foils to each other, but when the villain calls the hero that, it means the villain is introspective and the hero usually isn't.
And that's interesting! Self-aware villains are interesting, and in this case, you have a couple of options. Do you also make the hero self-aware? Let's look at a very quick example from one of my favorite anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Now quite early on in the series, oh uh, spoilers. Fast forward like a minute and a half if you care about those things. So early on in the series, there's this alchemist named Shou Tucker who does some very shady things with human transmutation. The two main characters befriend Tucker's daughter Nina and her dog Alexander. Now, Tucker became a state alchemist when he managed to make a
talking chimera and coincidentally, his estranged wife mysteriously disappeared at the same time; he fills in the blanks from there.
He is now in danger of losing his state license and the money that goes with it if he doesn't do something equally spectacular. Long story short, Tucker alchemically fuses his daughter with his dog, producing a genuinely hideous and heartbreaking creature that can't move without pain, but clearly remembers and loves his 'father' despite what he's done to her. done. Now Ed, the lead, completely and understandably flips out once he realizes what Shou Tucker has done, but Tucker points out that Ed isn't much better. See, in his backstory, Ed and his brother Al previously attempted to use alchemy to bring their mother back to life, which predictably went horribly wrong because alchemy isn't meant to be used that way, and it cost Ed two limbs and Al his whole body. .
They are both racked with guilt for what they did, and as soon as Tucker plays his "Not So Different" card, Ed goes berserk. Because, you know, even though what Tucker did is so much worse, they abused and abused alchemy for personal reasons, and they both maimed their loved ones in the process. In this case, the villain shows how thin the line is between himself and the hero, and hits the hero hard because it's true. Okay, spoilers done. Basically, when the villain is right, he can ruin the hero for ages. And because the hero basically sees what he could be if he went too far, that's super effective.
But do you know what can be more effective? Have the hero figure it out for himself. Because, sure, introspective villains are great, but if you really want to explore your hero, it might be nice for them to discover something for a change. So here's an example of that kind of characterization. I mentioned earlier in the Q&A how, as a kid, I watched this show called Reboot. Well a few months ago I decided to rewatch him to see if he would hold up, and he mostly did (except for the animation above). But I was genuinely surprised by how they characterized the lead in season 3, because they did something that I hadn't really seen anywhere else.
See, this protagonist had been a kid for the first two seasons and he spent the first three episodes of season 3 basically having to assume the role of protector to his entire system, a role that had previously been played by his childhood hero, which is MINE. and left for dead for most of season 3. So he's protecting the system against the main villain of the series, who is much bigger and stronger than he is, and he just doesn't have to worry when he tries to fight him. Then the kid ends up stuck in a one year out, ten years in situation and grows up in the space between two episodes into a full-fledged adult, and now he's a jerk!
He's angry and brooding and absurdly strong and nothing like the hero he idolized as a child, the hero he wanted to be. He has become like the villain that he had to fight because that villain was powerful and his hero lost. And he admits it, by himself. He has whole episodes where he argues with himself about whether the sacrifice was worth it, and at the end he realizes that his hero would probably not only hate him now, but his own childhood self. I would be afraid of him. "But how? You are me!" "But you hate me; you must.
Look what you've become." He has become too much like the monster that made his childhood hell, so he works against it. Now the other interesting thing here is how the villain responds, because during their final showdown, the villain refuses to acknowledge the similarities in him. He still thinks of this guy as a scared kid no matter how strong he gets. But when he goes all the way, and the hero has him at his mercy, the villain is almost afraid. He clings to the fact that, no, he can't do this; He would go against everything he stood for.
He can't have become that much like him because that thought terrifies him, and in the end the hero agrees, and it's a really good moment. But the bottom line is that a character who up to this point had been okay at best suddenly becomes this intensely interesting and tragic character study; an object lesson on which he fights monsters. But he's not a tragic figure because he gets out of it. And you know what? His entire personal journey would have been much weaker if someone had directly told him that he was turning bad. To make him realize that he himself gave it an unprecedented degree of depth.
And that's one of the ways that not invoking this
tropecan be more powerful than invoking it. Sure, making the characters similar is good, making them recognize that it's good, but an external reveal isn't necessarily better than an internal one. And I think part of it relates to the hero's journey, oddly enough. See, in so many stories, the hero just gets carried away by circumstance. Sure, they may have a motivation or two, but the only things that can cause them to stray from those motivations tend to be external. The hero is taken from his home, he is involved in an adventure, he is involved in his destiny.
Even his motivation tends to pull them. Why are you doing this? My girlfriend was kidnapped. And if she didn't? Well, he'd probably still be a farmer. There is no internal motivation to do anything. It's all the external circumstances that force the character to act, and in a way that he feels a little more realistic, but isn't. This is not how people work; people have an inner drive to do things, and in the stories, that is so often ignored. And with more modern flawed characters, they're rarely expected to want to improve on their flaws. The static of the character; they don't resolve trauma or repair personality problems, they just are.
Character development seems to have largely gone out the window. There's no drive, no reason for them to do anything unless the plot demands it. Having a character discover something about himself and work to fix it without any outside prompting is almost revolutionary and therefore could carry more weight. It's easy to do a plot twist and place a character in a situation that prompts them to change one way or another, but making a character change on their own is more difficult and therefore rarer, and a One of the reasons "Not So Different" feels so weak is that it's structured as a plot twist, but it's too predictable.
If two characters are similar, you can probably tell. Having one point that out to the other and the other respond with surprise feels contrived, even if it's like them not to have figured it out. It's a neat literary trick executed in the least effective way possible. It's also worth noting that the "Not So Different" trope isn't always a villain messing with the hero. Sometimes it's the hero appealing to the villain, or even disparate characters realizing their similarities. See, that instance of the trope is used to bring two characters closer together because that's how friendships work in the real world.
And that version is not annoying because it goes somewhere. In its most common instance, this trope is nothing more than a waste of time, but in this case, it leads to character growth and relationship development and therefore can actually be helpful. But the villain-to-hero version doesn't go anywhere in most cases. It's only there to shock momentarily, and it doesn't even surprise the audience, so in its most common case, this trope is nothing more than a waste of time. It can be done well, but it rarely is. So yes.
If you have any copyright issue, please Contact