Cerebus Syndrome

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"This is how it starts: first with the jokes, then comes the heavy stuff."
Dr. Zoidberg, Futurama

A Tone Shift towards Dramedy over the course of a comedy series' run, named for the process undergone by the print comic Cerebus the Aardvark. (It should not be confused with the slide from drama to Author Tract which happened much later in the same comic's run, due to Creator Breakdown.) It's any story/series which starts out light, episodic, and comedic, and then assumes dramatic elements and a more coherent continuity. It chiefly occurs in works where parts have been broadcast/published before other parts have been written, as that means the older parts can't be revised into conformity.

Often seen in media where artists are expected to write a few short stories first to see how the public will react, and then start writing longer and more serious story arcs once the magazine/tv channel/company gives the go-ahead. It can also be intentional, with the lighter mood at the beginning allowing readers to meet and become attached to the characters before the story arcs with the dramatic elements begin.

Many Newspaper comics undergo the opposite process as a cartoonist puts some fairly serious storylines the first few years but then lapses into recycled gags.

This condition also has a temporary version. After a while, many shows will begin to get enough respect to be considered for awards, and will create a specific episode for this. Since there's a Comedy Ghetto in effect, an episode of a show made as Emmy Bait will have fewer laughs and will usually tackle a more intense theme. When watching a show on DVD or in syndication, these episodes can stand out.

If the series has previously been fueled by high weirdness, then the transition can be rocky. Some comics tie themselves in painful knots trying to Retcon an accumulated pile of weirdness with invented physics. Others sweep the stranger things under the rug and try to present a more respectable face. More often, the weird is left in place, but retrofitted into a more dramatic role. In a good case, the combination of drama and high weird can be invigorating. In a less successful case, it can be excruciating.

Expect an exodus of fans bemoaning the slide into "angst" as previously happy go lucky stories lose their Karma Houdini Warranty. When Cerebus Syndrome radically changes a series for the worse, it gets called First and Ten Syndrome, after a television series which notably skydived after the injection of drama. Despite this, it's not always a bad thing - in and of itself, adding drama to a comedic work can and often does work. It's just that frequently, the creators don't quite have the talent to pull it off.

May be a case of Growing the Beard if it actually works. Either way, fans may not wait to declare it Ruined FOREVER. See also Cerebus Retcon, Sudden Downer Ending, and Knight of Cerebus. Inverse of Reverse Cerebus Syndrome; if both of them happens, it's Cerebus Rollercoaster. An instance of Mood Whiplash. When this entire process happens in a single moment, it's a Gut Punch.

This trope sometimes overlaps with Continuity Creep.

Compare to Shoo Out the Clowns, where the Plucky Comic Relief are written out of the show (or possibly killed off) to show that things have become serious. When this happens to actors in Real Life, it's known as Tom Hanks Syndrome.

Examples of Cerebus Syndrome include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Fairy Tail underwent a gradual escalation, with each Story Arc becoming more personal, with higher stakes than the last. Character Development in series format, as it were.
  • Dragon Ball was originally a comedic version of Journey to the West. The villains were largely silly, like Emperor Pilaf and Commander Red, but then Krillin got killed by a monster (he got better). The monster was Demon King Piccolo, who wanted eternal life, and after this arc and the Piccolo Jr. arc, the comedic elements slowly decreased. This quickly became evident when Raditz, Goku's older brother, came and told Goku that he was an alien from another planet who was supposed to kill everyone on Earth. Toei, the company in charge of the Dragon Ball anime, decided then and there to end Dragon Ball and rename it Dragonball Z, starting with the arrival of Raditz.
    • The Buu saga drifted somewhere to the middle and the more recent 2008 Jump Tour special had a heavy emphasis on comedy over action, which many fans seemed to find rather refreshing.
    • Toriyama was aware of this effect to some degree. He introduced the Ginyu Force just to relieve some of the tension from the escalating villains (Raditz -> Nappa/Vegeta -> Zarbon/Dodoria -> Frieza). Of course, just because the Ginyu Force are silly to the point of being buffoonish doesn't mean they aren't extremely dangerous.
  • In the series Katekyo Hitman Reborn, which is mostly a pure comedy in the beginning, but after several chapters (though fewer episodes) it becomes an action series.
  • One Piece villains have gotten more serious as the series went on. At first, the villains could be easily defeated with only minor injuries to the heroes (like Buggy). Later on, they could actually defeat the heroes, only to lose in the rematch (like Crocodile). Now, there are SO many villains that can or have easily defeated Luffy in battle (Kuma, Kizaru, Magellan, Aokiji, Mihawk, must I continue?).
    • And don't forget the fact that the series, while still light and soft for the most part, has started to focus on themes such as slavery, racism, political corruption, anarchy, segregation, and moral absolutism. And the most recent story arc has drawn historical parallels to violent black supremacy groups, the KKK, xenophobic practices of ancient Japan, and Al Qaeda (all at once, mind you).
  • Kinnikuman started off as a comedy series parodying Ultraman, but then became a wrestling series with loads of drama, although with very silly characters.
  • The anime adaptation of Trigun has a variation; all the filler is in the beginning, so it begins as a silly series with occasional bouts of action as the "insurance ladies" track down the identity of Vash the Stampede, then slowly come to accept that the goofball they found is a legendary gunman and walking disaster. About halfway through the series, actual plot from the manga starts appearing in consecutive episodes, with Knives sending the Gung-ho Guns, a team of ruthless super-powered fighters after him. Ostensibly they're hired to kill him, but really they're meant to make Vash suffer, which they all succeed in, each in their own way. This changeover is also evident in whether or not Vash manages to successfully keep people from getting killed; he manages it easily for the first half the series, but in the episode where the change hits you get streets littered with the corpses of men, women, and children.
    • It gets worse in the manga. To illustrate: there is an entire demographic change (Shonen—school-age kids—to Seinen—adults).
  • CLAMP's Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle started out as a fairly upbeat and child-friendly adventure story, but took a sudden turn for the Angst in the Acid Tokyo arc, almost exactly the halfway point of the series. The arc's post-apocalyptic setting—where Tokyo is a desert and the only rain is acid—pales in comparison to the revelations of treachery and hints of almost unimaginably horrific Backstory. There is simultaneously a dramatic increase in the prominence of death, violence, and sexual tension. The tone does become more hopeful again in the last third of the story, but the seriousness remains throughout. Tsubasa seems be a case of deliberate Cerebus, to the point of the second half essentially deconstructing the first and showing that its happiness and innocence was enabled by darkness lurking behind the scenes.
    • Only adding to the angst is that Syaoran's decision to turn back time so he could save Sakura's life caused the entire multiverse to start decaying. Space-time was altered so much that Acid Tokyo and Clow Country are actually in the same world; the mysterious ruins that Syaoran enjoyed investigating so much were the ruins of Acid Tokyo, after all. But the heroes never did have the ability to time travel. Oh my.
  • Da Capo literally tells the viewer in a next episode preview halfway through the series that it's about to get serious. And it does.
  • The School Rumble manga jumps from a completely random love comedy to a surprisingly heart-wrenching drama, set off by the revelation that Karasuma is suffering from a Soap Opera Disease.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima began as a light comedy about an inept ten-year old mage teaching a class of 31 Japanese middle school girls with lots of Fan Service. As the arcs progressed, the story became much more action-oriented and fairly serious at times.
  • Witch Hunter Robin started with the "monster of the week" style then shifted gears into plot and drama halfway through.
  • Bleach, while still incorporating darker elements, started out as something of a Slice of Life story with a Fish Out of Water situation and a bit of a Monster of the Week feel, with more focus on characters and their stories rather than action, but then they finished defining the starting characters and the Soul Society arc kicked the series into high gear. They STILL try to squeeze in elements from the first season whenever possible... apparently, to remind the viewer what they are watching!
  • GetBackers starts out as a fairly standard We Help the Helpless series about two teenage guys having dorky misadventures, but the introduction of the other four major characters brings along the revelation that they have incredibly angsty back stories, involving Ginji becoming a crazy sociopath if he's not careful and Ban killing at least two of his friends, and lots of Parental Abandonment. Happily, the pair retain their status as a Weirdness Magnet and are still capable of being incredibly silly at the drop of a hat, so the slide isn't too drastic.
  • Fruits Basket started as a manga with a balance between humor and drama with some physical comedy and some sadder stories about the character's lives. Near the end, story arcs about the true nature of the curse, and Kyo's eventual being locked away predominated.
  • Toradora! starts out mostly comedy with a little drama on the side, gradually sliding the slider from comedy to drama as the arcs go on.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a lot more dreary after the death of Kamina. Everyone from the protagonist to his True Companions to the enviroment itself is depressed.
  • SHUFFLE!'s first half was more on the comedic Slice of Life happenings of an Unwanted Harem, with a Beach Episode to boot. Then along came Nerine, Lycoris' and Primula's Story Arc...
  • GaoGaiGar to GaoGaiGar Final: The light-hearted original series did dip its toe into seriousness every so often, but it was primarily a fun super-robot show. With the release of the OVA Final it goes into darker and edgier territory. By the second episode...One character's lover is killed by what appears to be the cute kid lead of the series, who is himself killed by the main character. Then, said main character is captured by the villains and brainwashed into fighting the good guys. And in the final episode, despite having defeated the Big Bad, all but two members of the main cast are trapped at the other end of the galaxy, dying, and with no foreseeable way to get back to Earth. Nevertheless, the OVA remained true to the series' central theme of courage overcoming opposition throughout - it merely explored some of the more dramatic aspects of fighting a seemingly hopeless battle against a seemingly invincible foe.
  • Detective Conan started as a mystery-themed comedy just like how Gosho Aoyama did with kendo in Yaiba. With time it has developed into a more serious story—which made the animators who guessed too much making a few Schrodingers Cats.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ initially starts out with the old monster of the week routine with plenty of campy slapstick comedy despite the fact that it's not anime. Then episode 18 rolls around and the story starts picking up momentum, and the comic mischief is eventually displaced by more serious content. By the time it becomes anime, the tone of the series becomes something more along the same vein as Zeta Gundam.
  • The first half of Neon Genesis Evangelion, while still dramatic, is actually somewhat light-hearted at times. Then the series slowly shifts to being disturbing and insane. Though it was always rather introspective to begin with, it doesn't quite compare to later half. Then It Got Worse.
    • Not only that, but during the first half, most of the angels - save for #5 Ramiel - were more human or animal-like and laughably weak, compared to the second half - starting with #11 Iruel and #12 Leliel - which started taking new forms and started posing a greater threat physically as well as a new threat psychologically, with three of the remaining five angels actually capable of defeating the Evas and/or killing their pilots.
    • To compare:
    • Also to compare:
      • First half: boy fights monsters with giant robot.
      • Second half: boy's giant robot turns out to contain the soul of his mother, boy undergoes psychological and existential breakdown, boy ends the world by ending human individuality, and boy tries to strangle his friend when they are the last two humans seen alive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
    • You could argue that the first half of the show is a bit of an inverse Cerebus; the first few episodes are quite dark and moody, certainly not comedy material, although there are a few funny moments. It's not until after the Fifth Angel fight that Shinji begins to open up a little, and the tone of the show lightens correspondingly - basically peaking at the infamous "thermal expansion" jokes. And then you hit the second half of the recap episode and things start going south again.
  • Self-published manga Onani Master Kurosawa (given the Fan Nickname "Fap Note") starts out like a goofy parody of works like Death Note, with the main character having over-the-top monologues and carrying out masturbation-related revenge against some classmates. However, it doesn't take long before it turns more angsty and dramatic with love triangles and themes about coming of age (pun not intended).
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni pulls one of these on purpose. It's part of what makes it great.
    • For the first season at least, the series seems to contract Cerebus Syndrome exactly once an arc, beginning as a typical Unwanted Harem before regularly bringing out the terrors, with progressively less time in between the two, until approximately the second arc of Kai.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. Third season, just about one third through. Suddenly there are people actually dying. And then they go back to the alternate world thing and it just gets worse. See also: Yubel. It's worth noting that said dead people do come back.
    • Well, Judai's friends come back. No word on Amon, Ekou, or all the people Judai killed for Super Fusion.
    • It is good to note that this is hilariously parodied in DarkSideIncorporated's Yu-gi-oh Gx abridged series.
  • Rosario + Vampire started its slide towards Shounen action series once the Student Police were introduced, and when Ruby was introduced in the Witch's Hill arc it was clear what direction the story was taking. Multi-issue story arcs replaced the Monster of the Week. Then Mizore joined the cast. Once Tsukune Took a Level In Badass thanks to his ghoul powers, the move was complete.
    • The second season continues this as it gradually becomes Darker and Edgier as the series goes on. Though this should be noted as only happening in the manga, in the anime the second season continues to be a Romance Comedy.
  • The infamous School Days starts off as a rather typical bishoujo comedy with a love triangle, but soon plummets into drama, violence, and downright insanity. It has long been notorious for such same elements in its original video game and for its brutal ending paths of which the anime adaptation decided to stay true to. Many unlucky saps fell for the anime who weren't aware of this fact.
  • While it never permanently slipped into this, Keroro Gunsou got some more serious moments as the series progressed. You're watching (or reading) this hilariously cute story with these frogs who never get any invading done. You expect Status Quo Is God to remain in affect forever and nothing bad to ever really happen to the planet, then suddenly the entire planet is put into paralysis by a much more dangerous platoon who has come not only to take over the planet but also to discharge the Keroro Platoon. To add to it, Keroro is in the middle of being de-aged and losing his memory, Giroro gets shot out of the sky by his brother and we don't know if he's alive for a while, and we learn that when a platoon is discharged, the members of it are supposed to separate forever. OUCH.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho started out as a wacky comedy about a tough high schooler who dies but gains a chance at returning to life by doing good deeds as a ghost, mining comedy from the fact that Yusuke can't really figure out how to do a "good deed" without being violent, rude, or abrasive. This led to a mostly episodic series of adventures as Yusuke and his guide Botan wandered the city finding people in need of help and playing Clarence to their George Baily. Then after about 30 chapters of this, Yusuke gets brought back to life, discovers he has superpowers now, and is given a job as a "spirit detective," which basically involves beating up bad guys connected to the afterlife. YYH becomes an action fighting series and the comedic formula is dropped permanently.
    • In a way, Yu Yu Hakusho actually went through Cerebus Syndrome twice. After becoming Spirit Detective, Yusuke had to do some semblance of actual detective work, tracking down fugitives and recovering magical items they'd stolen rather than just beating them up (though he did that too). Botan was set up as his assistant, proving him with detective tools and passing on his assignments from Koenma. This lasted for exactly one story arc, after which the series shifted into a simpler shonen fighting formula. With a two great big Tournament Arc.
    • After the Chapter Black Arc, in which it is revealed (as hinted at by Hiei and Kurama becoming good guys) that not everything is as cut-and-dried as the previous theme of "Yusuke and Friends vs. Demons" action stories led us believe, the story suddenly becomes extremely character-driven, exploring Yusuke's disconnection with his formerly "normal" existence, Kuwabara's resolve to become something productive, Hiei's finding a new purpose in life, and Kurama resolving his demonic past. This is especially notable in the anime, where the first third of the Three Kings Arc has nearly NO fights, instead being low-key character pieces about Yusuke, Hiei, and Kurama, effectively going through Cerebus Syndrome twice as it evolves from an offbeat comedy to action show, then suddenly to a more character-driven series rather then the less serious and more action-oriented shonen Fighting Series.
  • This does not happen in Ranma ½, unless one counts the Ryu Kumon story arc- if anything, the series actually has a reversed form of this, starting out fairly serious (if comedic) and transforming into more or less slapstick plus dramatic moments. The fandom, however, is known for its creation of drama and angst Fan Fiction, evidently based on the fact that a lot of the series' humor does stem from Comedic Sociopathy, "you gotta laugh or else you'll cry" moments, and bits that ring uneasily if you think about it enough. For example, at one point in the manga, Akane demands Ranma throw a fight in the belief that this will reduce his Unwanted Harem. When Ranma refuses, she casually uses a cat to terrify him into obedience, despite knowing how badly they scare him and all about the childhood trauma that made him so afraid of them. Ryoga having No Sense of Direction is quite easy to play for angst, given that Ryoga himself does this in canon.
    • In addition, during the manga, Kuno is implied to make two attempts at raping an unconscious Ranma.
    • Nabiki sells Ranma as a slave to some yakuza to cover a restaurant debt and is surprised he escaped.
    • Gosunkugi makes repeated attempts to mind control Akane or Ranma in a world where magic works.
    • Shampoo has tried to drug Ranma into compliance.
    • Kodachi out right states she knows Ranma doesn't love her, but pretends that he does.
      • Making Kodachi top on the list of most likely Ranma characters to commit suicide.
  • Queen's Blade season 2 is pretty much the Cerebus Syndrome Season, some characters who got eliminated were encased in crystal or are permanently eliminated and in just two episodes, two characters were dead.
  • The best way to describe the Cerebus Syndrome of Hayate the Combat Butler in the last fifty chapters or so (200-250~ when you discount the missing chapters) is that it's started taking itself seriously. Not that it loses the humor entirely, but still. Hello Athena, and hello drama.
    • Of course, once the Athena situation is dealt with, the next mini-arc involves the cast trying to move into an apartment building that's haunted by ghost cats, who possess Izumi and turn her into a catgirl. My neck hurts for some reason...
  • Gakuen Alice started as an upbeat, sparkly shojo tale about a girl discovering she has superpowers (basically) and going to a school with lots of other kids with superpowers. Predictably, wacky hijinks and love triangles ensue. To be fair, there have always been hints of dark things going on in the background, but the focus was on the humor and warm fuzzies. Then around chapter 90 the series took a nosedive into severe angst.
  • Excel Saga parodies the bejesus out of this in its penultimate episode, in which Excel finally notices that Il Palazzo keeps killing her. Of course this is just serves to throw the last episode ( "Going Way Too Far") into sharper relief.
  • Ouran High School Host Club begins as an Affectionate Parody of shoujo manga, and while it doesn't leave its comedy behind, its storyline has gotten gradually more dramatic as it has gone on - particularly once it lapses out of Comic Book Time and two of the main characters actually graduate from high school and start attending university. (Early volumes, in contrast, state in the narration that no one will be moving up in grades and the seasonal changes are purely aesthetic.)
  • This starts to happen at the end of Konjiki no Gash!!, mostly in part due to the seriousness of the King Festival (the winner has the power to kill any and all demons he wishes, and Clear Note wants to kill every single one. Not to mention that he has shown clear intention of wanting to destroy the Earth as well.) Near the start of the arc, though, the author gets out his last hurrah of comedy in one of the most bizarre manga chapters ever written: a dream sequence which involves Sunbeam dressed up as a butterfly, him giving Kiyomaro wings and making them both fly into the sky by madly flapping their arms about, Brago wearing a lion's head for underwear (and nothing else), Sherry tossing tennis balls at Brago (who proceeds to laugh as he swats them around), the teacher's wife's head becoming that of a dog, Victoreem carrying Kid around in a cart (after which Kid pummels Victoreem), both of them slipping on banana peels, Dartagnan dressing up as Professor Riddle and tricking Kid, Dartagnan knocking Kid out with a tranquilizer dart, Dartagnan falling into a pile of crap (only for Reira to give him a rope to grab onto and swing out, only to fall into another pile of crap), Gash, Umagon, Tio, and Kiyomaro dancing dressed up as otters, and not to mention everyone wanting to slap him silly. Needless to say, it is never mentioned ever again.
  • Mai-HiME follows the 'intentional' version of this trope. The first half of the series is generally light and silly, corresponding to the usual Magical Girl series. But as a few early scenes hinted at, It Gets Worse in the second half. The same can be said for Mai-Otome.
  • Later volumes of the romantic comedy Ai Kora are less comedic and more dramatic. The twelfth volume is probably the peak of this.
  • Gunbuster and its sequel Diebuster were masters of this. They both had a fairly cheerful if a bit dramatic character drama going up until the magic episode, when everything started going to hell.
  • Soul Eater picks up this trope and takes it home. It started off as a comedic couple of one-shots about a few kids who were Death's apprentices, screwing up while trying to graduate. Cue 70 chapters later and we have (*cough cough* ahem): Mind Rape; actual rape; horrors Up to Eleven (including taking someone, draining them of their blood and then wrapping them up in their own skin to rot for eternity); arguing and trying to resist against the nature of insanity with each of the characters getting closer and closer to their breaking point; deals with the voices in your head; and blood that will tear your mind out. Literally! It started to get Darker and Edgier at the point where Ashura got introduced and it... just kept getting darker. And darker. Aaaand darker...
    • As the series manages to maintain its warped sense of humour and fanservice in many of its darker moments, the Knight of Cerebus in this is undoubtedly Medusa. Asura brings the Nightmare Fuel, but he is largely inactive. The meddling of Arachne and Noah pale in comparison to the Complete Monster that is the Gorgon lady.
  • Genshiken starts out as an introspective manga on otaku parody and college life but somewhere along the way it transforms into romance... more romance... and occasional forays into yaoi parody. Cue magazines being ripped to shreds and posted on the internet.
  • Even Kanamemo wasn't immune to this, but not as serious as some examples, as the show goes from complete comedy with minor drama moments to more of a dramedy (the 13th episode does bring back the comedy full force, though).
  • Super Dimension Fortress Macross has some of this—starting out as an Affectionate Parody of Mobile Suit Gundam-style shows, the early episodes have quite a bit of humor to them. Then, suddenly, Hikaru is shot down by friendly fire. Then, Roy dies. Then, Kakizaki dies, and Toronto is destroyed. Then, Hikaru is paralyzed by self-doubt. Then Misa is ordered to Earth, where she has a front-row seat to the Earth being nearly annihilated just before the series-ending battle battle marking the midway point of the show. Though the show never got explicitly Grimdark or went through a genre change, there is a marked change in tone after roughly Episode 16.
  • The Breaker started out as a fairly lighthearted action Manhwa with plenty of comedy thrown in, but gradually got more serious as a major character's Dark and Troubled Past (and its present consequences) comes to light. By Volume 10 the humor is entirely gone and another major character has been killed off.
  • Future GPX Cyber Formula was originally a typical shonen adventurous/hopeful sport anime with a few good drama parts in it. The show however, gets more dramatic and less comedic as the OVAs were released. The Double-One arc deals with Knight Schumacher/Osamu Sugo's dramatic problems (namely, his eye problems stemming from an incident with Smith in the TV series which nearly rendered him blind), ZERO builds the angst out of Asuka Sugo and Bleed Kaga, SAGA has more dramatic villains (Nagumo in particular) and SIN caps off the series with very little comedy left to it and Kaga's full-blown angst because of his jealousy towards his ex-pupil, Hayato.
    • However, this is somewhat justified since the director probably intended to do the shift. Also, the director's wife became the head writer for SAGA and SIN and he has consulted her since the TV series.
  • Now and Then Here and There arguably does this, though it happens very early on. From the majority of the first episode, one could be forgiven for thinking it was some kind of lighthearted adventure in a fantasy future. One would also most definitely be scarred for life from the shock of how wrong that assumption turns out to be.
  • The Fullmetal Alchemist manga somehow managed to be lighthearted and funny for its first few volumes, despite Edward and Alphonse's relatively dark backstory. The story suddenly caught Cerberus Syndrome when Hughes was killed.
    • The 2003 anime adaptation intentionally follows this general trajectory; despite the brothers' tragic backstory, the early episodes are generally lighthearted, with only occasional hints of darkness around the periphery. About a quarter of the way through, the show begins to get progressively darker, leading up to a halfway point where Hughes is murdered, much like his manga counterpart above. Oddly enough, from there it somewhat resets itself; the following episodes go back to being somewhat lighthearted, then get gradually darker until, by the end of the series, the story has evolved into outright tragedy.
  • The Golden Boy manga. It starts in a somewhat formulaic way following the happy-go-lucky wanderer Oe Kintaro and his misadventures with attractive women. Then at some point a weird techno-sex cult run by a former childhood friend comes up, Kintaro gets relegated to a side character and the manga gets increasingly wordy with confusing and lengthy arguments about the ills of society, mind control, etc. None of this appears in the anime version, which is far better known.
  • Digimon Adventure. While at first it seems like a light hearted comedy/adventure, it becomes increasingly serious after the introduction of Myotismon.
    • This is actually a pretty standard formula for Digimon series:
      • Digimon Adventure 02 doesn't start off as light-hearted as the first one...but the first third or so of the series is quite light-hearted with the digidestined enjoying adventures while thwarting the Digimon Emperor and his slaves. Then it becomes a lot more serious once he's defeated and The Man Behind the Man is revealed.
      • Digimon Tamers starts off as a Slice of Life series. Then all of a sudden, some stronger opponents appear to challenge the tamers...then a weird kid, a government agency tries to wipe the digimon out, and that's before they actually go to the digital world!
      • Digimon Frontier starts off rather light-hearted, but then starts to become a lot more serious with the occasional "Fun break" once Grumblemon appears. Heck; the first Big Bad Cheribumon is mentioned briefly during the first couple episodes.
      • Digimon Savers also follows this formula; becoming a bit of a comedy/adventure following DATS acting as a benevolent form of "Digimon police". Then Mercurimon shows up...and the trope really begins to kick in.
  • Love is in the Bag suddenly shifts its tone significantly by the end of Volume Three, with the revelation of the nature of Kate's "condition".
  • Nerima Daikon Brothers is a cheerful episodic anime musical about three struggling musicians and their pet panda trying to raise money to build a dome to perform in. Then the last four episodes turn into an extended political satire of and attack on the then Japanese Prime Minister's efforts to privatize the Japanese Post Office, complete with a much more dramatic tone, characters turning on each other, and an army of pandas getting brutally beaten up by the Prime Minister's personal guard. It will also make very little sense at all if you don't read the liner notes.
  • The World God Only Knows begins as a comedic manga about a Dating Sim otaku being forced to live through what amounts to a real-world Dating Sim (admittedly, it's on pain of death) in order to exorcise "Runaway Spirits". After the Goddess Diana appears, things start to get darker, with it being revealed that the "Runaway Spirits" are in fact the escaped Demons of Old Hell (called "Weiss") and that Diana and her sisters are necessary to seal them away again. This culminates with perky idol Kanon (who happens to be the host of a Goddess) being stabbed by a member of a terrorist group seeking to revive Old Hell (equivalent to the normal idea of Hell, whereas New Hell is more of a neutral "Underworld"). It still has comedy, but things are certainly getting darker...
  • The first 12 episodes of Revolutionary Girl Utena are pretty lighthearted, despite being weird. It´s from episode 13 where things start to turn darker. And weirder.
  • To Aru Kagaku no Railgun could certainly qualify. The first few episodes follow Mikoto and Kuroko hanging around Tokiwadai and getting into comical trouble somehow, with an action scene or two occasionally thrown in. Then someone starts rigging up aluminum bombs around the city and raging against bullies while listening to somewhat bizarre-sounding music on his MP3 player. From there, it gets more and more serious, eventually culminating in many of the people around Academy City going comatose. Then at the halfway point, it gets even worse. It's pretty jarring to going from talking about shaved ice flavors to listening to Harumi talk about how her good-natured job and research culminated in the horrible disfigurement of a bunch of Level 0 orphans who only wanted powers of their own.
    • Sadly, the anime then tacks a bunch of comedy fillers afterwards for some painful Reverse Cerebus Syndrome. The last few episodes, while still filler, are notably more serious and thus Cerebus Syndrome again. Also, the manga took a lot less time to get serious.
  • Fushigi Yuugi started out as a fairly typical shojo romance where a girl gets sucked into another dimension that has a mix of comedic and dramatic parts. But then the second half of the series took a darker turn when Tamahome comes home to find his family brutally murdered, and things got even more worse when more characters started to die.
  • The Kyou Kara Maou anime has self-definition, personal responsibility, and war being bad as themes from the start, but it's generally a very lighthearted and wacky show, with Yuuri showing a certain amount of Medium Awareness, Gunter and Wolfram's lovesick antics being Played for Laughs when they're honestly pretty creepy, slapstick moments, and many humorous resolutions to dramatic situations. Then Yuuri gets summoned by someone other than Ulrike, and the last thing he sees as Conrad sends him home is his godfather's left arm arcing through the air as the church burns and the faceless knights close in...
    • Because he doesn't know quite what went down, he stays relatively lighthearted himself until Conrad reappears as an enemy. He is capable of being distracted and has hilarious hijinks like his sled race with T-chan, and even his angst Heroic BSOD when he sees the Shimaron Knights again involes a tidal wave of tea.
      • Wolfram, on the other hand, enters a hugely intensified phase of his Character Development arc beginning with his Skyward Scream at the burned church, and everybody makes some character progress, even Yozak who didn't really need it. The 'Conrad Arc' does its Cerberus thing. And then the nuclear-bomb allegory plotline begins.
      • The show never actually stops being funny—Mama-chan helps puncture the moment, when nothing else can, although the two notable instances of this in the finale build-up are Crazy Awesome and Crowning Moment of Heartwarming respectively. Still, the level of drama and darkness gets a serious kick somewhere in this arc ( which is also when Murata becomes an active character, contributing both deep depressing info and gags) and never dies down to the previous level again.
    • While all media of this series start in the same place, with the hero being flushed down a toilet into a fantasy world where he's king, the novels get much Darker and Edgier than the anime ever does, ditto the manga, which is adapted independently from the original novels and makes everyone longer and prettier. A few books back, for example, Yuuri mistakenly attacked Wolfram in a dark room and nearly killed him.
      • The manga also makes Wolfram, a lead role in his own right, a more prominent character from the start—instead of just Conrad's necklace after the first visit, for example, Yuuri's also got a brooch Wolfram chose for him, but that was removed partly because it lessened the impact of the necklace, which actually mattered, and because they'd planned out a Character Arc that involved Conrad steadily falling back as his most important Shin Makoku relationship as Yuuri bonds more closely with the others, allowing Wolfram to come into his own in a more meaningful way.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica started off like a fairly regular magical girl anime that promised sugar, hugs and happiness all around until Mami gets her head bitten off suddenly and very gruesomely at the end of EP 3, gut punching any unaware viewer like so many tons of bricks. The rest of the show only gets worse too.
    • To be fair, the very first scene was a pretty intense, the Deranged Animation by Studio Shaft prevented things from getting too lighthearted, and there was a fair amount of Foreshadowing as to what kind of show this would become. "Sugar, hugs and happiness" is pretty far off the mark. It doesn't help though that the happy-go-lucky opening titles stayed the same even as the show got more injections of nightmare fuel, effectively creating a pretty jarring smash-cut from titles to show in the last few episodes.
      • The opening titles? You mean, the opening titles where poor Madoka was stumbling, crying, running through the city to some unknown goal, or alternately depressed and in bed? It was obvious far before episode three what was going on, even without knowing whose show this was.
    • The Spin-Off, Puella Magi Kazumi Magica, is going the same way. The first few chapters were practically a Magical Girl series played straight - the monsters turn back into humans, the power of teamwork saves the day, and the tone was generally lighthearted and comedic. Then the Mysterious Watcher reveals herself as the Knight of Cerebus. Things got serious in a hurry.
  • Sakigake Otokojuku started as an Affectionate Parody of the shounen genre, with lots of slapstick humor, telling the misadventures of the Otokojuku's 1st Years, and their relationships. Then from the 4th volume onwards, all the story arcs are Tournament Arcs, that enters a Stealth Parody territory of the genre.
  • Naruto receives a shot of Cerebus Syndrome every now and then. At first this show was about the lovable Naruto and his comedic antics with a dark backstory lightly touched upon. Then Team 7 went on their first C-ranked mission a few episodes in and suddenly the stakes are raised to potential death. Then Orochimaru decides to invade the Leaf Village near the end of the Chunin Exams which only had one plotline death (the Third Hokage) but more lives were at stake then before. After the timeskip, Akatsuki takes the role of main antagonists (Orochimaru is put on the side) and they have plans of world domination. They even go so far as to kill Asuma, Shikamaru's sensei, which greatly affects him. The latest dose happens in the Pain arc, where Pain invades the Leaf just like Orochimaru, but actually causes several plotline deaths and devastates the Leaf village even more. Though the characters killed get an Author's Saving Throw via Nagato's sacrifice.
  • Tiger and Bunny started out as an Affectionate Parody of the Superhero genre with rather comedic and harmless villains. Then we're introduced to Lunatic—a Knight Templar who is the first opponent to be treated completely seriously and to kill somebody (though the humour was back when he wasn't around). His appearance was followed by the introduction of Jake Martinez, who defeats a number of heroes one after another while holding the entire city hostage in what can be considered the first truly Wham Arc of the series. Since ep.15, every episode has a serious tone and a good dose of drama; Lunatic's tragic backstory is downright depressing. The comedy never disappears completely, but it takes a back seat to more serious plot points.
    • To be fair, even early episodes had their share of vague foreshadowing, so more Genre Savvy people could've seen what was coming. It might even be intentional, considering how much tribute the series pays to Western Superhero comics - all of which suffer pretty badly from Cerebus Syndrome themselves.
  • Believe it or not, Ah! My Goddess is not immune. Its Nifhelm Arc has the group literally going through hell for the purpose of stopping the radicals who usurped Hild to prevent a destructive war between heaven and hell. This is a manga normally best summed up as Slice of Life and Magical Girlfriend, by the way.
  • Ghost Sweeper Mikami gets into the syndrome once Ashtaroth starts getting prominent (although you could arguably trace it back to Medusa's introduction). However, Shiina never lets this obstruct the original comedic qualities, leading to a pretty fair amount of Mood Whiplash.
  • Haibane Renmei is initially quite cheery and light-hearted, but roughly half-way through shifts into something darker and much more dramatic.
  • Very mild case in Cowboy Bebop.
  • Mawaru Penguindrum starts as a wacky series about the Takakura brothers's tragicomic attempts to keep their sister alive. By episode 8, we learn that the people involved in this are quite more complex and flawed than they look, but there's still quite a Mood Whiplash. By episode 18, not only more secrets and complexities are revealed (alongside many Freudian Excuses), but one character straight up tries to kill another and almost manages to kill said chara and maim another. And by episode 21, after MANY other reveals, shit has hit the fan like whoa. It Got Worse, indeed.
  • Gosick has a case of this, with the tension and scale of the story underlying each mystery building greater and greater towards the climax, eventually dropping the romantic comedy scenes altogether.
  • Slayers loves this trope, at least in the anime, to the point that you can almost track where you are in the season by it- in the first quarter it's a hilarious episodic comedy about the party's adventures on the road fighting bandit troupes, various amusing monsters, and other random events, with hints of fore-shadowing and plot dropped in, usually for more laughs. At the half-way point, things go darker, with the introduction of the first major enemy, who's usually somewhere on the way to destroying the world. At three-quarters, it's back to comedy, though slightly darker and with a bit more plot than the first quarter. In the last quarter, it's back to the dark stuff, and time to take care of the Big Bad for good.
  • The Wandering Son manga started out pretty typical - it had lighthearted moments and mature moments but it wasn't so bad. Once puberty started kicking in more viciously and the characters entered middle school it slowly became less comedic and more angsty. It's a Justified example though, and probably intentional.
  • Narutaru starts off like a reasonably series before quickly becoming a Mind Screw full of horrors. It's a very intentional example.
    • As was the author's next series, Bokurano. It starts off looking like a retreat to '70s and '80s style Super Robot Genre about middle-schoolers saving the world with a giant robot (in terms of overall story - more Genre Savvy viewers quickly noticed the odd lack of comedic antics from the main characters and strangely apathetic and cynical behavior of the scientist that chose them to pilot the robot.) things quickly get worse. In fact, the author is famous for using this trope to deconstruct typical kids' genres of anime. When he announced that his latest work would be about a boy who rides his bike ad loves fishing, many people started to produce ridiculous theories about how the boy's bike would destroy the world.
  • Popotan is in no way only comedic to begin with, but even so its first couple of episodes at least has more laughs than tears. The later ones do not. The biggest example is without a doubt Konami's death in episode 9, which marks the transition from dramedy to regular drama.
  • Happens once in a while in Gintama. The Benizakura, Itou, Yoshiwara, Jiraia, Kabukichou (and other) storylines are way more serious and dramatic than the usual lazy-ass, nose-picking, potty humored regular episodes. Also, any time Takasugi shows up, shit gets serious. And then he goes away, and the series goes back to the normal idiocy. It's also notable that even in the serious stories, the series still maintains a certain level of dorkiness.


Comics[edit | hide]

  • This trope takes its name from Cerebus The Aardvark, a(n) (in)famous indie print comic that began as a parody of Heroic Fantasy, but drifted into the genre itself. (And subsequently into far stranger waters.)
  • Bone does this intentionally. Over its ten-year run, it went from a cute, kid-friendly comic about sudden snowfalls, greedy relatives and stupid, stupid rat creatures to an epic fantasy saga about a rather horrific Sealed Evil in a Can with graphic violence and death, the threat of genocide, a Religion of Evil, and the aforementioned rat creatures going from harmless comic relief to a deadly threat. However, it still managed to kick in humor every now and then, with at least one funny moment every issue. Jeff Smith apparently did this so that audiences wouldn't be "committed to an epic tale right from the start."
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog comic started out as a gag series on par with Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, but gradually grew more serious over its run. At least some of this may be due to the game series going down the same path.
  • Scud the Disposable Assassin's first story arcs included a cult that worshipped "manliness and unnecessary explosions", a cyborg-giraffe crime lord, and a werewolf astronaut. The last few issues pretty much kicked humor to the curb, placing Scud literally in the middle of Armageddon, fighting against both Heaven and Hell. The recent 4-issue re-launch Time Skips ahead 10 years and manages to make things even darker, but then pulls out to an upbeat ending involving The Power of Love. The author has noted that, if the series had finished as planned, it would have had a Downer Ending where Scud commits suicide and destroys the world, but between the original and relaunch, he moved away from his "angry young man" persona and rethought.
  • It could be argued that the entire Superhero genre has gone through Cerebus Syndrome. The days of jet-powered apes from Mars have more or less vanished in favour of dramatic, Darker and Edgier storylines.
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac went through intentional Cerebus Syndrome, from the Black Comedy and Johnny's lewd justifications for killing sprees of the first three issues to an exploration of Johnny's depressing outlook on life in the fourth issue, The Reveal of the history of the Doughboys in the fifth, as well is an investigation of the characters of Tess and Krik, then back to Black Comedy in the sixth and seventh (though Reverend Meat and the death of Jimmy were far from funny... except when they were). Even Happy Noodle Boy went through (sort of) Cerebus Syndrome, becoming more and more incomprehensible as Johnny slipped further into insanity. Jhonen Vasquez mentioned in his commentary in the Director's Cut that all this was planned.
    • This may have been planned from the beginning of the serial, but the earlier stand alone comics that predated it had no ambition beyond dark humor.
  • Wash Tubbs went from "bigfoot" humor to high adventure with the addition of soldier-of-fortune Captain Easy to the cast. Since this happened in 1929, this qualifies as Older Than Television.
  • Another early example is Skippy, a comic strip from the 1920's through 1940's. It was originally a wildly popular comic about a mischievous kid, but it started getting more and more serious and political when creator Percy L. Crosby became convinced that President Franklin Roosevelt was a Communist. Eventually, a company with connections to the IRS used several "random" audits to successfully take over the rights to the name Skippy. The company was, of course, the maker of Skippy peanut butter. Crosby ended up suicidally depressed in a mental hospital. You can read the whole story here.
  • The strip which eventually became Steve Roper & Mike Nomad began life in 1936 as a wacky comedy starring a stereotyped American Indian named Big Chief Wahoo. Roper was introduced in 1940 and took over the strip, until by 1947 Big Chief Wahoo had been written out and the wacky humour entirely dropped in favour of action adventure. Mike Nomad appeared in 1956, by which time the original nature of the strip had totally vanished.
    • Ironically, Big Chief Wahoo had not been planned to be the strip leader; he was supposed to be a supporting character to the Great Gusto, a traveling salesman/conman. Wahoo was instantly much more popular and Gusto, reduced to second banana status from the beginning, was gone by 1939.
  • Funky Winkerbean literally jumped (in the form of a 10-year timeskip) from a high-school based gag strip (with occasional dramatic Very Special Episodes) to a frequently depressing drama strip where Anyone Can Die. A second ten-year timeskip seems to have abandoned all pretense of zany (or should that be funky?) comedy, preferring a more down-to-earth kind (when, that is, there's any at all).
    • Also, ghost voyeurs.
  • 9 Chickweed Lane started life in 1993 as a gag-a-day strip about 3 generations of females and their daily experiences. It has since become a piercing look at personal relationships and the human condition, with its recent "mega-arc" - encompassing the lives of many people - lasting several years.
  • For Better or For Worse, although that has turned around somewhat as Lynn Johnston has essentially done a Re Boot back to the strip's original chronology, and the more gag-oriented formula therein. New material, new art and new enthusiasm! (With an occasional classic strip thrown in.)
  • While the initial issues of Archie's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures remained somewhat close to its cartoon source in tone, the series eventually got progressively more serious, with multiple deaths, more introspective stories, and even a scene showing Adolf Hitler's suicide.
  • Doonesbury always had a political element, but in its first couple of years in national syndication it was mostly a light-hearted strip about college life (continuing where Garry Trudeau's work at Yale left off). Once Watergate happened it focused more and more on politics. On top of that it became more of a serial strip, and even introduced Anyone Can Die to the comics page.
  • Bloom County started out as a rural humor strip, but as time went on they started adding more and more political and pop culture satire, which would dominate the strip for the rest of the run. Strangely, its Cerebus syndrome coincided with it sliding down the Sliding Scale of Fourth Wall Hardness all the way to having No Fourth Wall.
  • Empowered started as a superhero parody with a lot of Fan Service. The first three volumes are mostly comedy, with occasional hints at more dramatic plot developments and backstories. Volume four goes all out, opening with Ninjette apparently dealing with PTSD. Five sees Emp's Crowning Moment of Awesome from the previous book being not only papered over by her Jerkass teammates but outright turned against her and the death of one (maybe two) main characters plus a horde of C-listers. Volume Six is 60-80% GRIMDARK.
  • Candorville ran into this by way of Genre Shift. Initially, it made a lot of jokes that came out of nowhere and made no sense in the context of the setting—for instance, one minor recurring character was the animated corpse of a slain al-Qaeda member. Then the strip started to comment on how unusual those things were, and how odd it was that only the main character ever saw them. And then other people started to see them too . . .
  • Supergirl: Cosmic adventures in the 8th grade, of all things. The first four issues are mostly light-hearted, but the last two reveal that Mister Myxyzptlk has been behind everything, and may even have gone back in time and destroyed Krypton in the first place just to make sure he got everyone where he wanted them.
  • Marvel's New X-Men Vol 2 starts out as a low-angst (especially by mutant standards) romp of high school cliques and teen age personal interactions until M-Day, when most of the mutants lost their powers. Series then does a nose dive as the mutant hating Purifiers start picking off regular cast members one by one and the students fight for survival including scenes where kids not even old enough to drive are wondering which of them is going to die next when they aren't literally being dragged to hell.
  • The Italian demential/slapstick comic book series Rat-Man by Leonardo Ortolani: it started as a Affectionate Parody of Marvel and DC superheroes, but after the first 10 issues, it started to develop darker and edgier stories.
  • The first two Tintin adventures (Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and Tintin in the Congo) are outright comedies where the action is often surreal and played for laughs (for instance Tintin killing a rhino by drilling into its hide and dropping in a stick of dynamite.) The third adventure (Titin in America) was transitional with a lot of off the wall comedy still mixing with the plot before the series finally found it's familiar mood of exciting and suspenseful action with character driven comic relief with Cigars of the Pharaoh.


Fan Fic[edit | hide]

"When 'Tamers Forever' was originally conceived, it was supposed to be a ten-story series mainly concerning a Takato/Rika relationship. It was supposed to be more of a romantic comedy, however, I realized my strong point wasn't comedy, as I unconsciously deepened and filled the plot with questions and secrets."


Film[edit | hide]

  • Inverted by the Evil Dead films, which started out as genuinely terrifying and ended up becoming Bloody Hilarious.
  • The Adam Sandler film Click starts off as a wacky comedy about a man who can pause and fast forward his life with a magical remote control. It eventually shifts from him making a hot blonde jogging go in slow motion to him fast forwarding through his life until he grows old and dies.
  • Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince is about 70% romantic comedy with a bit of magic and a couple of action scenes thrown in. Then, starting from when Katie Bell comes back from her absence, things get a whole lot darker.
  • Three Kings starts out as a madcap comedy/heist film until about a third of the way through, when we see a Republican Guardsmen execute a begging Iraqi civilian woman (in slow motion, no less).
  • Many of Pixar's films are starting to become much darker than the last.
  • Pleasantville starts out on a pretty light-hearted note, until the darker aspects of the 1950s start showing up.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The novel Nuklear Age by 8-Bit Theater author Brian Clevinger plays with this trope, mirroring the development of comics as a medium. It starts out over-the-top and cheesy, quickly becomes over-the-top and genuinely entertaining, but, near the ending, it becomes over-the-top yet heart-wrenching.
  • Joseph Heller's Catch-22 uses this trope brilliantly. From the beginning it depicts a hopeless and bleak world that the central character wants nothing more than to escape from, but as the book progresses it starts using the same things it played for laughs early on to a much more devastating and serious effect, such as the absurd and tongue-in-cheek importance of the mess hall officer leading to a few riots, multiple missing parachutes and a tragic bombing, all for the sake of manipulating cotton markets.
  • The Discworld series starts with The Colour of Magic: a raft of tropes, puns and SFX. Serious themes appear in later books, perhaps starting with Death in Reaper Man. A milestone in characterization is Vimes, the fallen idealist of Guards! Guards!. That said, it has remained comedic, albeit slightly more "realistically"; the author has said that the series has "grown up", and that, for instance, nowadays he'd never be able to just burn down the city for a cheap laugh like in the first book—though he still sees the humor in referencing such times:

The rumor spread through Ankh-Morpork like wildfire -- which had spread through Ankh-Morpork quite often since its inhabitants had learned the phrase "fire insurance".

    • The transition here is rather similar to the Trope Namer in that the first book, and at least most of the second, were clearly intended to be a wacky parody of standard fantasy to the extent it's often possible to tell specifically which author is being parodied (for example, the bizarre punctuation in the names of the dragon riders). The parody aspect gradually faded to the point that most of the newer novels are more or less standard fantasy with comedic elements rather than comedy with fantasy elements. (Although "standard" might not be the right term for a fantasy novel about renovating the postal system...)
  • The Hobbit was written for children and adults. It starts off pretty fun and silly, but becomes more solemn by the end. The Lord of the Rings, which was welded into the same world after the fact, was written for a more adult audience and is much darker than The Hobbit. Although Tolkien strenuously denied that the story was an allegory for World War II, Tolkien was a World War I veteran, and the horrors of both World Wars almost certainly influenced the major themes, such as corrupting power, just and unjust war, and the necessity of change in the meantime.
  • Inkheart gets pretty damn depressing and extremely violent. In the second two books of the trilogy, which take place in the Inkworld, it turns out the place isn't the wondrous fantasy world it appears to be. The villains in these novels make Capricorn seem like a harmless bully by comparison, and even the heroes all seem to have prominent dark sides.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe is very much guilty of this. In general, the Thrawn books and early EU are about on the same level of darkness as the original movies. There's darkness, but in a clean and epic way, and most of the mains survive the experience. The New Jedi Order uses the same kind of darkness (heroes struggling against a seemingly invincible evil) upped to eleven, featuring casual genocides, an entire species of sadomasochists, graphic torture, and relatively high gore, as opposed to "just" Space Nazis, offscreen torture, and mostly "clean" violence. Legacy of the Force backs off a bit on that but took a dive towards the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.
  • The Fablehaven series takes a fairly dramatic turn for the, uh, dramatic after the first book. The first book has a light-hearted cover, an only-somewhat-threatening villain, and while there are certainly scary, tense, and at least one bona fide disturbing moment, there's a lot of comedy and sheer excitement it in at the same time. (It's got scenes like milking a giant cow and giving a troll a foot massage.) The second book gets a bit creepier, as it introduces just how unsafe the magical world is... and the third and fourth books are just out-and-out scary and disturbing. Up to and including a horrifying subversion of Strangled by the Red String. So much for the Official Couple...
  • The Warrior Cats series is normally very serious, but the third series starts off with one of the most lighthearted and optimistic books in the series, and then gradually became more and more dark until it ended with one of the most dark and depressing books in the whole series. Since the third series was mostly character driven, this was likely done to show the Three's loss of innocence and more mature outlook on their responsibilities, much like the Harry Potter example above.
  • The Book of Fred began as a sitcom-esque story when a girl, Mary Fred, having raised in a wacky cult (that, among other things, valued the color brown, fish, and the holy name of Fred) was put into a foster-care program and tried to adjust to normal life. By the end, the book had tackled rape, drugs, comas, and other crises--completely seriously.
  • Pierre Beaumarchais' Figaro trilogy. The Barber of Seville is a farce. The Marriage of Figaro delves into class issues, culminating into a lengthy monologue delivered by Figaro. Then there's The Guilty Mother, which is a more serious play along the lines of Tartuffe (the play itself was subtitled "The Other Tartuffe").
  • The Dresden Files, sort of. The first book, Storm Front, certainly had its dark elements; murder, drug addiction, etc. were all involved in the story, but there was a lighter background and Harry seemed to actually enjoy his life, Perpetual Poverty aside. The books have trended steadily darker since, particularly when the Wham Episodes of Grave Peril (Susan is half-turned by vampires, Harry flips out and starts a war), Dead Beat (Most of the White Council is annihilated within two days), and Changes (Which can basically be summed up as "It Got Worse") hit.
    • In book one, Harry fends off a vampire with a handkerchief full of sunlight. By book six, he can't do that any more, because it turns out you need to be happy to fold sunlight into a hankie.
  • P.N. Elrod's Vampire Files series started out as a subversion of vampire wangst, in which Jack Fleming's undead state was treated more like a superhero's abilities and weaknesses than like an occult curse. Basically, he was a detective who could turn invisible and walk through walls, the sort who'd literally use his powers to play pranks on gangsters. But things changed as the villains got nastier: Jack was tortured, his Horror Hunger intensified, his mortal best friend's horrific past was revealed, and the erstwhile subversion of Wangst was nearly Driven to Suicide. While the latest book suggests Elrod has reversed course, pulling Fleming back from the brink, for a while there things had gotten so grim that Lifeblood, the second book in which Jack argues in defense of his Vegetarian Vampire nature, had almost become an in-universe Funny Aneurysm Moment.
  • Moby Dick starts of in a light-hearted style, as if embarking on a jolly romp around the Seven Seas in search of diversion and adventure. Then the obsession cuts in.
  • From Book Three onwards, Percy Jackson and The Olympians gets steadily darker, with the deaths of major good-guy characters and more mature themes
  • Books 7-9 of the Undead and ... series have taken a turn for the dark, with unexpected deaths of supporting characters, increasing evil behavior of Laura, who is the Antichrist and the main character's half-sister, and various depressing tidbits of info gleaned from time traveling 1000 years into the future, where It Got Worse. Word of God is that this change is deliberate, and even the cover art for the three books changed from it's original "chicks who love shoes & pink" theme to more of a "noir thriller" look.
  • T. H. White's The Once and Future King starts off very light and playful with Arthur as a child going on magical adventures under Merlin's tutelage. Then he pulls the sword from the stone and it goes downhill from there.
    • He actually went back and rewrote the first novel to be more serious, so they could be read in order without experiencing Mood Whiplash.
  • The Dragons/The Last Dragon Chronicles starts off as a merry romp involving clay dragons and a student saving a squirrel. Then in the second book the Mind Screw-y stuff starts to set in, and by the third book the main character, David, is killed by being impaled with a spear of ice! And it just keeps going on from there...
  • Flinx in Flux marks the transition of the Humanx Commonwealth series from a light-hearted and mainly episodic Space Opera to a battle for the fate of the entire galaxy when it introduces the Great Evil. It also marks Flinx's transition to full maturity by introducing his ongoing Love Interest, Clarity Held.
  • To a certain extent, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams invokes this trope with Mostly Harmless, written around the time Adams suffered some private personal difficulties that led to him writing an incredibly depressing ending to the series. He wanted to write a sixth book to counter the Cerebus Syndrome but his infamous Author Existence Failure stopped him. Eoin Colfer wrote And Another Thing, but everyone is certain it will never match Adams' own unwritten sixth Hitchhiker's book.
  • This is visible in Septimus Heap where the first mbooks start out with a rather cheery atmosphere but progressively darken until the very existence of the Castle is threatened in Darke.
  • Famously, Harry Potter started out as a light-hearted novel for kids with some darker themes in the climax and matured as its audience did, so that the books had on-screen deaths starting in Goblet of Fire and getting Darker and Edgier from there.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Otasuke Girl was a short DTV Japanese series about a superpowered high school detective girl. While most of the episodes were very lighthearted, featuring humorous recurring characters, bad guys who were more silly than threatening, and the title character using hilarious fighting techniques like hiting her oponent's face with her butt while shooting 'hip punch!', the series finale featured little to no humor, with a story about children's disappearance and Otasuke Girl being put in a coma. Even if all went back to normal at the end, ending this lighthearted series on such a dark episode gave a really weird feeling.
  • Super Sentai seems to be more lighthearted for the first 10 episodes while we get to know the characters before getting more arc based and dramatic after the story kicks in. Since new series start without so much as a week's break after the last one, this run of lighthearted episodes may count as a Breather Episode after how serious the last ten episodes of a series seem to get.
    • In another way, looking at the series as a whole, it seems to waffle back and forth between each season. The serious Ohranger was followed by the lighthearted Carranger. Similarly we went from silly Go-onger to serious Shinkenger to silly Goseiger. It seems like the creative team just like going back and forth with it.
  • Mash is probably the most famous (or infamous) TV example of this, although it must be noted that Robert Altman's film had a darker (if still basically comic) tone than did the first couple years of the series.

Zoidberg: This is how it starts: first with the jokes, then comes the heavy stuff.

    • Also mentioned in an episode of Family Guy where Peter states that he enjoyed M*A*S*H up until the final few seasons, when Alan Alda took control of the show and it got "depressing and preachy."
  • The first couple seasons of Smallville were mostly lighthearted freak-of-the-week affairs. Around the middle of season three, they began to delve more into the Superman mythos, and the show reflected this.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer started its Cerebus transition after the end of the first season. It's frequently debated on the point where it went too far, though the sixth season is the most commonly accused.
    • Angel went through this too, starting life as a supernatural detective story but very quickly transitioning into multilayered plot arcs about conflicts between interdimensional forces of good and evil.
  • While nominally a sitcom, All in The Family often very intentionally veered over the lines into addressing several serious issues like women's roles, racism, and politics. All pretense of comedy was dropped when, in episode 159, Edith, the show's frazzled-but-lovable housewife and mother...was raped. Many fans of the series remember how very serious and shocking that episode was, especially since it was one of the first times the subject of rape had been covered on ANY show, let alone a supposed comedy. While the show did return to many future funny episodes, this ep left a definite and unforgettable mark.
    • Technically it was an attempted rape, since she got away, but that didn't make it any less poignant.
    • Watch that episode again, and note the live audience reaction. When it first became apparent that the "detective" in the Bunker residence is actually a rapist, most of the studio viewers, after an initial shocked "Ohhh!", started giggling again. According to creator Norman Lear, they had apparently convinced themselves (or were trying to convince themselves) that the man was a "funny" rapist, not a "serious" one. (Remember, this was about the time when Black Comedy Rape was quickly becoming not only an accepted but also a commonplace trope.) It was only when the rapist threatened to kill Archie if Edith said anything while Archie was in the house that it finally sank in that this was no laughing matter. When Edith shoved the burnt cake into the creep's face and fled, the sustained cheering and clapping was a definite catharsis and a truly unforgettable Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • The second season of the Argentine soap Rebelde Way took a turn toward darker storylines.
  • Supernatural underwent this process when it hit the halfway point of Season One. And it got even worse from there. Much, much worse.
  • Friends has a subtle process in this vein. It starts out with story arcs entirely for comedy, actual jokes with punchlines, and a set of characters that seem to fulfill every comedic need you could have. Then heavy character development sets in, started with Rachel Green, and eventually the series becomes Drama with lots of Comedy, instead of Comedy with bits of Drama.
  • Sex and the City: Started out as being about sex and dating and all the various types of men out there, then starting in Season 3 shifted focus to long-term relationships. Really set in in season six, which had arcs dealing with Charlotte's infertility and Samantha developing breast cancer. The last several episodes and the movies were considerably less light-hearted than the early seasons.
  • The French comedy show Kaamelott starts as a short comedic series spoofing the legend of King Arthur, but after three seasons, the storyline became darker and less comedic (except for the two comic relief characters of Perceval and Karadoc) and turned to get an actual (twistful) plot, while doubling its air time to 7 minutes length.
  • Weeds began as a comedy (or dramedy) about a housewife dealing marijuana in the suburbs; from the second season on, though still possessing a lot of bizarre and quirky humour, it became a lot more serious. The show began dealing with increasingly dark themes till it started Crossing the Line Twice. By season 6, it inverted Cerebus Syndrome and turned into a farce.
  • She Spies is a syndicated show (it aired on PAX for a while) that was originally a spoof of Charlie's Angels and the like. In its first season, it took shots at everything, and the leads were Deadpan Snarkers. In the second season, the show dropped most of the humor and became what it had spoofed.
  • The first two seasons of Xena: Warrior Princess were heavy on camp and occasionally had a serious episode. Then Gabrielle killed for the first time in Season Three, setting off a season-long storyline meant to put Xena and Gabrielle through emotional hell. Subsequent seasons had even less comedy.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air started off as a lighthearted comedy about the young, funky, foul-mouthed Will Smith living with his rich, stuffy relatives in Bel Air. The series went on to explore increasingly controversial topics, like racial discrimination, fatherhood and abandonment, gun violence, alcoholism, and even drug use. The later episodes included several "serious moments" where actor Will Smith cries, screams, or breaks down. There was often no laugh track to end the show, opting instead for a somber, silent cut to the credits.
  • Since its fourth season, House has become more and more focused on character drama and less on the weekly patient. Whereas subplots involving relationships usually only occupied a few minutes of an episode, which was instead focused on Greg's hilarious antics or the central plot of the patient, that is now almost entirely reversed. Patients are usually only treated for a brief portion of the episodes, and even those scenes are flooded by character drama.
  • The Thick of It went through this, partly because of changes in the Real Life political climate it reflects, and partly because of its own fractured production history. As the UK went into recession, news of the MPs' expenses scandal broke, and New Labour began losing their grip on power, the storylines in the show's third series became less comedic and more dramatic. The third series was also the first complete series commissioned by the BBC (the other episodes had been pilot episodes, short runs or hour-long specials) and gave the writers their first chance to toy with story arcs, resulting in the the third series being much less episodic than the first.
  • A season 3 episode of Warehouse 13 had supernatural twists on torture by burning and waterboarding; pretty dark for that show.
  • The second season of Young Dracula has shades of this, what with multiple vampires actually getting slayed, including one who had been a recurring sympathetic character, Vlad being revealed to the The Chosen One, and the series ending on what was probably meant to be a dramatic cliffhanger. Unfortunately, the set-up in the first season was so bizarre that it never quite worked (the constant Special Effects Failure didn't help). The first series was more of a vampire pastiche/parody with a lot of silly humour, which worked a lot better.
  • After pressing the Reset Button so hard it broke at the beginning of Season 3, Chuck seems to be slowly heading down this path as the separate worlds the titular character has maintained over the course of the show (Spy world and Buy More world) seem to be slowing collapsing into one another, with potentially unpretty results.
    • It seems that Status Quo is still God. (Except for what happened to Emmett, but the first episode of a new season can sometimes change the status quo.) Spy world and Buy More world are still separate so far - there's just a lot more angst and trauma about it. For everyone.
  • Power Rangers got this in Power Rangers in Space. Where previous seasons had the Rangers defend the city from goofy Monsters of the Week, In Space had their mentor kidnapped and they were desperately searching alien planets to find him before time ran out. The bad guys were also more complex characters than the Card Carrying Villains that were present up to that point. The result is that In Space is considered one of the best seasons by the fans, and it got enough ratings to uncancel the franchise.
    • Power Rangers RPM is a partial example. On the one hand, it was set After the End, where the bad guy had already reduced nearly the entire planet to a wasteland. On the other hand, the show was self-aware and often poked fun at series tropes like the Five-Man Band and Stuff Blowing Up, so you couldn't take it all too seriously.
  • Red Dwarf started out as a sci-fi comedy show which hit the Reset Button (almost) every episode. From series V more serious sci-fi episodes started to appear (e.g. Back To Reality), and by series VI a two-series-long-arc (Red Dwarf lost). Series VII got rid of the studio audience and went straight up comedy-drama. By Back To Earth, even the laugh track itself was gone.
    • On the other hand, series VIII (the last full series) descended into puerile humour that made even the previous series look sophisticated.
    • Even more marked in the novels, which gradually turned more and more into gag-free sci-fi.
  • Inverted in Lost in Space, which originally started as a dramatic science fiction series. Dr. Zachary Smith, (an evil saboteur who reprograms the robot in an attempt to kill everyone on board) became much more of a comic relief character later in the series.
  • This definitely happened to Boy Meets World in the later seasons. Around the kids' senior year of high school, it went from being a light-hearted comedy about puberty to a constant Wangst-fest and endless stream of very special episodes.
    • The tone shifted on Boy Meets World as early as Season 2, when they brought in Mr. Turner and Topanga went from 'weird kid' to 'viable romantic option'.
  • Inversion: Like Lost in Space above, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea started as a straight adventure series, but as the series developed it became more and more outlandish and campy. Both this and Lost in Space were brought to us by Irwin Allen... coincidence?
  • Life On Mars was fairly consistent in its Mind Screwy-but-occasionally-light-hearted tone. Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, started out similar to its predecessor, but grew the beard with its Season One finale (which revealed that Alex's father had pulled a Taking You with Me, killed her mother, and the only reason young Alex survived was chance, not to mention the man who took her hand afterwards was Gene Hunt). And did it again with its season 2 finale (involving a fellow "time-traveler" killing his own younger self and setting Alex up to take the fall, Gene accidentally shooting Alex, and Alex waking up in 2008 only to start seeing Gene on her television). Season 3 upped the ante into pseudo-religious levels, capping it off with revealing Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory and the Devil's been hanging around this whole time.
  • Blackadder did this very suddenly with the tragic finale of the fourth series.
    • Interesting, because the first and second series ended with everyone dying. In those occasions, it was inevitably played for laughs, making the end of Blackadder Goes Forth particularly striking.
  • Farscape started off as a Fish Out of Water human-stuck-in-space series with a lot of comedy and some rather astute drama subplots. And then it got darker, and darker, and those dramatic subplots became featured with Mind Screw... and finally by the Peace Keeper Wars you have... er... well... this. See entry number 3. However the entire slide from: comedy -> drama emphasis was too well written to be a accident, and the show kept Growing the Beard.
  • Poirot series, after season IX, saw the deletion of regular comic relief characters like Captain Hastings, and inclusion of more serious, "dark" themes.
  • iCarly: The episode iOMG is the first of a five episode 'arc' involving the Sam/Freddie 'romance'. The first promo from the 2nd episode is void of comedy, and instead concentrates on kissing, and Sam wondering if she has 'lost her mind' for liking Freddie.
  • Notably averted by Seinfeld. Despite being on the air for almost a decade, it never slid into drama. Not even a Very Special Episode. Even the series finale was all comedy.
  • The Job started out as somewhat black comedy, but over the course of the series morphed into something very much like its Spiritual Successor Rescue Me.
  • 8 Simple Rules had the premise of lighthearted family Dom Com with emphasis of an overprotective father toward his offspring at first, but only for roughly one season. Afterward (most notably due to the death of the actor of said father), this trope set in and this show became more dramatic.
  • How I Met Your Mother has began limping down this path to some degree, with the death of Marshall's father and as a means to extend the popular series.
    • Has been hiked way up since mid-season 7 with episodes like "Tick Tick Tick", "Symphony of Illumination", and "The Drunk Train", which are as rife with drama and Tear Jerkers as the most somber episodes of Scrubs. However, it's been implied that the syndrome will be limited to season 7, as Marshall and Lily's baby will be born before the season's end, and there are strong hints that Barney's wedding/the meeting of the Mother is going to happen in the near future. Also, the syndrome is somewhat lightened by the fact that the Happily Ever After ending (with everyone staying close friends, Marshall and Lily staying together, and Ted marrying and having kids) has been a Foregone Conclusion since the pilot. The only truly dramatic tension is whether or not Robin will get her happy ending with Barney, and even if she doesn't, Future!Ted has confirmed that Robin still had a wonderful life and was always surrounded by her friends.
  • Green Wing started out as a light-hearted, surreal comedy, and partway through season two turned depressing with Mac's terminal illness and the suicides of Statham and Joanna.
  • Arguably, Wizards of Waverly Place. It began as a fantasy-laced Kid Com with Zany Schemes and a playful case of Sibling Rivalry between Alex and Justin. Along with the Flanderization of the main characters, the storylines got darker and more dramatic. The Sibling Rivalry has reached epic proportions, the Alex/Mason relationship breaks up after a terrible fight with another suitor and Alex and Justin suffer a setback in their wizard training after Alex reveals wizardry to the world (or, well, the phony reporters Professor Crumbs conjured up to test their characters). Add vampires, werewolves, evil angels, a near collision by a giant asteroid, subtext in many jokes about Harper's dysfunctional family and the relationship between the Russo children and their parents, and the Disney Death of a wizard friend who took a Heel Face Turn later on, where Alex jokes about it later, and you get to see lots of darkness enter the picture. Occasional some light comes in, and it's still a comedy, but it has ventured far from its lighter tone in the first few seasons.
    • The weird thing is that the dark subject matter isn't handled as dark subject matter. Hearing the overactive laugh track and the actors' tones, you wouldn't know you were watching a show that included genocide, abduction of a (for most intents and purposes) teenage girl and manslaughter. But it's a sitcom, of course. It deals humourously with everyday occurrences such as finding out that your younger brother was responsible for your vampire girlfriend's abduction by a mummy and the death of every monster-hunting wizard except you.
    • The "competition" that drives the premise is mean-spirited to begin with, which is lampshaded by the fact that it tore apart Jerry's family - yet Jerry insists on putting his own children through it despite the fact that they have clearly inherited the same spirit of rivalry in magic and every other aspect of their lives. One child in each family gets to keep their powers if they win a protracted contest that makes no allowances for age gaps. That child spends the rest of their life with magic powers at the likely cost of being bitterly envied by their siblings, who have an extraordinary gift taken away from them. Furthermore, wizards have a segregation policy when it comes to marriage between wizards and non-wizards - it comes at the cost of relinquishing one's powers.
  • Glee started off with really lighthearted humor and was almost a parody of the Musical genre. About half way through the first season however the storylines have become more and more serious (and Anvilicious.)
  • Scrubs was never supposed to be a blatant humor show, and had always shown signs of seriousness, but the last 3 seasons with the main cast really took the darkness up to 11. With JD's romantic story lines getting more and more tragic, his son, Turk and Carla's marital problems, Dr. Cox's ever growing problems leading up to several break downs, and plenty of death to go around, Scrubs ended as way more of a drama than a comedy.
  • Doctor Who has started going down this route. Season 5 of the revived series started with The Doctor regenerating into a Cloudcuckoolander and running away with Amy Pond. Then, halfway through the season Rory gets erased from time. At the end of the season, the universe explodes. While this is restored at the end of the finale, season 6 is even darker. It starts with the Doctor being killed by River Song.
  • While the first season of Community had it's darker moments, it was generally episodic and consequence free. The second season noticeably changed tone, especially with Pierce becoming a downright villain in several episodes ("and then I rape the Ducane family" anyone?). Even lampshaded by Abed (of course) and several others dropping various comments like "this has been a dark year". And the third season? Can anyone say "darkest timeline"?


Music[edit | hide]

  • The Prodigy's sound and videos show a clear move away form their campy early works such as "Out of Space" and "One Love" into Darker and Edgier territory, with works like "No Good". This shift became gradually more apparent as The Nineties progressed, to the point where it would be difficult to believe that "Out of Space" was even made by the same group as songs such as "Breathe".
  • W.A.S.P. were a 80s heavy metal band with a slight pop/glam bend once infamous for their dirty, innuendo laden lyrics and shocking stage shows. They were largely lumped together with the Hair Metal bands of their time. But after the release of The Headless Children in 1989 they became a lot Darker and Edgier and began making music that was a lot more focused on themes of politics, religion and violence. Most metal fans agree it was for the better.
  • Green Day started out doing pretty straightforward punk with lyrics about getting high, masturbating and being a deadbeat. By American Idiot they instead started focusing on politics and becoming more serious. The fans are now very split up around this. 21st Century Breakdown continued from American Idiot.
  • Pink Floyd may not have been quite the lightest of bands in the first place, but the departure and mental breakdown of Syd Barrett lead to severe Cerebus Syndrome - and, in an excellent example of Tropes Are Not Bad, also produced much of what is generally considered their best music, including Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon.
  • The Beatles had a moderate version of this. While the Silly Love Songs never disappeared altogether, their structure and the songs that got mixed in with them changed. This made it possible for rock to be considered a serious genre.
    • And they widened their themes. Following their first not-love-based-singles ("Nowhere Man" and "Paperback Writer"), they recorded with an album that included a Tear Jerker story ("Eleanor Rigby"), a criticism on taxes ("Taxman"), a song about drugs disguised as a love song ("Got to Get You Into My Life"), a song praising sleep ("I'm Only Sleeping") and a childish song ("Yellow Submarine"). And then came a Concept Album, some mindblowing singles (which were shoehorned into an "album," not entirely without filler), followed by a Genre Roulette album.
  • Reversed with Gwen Stefani: Her earlier songs with No Doubt feature relationship drama (she had just broken up with her boyfriend, who is also the band's bassist) while her more recent solo albums are about how much fun she's having as a rich and famous celebrity.
  • The Beastie Boys came to prominence with such intellectual works as "Girls" and "Fight For Your Right", only later to be distracted by such droll projects as organizing the Tibetan Freedom Concert and becoming an alternative rock band.
    • Their earlier works were actually a Stealth Parody of fratboy cuture, which were taken seriously by their audience and is now considered an Old Shame. They partially changed their style to seperate themselves from that era, and seem to be disowning or downplaying everything from the "License To Ill" period.
  • The 69 Eyes started out as a typical Glam Rock band, but ever since "Angels" have developed a more Gothic sound.
  • The Monkees, once employed as a fictional, manufactured bubblegum pop group (based on The Beatles' films) signed by Don Kirshner for an NBC TV show. Other people produced and wrote the material on the records, while session musicians were secretly employed to provide backing tracks. When the truth was revealed to the public, leading to a Critical Backlash, the band members rebelled against their superiors, had Kirshner fired, and controlled more of their recordings and show episodes. The music took on serious and often sociopolitical tones while becoming musically more experimental and progressive. Meanwhile, the show took on more surreal and psychedelic tones. By 1968, with the series cancelled and Monkeemania fading away, the original quartet would film Head, an experimental and fairly incomprehensible film allegorically criticizing and dissecting the same media machinery that created the band in the first place. This movie, now a Cult Classic, would help put the final curtain on the band's teen following, but would give the group a hipster credibility in The Seventies.
  • In the early '90s, Alanis Morissette was pretty much the Canadian version of Debbie Gibson, singing light dance-pop songs. Then in 1995, she released Jagged Little Pill, an album full of angry breakup songs, turning her into an international superstar. The shift was successful enough that many of Alanis' non-Canadian fans don't even know that she was ever a bubblegum pop star. Watch this if you need convincing.
  • Oh, ABBA. In ten short years they went from shiny and upbeat to angsty and vaguely political. You can say what you want about early sad songs like "S.O.S." and "Knowing Me, Knowing You", but when both couples divorced we got really heartbreaking songs like "The Winner Takes It All" and "Happy New Year". There are only two songs on their final album that are remotely upbeat: "Head Over Heels", about a childish woman and her long-suffering boyfriend, and "Two For The Price Of One", about a man who feels so lonely and worthless that he religiously scours the personal ads (and was suicidal in the demo lyrics).
  • In 2007, "Evelyn Evelyn" was what Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley called themselves when they pretended to be conjoined twin girls and sang a cute song about riding an elephant. As of 2010, Evelyn and Evelyn are two full-fledged characters whose backstory is 99% rape, pedophilia, slavery, beatings, more slavery, abandonment and death.
  • Inverted and then played tremendously straight with "Frank Zappa"'s work. The early Mothers of Invention albums were dark, scary, and subversive. As his compositional style got more and more colorful, Zappa got farther and farther away from this, doing straighter comedy and only occasionally becoming as dark as he once was. Then, in the last years of his life, he created Civilization Phaze III, which is his darkest and most serious album, complete with an insane plot about Pigs & Ponies he had started years before.
  • When a part of The Jackson 5 Michael Jackson sang whatever a kid his age was expected to, cute songs about romance and such. After he grew away from the group he sang lighthearted tunes. An album or two later, his songs became more angsty and dark (even including cursing on more than one instant), before eventually changing back.
  • Can be seen throughout the album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by My Chemical Romance. Starts out on the light-hearted, you-suck-we-win themed track "Na Na Na", before the tracks get more and more angsty and tragic. However, their last track, "Vampire Money", revamps the entire feel and ends the album with the same feeling it started out with, contradicting this trope in the first place.
  • Joy Division, who started off playing upbeat punk music with vaguely war related lyrics. By their last year, Ian was writing songs that came across as suicide notes. Their last recorded song "In A Lonely Place" mentions the process of a man hanging himself. And Ian did just that several days later. The band's evolution, New Order are an inversion, starting off a dark continuation of Joy Division and moving into poppier territory as they went on.
  • Miley Cyrus' first album outside of the Hannah Montana franchise, Meet Miley Cyrus was in the teen pop vein, with love songs devoted to her then-boyfriend Nick Jonas. After they broke up, her second album naturally reflected the breakup. Her EP The Time Of Our Lives, despite being more lighthearted, contained some angrier/punkier material like "Talk Is Cheap" and her cover of Ashlee Simpson's "Kicking And Screaming", while some songs show the beginnings of her image makeover to come. More of the makeover was found on Can't Be Tamed (although more of the songs invoked empowerment that sexuality), while songs like "Stay" and "Forgiveness And Love" were more reflective and/or melancholy.
  • Although Bruce Springsteen's early songs have occasional moments of melancholy, the overall impression of his first three albums is a manic world of street racing, fairgrounds and lots and lots of sex. After a long court case, he came back with Darkness on the Edge of Town, which was just what you'd expect from the title. A few years later, he put out Nebraska


Magazines[edit | hide]

  • Computer magazine MacAddict, one of the two magazines split off from the defunct CD-ROM Today in 1996 (boot, now Maximum PC, was the other). When it started out, MacAddict was unafraid to have fun: they often included little cartoons in the letters section and back page (even a stick-figure mascot, Max, who was also used in their reviewing scale); the pages were bright, colorful and rife with Running Gags (for several issues, they joked that each magazine was soaked in Downy before it was shipped out); the CD that shipped with every issue would include something funny like a video of the staff destroying a Windows computer; and so on. In the early 2000s, the magazine got a white, sterile makeover (replacing the Max scale with a normal five-star scale), and the tone gradually shifted to a far more serious and straight-laced approach. This shift culminated in 2007, when the magazine was renamed Mac|Life.


Radio[edit | hide]

  • Let George Do It initially started out as a comedy about a soldier back from the war going into business as a professional odd-jobs man, doing things too silly or embarrassing for others to do, including occasional work as a private detective. He had a lovely young woman to assist him, with a gee-whiz little brother to get into light-hearted trouble. Over the course of several episodes, however, changes like the sudden disappearance of the kid brother and the music going from full orchestra to organ-only darkened the tone of the show to the hard boiled detective series that the show is known for being now.


Theater[edit | hide]

  • Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure while composing his greatest tragedies. Described as his "farewell to comedy", it ended in weddings (as all his comedies did) but had very little to laugh about. It was also the last one he wrote, except for The Tempest and Merry Wives of Windsor.
  • Most of the first act of Wicked is a light-hearted story about a green girl trying to fit into school and becoming friends with her popular, ditzy roommate while also falling in love with the class clown. By the end of the Act, culminating in "Defying Gravity", Elphaba discovers the truth behind the Wizard and vows to right his wrongs, getting her labeled as public enemy number one and having her best friend choose fame and power over the side of good and truth. That's just Act 1; it gets much worse in the second act.
  • Next to Normal is all fun and jokes for most of the first act, until Gabe is revealed to be dead. It only deteriorates more in the second act.


Toys[edit | hide]

  • Bionicle took itself seriously (for LEGO brand, at least) since the start, but also had a lighthearted, welcoming feel to it. Then, in 2005, the writers drifted into much darker wartes, and seemingly enjoyed it there. Every story from that point on was dead serious and increasingly darker in tone. When originally, it was just taking mind-control masks off animals and letting them go, by the last couple of years, characters continuously slaughtered and mercilessly murdered each other, and the only humor came from the sarcastically dry remarks and occasional pop-references the characters made. No more cute little animal sidekicks,[1] no cheerful village people... just utter bleakness. In this sense, it's a relief that the final movie that came out was so canon-defyingly zany and inappropriately Slapsticky.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II the Adventure of Link, and The Legend of Zelda a Link To T He Past have happy endings, But afterwards the games' endings range from bittersweet to downright depressing.
  • Same thing goes for fellow Nintendo Action Adventure series Metroid.
  • Ace Combat started off as a very early entry into the realm of 3D arcade style flying shoot-em-ups for the original PlayStation; though it was still at least somewhat more complicated than other competing titles and most of the gameplay elements that would define the series were already there, it didn't have much in the way of plot and was more or less a fairly straightforward game. By the time of Ace Combat 3, however, the flying and fighting aspects were framed by a deep and very well-developed story, which by the next title were often at best tangential in their impact on the player's actual missions and prone to focusing on the enemy just as much or more as on the player's side, as well as an increasing frequency in anti-war messages (odd in a game entirely about war, needless to say). The gameplay became more complex as well, introducing additional subtle realism tweaks such as more realistic aircraft momentum, and by the most recent title has had a corresponding effect on gameplay. The intro of the latest game, which probably tries a bit too hard when it comes to conveying the impact of war, embodies this trope and was duly featured on Unskippable.
  • Live a Live (pronounced Life Alive) as a result of the theme. When it happens depends entirely on your mileage and the order you play the chapters. Some are Lighter and Softer then others, at least two are Nightmare Fuel, and if it's your first time you play in the chronological order without spoilers.
  • Earthbound is a silly, shiny, nice game with colors all around. Its sequel Mother 3, though...well, what do you think of jokes such as "I have good news and bad news. Good news, I found you a new weapon. Bad news, I found it stabbed through your wife's heart."?
    • While Mother 3 is certainly more of a Tear Jerker than Earthbound, they both have Cerebus Syndrome within their games. Earthbound starts with you dealing with cops who take pride in their ability to block roads and ends with you fighting a being of pure evil that is considered Nightmare Fuel by many players. Mother 3 starts with you in a peaceful, utopian village and ends with the main villain essentially owning the entire world.
  • Jak and Daxter is a silly, shiny, nice game with colors all around. Its two sequels are very clearly influenced by Grand Theft Auto in both gameplay and themes, but still remain good games, and it's arguable that the more serious shift allowed for better, more grown up jokes.
    • It's worth noting that in gaming communities this trope is more often called "Jak 2 syndrome".
  • The sequel to Beyond Good and Evil looks to be far less cartoony and both teasers available indicate the game will take place in a city in the middle of the desert. Sounds familiar.
  • Many RPGs do this willingly. For instance:
    • In Final Fantasy IX, you start with a bunch of thieves/actors kidnapping a rebellious princess and a kid who go to watch a theater play. The first 7 or 8 hours of the game (especially in the brilliantly done French translation) are light hearted and fun. Then, the thieves'/actors' hometown is invaded, the rebellious princess see the death of her mother and watch her kingdom getting nuked, the whole world comes close from destruction, and the little cute kid of the intro gets to deal with his own mortality.
    • The original Final Fantasy starts with the king saying "Oh Warriors of Prophecy please save my daughter who is in the hands of my ex-most trustworthy knight". He's pretty weak, too. Then, by the end of the game, it turns out that the Big Bad is that same knight, whose soul went 2000 years into the past, gained incredible power by the name of Chaos, and created the four elemental demons who are now plaguing the world, whom were the ones to send his soul into the past when you first killed him to save the princess. And your defeat of him breaks the cycle, meaning that nothing of the game ever happened.
    • Suikoden Tierkreis starts with the main character living a mostly carefree life in his little village, cue a militaristic cult appearing. The main character decides then to stand against it, while remaining mostly optimistic; cue the multiverse collapsing.
    • Dragon Quest VII starts also with the main character living a carefree life in a fishermen village, and the "DQ humor" still drives most of the storyline. Then the first chapters of the game proper start, but, while more dark, they remain mostly into the "dungeon of the week" routine and the story keeps many humorous moments. Then, little by little, each small chapter gets more and more tragic until the conclusion.
    • Dragon Quest V begins with the main character as a child, journeying with his dad, occasionally going off on his own or with a friend on adventures straight out of Tom Sawyer, The Chronicles of Narnia, or George Mac Donald's fairy tales. Then, while trying to rescue a bratty prince, he watches his father get killed, and is sold into slavery, setting up the main plot of the game.
    • Tales of Phantasia starts with two main characters hunting, then it turns into a vendetta story, then into a world war, then into a conflict to save the human race, than the heroes discover that Dhaos was the good guy all along. The comedic elements of the game's beginning are of course diminishing through the story.
      • This is the entire series. Nearly every game can be summed up as "naive swordsman goes out on minor errand and stumbles on a plot to end the world". Ruca of Tales of Innocence is currently the record holder, wandering into the plot of the game while hanging around town to play with his "friends".
      • Performed rather well in Tales of Graces with the playable prologue. We're introduced to the young kids having fun with their new friend, meeting a new important friend...and then quickly watching as their new friend sacrifices herself before their very eyes with nothing they could do and (while they didn't know it yet), their other new friend was possessed by Lambda. The result? Four to five out of the seven playable characters have a rather Dark and Troubled Past.
    • Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, while not really "comedic", is fairly light at the beginning, with a teenage mercenary learning the ropes of his job against small bandit bands and under the careful watch of older fighters. By the end of its sequel, the plot looks like an adaptation of Berserk with slightly more colors.
    • Grandia start with two kids doing their usual antics in their hometown and dreaming of adventures that are, quite obviously, way above their level. By the end of the game, one of the kids, Justin, as turned into a badass by being punched in the face, repeatedly
    • Arc the Lad starts with a mostly light hearted storyline, with three of the seven Player Characters being comic reliefs. Then Arc 2 came along, and it became Darker, and Darker, and darker, and darker... At the end, Gogen was still cracking jokes and Poco was still a klutz, but it is hard to notice the comedy when you failed to stop the apocalypse, lost your Main couple, while the credits are running
    • Believe it or not, Chrono Trigger was, at some point, about going to the fair and having fun. You even meet a cute girl. Her pendant causes time travel, and wacky times are had by all. Even after you get tried and thrown in a cell for a few days, things are still lighthearted. Then you leap in the nearly dead future and see a recording of how the world ended...
      • The sequel, Chrono Cross, starts out rather okay, but after mid game, the hero gets his body switched with the bad guy, and the plot goes complicated and dark. Worse, the story's tieing up with Chrono Trigger by destroying every bit of happy parts of the prequel. Crono, Marle, and Lucca are likely to be killed shortly after "Trigger" ended, Schela is turned from a heroic sacrifical woman to a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.
    • Zig-Zagged in Kingdom Hearts. While the first games released chronologically were pretty light-hearted, Days and Birth By Sleep are actually a lot darker in general, what with finding new characters who were Doomed by Canon and finding it all set in a Crap Saccharine World and a couple Complete Monster villains. The games even started off pretty light-hearted, too.
      • And in the first game? It begins with Sora playing on the beach...then he watches as his world is consumed by shadows and destroyed in front of his eyes, with his friends either being lost or turned into monsters. But don't worry - he's with Donald and Goofy now, so he quickly gets over it...and then comes Hollow Bastion. It Gets Worse, but the game still ends on a rather light-hearted note. Kingdom Hearts II meanwhile starts off with a blonde haired kid you never knew before enjoying the last seven days of his summer vacation and a couple....weird things go on. And then he finds out that it was all a lie, as he's forcefully merged with Sora. The game then becomes quite light-hearted just like the original...and then it starts to get darker but like the first, still ends on a happy note.
  • Advance Wars had this; the first game was sort of up beat, with you fighting it out with the clear-cut bad guys. Second game, still upbeat, but the villain is somewhat more... unnerving. Third game, the villains are sucking the life out of the planet, there's few signs you can do anything to change this, and you choose at the end whether the Big Bad lives or dies. The latest one is set in a post apocalyptic wasteland where the NPCs in the campaign tell you to leave the civilians behind and the first fight you have is with piratical raiders.
  • The flash game Viricide goes, over the course of the paragraphs that pop up between the 17 waves, from jokes about an AI's malfunctioning doble entandra system, to said AI explaining that her programmer was taking depression meds while working on her, and one day told her he was going to solve all his problems by taking all the pills in the bottle at once instead of taking them two at a time. She never saw him again, but hopes what he did made him feel better.
    • She also goes from referring to her programer as "my programmer" to calling him "my father" and "Dad" and she ask you to disable her "emotional core" which gives her a personality
  • The main Mario usually makes no attempt to do this, but the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series do.
  • Call of Duty: World at War's Nazi Zombies mode appears to be suffering from the syndrome.
    • The first map, Nacht der Untoten, was really just four Featureless Protagonists holed up in a building under siege by unlimited hordes of zombies.
    • The second map, Verruckt, was more of the same, with Perk-a-cola machines and electro-shock defenses. And the EVIL teddy bear.
    • But the third map, Shi no Numa, not only features four well-defined characters, but has lots and lots of easter eggs hinting to the origins of the zombies, and most of all, This.
    • Der Riese, the next map continues this somewhat. To some extent, less dark looking than Verrukt, but it's where the zombies and hellhounds were created, apparently after experimentation on live patients and dogs, according to these radio conversations and easter eggs. It's also got things like teleporters, rounds with both dogs and zombies, and possibly the origins of both of them.
  • Tales of Monkey Island, which started out light in tone and around Episode 4 suddenly got very dark indeed...
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day starts off, and plays as, a ridiculously over the top and bizarre adventure bordering on satire. However, starting from the Spooky level, the plot quickly becomes darker and darker, ultimately culminating in one of the bleakest endings in video game history.
  • Arguable in Pokémon. While world-influencing and universe-influencing events were beyond the scope of the early games, Team Rocket tortured people, killed a Pokémon, held people hostage, took over companies and buildings (terrorism), attacked (and recruited) ten-year-olds, and promoted gambling. They were on a much smaller scale but it is arguable how much heavier the plot really got, if at all. Sequel Escalation is definite either way.
  • Brutally done in Eversion. In fact, it's the entire point.
  • Not just with the comics, the Sonic the Hedgehog games are particularly infamous for this, starting with Sonic Adventure, but it really took hold in Shadow the Hedgehog. This also corresponded with a decline in quality (reaching its low with the notorious Sonic the Hedgehog from 2006) that essentially caused the Fan Dumb to tear itself apart. Only when Reverse Cerebus Syndrome kicked in did the blue speedster begin to win back the approval of the critics and his jaded fan base by not only lightening the tone, but discarding almost all of the Loads and Loads of Characters.
  • Telltale's Sam and Max games have always been darkly humorous adventures without a bit of seriousness. Then The Devil's Playhouse began. The comedy remained, but a lot more emphasis was placed on the narrative. The series' Crapsack World stopped being played totally for jokes, episode continuity became much tighter, and the tone became darker and darker, leading all the way to the finale and Max's death.
  • The first Portal game touches on this. In the beginning GLaDOS's jokes seem unintentionally funny, but as the game progresses the player finds out it/she has a serious (and homicidal) personality disorder. The game rapidly descends from an upbeat puzzler into life-threatening drama. However, it still manages to be quite funny.
  • Parodied and subverted in Recettear. At the end of Obsidian Tower, Griff reveals his plot to restore power to the demon race, which would wreak havoc all over the place...then Recette mocks his plan for being really cliche.
  • The Broodwar addon did this to Starcraft, although the Starcraft universe wasn't a very cheerful one to begin with.
    • Heck, the first one had a bittersweet ending, with the Overmind being destroyed and Tassadar dying. Broodwar had the UED, Dominion, Protoss and Raiders combining for an epic battle against Kerrigan that we knew they would win. Then Kerrigan slaughters them all.
  • Happened to a certain extent in the Fallout universe. Fallout 2 was full of wacky gags and fourth-wall-breaking humor (an item that only be gained by having one of your stats permanently reduced includes "If you're reading this, you're probably going to reload," as part of its description). In comparison, Fallout 3 is a very serious game that focuses on easing the brutality of a Crapsack World.
    • Fallout: New Vegas lightens things up a little, mostly in the form of the Wild Wasteland Trait.
    • In the series' defense, the original Fallout was rather serious in tone, and Bethesda stated that they planned to emulate that style over the wackier one that emerged in the sequel.
  • Hatoful Boyfriend is an Affectionate Parody of Dating Sims where you date wacky pigeons as a wacky human female. It also has the grim Bad Boys Love route unlocked after obtaining every other ending that starts with the female protagonist being Killed Off for Real and gets worse from there on with a series of genuinely shocking and heartbreaking Reveals that transform even the silliest and most light-hearted birds into massive Woobies or Big Damn Heroes.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising goes through this once you hit Chapter 18. For something that starts out as a Denser and Wackier Affectionate Parody of both Greek Mythology and videogames in general with No Fourth Wall, the shift to one of the bleakest tones in any Nintendo game comes as quite a shock to say the least.
  • Custom Robo doesn't even try to take itself seriously. Villains are mostly comical, the story lighthearted, and not too much hint of the events to come. Then comes the Info Dump with two seperate save points...and it all goes downhill from there (granted, you can invoke some humour by picking the funny dialogue options. It's just not played up automatically).


Web Animation[edit | hide]

  • Red vs. Blue begins with a comedic and zany plot for the majority of The Blood Gulch Chronicles. It then becomes almost completely serious during Out Of Mind and Recovery One. Finally, in Reconstruction, the drama meets the comedy in a batshit insane mash-up of genres.
    • This is one rare instance of the drama complementing the comedy. Wash's dead seriousness was entertaining in and of itself, and it also made Caboose's stupidity even more hilarious than it already was. The side stories similarly complement the main series; it is implied that the main characters are a source of comedy because they completely suck as soldiers.
      • Now imagine RvB without the main cast. That is Season 9, apparently. All drama, no comedy (or not much, at least.) It's understandable actually, since it's about Project Freelancer, and Project Freelancer was kind of messed up.
      • Actually, according to Word of God, the Freelancer prequel is going to be only half the story- the other half will be following the main cast. Thus, half the season will be almost completely cerebus, and the other half will be almost completely humor.
  • There She Is by SamBakZa started out as a silly romantic comedy about a rabbit-girl pursuing a cat-boy who finds himself falling in love despite his own prejudices and those of society. Then a rock crashes through his window at the end of the third installment, and the fourth sees the world go into all-out Fantastic Racism, with bad things happening to both the cat boy and the rabbit girl, and with things rather firmly in the Darkest Hour by the end. It all gets better at the end, though.
  • Marvel/DC: After Hours had this in a big way. What started off as an uber-topical superhero satire slowly started to become a kind of uber-fanfic, placing the gamut of comic book characters in a world with very flexible rules. The first series only even begins to have a plot at episode three, the second series consists of five 20-minute episodes, and is so plot-centric that the jokes start to become slightly forced (most of them come from the Green Goblin being on tranquilizers, and then pretending to be on tranquilizers) it remains to be seen how long the creators can keep up the game before they run out of plot.
    • N.B.: they still do intermittent comedic side-series as well, which have thus far retained the comedic element completely.
      • It seems to be the method RandomGuy is adopting. Start off a new series with comedy and delve into darker elements by the finale, rise and repeat.
        • Lampshaded in the teaser for Season3 - Zero Hour.
    • Season 2 is explicitly a Deconstruction of Darker and Edgier
  • Chris Ushko's Ducktalez series got a massive dose of this. The original short was a crudely animated piece revolving around fart jokes, with the main story boiling down to Scrooge trying to kill Glomgold with a tank. While darker moments surfaced with Residuck Evil's horror imagery, Ducktalez 3 and The Duck Knight really saw this trope set in with Huey dying, Scrooge having and emotional breakdown and Quackerjack blowing up a gondola full of civilians. Vegeta acted very much as a typical Knight Of Cereberus (though pretty much all his dialogue with Scrooge constitutes as a Crowning Moment of Funny.) Let's not even get started with the rather morbid scene where Huey finds all the costumes of the sidekicks Darkwing got killed over the years, or Quackerjacks' gruesome death.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • The webcomic Striptease started out with a cartoony art style, and lighthearted jokes about a comic artist and writer working together and the hijinks they and their friends engage in along the way. After a few chapters, we get not only a major Art Shift to a more semi-realistic style (still quite cartoony, but not compared to earlier strips) but the plot changes to something that would be a hilarious parody of soap operas if it wasn't taken so seriously-complete with evil twins, brain tumors, "I am your father" moments, character makeovers and a lot of other things that make it completely different from the story the readers had initially enjoyed.
  • The Polymer City Chronicles are a good example of this. They start out as a simple four-panel gag comic about games with a wacky cast with minimal backstory. They sometimes feature story arcs, but they only last for a couple of strips and are done mostly for the humor. It then develops into an elaborate adventure story with space travel and demons, which comes to a screeching halt since the author himself seems to have lost track of the plot. He lampshades this himself by revealing the plot to be a Show Within a Show and letting the actors complain about the sudden interruption. The rest of the story is summarized in-universe before returning to the gag format for some time - only to start another serious storyline half a year later, which is still in progress.
  • Sluggy Freelance was probably the first webcomic to grapple with the tendency towards drama. Different readers locate the turning point at different places, but the early "Vampire Arc" was probably the first arc with ongoing continuity, characterization and character death. The final strip of the arc hung a little bit of a lampshade on the shift.
    • Nowadays, the strip deviates back and forth between dark and dramatic plotlines and light and goofy Slice of Life plots, currently passing a dramatic peak and becoming somewhat more airy. However, the strip is still somewhat less whimsical than it's early days. For example, the Medium Awareness and No Fourth Wall of the early days is pretty much gone or delegated to non-canon guest/bonus strips.
      • For a time, there was a special Sunday series of guest strips, called "Bikini Suicide Frisbee Days," which focused on the light, quirky days of the early days of the early comic, but it is currently discontinued and now sketches adorn the weekend updates.
  • Emergency Exit does this with surprisingly good results. Starting as nothing more than a strip of wacky cartoonish hijinks and a vague plotline about college roomies, it abruptly takes a darker, edgier turn around the time they do a crossover with Parallel Dementia and plunges into a rather gripping dramatic stortyline. It tends to remember its comic roots, however, and doesn't hold back on quips, zingers, and punchlines. Character death has thus far been scarce, but it doesn't hold back on other brutalities, such as ripping the face off one of the main characters.
  • Megatokyo started out as a light humor strip. This led to Creative Differences between writer Rodney Caston, who liked it that way, and artist Fred Gallagher, who preferred a more serious, ongoing plot. Rodney eventually quit, at which point Megatokyo became more of a Seinen romance manga about the characters Piro and Kimiko, combined with a zombie-horror action story about Largo, and with comedic elements from the early strips.
  • College Roomies from Hell engaged Cerebus Syndrome with "The Adversary", a six-month arc that played the Devil (previously a minor comic relief character) as a terrifying threat, and the Butt Monkey's (previously humorous) romantic woes as heartbreaking. It is not universally liked.
  • Parodied and played straight while being Lampshaded in Shortpacked: after Ethan explains to a toy store customer how "Try Me" products come to the store with a tag on the battery which, once pulled, means the battery's unstoppable decay, Robin accidentally pulls the comic's "drama" tag.
    • It's also a Call Back to the author's previous Web Comic, It's Walky!, which attempted the transition with varying success; an alternate universe version of the Big Bad from that comic shows up when Robin pulls the tag, although in this incarnation he's more of a Meta Guy than a straight villain.
    • It's Walky as a whole is an example as well, as it is a more drama and action heavy sequel to Willis' previous strip, Roomies. Of course, Roomies went through its own bout of this starting with the death of Ruth.
  • When Bob and George started, it was simply a stand-in for another comic the author, Dave, was planning on doing and, as such, was mostly just one-off jokes from comic to comic. After the comic that Dave was working on never managed to lift off the ground, Bob and George began to get storylines and continuity, although it stayed humorous; the story is mostly told one punch line per comic, with an ending that borders on making a Shaggy Dog Story of a two-year storyline.
  • Parodied in this Checkerboard Nightmare strip.
  • The webcomic Exploitation Now started as comedic, but changed into a drama (with the comic's focus shifting from two characters to two other characters), ending up with a main character Killed Off for Real.
  • Done fairly successfully with Order of the Stick (with Lampshade Hanging in this strip). The fact that the comic stayed funny, and the quality of the plot itself, mean that the comic has only grown more popular as the increasingly complex plot unfolds. The strip's creator has even stated that he believes it would never have garnered such a large following without the story.
    • Yamara, also a D&D-based comic, did a similar shift fairly early in its run, with a rather more elaborate Lampshade Hanging in this strip.
  • El Goonish Shive. After the heavily plot-based, action-packed "Painted Black" arc, the author admitted that he didn't really feel comfortable with that sort of thing. His next arc was about the interpersonal relations of the cast; it was still dramatic, but in a different way. The series continues to shift between drama, humor, and outright weirdness. There are definitely more serious storylines, and previous weirdness is often explained away but the author refuses to go all the way and sacrifice humor entirely
  • Dominic Deegan: Oracle For Hire did this, while not ultimately forgetting its roots; the author still at least uses puns for comic relief during its more serious arcs, though needed to be reminded to do so by his readers in the wake of his first. The resulting Mood Whiplash is relieving to some and jarring to others.
  • Sam and Fuzzy started out as a episodic comedy Web Comic about a taxi driver and his psychotic bear friend, but once the Ninja Mafia is introduced it ends up as a long but still hilarious tale of deception, murder, demons and ninjas.
  • RPG World went from gaily romping through RPG tropes to blank-eyed villains killing people and fetishistically licking the blood off their swords. It slid back into the middle for a while, before it was dropped entirely.
  • Questionable Content provides an unusual example, as a general plot has been running since the first strip along with the usual gag-a-day format of jokes; however, a deeper storyline was hinted about main character Faye's life prior to the start of the comic. Comic # 500 started an arc entitled "The Talk" which, in Faye's own words, was "like interrupting an intricate waltz with a sledgehammer to the knee." Despite handling the arc and its fallout with realistic seriousness, the comedic element was retained in nearly every strip in the arc and since then.
  • Parodied a few times in the Stick Figure Comic Stickman and Cube. The first comic has Stickman assure the audience that there will be no Cerebus or First And Ten Syndrome, because "adding drama would probably involve more drawing". Then, this comic has Stickman guarantee that there will be no Cerebus or First and Ten, only to have Cube then announce he's pregnant. Stickman is not amused.
  • The now-defunct Life of Riley suffered from this, starting out with the requisite author-and-his-friends characters in offbeat gaming-related hijinks and ending with an imminent final battle between the arch-demon Lilith and the reincarnation of Christ (in the person of the main character) over an artifact which could literally kill God. Sadly, a series of personal issues and server crashes left the comic drifting in the ether before the insanity could come to a head.
  • Dresden Codak started out with a series of gag strips with intricate art, until the author decided to introduce continuing characters and then do an ongoing story arc about them. There have been a few more gag strips since then, but the continuity has not gone away.
  • 1/0 originally started out as a nonsensical gag-based comic without a fourth wall, and eventually developed into an entirely serious affair full of symbolism and metaphor.
    • ... which (almost) entirely lacked a fourth wall. Very unusual in this.
    • Its also worth noting that despite all of this it still stayed pretty damn funny.
  • DMFA has mostly kept the syndrome out of the main comic, limiting it to side-stories. Recently, it seems to have crept in, particularly when Hannah is Killed Off for Real by Dark Pegasus in a flashback. The story in question did have its funny moments, although it kinda depends on the reader's sense of humor. The event that preceded it were also rather funny, since Dan's moral-guidance animal got into the liquor cabinet and proceeded to get drunk. Given that it's also poisonous...
    • That said, the aforementioned side-story has more than enough darkness, angst and bad things to make up for any hesitance shown by DMFA proper. On the subject of Abel's Story, the author had this to say:
      • With this comic, it's safe to say that the syndrome has come on full.
  • Newshounds began as a comedy strip comic, but as years progressed it started to contain a growing number of more serious plotlines. However, the comedy was still kept as the main point of the comic while the same author explored more serious content in the spin-off comic Manifestations. Newshounds ended temporarily in 2006 and was revived in 2007 as "Newshounds II". This time, the format changed from a 3-panel strip to a larger comic while also turning the series more serious (though not devoid of comedy, now just lacking the obvious punchlines). Fittingly, another new comic by the same author, Something Happens, was launched during the same year; it's the author's main comedy output now.
  • Nip and Tuck started out as a gag-a-strip comic about two young brothers, but became more serious as the two brothers grew up.
  • Venus Envy, probably due to either a particularly blatant case of Writer on Board or a Creator Breakdown.
  • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic made the jump, complete with a previously humorous villain gaining sudden competence.
  • Adventurers!! started out as a Gag Strip that eventually gained a plot. It still remained comedic, though, never getting more serious than an Affectionate Parody.
  • General Protection Fault started as a light-hearted comic with weirdness and humour, but eventually transformed into a complex story arc with angst, character death, and betrayal. Sometime after the first story arc, the comic designer declared an upcoming arc "even better than the last one".
  • A Modest Destiny had continuity and all that goes along with it from the start, but as time went on the story got progressively Darker and Edgier. The first turning point would probably be the dinner party, where the silliness was interrupted by the murdering of a bunch of innocents, a whole lotta backstabbing and the near-death of the main character. It just kept going from there.
  • Equinox, Defender of the Horde started out as a light-hearted romp, but progressively became darker and more drama-prone; at the same time, the female lead turned into a Mary Sue while the (deliberately silly) titular character faded into the background.
  • Josh Lesnick's Wendy took a straight nosedive into unexpected drama territory after its first "part" was finished, and according to the post-series epilogue was going to get even worse had it finished the way the author originally intended. Thankfully, this change was not without a bit of lampshade hanging.
  • Dub This! Seriously, check it out. Quirky anime in-jokes and satire quickly falls to melodrama by the buckets.
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del has been accused of this, leading to Internet Backdraft. While the comic has always been more character-based than gag-based (except for the actual gag strips), everything post-miscarriage has swung a lot more to the dramatic than pre-miscarriage.
    • It's possible that the author started the entirely gag-based "Sillies" sub-comic shortly after that to satisfy people that feel it's getting too serious.
  • God Mode did this twice. Plot slowly took over the comic, and after a while the creator just said "Screw it". The comic then continued on as if the plotline never happened. It got serious again, and another reboot was needed. The comic got a new artist/writer after each reboot.
  • Goblins transitioned from a deconstruction of fantasy RPGs in general and Dungeons & Dragons in particular to a more serious story when the original antagonists were discarded in favor of a truly villainous Big Bad. (Three Big Bads, actually, and that first probably has a Man Behind the Man.) The comic arguably got better, as killing off or discarding most of the cast allowed the main characters to become more well-rounded and the strip retained enough humor to keep it from getting too dry.
    • Also potential Fridge Brilliance when you realize this is an accurate representation of the progress of many roleplaying groups as the players get gradually more invested in the story.
  • Elf Only Inn started out as an online chat room and, after a year-long hiatus, came back a complex RPG story.
  • Nana's Everyday Life. So hard. It starts out as a random collection of off-color jokes using the cast of some anime, predominantly Elfen Lied. Then, around strip twenty-something, it suddenly drops the jokes almost entirely, to become one of the most tragic webcomics in existence.
    • Strip 27, where she drops off of a bridge. Her continued living after this event just serves to highlight her misfortune.
  • Goats went from basically being Dilbert with beer, to a sprawling, dadist, universe hopping epic about the nature of reality.
  • Fuzzy Knights. As with Cerebus itself, it went on to become seriously weird.
  • The Last Days of Foxhound begun as a ridiculously over-the-top parody of hilariously exaggarated (and violent) versions of the bosses of Metal Gear Solid. As the strip went on, it slowly turned into a story-driven, over-the-top parody of the hilariously exaggarated, violent and filthy-mouthed versions of the bosses of Metal Gear Solid, with an overarching, compelling and deep plot.
    • Not to mention the immense Downer Ending. Although, given its status as a Prequel, that was only to be expected...
  • Spiky-haired Dragon, Worthless Knight goes from somewhat humorous strips about a knight who can't touch weapons to dramatic story about curse of a family that is tied to dragons. It is unknown if it's intentional or not, since it happens after around first hundred strips.
  • Deliberately averted by Exterminatus Now, which started out as a merciless lampooning of the authors' Darker and Edgier Old Shame. Eastwood himself has stated literally that Cerebus Syndrome is one of his top signs to start murdering his co-authors.
    • Which is ironic, considering that the story has had several dramatic plotlines.
    • In a recent interview, East elaborated on his plan to murder his co-authors in this case:

Virus: Never turn a funny comic into a serious epic drama. We have a murder-suicide pact that says if we ever turn into a drama, we're going to end it all rather than inflict that on the world.
Eastwood: No, I said I was going to murder the rest of you, change my name and spend the rest of my days as a painter in Brazil.

    • One can attribute this to the nature of the comic itself: EN's setting is, for all effects and purposes, already dark and edgy enough. This means the authors can stretch the drama a bit without it being detrimental to the comedy (as seen in the Morth Arc).
  • Twisted Kaiju Theater, although (a) the sophomoric humor refuses to stay completely out of the more serious arcs, and (b) the series continues to have strictly-for-laughs one-shots between arcs. Despite this the comic does stray into dark territory at various points and ends up dealing with mature themes like death, betrayal, morality, sacrifice, and political ethics.
  • Zebra Girl has undergone this transition.
  • And Shine Heaven Now underwent this, although it is justified in this case: the creator intended her comic to lead to the darker canon manga.
    • Actually lampshaded a bit: When Millennium asked when they would make their comic appearance, Erin had said that she couldn't go on to the main (canon) storyline until the identity of The She was revealed. Indeed, with her identity as the remains of Mina Harker revealed, Erin proceeded to head for the main plot.
  • Wapsi Square undergoes a transition from a light-hearted slice-of-life comedy, to a dark, supernatural drama where the main character has to save the world from a quasi-apocalypse; dropping nearly all of it's supporting cast in the process (although a few do pop in for cameos from time to time), and leaving a large number of unresolved subplots. Aspects of this were hinted at early in the series; but were mostly off-hand comments prior to the appearance of the "Golem Girls"; whose addition to the cast denote the transition point (although it takes a bit longer for the change to really manifest).
  • Apple Geeks started out—and is still described on this wiki—as "a Slice of Life comic with a few surreal elements," primarily Cloudcuckoolander Hawk, straight man Jayce, and various friends. Then Hawk turned out to be a tinkerer/inventor who made Robot Girl Eve, Jayce turned out to have a military-industrialist father who was interested in the technology, Gina had martial-arts champion parents, and even the seven-year-old Alice babysits for wants Hawk dead and has a mother who might be a witch and who caused a Freaky Friday.
  • 8-Bit Theater, while remaining a comedy strip, has had a few of what could be called "Cerebus Arcs". It dipped into it during the battle against Lich, and went quite a bit deeper into it during the battle against Kary, which resulted in Black Belt's death. It seems to be there again, although in 8-Bit Theater's case, it tends to abandon the Cerebus arcs abruptly. It's also been known to tease and then not deliver Cerebus arcs, such as the "battle" against Kraken.
    • Though another possible example could be the Light Warriors themselves. They change from being relatively harmless characters who are comedic as result of extreme character flaws, to THE worst people their world has ever seen. Fighter goes from merely being stupid to an enabler. Red Mage, originally so deluded regarding the power of D&D rules that he was too incompetent to implement his terrible plans, has become more powerful, but not smarter, resulting in brilliant train-wrecks. Thief has remained relatively the same throughout the strip, but was always a greedy sociopath; the only difference later on is that he manages to convince Red Mage, Black Mage and sometimes even Fighter to assist him. Then there's Black Mage, who was always hell bent on destroying everything in existence, but was previously too weak to harm anything, as exemplified by his only powerful spell which he only has the strength to cast once a day, and even then with horrible aim.
    • The final arc of the comic manages the remarkable feat of completely undoing any and all acts of Cerebus that had previously occurred, first by having Sarda de-level the Light Warriors, effectively pressing the Reset Button on their capability to commit atrocities, then having Sarda turn into Chaos, the original Big Bad of the game and comic, and finally by having Chaos defeated in an Anticlimax of epic proportions. But this is Brian Clevinger we're talking about here, who firmly believes that the best joke is the one played on the reader.
  • Sequential Art Twice the artist has taken a few months to due long arc stories involving our plucky characters combating dangerously powerful adversaries like the Denizens or Oz, only to have that conflict resolved and go right back to the "Gag-A-Day" Format.
  • Slightly Damned started out as a lighthearted, comedic story about Rhea and Buwaro's adventures in hell. And then Sakido died.
    • This was the author's intention all along. The first arc of the comic was meant to get the reader attached to the characters, and Sakido's death was planned from the very beginning. While certainly more dramatic than it had been up to that point (and getting even more dramatic recently), the comic is still very humorous and lighthearted in tone for the most part.
    • To put things in perspective, the hooded archer shot the comedy with an arrow, but Devenol shot it with an arrow, electrocuted it, and then stomped on it for good measure.
  • Schlock Mercenary appears to have done this on purpose: the author started light and fluffy (with a side of BLAM, a little OMINOUS HUMMMMMMM, and a bit of THOOM), and quickly got dramatic once the characters were introduced. It got really serious in October.
    • And for several Octobers afterward.
      • It recently took a turn for even more darkness. A light-hearted storyline about getting paid eight times for the corpse of an archenemy and wearing party hats to his funeral ends with the Toughs mind-wiped and made to think Petey abandoned them, as an upbeat ending - the UNS and Admiral Emm were perfectly willing to murder all of them and hand Schlock over to a Mengle-esque Fleet doctor for ongoing torture to hide the existence of Project Laz'R'Us from the public. The only ray of hope in the ending is that Schlock remembers everything due to his bizarre alien biology. It gets no better in the next story arc, where the Toughs are sent on an obvious suicide mission to deliver food to an anarchic space colony. Brad dies in a hovertank accident, Tag murders hundreds of thousands in an antimatter explosion to save the lives of millions, and then formally resigns and later commits AI suicide over the matter, the Touch and Go is wrecked beyond repair bouncing around inside the space colony without power, and the Toughs wind up accidentally installing an untested rogue AI as supreme overlord, who later turns the colony into a hyperspace cannon superweapon. It's a statement of how dark this arc is, when Schlocktoberfest is a relatively light-hearted breather from the action.
  • When Lint began it wasn't the least bit serious. Now it is chock full of drama, romance, and lots and lots of angst. Humour is still incorporated into the story, albeit at a more infrequent rate.
  • Happens in Material Girl around half-way through the comic.
  • Problem Sleuth started out as a silly romp starring a particularly hard boiled detective and his quest to rescue hysterical dames. By page 1000 or so, it became so complex that it literally needed several entire "recap" pages just to clue readers in on what was going on. Oh, and it's got its own wiki. Despite the increase in plot arcs as the series goes on, it still never really takes itself that seriously though.
    • Homestuck, on the other hand, quickly develops several intricate story arcs during the second and third acts, and by the time the Big Bad is revealed in Act 4, the series has gotten much, much darker and more dramatic than when it first started. Though, like Problem Sleuth, it hasn't lost its sense of humor entirely - the Big Bad is a dog wearing sunglasses.
      • Indeed, Hussie maintains that every "serious" dramatic event in the story is profoundly silly upon examination: recent events include an ersatz Harry Potter murdering a girl that comes back to life as an ersatz Twilight vampire who murders him in turn and a Juggalo murdering a Catgirl.
      • THE MAIN VILLAIN IS A DOG WEARING SUNGLASSES (who happens to both be an expy of Anubis and Yatagarasu at the same time, what with the crow wings and with only having three limbs.)
    • To put it all into perspective, the beginning's problems were fake arms, cake, the creepiness of Lil' Cal, stone wizards, and elusive pets. After they all started up Sburb? We've seen more onscreen deaths than we can count, seen the slaughter of an planetary army, seen the assassination of royalty, seen the Big Bad given god-like powers, watched nearly all the main characters die AT LEAST ONCE (if you count watching their dreamselves die), see WV be scarred for life and him slowly go crazy because of it, and met the creators of the universe. Of course, we also watched them die. But yes, the silliness doesn't go away. We have references to SBaHJ every three pages, watched Jack be tempted by Snausages, been given John's derpiest face ever, and a fundamental chunk of the plot comes from Con Air.
  • The Avatar went from being so random it screwed with your head to insanely serious while still messing with your head. The turn happens around comic 200 (or when you have "Avatar Psychiatrist").
  • Untitled follows the initial description exactly. It began as a low-continuity slice-of-life comic featuring thinly-veiled representations of the author and her friends, and over some years morphed into a dramatic redemption saga. One particularly illustrative example was an attempt to rationally explain an earlier pure-gag, fourth-wall-breaking character who was invisible, and had been initially introduced as "living in the gaps between the panels." Turns out he's really some kind of inter-dimensional alien plainswalker.
  • Triangle and Robert, a webcomic about a triangle and a rhombus went from jokes about how a geometrical shape can eat to an epic fight to stop the universe from turning into pudding. Or something like that. And became all the more hilarious for it.[1]
    • Triangle and Robert's wackiness was amplified by the seriousness it ended up taking on. For example, declaring a new and weird food group is moderately wacky. Declaring it in order to gain tactical advantage and thus secure a crucial victory is VERY wacky.
  • Looking for Group broke a record in this category - it started as a random parody of World of Warcraft, but right after the first few pages the writer to go for a fantasy action-comedy. This has not stopped the constant parody elements and reference jokes thrown in, though.
  • Death and The Maiden starts out as a Magic Realism romantic comedy, before the main characters life began to be seriously threatened.
  • Yosh! started out as you standard webcomic, with a bunch of weird stuff. By comic 60, the serious starts to set in (although there is a note in comic 59 that said he warned us). By 120, it's pretty obvious it won't be humor even a majority of the time.
  • Collar 6 went through a period of this, but is now going back to comedy.
  • Bittersweet Candy Bowl started out as generally plotless fun, and now has developed into an epic tale of lovecrossed kitties with a recommended minimum introduction of 191 pages. The humour's still there in abundance, though.
    • Lampshaded in a Project Wonderful ad featuring the characters with the word "ANGST" flashing in the background.
  • The Apple of Discord has also gone this way, in spite of the fact that the comic started as (and often is) mostly a "gag-a-day" comic with no continuity.
    • Which is even funnier when you realize that Ralph and Bimbo (from the aforementioned Exploitation Now) joined Apple of Discord's cast right after the shift started to happen.
  • Nedroid parodies the tendency for gag-a-day comics to develop Cerebus Syndrome here.

Beartato: I can't think of any funny jokes.
Reginald: So why do you need jokes all the time? Turn your comic into a serious drama!

  • Fanboys aimed for this after posts on Something Awful criticized it for being too generic. It went too far, irritated its original fanbase, and toned back down again, trying to find an intermediate stage between shallow humor and angst. The process was lampshaded in what's currently the page picture.
  • Concession started out as a furry comic about the workers of a movie theater, but eventually half of the characters become gay, quite a few die, and Joel and Artie have supernatural powers. Chaos ensues
  • Housepets follows this trope slightly. While there are still funny talking pets, there is a lot more drama, especially involving Peanut's crush on Grape, Pete turning Joel into a corgi named King, Tarot's psychic powers, and Sasha and her owner.
  • Castlevania RPG started as an extremely light hearted action-comedy that managed to stay lighthearted even during the more serious arcs (Blacula's rise to power, the alternate world, etc). Then, towards the end of the second major arc, they party accidentally unleashes an Elder God. Long story short, Alec, Princess and Darkmoon die horrible, painful deaths, Katrina's CatGirl curse mutates and turns her fully cat with absolutely no hope of reverting back, and Angel is possessed by the Elder God, who then states his plan to subjugate the world. Damn.
  • Bunny went through something that... is closer to this than anything else. It has always been a gag-a-day strip with no storylines, but as it progressed, hints of continuity started to creep in, as the comic started to slowly paint a portrait of the surreal world The Bunny and his friends inhabit rather than just making isolated jokes.
  • While it still is largely a comedic strip, PvP is sometimes accused of this. Mainly, this is due to its decreasing reliance on game-related humor, the increasing importance of the character relationships within the strip, and the development of long-term dramatic storylines. This has been going on so gradually and for so long though that, combined with the tendency for the strip to still use one-off gags from time to time, it sort of underwent this process so subtly that it's actually debatable if it happened or not.
  • Oak Fable parodies Ceberus Syndrome by setting a new record in how quickly comedy circums to drama: It takes effect in the second issue.
  • User Friendly started out as a comic about life behind the scenes at a small Internet Service Provider. The latest stories have dealt with Sid getting cancer, and A.J joining the army, being sent to Afghanistan as a combat medic, and getting shot in action.
  • Freefall was a hard sci-fi comedy. It gradually got more dramatic. Then this happened.
  • Darths and Droids has been shifting this way during the Episode III story arc, as the players' personal lives (Jim and Annie's in particular) start impacting the way they play the game and causing fractures within the role-playing group. There's also a nasty air of Foregone Conclusion hanging over the whole thing, since Darths and Droids loosely follows the plot of the Star Wars movies and Episode III... didn't end well.
  • Zig-zagged in the defunct comic Alice!. While it did feature gag-a-day like random newspapers, it started to get some dramatic storylines in place such as Alice's conflict with her dad's girlfriend, Joan, and Dot having an out of body experience. The story would resolve, but then go right back to gag-a-day strips and the title character's Calvin and Hobbes like imagination.
  • AsLAN, Leo the lion's comic-within-a-comic in Skin Horse. Originally a poorly-drawn gag strip about lions telling a Straw Man antelope his opinions on technology are wrong, and then devouring him, it's now about a lion with a drink problem, another with father issues, and an antelope whose imminent death is a matter for serious concern.

Tip: This is ... different than I remember.
Leo: Yeah, but wait'll you get to all the miscarriages.

  • 200:20 is a great example of this, the series itself seems to want to keep a comedic tone but keeps getting drawn into a more serious subject matter as the story goes along. The creator didn't agree with this, and wanted to keep the story light hearted so it was rewritten. Three times. Although it is up to debate whether or not that the series won't take another turn for more serious subject matter, it would appear that for now the comic itself is keeping the drama within the story to a minimum successfully.
  • The World of Warcraft comic Equinox: Defender of the Horde was rather silly and light hearted at first, but near the end of the first series it starts getting more serious and dark, to the point where by the end of the last story it is almost completely serious.
  • They're getting faster. Modest Medusa began in January 2011, began its first serious arc by June, and lampshaded the drama influx by the arc's end in August.
    • Lampshaded here : "Hey. Do you remember when we used to do fun stuff?"
  • The Lounge: Originally a gag-a-day strip, inclusion of longer story arcs led to some more serious plots being incorporated, culminating in serious family conflict between Italy Ishida and her father, and the introduction of the children of her father's former business partner, hellbent on destroying the family business
  • Sinfest resisted for a long time, but has been creeping into territory for the last few years. It started with the story of Fuschia the Devil-Girl falling for Criminy and wanting to be human, and since has involved characters falling into various realms (Hell, The Reality Zone, The River Lethe) to to angst over character flaws that had previously been played for laughs. The recent addition of a young femininist on a big wheel condemning characters for their chauvinistic ways and causing Monique to have the most seriously played character development arc yet has fans crying foul.
  • Princess Pi fell victim to this in the appropiately-titled "Princess Pi vs. Cerebus Syndrome". In it, Pi marries Cerebus, catches his syndrome, and subsequently speaks only in overly grim or sad stories. One of them details how she avenged her mother's death by killing her palace's invaders, the US Army, and America's dictator, all in one day, with her bare hands.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • The Ed Stories start out in blog format, then continue as a more formal type of prose fiction with a fairly whimsical tone (cf. "An Admin Password for the Universe"), then suddenly takes a turn for "the dreaded continuity", turns a hinted-at running gag into a major plot point for a longer story arc, and culminates in a Downer Ending.
  • Bonus Stage started as a funny, video game based, cartoon series, but took a turn towards serious right after Rya's death. The series was still basically a comedy after that, only much angstier and with more drama.
  • Oh, Doctor Horrible. The first act introduces the light-hearted tale of an incompetent supervillain, the girl of his dreams, and his cheezy superhero rival. Act Two starts with "My Eyes," Doctor Horrible's half of which at least is pretty dark, but really, it's just him bitching because Penny is going out with Captain Hammer instead of with him. The act then ends with "Brand New Day," which announces that Dr. Horrible intends to go through with Bad Horse's command: "There will be blood / It might be yours / So go kill someone! / (Signed, Bad Horse)" And then there's Act Three. Of course, considering the short length, it was obviously planned from the beginning
  • The Church of Blow does this deliberately and with great effect; it starts off as a light satire of youtube vlogging, religion and cults, with episodes about deciding on the Church's logo (smiley face or weird mouse creature?). Then Cornelius Blow, the protagonist, dips further into insanity, the comedy gets darker and darker, someone shows up at Cornelius' house wearing his face, Cornelius kills at least two people before finally having a breakdown and discovering he's a fictional character and going off to find the real world. The whole series turns into an intelligent and elaborate parody and Take That of Youtube and everyone who uses it, raising questions about whether anyone's Youtube persona is actually the real them at all and if the very presence of a camera fictionalizes everything it records. Also it has lizard monsters, which may or may not be figments of Cornelius' imagination.
  • The Saga of Tuck has been accused of this, though the dark points of the plot have been implicit since day one. This didn't stop some fans from jumping ship.
  • Awkward starts off as pure grossout humour but turns quite dramatic and serious as the series progresses.
  • Not even porn is immune to this. Summer Camp by Nick Scipio started out as an episodic, sex-laden Coming of Age Story about a boy being initiated into sex by his mother's best friend; but now, 4 volumes and a million words later, most readers are onboard primarily to find out who he marries and who died. (The interesting bit is that Nick planned it this way: the very first words of the story are a Framing Device in which both the wife and "Aunt D" are introduced by not named.)
  • Atop the Fourth Wall started out as an average geek reviewing bad comics on his futon and eventually made its way to said geek grappling with self-doubt, dethroning a multiversal conqueror, and commanding a massive starship. He still reviews bad comics on his futon, though.
  • Ah, the Anti Cliche and Mary Sue Elimination Society. Started up by three British girls with way too much time on their hands, with enough crack to make Scarface jealous. Now? It recently hit the two hundred story mark, with maybe two dozen writers, has an actual, slightly epic, plot, and (depending on the author) angst. Puh-lenty of angst. There's still a copious amount of crack, though.
  • Both New Prime and The Last Scene by Olan Rogers undergo this. The Last Scene started as just a nonsensical dialogue parodying action movie cliche`s in against a white background. Soon this white background became a plot point, and eventually it (almost) starts to take itself somewhat seriously. More so with New Prime, as it has now included plot twists, a (kind of) serious plot, with characters being Killed Off for Real. However, this trope is not entirely played straight as the series never lose their humor. New Prime takes itself more seriously than The Last Scene, as the latter moves more towards an Indecisive Parody than the original straight Affectionate Parody.
    • New Prime 5 pretty much goes all the way.
  • There She Is. A story about a girl bunny who falls in love with a boy cat. The first three episodes are extremely cute and hilarious, but by god does it get sad by episode 4.
  • The Ask a Pony blog Ask Jappleack started off with Surreal Humour, Dead Baby Comedy, Black Comedy, Crosses the Line Twice, and the likes. But after Applebloom dies, and Jappleack is asked "What's the point of growing apples?", Jappleack goes through a bit of an existential crisis. Much drama follows.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Moral Orel started as a goofy and over-the-top parody of shows like Davey and Goliath. They've slowly become much darker, focusing less on more lighthearted and humorous plots and delving into the character drama that comes from living in a community where everyone hates each other and are only loosely held together by a religion many of them secretly resent.
    • The third season episodes are frequently just downright depressing (with only a couple jokes made), with episodes dedicated to fleshing out secondary characters and showing how messed-up everyone's life (especially Clay's) is. The commentary bits before the episodes even have one exec saying they cancelled the show because they didn't want Dino to do anything worse to Orel. On the other hand, some episodes can be quite uplifting, like "Dumb" which ends with Nurse Bendy getting rid of her weird teddy bear family and spending time with her real son Joe (specifically making weird face all throughout the credits) and "Closeface" which ended with Orel and Christina enjoying a dance while Reverend Putty helps Stephanie (his daughter, who reveals he knew was gay) get over a girl that didn't really like her and they decide to go look for dates together.
  • Certain events in the third season premiere of Transformers Animated, most notably the whole Blurr crushed into a cube and the Autobot High Command thinking that ethical guidelines are optional thing, indicate they're going that way.
    • It did, mostly due to Darker and Edgier kicking in, but even from the second episode of the first season it was fairly clear the show wasn't going to be totally fluffy.
    • The original series did this starting with The Movie, which bumped off Optimus, Starscream, and several other major characters. It got darker still in the Japanese-only Headmasters season, where Optimus, Ultra Magnus, and Galvatron were Killed Off for Real.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender Gets more angst in each season. This is more the characters coming to realize things are bad rather than the plot getting heavier.
    • Also, less filler and more plot. I wonder if those are related...
  • 12 oz. Mouse started out as an immature comedy that appealed to stoned 12 year olds, and quickly became a something that defies description.
    • The series started out defying description and went off from there.
    • Well, the first couple of episodes are just Fitz wandering around getting hit by cars and stuff like that. Afterward the show started taking on Mind Screw elements, Continuity, Characterization and became the Cult Classic its fans loved. If I had to pin-point the exact moment this happened, it would be in the end of episode 3, when Fitz asks where Skillet is.
  • MTV's Daria was originally mostly about the title character and her friend facing the stupidity of High School with a half-smile and a snarky comment, always beating the system. But by the fourth season, the two were insecure, fighting over the same boy, and not always coming out on top. While some liked the development of the characters, and were impressed by the writer's ability to keep the show funny, others in the fandom were appalled. Much Fan Wank ensued.
    • A lot of the disgruntled fans apparently weren't paying attention—Glenn Eichler stated during an interview that they started pushing the show in this direction during Season 3.
    • It could also be counted as a meta example when you consider that Daria was a Spin-Off of Beavis and Butthead. Watching later seasons, it can be hard to tell that the show spun off from something containing the line "I am the Great Cornholio! I need TP for my bunghole!"
  • Re Boot was originally about computer components protecting their town in a mostly comical fashion. When Bob was lost in the Web at the end of Season 2 and Megabyte begins and active battle for control of Mainframe, the series got much more serious, but still retained its adventurous charm. For the 4th season it starts off with the Daemon Wars only to conclude that and turn sharply back into a more comedic show. THEN Megabyte is still alive and using his new Trojan powers trickes everyone into thinking he is Bob. He almost marries Dot, infects Mainframe and seems to have won. The series is like a mood yoyo.
  • The fourth (and for about four years, final) season of Futurama dipped in this territory. While still overall episodic and comedic, "The Why of Fry" revealed that there had been a subtly done "arc" all along, and episodes like "Jurassic Bark" and "Leela's Homeworld" were outright tear jerkers.
    • A common belief is that a lot of the emotional episodes were produced because the writers weren't sure which episode would end up being aired by FOX as the finale.
    • Starting with the movies, and continuing with its return to a regular series format on Comedy Central, the show has maintained itself as a comedy series; albeit with some changes in tone. It has begun to address socio-political issues in a more overt way than it previously had; and the humour has become noticibly darker and more mature. However, there are still plenty of fart jokes to go around.
  • Metalocalypse started out as a total screwball absurdist comedy (in typical Adult Swim fashion) involving the world's most popular metal band with a loose at best thread of plot. Then characters started getting fleshed out, things like child abuse and parental neglect started popping up, and in the second season finale the band is attacked in their own compound, Mordhaus, by a small army of soldiers brainwashed into killing them and anyone who stands in their way. An epic battle ensues, the band's home is set ablaze, and their manager may very well have been killed. All this violence, for once, was NOT played for laughs.
    • Actually almost everything was played for some kind of laughs. The Revengencers and Charles were played dead serious and Edgar Jomfru's story was a little sad. However Dethklok themselves were played for laughs. Murderface goes into fire safety mode and utterly fails except for one girl, Toki is saved by Nathan while being utterly drunk off his ass and pukes all over him, and Pickles and Skwisgaar defend the master record and beat a man to death with a guitar but are more impressed by the fact it didn't bend the neck. All in all the finale was played for Awesome!i'm sorry when did any of what you just said happen and why hasn't a contributor edited it out yet.
      • Subtle character development even there. The band had spent the finale verbally abusing Toki, concluding that helping him out would be interfering with his life, and arriving to the fact that they had to be jerks by some insane logic that only makes sense to them. As usual. As Nathan is saving Toki, he says that he doesn't want to interfere, but Toki has been "way too drunk" lately. At the end, they rescue Offdensen from torture at the psychotic mass murderer's hands stating, "That's our bread and butter you're fucking with." They had previously barely noticed Offdensen, besides the fact that he made them do work. They even thought he was their butler.
    • Season 03 has delved into this in subtle ways too. While it is still pretty much Played For Laughs and sprinkled with the show's typical sadistic humor, many of the band members get some pretty heavy Character Development. Skwisgaar temporarily quits with a desire to find his father, Pickles gets into the root of his substance abuse issues (and sings about it), and the rather depressing reason why Toki is so enamored with Doctor Rockzo is revealed.
  • Season 1 of Beast Wars started as light, comedic, and episodic. As the season went on, darker story arcs began to appear. By the time the show got to season 2, there was considerably less (though still a decent amount of) comedy, and season 3 was just plain dark. And don't even get started on Beast Machines, which is so dark the sky might not have even ever turned light.
    • This is another case of Tropes Are Not Bad, however, in that for many, season 2 of Beast Wars is the high point not only of the show in specific, but of Transformers media in general.
      • Especially the episode "Code of Hero", which ends with the Heroic Sacrifice of Dinobot and is generally regarded as the best episode of the show, and can sit with the best stories across the whole 30-year franchise.
  • Inverted with the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, which begins by almost perfectly mirroring the original comic's dark, serialized story arcs (though with more overt humor), but then goes through an entire tonal shift in season 6, becoming more like the older cartoon series.
    • By contrast, the first series got slightly darker starting with the eighth season, painting all of Manhattan under a dark red sky, having the entire city unite against the Turtles thanks to Burne's propaganda blitz, adding a story arc of the Turtles still mutating and replacing Shredder with a more sinister alien Big Bad named Dregg.
  • Interestingly averted by The Venture Brothers. The plot does get deeper and darker, but the comedy just gets blacker. Even utterly serious scenes don't stop with the jokes, the subject matter just shifts.
    • Really, there is much more hope for the characters now than at the beginning.
  • The Ka Blam!! episode "Won't Stick to Most Dental Work!". The episode starts out as comedic as ever with Henry quitting the show. As it goes on, it's still hilarious, but one may sense June becoming a Stepford Smiler. Toward the end, it becomes a major Tear Jerker, and then a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
  • The Raccoons is on the "done right" side of this syndrome. Over time, it shifted from by-the-numbers and cartoonish before evolving the characters into more distinct, realistic (by cartoon standards) personalities and more story-driven episodes.
  • Wakfu is a goofy and lighthearted French children's cartoon that takes a screaming left turn into darker territory during the last couple of episodes, in which a major protagonist is killed, The Bad Guy Wins, and the bad guy loses again and commits suicide. There's also the special episode depicting the villain's Start of Darkness, which was directed by maestro of Deranged Animation Masaaki Yuasa.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door began as a show that took mundane kid issues (such as going to school) and blew them up into devices in an ongoing "kids vs. adults" war. The show was fairly comical with no serious plots emerging until the conclusion of the first season (during Operation G.R.O.W.U.P.). However, as the larger KND organization began to be revealed (initially the show only showed the five members of Sector V), the stories took a turn into deeper and darker territory with backstabs and some much more serious villains (early episodes featured gimmick villains like Count Spankulot but later on you get the very driven KND defector Cree Lincoln who has a vicious vendetta against the organization). The story still dealt with kids problems blown up one-thousand fold (such as teens being jerks to little kids being reinterpreted as teenagers acting as highly-trained field agents for adult villainy) but the plots were less comedy and more action and dramatic.
  • Starting with "Dr. Blowhole's Revenge", The Penguins of Madagascar has become a little less cartoonish, playing up the sci-fi elements (mostly from Kowalski) and the technology a bit more. It's started to reverse a little bit in the latter half of season 2, though.
  • While South Park is still very much a comedy, its tone has changed significantly over its run. Early seasons were silly and sitcom-like, with a sense of humor reminiscent of Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Simpsons; later seasons became increasingly topical, with most episodes featuring recent political or social issues, while the Black Comedy became even blacker with numerous Downer Endings and increasingly common and graphic violence. Needless to say, fan opinions are divided regarding when the show was (or is) at its peak.
  • Invader Zim, of all things, went through some of this right towards the end of the show. Being an episodic comedy with a fair bit of negative continuity for its first two seasons, the third season began to have running continuity, most notably involving Tak's ship. While it still didn't take itself too seriously, the greater focus on sci fi elements, the war against the Irken Empire, and other facets of the Universe promised something beyond the original scope.
    • On the commentary, they mention that they had been planning more stuff with epic space battles, and it was just as well the show ended because kids weren't interested in that, they wanted comedies in school.
  • This is the formula for most Teen Titans seasons; they start out light hearted and comedy driven, then become really dark near the end. The most extreme example compared to the rest of the show (the arc itself starts dark and stays there) is season 4, when Raven is used as a portal for her demonic father Trigon and he takes over the world in a hellish apocalypse where all humans except the four remaining Titans turned to stone. (This lasts for three episodes.) It's worth noting that the silliest stories usually came after a particularly dark or scary episode.
    • Within the arcs themselves, both the season one and two arcs start out very light and end up very serious; the precise turning point in each is about when Slade decides to step out of the shadows. Also inverted with the season five arc, which isn't nearly as dark, ominous, or serious as the season 4 arc which preceded it.
  • Adventure Time. Compare the first season's pure comedy to the third's heavy focus on romance, friendship, and other relationships between the characters.
    • "Holly Jolly Secrets" has perhaps the most egregious example: The Ice King's origins are revealed in his video diary, revealing he was once a antiquarian named Simon Petricov, who was perfectly sane and had a fiancee, but when he jokingly put the Ice Crown he bought from a Scandanavian merchant, he did something that caused her to leave him, and he never saw her again, the rest of the video diary is a borderline depressing Apocalyptic Log.
  • The Family Guy episode "Screams Of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q.", where Domestic Abuse, once used for cheap gags, is played straight and serious for once. Much scarier than it sounds.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars has been hit by this, though due to the show's Anachronic Order, things are a lot bumpier. Generally, the first season is lighthearted fun, with a tinge of drama. Then comes the season one finale, ending with a terrorist attack. This sets the tone for most of Season 2, which featured massive scale combat chock full of Family-Unfriendly Violence, suicide, zombies, and child soldiers. Gets even weirder during the season finale again, ending in a three part arc that starts serious, gets bafflingly kid friendly halfway through before diving right back into the darkness.
    • Season 4 had a few lighthearted episodes where C-3PO and Artoo had fun adventures. The rest of the season was filled with violent deaths (one character breaks a mook's neck for pete's sake), scenes of war, racism towards clones, zombies, and graphic witchcraft. This trooper believes that the censors were victims of a Jedi Mind Trick.
  • Transformers Prime has now been hit by this, starting with Unicron's debut appearance and never looking back, particularly in "Crossfire" when Breakdown (one of the most sympathetic Cons) gets violently murdered by Airachnid. It's difficult to say if there's an actual Knight of Cerebus, but the prime candidates might be Unicron or Airachnid, as neither have many funny traits or any redeeming ones.
    • Agent Fowler, oddly enough, might be a non-villainous Knight of Cerebus. Fowler's position as a government agent and former soldier allows the show to highlight just how destructive the fight with the Decepticons is, and many of his appearances signify a situation getting worse. The human kids have been getting much less screen time in the second season, while Agent Fowler has been getting much more, at least partly because they can do things to him that would jack the rating way up if they happened to children. Even when the kids do appear, they are purposefully being put into much more dangerous situations than in the first season, and crack far less jokes.

Notes

  1. well, one did appear at one point, but the writer quickly got rid of it