Crap Saccharine World

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
At Sunnyside, Lotso will make sure you stay forever.

"The world that so enchanted me was rotten to the core."

A setting which, at first sight, looks nice and cute. The world is full of cheery colors, people are smiling, happy and helpful, and you're probably thinking you've just stepped into a Sugar Bowl that seriously Tastes Like Diabetes. Suddenly, you notice something wrong, and upon investigating, you realize that every single thing below the surface is horribly wrong and dysfunctional, and that behind the colorful appearance, it's really a Crapsack World.

This is basically a Stepford Smiler applied to and on the scale of an entire setting.

Compare Town with a Dark Secret, Peace and Love Incorporated, Light Is Not Good, and Stepford Suburbia. Often involves Fridge Horror, Sugar Apocalypse, Grotesque Cute, and Glurge. Contrast with Sugar Bowl, the (usually) non-ironic version of this trope. Compare and contrast Vile Villain Saccharine Show; a Crap Saccharine World is fundamentally rotten to the core, while in Vile Villain Saccharine Show, the world would become a perfectly ordinary Sugar Bowl if its horrifying villain were removed, and the similar Uncanny Village. A Type B cynical portrayal of The Promised Land that isn't a used-up and barren wasteland is likely to be one of these.

See also City in a Bottle, where Crystal Spires and Togas meets Government Conspiracy, and Soiled City on a Hill, which can be a former Shining City that retains its shiny exterior even though its heart has become corrupt and rotten. Urban Segregation can result in this if the viewer is initially shown only the utopian parts of the setting.

Contrast People's Republic of Tyranny, Fauxtivational Poster, and A World Half Full, where it looks like a Crapsack World, but it can get better. Also contrast Crapsack Only by Comparison, where an outsider thinks a place is crapsack, but objectively it isn't that bad. Happiness Is Mandatory can be this, but often fails to create even a pleasant veneer over things. This trope can be deliberately foreshadowed with an Uncanny Atmosphere

Note that this trope is about a setting. If the art style clashes with the mood of the work, that is not this trope.

No real life examples, please; again, this trope is about fictional settings.

Examples of Crap Saccharine World include:


  • Let's just say there's a reason the Funny Animal trope page points out that not all Funny Animals are meant for children.
  • Navigators of drug-induced psychedelic experiences will report that the events that they are perceiving are overly colorful, delightfully bizarre, or laugh-out-loud hilarious, but might eventually notice that their entire notion of reality is being undermined, or worse.
  • When Hell isn't ironic or very hot it will often be pretending to be Heaven, until the pleasure turns into suffering.


  • The Damned Ponies in this Brazilian Nissan ad.
  • Corporate advertising and public relations can come across as this. Their messages can be incredibly cheery and optimistic even as the company heads into Chapter 11.
  • This got milk commercial.

Anime and Manga

Sergei Smirnov: Information control... This is all fake.

  • Violinist of Hameln is a fairly interesting example. The manga is essentially a ridiculously over-the-top fantasy parody, with a savage case of Mood Whiplash when something important happens, leading to an oddly tragicomic series about a host of surprisingly broken individuals. That's the manga. The anime adaptation, however, removed the humour altogether, made the dark parts even more disturbing and spent the animation budget on some really bad trips, leaving behind one of the most unabashedly tragic, mind-numbingly depressing fantasy series ever... with character designs and art style intended for a cheerful fantasy parody, represented entirely in Pastel-Chalked Freeze-Frame.
  • Lady Jagara's city in Wolf's Rain is implausibly neat, clean and sterile, and all of the inhabitants seem to be walking around in a trance, pretending that everything's hunky dory and will be forever (it won't, of course). However, it does have an undercity which more accurately reflects the crappy state of the world outside.
  • Zalem turns out to be this in Gunnm/Battle Angel Alita. You can ask for assisted suicide (the grisly "End Joy," which turns out to be full of blood) and all inhabitants HAVE A FREAKIN' CHIP FOR BRAINS. Also, if you learn about the previous spoiler, a "special team" is going to take care of you immediately. Everybody who doesn't fit or threatens order in any way is eliminated, frequently via being dumped down the floating city's giant garbage chute.
  • Dai Mahou Touge opens with a Tastes Like Diabetes Sugar Bowl for the Magical Land Punie comes from. It's later revealed to be a brutal despotism run by an Evil Overlord who rose to power through a smear campaign against the old monarchy and is more than willing to commit mass slaughter to keep the people in line. By comparison, Earth itself is a more traditional Crapsack World.
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is a Double Subversion. Hinamizawa seems to be a Town with a Dark Secret, Watanagashi is presented as a Fete Worse Than Death, Oyashiro-sama a Religious Horror, and the girls a Themed Harem of Yandere and Cute and Psycho. Sure, the series is a Psychological Horror and every arc starts with happiness and fun and ends with horrors. However, the answer arcs (which are still creepy, mind you; Meakashi-hen, Shion's arc, may possibly be the most disturbing fragment of the series) show that the people of Hinamizawa really are all good at heart (yes, even the Yakuza family we're initially led to suspect is behind everything, they have nothing to do with the recent deaths and disappearances), Watanagashi's sordid roots have been seized upon to hide the opportunist Big Bad's conspiracy, Oyashiro-sama is an adorable moeblob who suffered more than anyone else in the series, and the Hate Plague isn't limited to the girls nor are they in themselves crazy. The last few arcs, where the Games Club forges a stronger bond and resists the insanity, have them resort to nonlethal and sometimes even nonviolent tactics to protect the village and their friends. Oh, yeah, and there's a happy ending.
  • Princess Tutu. A Magical Girl show that takes place in a whimsical town of pastel colors, ballet, and fairy tales. Unfortunately for the characters, their fairytale has not been Disneyfied, and they are the cosmic playthings of an Ax Crazy tragedy-loving writer.
  • One Piece. An amazing, colorful world full of wonders and fun... and run by a tyrannical government who commits atrocity after atrocity in an increasingly gruesome manner. And every populated island that isn't being oppressed by the government is being brutally exploited by a group of pirates which they'll never be able to handle on their own. Which means that if Luffy does overthrow the government, he will have just given free rein for Pirates to turn the entire world into their personal playground.
    • Then, one of the two decent New World rulers, Whitebeard dies, and his power fell into the hands of a power-hungry megalomaniac. Marines took considerable losses fighting Whitebeard as well, at the time when there are a bunch of ascendant super-powerful pirate crews on the loose. By now, it is time to drop the saccharine.
  • Shitsurakuen becomes this for girls when you realise that only the guys have it easy in Utopia Gakuen, girls are nothing more than commodities to be traded and fought for and as we later find out, some of the boys themselves HATED the rules yet they could do little to change them.
  • In Berserk, an already dark and depressing series, we meet Rosine, a Dark Magical Girl who transformed a crater's valley in a realm for elves filled with birds, butterflies, flowers and evergreen meadows. But, for being young and apparently harmless, Rosine is an Apostle. And before long, we see that her elves' favorite hobbies includes playing war...literally. And not only do they happily slaughter one another, they also like to use their insect-like appendages to skewer one another in the ass. And that's not even mentioning the way they are created..
  • The melodrama of Elfen Lied takes places in a nice little coastal city and a very pretty inn. Which hides a huge case of Humans Are the Real Monsters taking place in a certain science facility...
  • Ikigami the Ultimate Limit takes place is a time where Japan has extremely low crime rates and high prosperity and wealth. This is because of a system where students entering the first grade receive a vaccination. One in every one thousand of these contains a nano-capsule that will kill the recipient sometime between their 18th and 24th birthday, regardless of how they're lived their life up until now, in order to teach the people the value of life. And if anyone speaks out against it, they are deemed 'social miscreants' and get injected with the nano-capsule. Yeah.
  • Chirin no Suzu has a great example of this trope. The first half of the story starts out with a world where everything is great and everyone is happy. However, events in the second half reveal that the world has a dark side to it, and that the world presented in the first half was probably not that great to begin with.
  • So Ra No Wo To takes place for the most part, in a lush, incredibly beautiful mountain village where people live fairly happy lives. As the series goes on however this is revealed to be one of the few places still like this, with most of the world being rendered uninhabitable due to a past war that was so devastating that it apparently killed off all life in the oceans and humanity technologically regressed to early twentieth century. To make things worse, the handful of major nations left are fighting for what remains and that shrinks every year as the remaining habitable land is undergoing irreversible desertification. Keep in mind as well that nobody seems shocked at all to have teenage girls enlisting in the army.
  • Hong Kong as depicted in Haou Airen. A bright, shining city full of prosperity and fun things to do... while gangsters train children like the Bastard Boyfriend male lead as assassins in a shadow war filled with rape, murder, and suicide.
  • The Koalawallaland of The Noozles, where the punishment for a human caught coming into their land is to have their soul trapped forever in a crystal. The ruler enforces his dictates with a police force of koalas whose uniforms are disturbingly similar to Nazis. Admittedly, the law-abiding inhabitants seem genuinely happy with their world. This is a children's show.
  • More or less every town, city and other form of population concentration points in the world of Kino's Journey feature this trope. For example, the nation Kino visits in episode 12 boasts about its peaceful nature, having abandoned the war machines it used in past wars with its neighbor and its citizens living happily and in harmony. However, how the two nations reached this lasting peace becomes known later on, as Kino witnesses small but well armed forces from both nations slaughter unarmed civilians that belong to neither. These civilians are castaways, no one cares about them, so the wars of the past were replaced with a competition where both nations kill these outcasts as much as they can in a set time limit. At the end the bodies are piled up on a weight meter and the side that killed more "wins the war", after which both return to live in peace.
  • Children Who Chase Lost Voices: Agartha is a stereotypically Ghibliesque idyllic preindustrial land... where the hybrid offspring of Agarthan and Topsider are bullied by their pureblood Agarthan neighbours, they can't leave the towns without protection lest they get preyed on by monsters, and Agarthans that aid outsiders face exile.
  • While Makoto Shinkai has never shied from depicting the loneliness of modern urban life, Weathering with You is the first time he's been so nakedly cynical about Tokyo. Hodaka's first onscreen sight of the city is the Rainbow Bridge beautifully lit in the evening, but it's not long at all before he gets confronted with the seedy underbelly and dilapidated buildings, violent thugs tricking women into dubious work, and general No Sympathy for runaways, orphans and still-grieving widowers.

Comic Books

  • A thief in The Unwritten finds himself turned into a rabbit and transported into a magical Winnie the Pooh-like forest setting with other Talking Animals. His life there consists of escape attempts and nervous breakdowns. He eventually meets the author of the books in her fictional avatar as a young girl and tries to tear down her image of innocence and expose her as a middle-aged fraud desperately clinging to childhood innocence. She reveals she's rather well-adjusted, in fact, but that means keeping all her adult fears hidden, and when she lets them out... well, that's the end of Mister Rabbit.
  • A strip by Argentinian cartoonist Quino depicted a tourist first arriving to a foreign country, who is first delighted when he sees that everyone from the cab driver, hotel employees and people on the street are always singing a merry tune... until policemen, The Men in Black and government agents surround him suddenly, and menacingly observe that he is not singing.
  • The Unfunnies, full on.
  • Themyscira aka "Paradise Island" is the birthplace of Wonder Woman and homeland of the Amazons. It's a lush setting full of beautiful women and magical creatures. Magical creatures such as hydras and giant bees. The beautiful women are the immortal reincarnations of women wronged by men and are all (mostly) misandric (man-hating, as opposed to misogynistic which is woman-hating) and violent as a result. The island has been invaded by outside forces several times, nearly wiped out by a nuke, and has gone through at least one civil war. Oh, and there's a portal to hell hidden on the island.
  • The world Scott Pilgrim lives in. Sure, everyone has superpowers, and everything is incredibly awesome, but there seem to be no repercussions for challenging someone to a fight and beating them to death.
    • It's not so bad if you have an Extra Life handy.
  • In Brian Michael Bendis' Marvel MAX Alias series, Jessica Jones used to be the superhero Jewel, and flashbacks are told with brightly-coloured Silver Age-style pages with Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man collaborator, Mark Bagley instead of the noirish art of regular Alias penciller Michael Gaydos. But the flashbacks tell the story of Jessica being dominated by the Purple Man for months, serving him hand and foot while he raped a series of women, him commanding her to attack the Avengers and being placed in traction by Thor for months.
  • Before Superman arrived on the scene, Metropolis was a Crapsaccharine City. It's a bright and shiny metropolis...that was being ruled by Evil Overlord Villain with Good Publicity Lex Luthor.
  • Woodbury in The Walking Dead. It promises salvation from the Zombie Apocalypse but is ruled by the despotic Governor.

Eastern Animation

Fan Works


  • Pleasure Island from Pinocchio is a perfect textbook example of this. The Coachman takes disobedient boys here to allow them to do anything at all that they want, including smoke cigars, drink beer or play pool, but eventually, they are turned into donkeys and sold off by the Coachman.
  • The world inhabited by the Other Mother in Coraline.
  • Though the point isn't emphasized, Duloc in Shrek is one of these: it is squeaky-clean and Disney World-like, but ruled by the tyrannical Lord Farquaad.
  • Toon Town in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is initially oppressively cheery, with the entire landscape singing in unison to Eddie Valiant—then he gets in a fender-bender and he's suddenly at the receiving end of more anarchic cartoon hijinks. Eventually he's reduced to skulking noir-like through dark alleys with Judge Doom. Though that may be Justified Trope as it conforms to Toon standards, not human ones. A Toon can shake off being dropped from a ten story building or having a piano dropped on his head, a human can't. And Eddie admitted that he and his brother used to visit Toon Town for the fun of it, finding it "a lot of laughs." As long as the human visitor is Genre Savvy enough to navigate Toon physics, Toon Town does have its attractive side.
  • Sunnyside, the daycare center in Toy Story 3. What originally seems like a utopia for abandoned or donated toys is actually a dictatorship run by Lotso the bear. The new toys are brought into the room where the toddlers play with and misuse them until they're broken, and anyone who tries to break out of their intricate security system is either imprisoned or tortured. But after Andy's toys manage to overthrow Lotso, Sunnyside became much more hospitable.
    • Behind the surface, the entire world of Toy Story conceivably falls under this. Sure, Woody, Buzz and the gang had the best possible ending any toy could have gotten (being given to a new owner who appreciates her toys). But thousands of toys (which the audience knows are all sentient) are thrown out each year in garbage bags, and are then sent to landfills where they are crushed and incinerated. Toys are routinely misplaced, crushed or broken, and they have no way of repairing themselves. Several of Andy's toys were sold off or trashed, meaning they're likely gone forever.
  • Another Pixar film, WALL-E, features this on the Axiom space liner. What was meant to be a five-year cruise for Earthlings while the titular robots cleaned up the polluted planet instead turned into a perpetual cruise. Everyone has gotten so fat from living in microgravity while being pampered by robots that everyone is traveling on hoverchairs meant for the infirm - no one has actually walked in centuries. Even the entertainment consists of watching robots play golf at the driving range.
  • This is a bit of a Lost Aesop in the CGI version of Astro Boy.
  • Cowslip's warren (the Warren of the Shining Wires) from Watership Down. The Man leaves food daily, there's lots of poetry and culture, and whatever you do don't mention the wires. (Granted, given that their choices were basically "near-complete extermination" or "guaranteed collective survival", the rabbits may have been justified in their choice.)
  • Frivoli from Twice Upon a Time may be the land of sweet dreams, but it's not much better than the Murkworks on a few levels. Their ruler, the Chef of State, is an illiterate doofus, the "Pantry of Pomp" is an apparent Kangaroo Court, and our heroes Ralph and Mumford are treated like crap for ultimately minor screw-ups, apparently because they're "funny-looking".
  • Just about any City in a Bottle on film. Logan's Run, Aeon Flux, The Island, etc.
  • Or other Gattaca-type setting: A.I., for instance.
  • The Truman Show, where the whole world, in which Truman Burbank lives, is a giant television studio situated in Hollywood, and he is the main character (and its only inhabitant, who isn't an actor) of an incredibly epic reality show, with 5,000 cameras pointing at him. He grew up in that world, portrayed like a mix of the modern age, and the stereotypical 1950's American suburban society, but is "On air, unaware" the whole time. But he starts finding out. First a flood light falls from the sky, then, he accidentally runs into a fake elevator, which in fact is a make-up room for the actors. Then he notices, that he can't leave his hometown, situated on a peninsula. One time, all flights are booked out, then, the engine of his traveling bus breaks down. Then, when he tries to leave city with his own car, the local nuclear power plant has a meltdown by coincidence, and the whole area is sealed off. He manages to get off though later on, by literally sailing away, and crashing into the horizon.
  • Typically of low budget children's films, the Mexican Santa Claus movie has an unintentional example of this.
  • Demolition Man could be considered a crapsaccharine answer to RoboCop.
  • Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels. Although the films mostly show the glittering, affluent urban paradise of the top level, the Revenge of the Sith Novelization mentions that the sublevels of the planet/city can be "worse than Nar Shaddaa," a notorious crime hub.
    • This is established before the prequels, in the form of an essay written by an Imperial propaganda minister, who cheerfully describes the technological wonders, mentions in passing that crime is being wiped out, and points out the magnanimity of the Emperor in granting a (well, there's no other word for it) ghetto for nonhumans to live in. Note that said author was a nonhuman himself.
    • Harry S. Plinkett also notes in his review that daily life on Coruscant is busy, bright, and chipper, even when the most traumatic and horrific war to ever be fought in the galaxy is going on. Coruscant is filled with the Republic's ultra-wealthy and privileged elite, and emblematic of the decadent and corrupt society that was the Republic in its final days.
  • Hot Fuzz: "Statistically, Sandford is the SAFEST village in the country!" Tell that to the castle filled with the skeletons of every minor nuisance to step foot in Sandford.
  • Serenity shows a failed version to attempt one of these, the Alliance's professed vision of the civilization they want to create and the means that they are willing to employ to reach it, because Utopia Justifies the Means. Only the aftermath of the creation of this "perfect world" is seen, and all that remains is abandoned buildings, corpses, and Reavers.
  • Underland turns Alice in Wonderland into this.
  • This is the plot of the Norwegian movie, Den Brysomme Mannen (The Bothersome Man). A man steps off a bus in a desert and is taken to a city where everything seems nice on the surface. He gets a nice house, a pretty girlfriend and almost anything he desires, but there is one catch. Turns out that the place is a dystopia where emotions are nonexistent, food and drink is flavorless and there are no children anywhere.
  • The Gotham City of The Dark Knight Saga seems more prosperous and optimistic than the Gotham of the older Batman films, but we learn rather quickly that at the ground level crime is eating the streets whole while the upper class just chooses to ignore it, wrapped up in their own success. The citizens of Gotham do care enough to take some action to rebuild their city, and thanks to the Bat himself corruption and crime are taking a beating and the Police Are Useless mantra is cut down, and Earn Your Happy Ending is in full effect.
    • The first film of the saga reveals that the League of Shadows are partly responsible for the current state of Gotham, having tried to destroy the city, which they perceived as a Wretched Hive, using economic means.
  • Most of the films of Tim Burton run on this in one form or another. Pee-wee's Big Adventure begins with a typical day of breakfast and a bike ride to the shopping mall—and ends with Pee-Wee's bicycle being stolen and his becoming so distraught that he slowly goes deranged. The Maitlands and their rich friends in Beetlejuice think it would be fun to conduct a séance with the dead... and the fun suddenly stops when the ghosts they resurrect begin to crumble into dust before their eyes. The Joker holds a parade in downtown Gotham City to celebrate the town's 200th anniversary, showering 20 million dollars on the streets to lure the crowds in... so that he can gas them all to death. And in Edward Scissorhands, the neighbors who are so kind to Edward in the beginning turn violently on him once they suspect (incorrectly) that he's a burglar. This may be former Disney animator Burton's way of demonstrating that "Disneyland" isn't all it's cracked up to be - especially since his more realistic movies (Big Fish, for example) depict worlds that are neither wholly good nor wholly bad.
  • The city from Metropolis is well-maintained and prosperous on the top, but the entity maintaining that façade is the proletariat living underground.
  • The United States in Harrison Bergeron, inspired by the short story of Kurt Vonnegut. A world where everyone is finally equal - by lobotomizing the overtly talented, if needed.
  • The Untouchables director Brian DePalma deliberately made Chicago crime lord Al Capone's surroundings very lavish and sumptuous:

"My image of The Untouchables is that corruption looks great. It's like Nazi Germany. It's clean. It's big. Everything runs smoothly. The problem is all the oppressed people are in some camp somewhere and nobody ever sees them. So the world of Chicago is a slick world. A world that's run by money and corruption and it looks fabulous."

  • Lumberton - the white-picket-fence, small-town setting for Blue Velvet.
  • The house in the Korean film Hansel and Gretel; it's beautiful and straight out of a fairy tale, just don't think on leaving anytime soon.


  • This Perfect Day by Ira Levin features a seeming utopia with no poverty, hunger, violence, or fear. Everyone is happy, helpful, and content. But they're all being drugged and genetically engineered to be so, controlled by a supercomputer that in turn is controlled by a secret cabal of immortal "programmers" who live in luxury, apart from the rest of society.
  • Brave New World is of the "bright and shiny" variety of dystopia. Sure, everyone's healthy and has (and is apparently satisfied with) all the toys and drugs they could ever want, but all of them hatch out of bottles and are programmed from birth to be satisfied with their (also pre-programmed) lives, seven-year-olds having sex is considered late, and the whole thing depends on the intentionally-stupidified and drugged-up lower classes and shallow, selfish, immature upper classes. What education there is (which seems to be entirely for the higher classes) focuses almost exclusively on the applied sciences, with very little attention devoted to theoretical science or liberal arts. It's a peaceful, stable society, but one built at the cost of creativity and self-expression—and very few even realize what it is that humanity's lost as a result. Made slightly better by one of the leaders being a relatively Reasonable Authority Figure, and that freethinking people who can't stand the luscious reality have an option to move to remote islands where life is harsher but more open-minded and less restrained (then again, we never see any of the islands), but not by much.
  • The descriptive part of Georges Perec's W or the Memory of Childhood, starts off with the eponymous island portrayed as an utopian land ruled by sport. As it goes into detail, the text descends into the description of a horrendous land of slavery and madness, allegory of German concentration camps.
  • Lois Lowry's The Giver is set in a Community which, while not perfect, seems to be harmonious, peaceful, and happy. Family units share their feelings, politeness is mandated, and everyone is given a task that suits them. But when Jonas receives memories of what the world was like before, he learns that the Community has completely sacrificed choices, colors, individuality, even love. And when he discovers what Released to Elsewhere means, he realizes the Community has even traded away basic human dignity and respect.
  • The Land of Oz from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is considerably more crapsack than one would first think, what with half of the land being under the brutal oppression of two wicked witches, and the Emerald City being a lie in every inch of its being. Things improve in the later books, though, especially under Ozma.
    • The books also give us some others. For instance, the land of the Mangaboos, a beautiful land with glass houses and lit by six colored suns, and inhabited by beautiful vegetable people. Except that said vegetables are literally and figuratively heartless and horrifyingly xenophobic, trying to destroy anything that enters their land that's not a Mangaboo. Or the Valley of Voe, full of kind, good-hearted people, natural beauty, delicious fruit that grants invisibility... and vicious man-eating invisible bears, such that it's only possible to survive there if you're invisible so the bears can't see you.
  • The world of the Kindar in the Green-Sky Trilogy starts here. It's a peaceful utopia where there is no overpopulation, hunger, homelessness, everyone's employed (there is an option for people to change careers, but it's seldom used), crime is so rare as to be a curiosity, violence is unheard of (even two year olds squabbling over a toy is a sign of ill-parenting), and everyone has Psychic Powers. Scratch the surface and we get widespread narcotic use (in the form of a ritual berry), the psychic powers are fading at earlier ages than ever (the protagonist thinks he's merely average when it turns out he's probably the most powerful psychic on the planet), everything run by the Ol-Zhaan, the Ol-Zhaan run by a secret cabal in its ranks, and one huge Big Lie keeping all in place. Raamo's recruitment was part of a Batman Gambit on D'ol Falla's part to atone for her actions as the grandmistress of the cabal, and once the Big Lie is uncovered, things start to heal up.
  • The wizarding world in Harry Potter, due to the juxtaposition of the awe and wonder of magic and the heroics of the main characters with the prominent amounts of intolerance, corruption, megalomania, and inbreeding displayed by so many wizards. These faults are, however, acknowledged by the heroes who strive to correct them (particularly Hermione). The series itself makes it clear that the wizarding world has severe flaws in it, and these flaws are what Voldemort exploits to rise to power.
  • Genua from Discworld, when Lily Weatherwax oversees it. On the surface, it looks like a happy, shiny fairy tale kingdom... because she wants it to be that way. Toymakers are thrown in jail if they aren't able to tell little stories to the children "like they should," thieves are beheaded on first offense, and the Assassin's Guild has packed up and left "because there are some things that sicken even jackals."
  • Terahnee in Myst: The Book of D'ni. It looked like such a fantastic place to live -- until it was learned that it was built on the backs of slaves who were killed if they made a sound or even saw a slave of the opposite sex. And just in case, they were all neutered, and the Terahnee were trained to see through them.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin's The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas is like this - everyone is happy and rejoicing, and then you find out that all their happiness depends on this one child being continuously, abjectly miserable. That child is kept hidden in a basement, starving. And every adult knows about it
  • Uglies: Magnificent beauty and nonstop fun from the moment you turn sixteen onward. At the price of government psychos putting lesions in your brain and Super Soldiers after anyone who thinks for themselves.
  • Camazotz, the planet controlled by IT in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.
  • Redwall could be said to take place in one of these. Sure, it's nice inside Redwall, but elsewhere, it's a rather brutal life at the mercy of predatory birds, roaming gangs and stuff of that nature. And all the inhabitants are cute fuzzy animals. Even the ones that are trying to kill you.
  • H. G. Wells' The Time Machine: the Time Traveler arrives on the future Earth in what seems to be a natural paradise inhabited by the peaceful Eloi, the descendants of modern humans. He later discovers that the Eloi's way of life is sustained by the subterranean Morlocks, who raise the Eloi on ranches like this and feed on them for sustenance (and the Morlocks are arguably the more sympathetic of the two).
  • Robert Silverberg's The World Inside. Everyone lives in gargantuan apartment blocks ("urban monads" with names like ChiPitts) and never goes out. The entire human race is obsessed with having as many children as possible - one protagonist is ashamed of having only four. It is seen as selfish (and therefore, criminal) to refuse sex to random strangers. And everyone is really, really happy all the time... because the ones who aren't happy are either lobotomized or dropped down the recycling chutes.
  • Brandon Mull seems to revel in this. His Fablehaven series starts off cheerfully, with a rather enchanting premise (a nature preserve full of magical creatures! Solve your grandparent's candy-coated mysteries to find out more!), but around the second book, starts showing its true, dark colors. His standalone novel The Candy Shop War is similar, starting out with the literally Sugar Bowl concept of magical candy and ending up with several near-homicides, Body Horror, Bad Future, and much more.
  • Waverton lives, breathes, and sweats this trope. It's not just the adults that are cannibals, it's the children too.
  • Kafka's On the Gallery.
  • Here's what's visible through one of the demon's doorways in Nocturne:

"...a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, woods and hills and streams under a mellow sun, yet redolent with an aura of complete and implacable evil."

  • The main thread of Diablo is a straight-up Crapsack World, but the tie-in novels show what it's like when it's not assaulted by Demonic Invaders. It's not actually any better, but it's better at hiding how screwed up it is.
  • The Galaxy from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is very effectively portrayed this way in most of its incarnations. It's a shiny, glistening wonderland of incredible science, technology, and living commodities... inhabited by an ignorant, apathetic, and irresponsible citizenry that chooses to use it all for selfish and nonsensical goals, such as mining the past for resources that are rare in the present (and keeping the future from doing the same) or creating doors and elevators with genuine people personalities. It is also gradually revealed that only the very well-to-do ever get to take advantage of such commodities anyway, a large majority of Galactic citizens being penniless hitchhikers.
  • The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem.
  • Pam Bachorz's Candor where life is idyllic and teenagers behave until you find out that everyone is being controlled by Messages played in music that brainwash them without even realising it.
  • In the 1987 picture book Hey, Al. Al and his dog, Eddie, are transported to a magical utopia ruled by birds. Their life there is at first heavenly, but soon becomes terrifying as they realize they are slowly being turned into birds themselves. Think of Pleasure Island from Pinocchio, but even more freakish.
  • Alypium from Erec Rex is a bright, shiny Magical Land full of humor, wonder, and all sorts of charming happenings. It's all a hotbed of fiery racism, conspiracy, deep-seated political corruption, and murder.
  • Watership Down. The refugee rabbits, after a hazardous journey, are offered shelter in Cowslip's warren without even having to fight to get in. The rabbits there are all big and well-fed as there is plenty of food left out in the fields, and have even developed their own high culture, such as art and song. The other rabbits get quite annoyed when their Waif Prophet Fiver insists the place is evil. It turns out the reason the food is left out in the field is that the warren's surrounds are intensively snared by the local farmer -- the entire warren is one big rabbit hutch.
  • At first, Matched seems like a utopia. Modern society has too many choices, but this future society does that for you. But then you realize that nobody can choose anything, not their job, or their spouse. They don't even choose what food they eat (it is chosen by statistics) or when they die (everybody dies at age 80).
  • At first glance, the title world in the Dragonriders of Pern series appears idyllic, a place of bucolic beauty, populated with friendly dragons and playful firelizards. However, it is not all that pleasant. The planet is regularly showered with deadly spores, called Thread, that devour any living thing in their path. There are also frequent outbreaks of plague and the society is highly classist: women are sometimes discriminated against and the mentally disabled are often used as slave labor. That said, this is by no means the worst example on this page; Threadfall is a serious threat, but it occurs infrequently and fairly predictably and the Dragon Riders have centuries of practice at damage control. Plagues, class prejudice and ill-treatment of the mentally handicapped are still major issues, but they're par for the course in any Low Fantasy setting. (And in many Real Life settings for that matter.)
  • According to David Foster Wallace's essay, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" (from the book of the same name), large cruise ships are, well, exactly what it says on the tin.
  • Transformers: TransTech's Axiom Nexus sure looks like a utopia at first glance, compared to every other Transformers universe. It's the only universe where the Civil War never happened, and millions of Cybertronians of all factions and universes live together in a shiny, high-tech city. In actual practice, however, the Civil War still exists... just in the form of political intrigue, corporate warfare, racial/class tensions and bigotry, gang warfare, and lots and lots of red tape. And if you happen to have any tech in your body that the TransTechs find interesting and/or dangerous, regardless of whether you intend to do anything wrong with it or not, they'll at best kidnap you and at worst kidnap you and then (literally) find out what makes you tick.
  • From the viewpoint of The Other Light faction in the Left Behind book Kingdom Come, Jesus Christ's Millennial Reign is a utopia for "naturals" as long as they obey God's laws and become believers before they reach 100 years of age—otherwise, they instantly die and go to Hell. Over the course of time, the Other Light does manage to win enough converts with their manifesto claiming God Is Evil because of his 100 years of age limit, so that the world at the end of the Millennium becomes a Crapsack World again, with the Other Light being a massive army ready to defeat God and Jesus Christ when Satan is released. Guess how that turned out!
  • Istar in Dragonlance eventually devolved into this, as most strongly illustrated by Time of the Twins and the Kingpriest Trilogy. Everything was more peaceful, orderly, and prosperous than anywhere else in the world or any other age- because the Kingpriest had mind-readers seeded throughout the general populace ready to arrest anyone who had evil thoughts. It was a superficially beautiful place and not all that bad to live in- but still a sugar-coated theocratic dictatorship.
  • The Great Gatsby show us that the world of the rich is not nice: Tom is a cruel bully because he knows his Glory Days are in the past and he suspects (rightly enough) that no one respects him, Daisy is a Stepford Smiler, both of them are infidel, alone and scared and they have to deal with noveau rich delinquents like Gatsby himself, and his only defence is being JerkAsses themselves against people like Gatsby. And the scary part is that Gatsby world is Real Life world. How many of us wouldn’t jump at the chance to be rich even knowing this?
    • Gatsby's life is also pretty crapsaccharine—he's a gregarious millionaire who throws lavish parties on a regular basis and lives in a huge estate, but everything about him is a lie. He gained his fortune through criminal means, none of his regular guests give a damn about him to the point that only one person other than Nick shows up at his funeral, and he's a deeply lonely and unhappy man. "Poor son of a bitch" indeed. The book as a whole heavily deconstructs the American Dream, so it's not surprising that it illustrates how wealth can bring misery instead of happiness.
  • In the 24th century of The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin, the entire Solar system has been colonized out to the Oort Cloud, Mars has been terraformed, and thanks to technology lifespans are measured in centuries and no-one goes hungry, unclothed or unhoused. But everyone is at least partly property in which other people own stock, there's a near permanent underclass of "pennystocks" and everyone has a tracker implanted in them. And it's getting worse; once you were born owning 45% of yourself, now it's 25%.
  • In John C. Wright's Count to a Trillion, Menelaus only slowly learns the underside of the world he was re-awoken in.

Live-Action TV

  • The Charmed double episode "It's a Bad Bad World": when the heroes upset the balance between their world and their moral-mirror world, their world turns into a happy happy happy world, where people get death penalty for minor infractions and amputated for breaking house rules such as not using the cell phone at work. The main difference between their world and the evil Mirror Universe is that in their world, everyone is happy happy happy about their perfectly well regulated world.
  • Doctor Who has done this several times.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus played this with their usual flair in the "Fairy Tale" sketch:

Narrator: Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lived in a valley far, far away in the mountains, the most contented kingdom the world had ever known. It was called "Happy Valley", and it was ruled over by a wise old king called Otto. And all his subjects flourished and were happy, and there were no discontents or grumblers, because wise king Otto had had them all put to death along with the trade union leaders many years before. And all the good happy folk of Happy Valley sang and danced all day long. And anyone who was for any reason miserable or unhappy or who had any difficult personal problems was prosecuted under the "Happiness Act".

  • The Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life", from the Jerome Bixby story of the same name. Small town USA with everyone bright and happy about to celebrate the birthday of a 6-year-old boy with lots of presents and love. Until we find out that the 6-year-old boy (played by Billy Mumy of Lost in Space and Babylon 5 fame) is a telepath who requires everyone to be bright and happy all the time, otherwise he kills them in rather horrible ways. Everyone constantly mumbles to themselves about how happy they are, otherwise they die. Or worse—if they are people he loves, he might try to help them.
  • One Sliders alternate dimension is a world where everything looks great, and there's a great big lottery which they enter. Wade wins. However, she may have wanted to read the fine print: the lottery does give the winner just about anything you could ask for, but also requires you to give up your life shortly. It's a voluntary population-reduction program, and the real benefit is mainly to the next-of-kin.
    • There are also groups that try to educate the public on altenate means of controling population growth, such as contraceptives. Apparently, condoms are evil but suicide is good.
  • In Stargate SG-1 episode "Revisions", SG-1 finds a small idyllic village. It looks like a perfect town until people start disappearing, and everybody but SG-1 forgets they ever existed.
    • An episode of Stargate Atlantis had the team come across a seemingly beautiful world untouched by the Wraith and with no crime. It turns out the worst criminals were originally sent to an island where the Wraith would devour them. This was so effective crime virtually stopped, so standards became a lot more lax. One man who had been wrongfully convicted of murder was sent there, and a woman who tried to tell the Atlantis team about it was sent to the island for treachery.
  • Star Trek has done plenty of "planet where everyone is happy and everything is perfect, except it turns out everything is really horrible" stories.
    • Landing on one of them one filled with beings empowered by human imagination is the only crime that still is punished by the death penalty in the Federation.
  • The Prisoner. Ohhhh boy.
  • On Angel, Lindsey and later Gunn were at one point trapped in a hell dimension that appeared to be an idyllic peaceful suburban neighborhood superficially, but had them living in a home that had a demon in the cellar that would rip their heart out every day, only to have them heal and relive the same thing the next day. And if anyone interfered or tried to upset the status quo all the residents would mindlessly shoot at them with machine guns.
    • Jasmine's utopian Los Angeles in the previous season, where everyone is happy and fulfilled, but at the cost of mind control. Yet despite that Jasmine's way is incredibly attractive, even after people have been removed from her influence (all of the main characters at some point or other talk about how they miss Jasmine's love and the feeling that everything was finally good), to the point that after Jasmine's death, representative of demonic law firm Wolfram & Hart Lilah shows up to congratulate the main characters on ending world peace.
  • Played for comedy in Suburban Shootout, where a picture-perfect English village is dominated under the surface by rival gangs of upper-middle-class housewives.
  • Desperate Housewives. Wisteria Lane, as Brenda Strong will remind you every week, appears to be a placid suburban street in a Day-Glo world. That suicide ten years ago was just unfortunate really. Could have happened anywhere. But did we mention the hit-and-run across the street? That was around the same time. And the recent rash of stranglings? Also, that freak electrocution. And the time half the block was leveled by a tornado. And the plane that crash-landed right into the middle of the holiday block party. There was also some business with a child molester in the neighborhood, but not to worry, he left after we inadvertently caused the death of his sister. Of course, we've had a few arsons here, some hostage situations there. A woman may have been beaten to death with a blender in the house where that nice young gay couple lives, but the details on that are still murky, and a child died of neglect two doors down, but that was like, fifteen years ago. Oh, and the woman who used to live just to the right of where the hit-and-run happened was later discovered to be keeping a mentally handicapped murder suspect chained in her basement. Other than that, wonderful place to live; property values have remained high.
  • The backdrop of Weeds.
  • The X-Files episode Arcadia is set in a seemingly pleasant gated community. The community has some very strict rules enforced by a horrible monster that kills anyone caught breaking them.
  • Both the modern-day town of Storybrooke, Maine and the Fairy Tale kingdoms of Once Upon a Time are this. The fairy tale realm is littered with corrupted rulership, thieves, and dark magic. Prince Charming's kingdom is flat broke. Cinderella's kingdom is suffering from a drought. And no matter where you look, Rumpelstiltskin is cutting deals. The town of Storybrooke looks like a quiet, idyllic community, but everyone's been ground to submission under Mayor Mills's stiletto heels and Mr. Gold literally owns everything through a Chain of Deals like he did as Rumpelstiltskin.
  • The "Paradise" in Xena: Warrior Princess season 4 looks like Eden inhabited by a guru who will teach anyone techniques on how to achieve complete peace but he's actually a parasite who feeds on people's goodness and lack of that will turn one to stone. The ones who are immune are eventually driven mad by their own demons.
  • Wonder Woman TV Series: Queen Hippolyte claims Paradise Island is an Utopia because is a Lady Land. (No men means no wars, no greed, no barbaric... masculine behavior). They also are an Advanced Ancient Acropolis of Immortal HotAmazons. Once Princess Diana have seen a man for the first time, she dares to disagree: Paradise Island is a Crap Saccharine World because the very same reason.


  • Devo's "Beautiful World". It starts off talking about how great the world is. Then it becomes apparent that this is someone else's opinion and that the narrator of the song doesn't agree with it. The idea is that the person who says the world is beautiful has been conditioned to believe it is and doesn't know about the bad things. The video makes this apparent.
  • Definitely exemplified in the song "Handlebars" by the Flobots (by extension, this song makes an example out of Real Life). The first half is well enough off, describing the good that we people can do. It's "good to be alive" in a world where we can do pretty much anything. However, the song takes a sharp turn in the middle:

I can hand out a million vaccinations
Or let them all die in exasperation
Have them all healed of their lacerations
Have them all killed by assassination

  • REM's "Shiny Happy People" is sometimes interpreted as a parody of Communist Chinese propaganda machinery, despite Word of God indicating that it is supposed to be straightforwardly cheerful.
  • The PV and lyrics of the Vocaloid song "* Hello, Planet".
  • Lily Allen's song "LDN" about London and how everything looks exciting and wonderful at first, but when you take a second look... Indeed, most of Lily Allen's songs come across this way due to the musical style they use and the sound of her voice. "Smile" and "The Fear" come to mind.
  • "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton starts out about a nice and sweet song about unrequited love, but soon takes a sinister turn into escapism, cyborgs, and kidnapping.
  • Dmitri Shostakovich's 5th and 9th Symphonies are portrayals of this trope.
  • In the video for Travis’ cheery tune "Flowers in the Window", the band drives into a small town in the middle of nowhere that is inhabited solely by beautiful pregnant women. After about four minutes of the band wondering how this could be, Fran Healy wanders to the outskirts and comes upon a solitary shackled man in a pen, screaming and presumably begging Fran to free him. Fran and the boys, fearing a similar fate, high-tail it out of there.
  • Once the music is in motion, "Party Rock Anthem" by LMFAO plays like any decent dance tune. Prior to this, we are introduced to members Redfoo and Sky Blue, who learn that — after recovering from a coma — they made the song that destroyed society.

Normal man: Every day, they been shufflin'. … It will get in your bones.

Tabletop Games

  • In the Old World of Darkness, the Changeling: The Dreaming gameline exemplifies this trope to a T. One of the running themes of Dreaming was that your fae self has woken up and become exposed to a magical world of dreams, imagination, and human potential, which is slowly dying. Disbelief, lack of imagination and the death of potential are literally toxic to changelings; spend enough time around them, and your fae self goes dormant until the next incarnation. Most changelings fall back into dormancy by their 30s, and that's not counting the ones who are slain by cold iron—who are dead forever. Anyone who embraces their fae self looks and acts like a schizophrenic and is likely to wind up in an asylum. Oh, and then there's the threat of Winter, the time when all Glamour fades from the world and human potential has almost entirely withered and died—basically, Ragnarok for the fae. So if you want to keep the world of make-believe, you've got to fight for it. Hard.
    • And that's not even counting the fact that one half of changeling society is stuck in the Middle Ages, with the other half taking the whole Darker and Edgier bit seriously; or the fact that closing yourself off from the world where potential dies almost guarantees insanity; or that there are creatures literally made from nightmares (of from insanity itself) that have motivations that can really only be described as pure evil...
    • However, its New World of Darkness successor Changeling: The Lost turns the whole thing on its head, where having the Fae disappear would be a very good thing.
  • Paranoia. "Happiness is mandatory, Citizen. Are you happy?"
  • Bretonnia in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. A bucolic feudal kingdom - where peasants are bound to turf with 90% taxation rate and knights may kill their serfs for merely laying a gaze on the knight's pegasus.
  • Warhammer 40,000 we have the Tau Empire, which looks so much like an utopia that many fans hated (many still do) them for not being "Warhammer" enough. The recent stories about them makes the whole thing look like an interplanetary 1942.
    • And actually inverted with Nurgle. While it looks and sounds absolutely atrocious at first, being a Nurgle Worshipper is probably the only way to get much out of (semi)life in the Grim Dark Future.
  • The First Age in Exalted. A Crystal Spires and Togas paradise filled to the brim with life improving Magitech and ruled over by three hundred divinely empowered god-kings singled out for just how awesome and special they are. Only said god kings are hard-wired to become more unstable as they become older and more incredibly powerful. After a thousand years, they're willing to do anything for amusement and to prove their excellence, from starting wars for fun, to creating life to capricious and random murder. And although they don't admit it, most of them don't consider ordinary mortals real people. Have fun.
  • There is nothing inherently wrong with Lorwyn in Magic: The Gathering. The plane itself is a perfectly nice place; not all of its citizens are, though. Oh, and don't stick around there when the Aurora comes (every fifty years or so), because it turns into Shadowmoor, where you don't want to end up.
    • Zendikar might also count. Yeah, it's full of wonderful, fascinating, exotic landscapes. You better enjoy their view from a safe distance, though.
    • Ravanica counts while you're at it. It looks like an okay place to live, then you realize everyone is trying to kill you, rob you, change your identity, kill you and generally screw you over. Even the "good" people. And you don't get any rest after death.
    • In Amonkhet, most of the art looks pretty friendly. The gameplay was supposed to be brutal. This is because this trope was in effect for this world. In general, R&D at the time had for a while at that point been trying to get the flavor of sets to match the game play, but for Amonkhet, they wanted them to clash to establish a feeling of dissonance. Here is a card from that set that is a big exception to a card with friendly flavor guideline: [1] (Note that this card has the highest rarity).

Video Games

  • The bright, sunny, 1950's America of Destroy All Humans!. Looks all hunky dory on the surface, until you start reading people's minds.
  • Much of the Tales Series is built upon this trope, especially Tales of Symphonia and its sequel, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World.
  • Dear God, the MOTHER 1 trilogy, especially the last one. After a long, winding game with a story so vague it's almost taunting you, it comes right out and slaps you in the face with Leder's speech, in which you learn the small island you live on is the only inhabitable place left on earth, and prior to Porky's time travel abuse, there were only a small handful of survivors left in the world, completely oblivious and susceptible to being wiped out by any disaster. Hurricane? Minor fire? Disease? There goes the human race. And then, you know what happens in this colorful and kid-friendly game? Your long-lost brother deliberately electrocutes himself to death and you blow up the island. Yes, all of the main characters and NPCs live through it, but you don't ACTUALLY find out what happened to them after the end of the game.
  • The world of Eversion starts out bright and cheerful, but becomes gradually less so as you "everse" to higher levels, and it's not long before the game reveals its true colors.
  • The Tranquility Lane simulation in Fallout 3. At first glance it's an overly sweet mimic of black-and-white 50's sitcoms a la Leave It to Beaver, but soon you discover that it's being run by a sadistic scientist disguised as a Creepy Child who has been using the people in the simulation to slowly break each other down (reading the designer's journal reveals he'd done the same thing placed in a tropical island paradise prior to Tranquility Lane). In order to save your father, he sends you on increasingly heinous deeds, like murdering a mistress of a man and framing his wife. In the end, you have to choose between allowing the people in the simulation to remain trapped forever, or run a program that sends AI to kill everyone inside, freeing them from their prison but ending their lives in the process.
    • The town of Andale. It's nice and peaceful (by Fallout standards, at least) and doesn't seem to be bothered by raiders. The townsfolk are cheerful and friendly, and proudly claim that theirs' is the best town in the US of A (as if the War had never happened). But it turns out that they're all inbred cannibals. With basements and sheds full of bodies and fridges full of 'strange meat'.
    • The Vaults in general may count, as they are portrayed as the ultimate safe havens in the post-apocalypse world, protecting its population not only from the radioactive fallout but from the raiders, mutants and constant war outside (The war that never changes, mind you). As you explore the vaults, you discover that the populations have either willingly escaped the safety of their idyllic homes (rather violently in some cases) or died/gone mad in obscure ways. It soon becomes clear that whatever took place within the vaults was way more fucked than the war and mayhem outside. Take for example Vault 106, in which a hallucinogen gas drove most of them insane, spurring sane survivors to seal themselves off in a small cave in the lower part of the vault and safely dig their way out instead of going through the insane ones to the vault entrance; they didn't get far. How about the musician-populated Vault 92, where an experimental mind-controlling "white noise" was emitted through dormitory loudspeakers to the citizens, causing them to obey every order - even killing each other. A third of the population ended up permanently damaged by the white noise, and soon went out of control; cue total silence for X years. Hell, there's even a series of diary entries in a computer written by a young girl aspiring to be a musician which starts out good and dandy, but which end with her remarking how she is feeling more sick as time passes, evident in her entries as a degrading ability to type properly. The last entry is literally the result of her mashing the keyboard, desperately asking for help to "get the voices out of her head". So much for utopia, Vault-Tec Corp.
    • All the vaults were really a massive experiment by the US Government. For example, Vault 12 had the door intentionally sabotaged so that small amounts of radiation would seep in overtime, to study the effects of long-term exposure. The result was a city full of ghouls. Other vaults were set up and tampered with to study the (often failed) adaptation of societies under certain conditions. To quote Penny Arcade, "The Vaults were never intended to save anyone..."
    • The entire Pre-War USA of the Fallout series is like this. The entire world is known, not only feared, to be on the fast track to destruction, and society is more dog-eat-dog than ever before. There are hints that the average attitude in the pre-war world is more cynical and self serving than even our own. On the surface, however, the nation presents itself to be a patriotic heaven filled with wholesome families and optimistic cheerful people. Some hints include that in Washington, D.C.'s alternate Mall, they had a War Museum where we have part of the Smithsonian, and that they willingly allowed the addictive, radioactive Nuka-Cola Quantum to be produced.
    • Also, the new version of the USA that the Enclave is attempting to create. Until you first run into them, thanks to the radio channel they have that broadcasts their intentions of remaking the Wasteland into a new America, one of peace, freedom, etc. etc. you get the impression that they're actually on to something, that they might actually be able to make everything nice and peachy. Then, when you actually run into them and actually learn a bit more about their future plans, you learn that, in order to make the Capital Wasteland safe, they plan to kill EVERY SINGLE MUTANT by poisoning the area's water supply. Thing is, because of the amount of radiation in the area, that counts as pretty much everyone in the Capital Wasteland.
      • The Enclave's plan during their first appearance in Fallout 2 was nearly identical: release a variant of FEV into the atmosphere and let the jet stream carry it worldwide, to wipe out all "mutant" life - which, by this point, is EVERYTHING and everyone other than the Enclave. When you confront the President about this plan, he tells you to your face that you aren't really human, and would understand if you were.
    • Some Vaults however subvert the darker aspects of this trope by prospering and being functional, whether in spite or or due to their intended purpose.
      • Vault 101 in Fallout 3, which was designed to never be reopened, is surprisingly functional and stable after 200 years, aside from its dropping population.
      • Fallout New Vegas meanwhile has Vault 21, located right under the Strip. Built to test a system of governance based around gambling and luck, as well as initially being populated by compulsive gamblers, one would expect this to have ended up like many other doomed Vaults...except it didn't. The only reason the Vault "fell" was because its inhabitants lost to Mr. House over blackjack, with the Vault itself turned into another hotel in the New Vegas Strip.
      • Vault 81 in Fallout 4 is a veritable slice of Pre-War America that's remarkably preserved, functional and thriving. Though this in part stems from the original Overseer abandoning the Vault's intended purpose of testing diseases for biological warfare.
  • Chrono Trigger brings us the Magical Kingdom from 12,000 B.C. -- warning sign number one right there. At first glance, it is presented as an idyllic world where everyone's needs are taken care of, free time is devoted to the study of science, magic, philosophy and sleep, and the worst thing to worry about is overly pretentious navel-gazing. It's all downhill from there. Oh, and the "idyllic" floating sky-castles? Those are off-limits to the humans who can't use magic. They are confined to dirty caves on the surface, which is locked in an ice age.
  • Mass Effect is on the whole a relatively upbeat game; you spend most of the time wandering around in nice bright shiny places and fighting pretty clearly evil monsters while most everyone else was on your side. Then Mass Effect 2 comes along and gives us insight into all sorts of Body Horror and Mind Rape associated with the Reapers, the politicians have all decided you are a panic-monger and not worth listening to or supporting, and the Reapers are on their way. Your companions are thieves, mercenaries, thugs, assassins, vigilantes, mad scientists, serial killers, and Tali, and your only support while preparing for what is likely a Suicide Mission comes from a notorious human-supremacist terrorist group. Good luck.
    • The first game did provide a pretty blatant example, though: the Citadel is a beautiful space station of extraordinary technologies and breathtaking architecture, home of intergalactic politics and justice. Unfortunately, there's also a great deal of political infighting and bureaucracy going on here, meaning that almost nothing can be done through official channels, even when there's a crime syndicate having citizens attacked in broad daylight. Also, nobody is sure how the place even works, because the mysterious Keepers who maintain the station have a nasty habit of self-destructing if anyone tries to stop them. Finally, the very end of the game reveals that the Citadel itself is just one big back-door entrance for the Reapers.
    • The Mass Relay Network, the wondrous technology that made galactic civilization possible is nothing more than the Reapers' means of sowing and corralling organic life across the galaxy that allows them to harvest it at their leisure. It's Cowslip's Warren from Watership Down on a galactic scale, and the Mass Relays are the Shining Wires.
    • Illium from the second game is a definite example. It looks like a beautiful, high-class world in keeping with asari stylings and culture; in actuality, it's like every nightmare vision of anarcho-capitalism, where anything (including drugs with known side effects that include neural scarring) can be sold with the proper license and executives can hire mercs to kill their own employees.
  • Pokémon. No, that's not a joke. The Pokédex and experiences in the games, if paid attention to, will bring about the realization that Pokémon can do horrible things to people and each other. Among others, there are dream-eaters, beautiful creatures that stab you and drain you dry of fluids, cutesy balloons that drag you to the "underworld", ice spirits with galleries of their frozen victims, roaming Physical Gods galore, and finally there's Cyrus who wants to obliterate the universe, remake it in his own image, and remove the soul out of everyone and everything... that's just a small sample of the horrible things in Pokémon World.
    • Cyrus is just one nasty facet of the Pokéverse's criminal underworld, and his lot only operate in Sinnoh. Midcontinental Johto and Kanto are regularly infested by Rockets who have no intention of leaving their hidey-holes and enough connections to keep them there short of a full-scale invasion. Tropical Hoenn is fortunate enough to host two eco-terrorism factions in Teams Magma and Aqua, who make a mess of the landscape when they're not at each other's throats. Unova has to deal with Team Plasma, whose mastermind has less-than-benevolant motives. And let's not even get into what goes down in Orre...
      • On the subject of Cyrus, he promises "world peace" and rails against war and conflict—suggesting that even the friendlier parts of the Pokemon World contain far more conflict and strife than the game plots themselves let on.
    • Children are outright encouraged to go out, by themselves, into this world and train these creatures, forced to make their own way, possibly starving to death or dying from exposure, or falling victim to one of the less cutesy (and even some of them) Pokemon, or being captured by one of the numerous criminal/terrorist organizations. And their parents seem to allow this. And these creatures they are expected to befriend and train have powers that basically make them living, breathing weapons of mass destruction.
  • Dream Land from the Kirby series is either this or a Sugar Bowl with nightmare-enducing Villains.
  • BioShock (series) is not an example-far from it-but in the sequel, we see what Rapture looks like from a Little Sister's perspective. Needless to say, it's...different. The soft, sad harp that plays throughout only underlies the whole situation.
  • In Psychonauts, Gloria's Theater has two different settings, which can be shifted by changing the lighting. The first is a Tastes Like Diabetes Sugar Bowl, and the other is a Darker and Edgier version of the same world where the formerly cute kids in flower and puppy costumes start attacking. After finding out more about Gloria's past, it seems the second setting is more accurate to her life.
  • Professor Layton is in general a huge fan of the Town with a Dark Secret, but only one city can be considered crapsack: Folsense from Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. This thriving town owed its massive prosperity to a gold mine owned by the Herzen family, but recently the miners found something else. They thought they could refine it into somthing valuable, except soon the residents started dropping like flies. People started leaving the city in droves, calling it "cursed" and attributing it to this mysterious new mineral.
  • Ragnarok Online, but given its origins, it should not come as a big surprise.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has bright, cartoony graphics. It isn't afraid to throw humor into the plot, and it initially seems to have a much lighter plot than the others. You're not out to save the world, but to rescue your sister. Then you find out that Ganon's still out there, and you've basically been playing in a post-apocalyptic wasteland the entire time. Granted, aside from Ganon's presence (which is kind of a staple of the series anyway) the world isn't too bad to live in in itself. It just becomes a hell of a lot more depressing when you look at it in the context of its backstory.
    • Link's Awakening has an initially upbeat tone. It isn't afraid to throw humor into the plot (talking animals!) and it initially seems to have kinda the same plot as the others. You're not out to save the world, you're going to awaken the Wind Fish, whatever that means. Then you find out that you're trapped in a reality created by Nightmares, and you've basically been playing in a pre-apocalyptic dreamland the entire time.
  • Taris in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was shown to be one. Sure, the upper levels looked nice and shiny, but they were generally reserved for the snobby rich folk. The most people had to put up with gang-wars in the Lower City, but that was nothing compared to the filthy, mutant-ridden squalor of Undercity.
  • Fable I has a strong fairytale vibe with idyllic towns and countryside and Troperrific characters and storylines. It also features necromancy, ancient evil artifacts, averts Infant Immortality and really, Anyone Can Die. Or sacrificed to the dark gods by the player.
  • Santa Destroy in No More Heroes, honestly, doesn't look like to much of a bad place to live. Good pizza, law abiding drivers, and people who generally mind their own business. They don't even require guards at the border. But then you find out that some organization is promoting a bunch of hitmen (many of whom are very mentally disturbed) to fight each other to the death. Also, business men are even more corrupt than normal. It becomes pretty much a crapsack world when it all goes public though. At that point you better watch your back.
  • The world of Golden Sun seems like the standard fantasy setting. But the game's plot makes you wonder if the Failure Is the Only Option. Either the world is slowly decaying to nothing, or the world is in constant danger of destruction by outside forces. Choose one or the other but there is no in between, to say nothing of good old fashion war and conquest, which never really goes away.
    • Dark Dawn includes a lot of this in the backstory. The world of Weyard is more vibrant and colorful than ever before... but the decision to release Alchemy back into the world is indicated to have had violent repercussions on the geography, both physical and cultural. Isaac (who opposed this) is hailed as a hero while Felix (who pursued it) is written off as a villain, if mentioned at all. Gimmicky mayors from the first two games have become conquering kings and emperors, and several areas you explore are in the middle or aftermath of terrible wars. Your friends in Champa are still being driven to piracy for a living.
    • And then there's Morgal, the newly-established nation of brightly-colored furries and skillful musicians... the "newly-established" part involves a violent and gruesome revolution from Fantastic Racism and enslavement, the (recently-orphaned, new) king is being manipulated by treacherous advisors from a nation whose hat is apparently total war, and peace among the beastfolk is maintained by a monthly festival that includes food, drink, and music for the beastfolk, and death by boiling for any human prisoners, be they criminal or innocent (one such prisoner is a child).
  • The Telltale Games sequel to Back to The Future has one in Hill Valley in an alternate version of 1986. The city is publicised as one of the cleanest, safest most law-abiding cities in the United States. This is because its ruler (or rather, his wife pulling the strings) is an insane Moral Guardian, who has banned everything from alcohol and cigarettes to public displays of affection, and even Dungeons & Dragons and Science Fiction novels. By 1986 surveillance cameras and bugs are everywhere and Edna is resorting to brainwashing to keep people like Biff rehabilitated.
    • The city is also closed off from the rest of the country by a thick wall. Apparently, there are other sister-cities in the States, who have decided to follow Hill Valley's example.
  • Short indie platforming game Appy 1000mg. To say more would be to spoil it.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion features Camoran's Paradise. The top layer is a beautiful, flower-covered woodland meadow. The bottom not. And even the beautiful flower-covered woodland meadow is teeming with vicious Daedra.
    • In Camoran's Paradise, you get to live forever. The downside of that? It means that Camoran can torture you forever.
  • Gensoukyou, the setting of Touhou, is explicitly a "paradise", a Fantastic Nature Reserve for an immense variety of weird and wonderful Cute Monster Girls where they can live and be safe from the prying eyes of humans. What humans remain are continually at the mercy of the youkai that outpower and outnumber them, and while youkai eating humans isn't as prevalent as it once was it still exists. The youkai themselves experience frequent Fantastic Racism against and between themselves, an entire massive Fantastic Ghetto filled with youkai others considered undesirable, and they are just as vulnerable when a powerful youkai (or the borderline-Knight Templar that is the closest thing Gensoukyou has to law enforcement) designates them for a beating or threatens the fabric of Gensoukyou itself.
  • In Beyond Good and Evil, Hillys seems nice, even though the Domz are invading it. The great alpha sections protect the poor citizens and defend the cities. Only that the Alpha Sections ARE Domz, abduct citizens to turn then into more Domz, the ones who know it are portrayed as rebels, and even the protagonist being the Domz' power source.
  • In the City of Heroes expansion Going Rogue. levels 1-20 are played in an alternate dimension from Primal Earth called Praetoria, a gleaming silver and gold utopian empire where everyone is satisfied and Emperor Cole is a nice man. Expect he's actually the Big Bad with good publicity. Some of Cole's servants can read your MIND to an extent - they detect hostility or dislike toward Cole. The PPD (Praetorian Police Department, not to be confused with PARAGON Police Department) will prosecute anyone Cole or his laws tell them to, and sometimes independently use their power just to punish those they dislike. Nearly everyone with a position of power in Cole's empire only seeks to become more powerful, instead of helping the people. These are ones who chose the Power path. There are those who do work for the people, the ones who choose the Responsibility path, but they're unfortunately rare. There is a Resistance you can side with, and you get two kinds of people there - Crusaders, who will do ANYTHING to bring down Cole, and Wardens, who prefer to do it covertly. The story reveals that Cole is a huge Jerkass who will attempt to silence anyone who opposes him and his empire.
  • While most of the setting of Dark Souls is a straight up Crapsack World, Anor Londo hides it a little better. On the surface, it's a shiny city that is one of the few places resisting the darkness ruled by a beautiful goddess. It's all an illusion, courtesy of Gwyndolin. The sunlight, the beautiful goddess, everything.
  • Some of the dream worlds in Yume Nikki fall under this, but the most notable one is the Pink Sea. Pastel colors, balloons, gentle BGM... how could this area - of all the other areas in the game - be so scary?
  • Some of the worlds in Fire Emblem come off as this way. The Game Boy Advance entries mostly being this due to the artstyle being bright and colourful as a result of the SP model not being standardized for most of the runs. (Not so much in 8) Some of the Darker and Edgier entries likewise have a darker artstyle, especially "New Mystery" and "Awakening".
  • Jylland, the setting of Final Fantasy Tactics A2 mostly comes off as a happy renaissance-ish fantasy land. Then you find out that it's essentially ruled by a crime syndicate. And start noticing that there's there's no law outside of the cities, little in them, and everything is handled by hiring mercenaries...
  • The Rance Series looks like a standard fantasy setting, but when you consider that the Balance Between Good and Evil is there simply to maintain a certain amount of misery to entertain Jerkass Gods...
  • The world of Overwatch looks like a futuristic version of The Incredibles and Team Fortress 2. But beneath the seemingly bright and colorful atmosphere, there's quite a bit of strife, corruption, conflict and sleaziness.

Web Comics

  • Parodied by Cyanide & Happiness.
  • Parodied in this Copper comic. (Former Trope Image)
  • Erfworld nicely deconstructs the implications of a RPG Mechanics Verse. In Erfworld, everything is cutesy and adorable, and cleaning and healing is an automatic process at the beginning of each day, but the only people with free will are Kings/Overlords, and to a lesser extent, Warlords. Units are "popped" fully grown and with full knowledge of their purpose in life (or rather, their specific purpose of combat - there are no non-combatants), and units must follow their superiors' orders without fail, or be disbanded on the spot, including submitting themselves for sex on demand. Most rank-and-file infantry have literally no aspirations in life except to fight well. Every city is a Thriving Ghost Town. The list goes on..
  • Sonichu, albeit unintentionally. The author, one Christian Weston Chandler, means for it to be a sweet, happy comic... but the sex, rage, insertion of real-life people as villains and Disproportionate Retribution upon said people, when combined with the crude, child-like art style is just creepy. And CWCVille, according to Word of God, has no elections and therefore is basically a dictatorship.
  • Kevin and Kell. A cute, quirky world of Funny Animal characters... where fangs are more powerful than ideals and savage instinct triumphs over reason and empathy. By the world's local ethos (its ok to kill as long as you eat it) ethnic cleansing could just be another name for a BBQ. Perhaps even worse, a Ripped from the Headlines storyline reveals that there is an organization dedicated to opposing this - WikiBeaks, which publishes confidential data that has the potential to cause the predators some serious harm: They post which species are targeted, confidential hunting areas, that sort of thing. Sounds nice? Too bad they are being directly persecuted by the government. That's right, if you're a prey species, there's literally nothing out there to protect you, and the only effective organization that even tries is acting illegally.
  • 4U City in the recent Sluggy Freelance dimension-hopping arc TRIES to be this... It's referred to as a 'Utopia', and everybody is mandatorily happy - any sign of unhappiness results in being immediately pumped full of 'Happy drugs', while any serious departure from the accepted happiness-standard gets you thrown down the 'Judgement Chute', never to be seen again. However, despite this, it fails MISERABLY at looking like a utopia at first glance, due to the fact that it's always raining.
    • Also, the "Dimension of Lame," whose inhabitants are so pacifist that they embrace the invading demons and readily offer to sacrifice the one person who has any chance of saving them, all in the name of preventing more bloodshed.
  • Fabuland Housewives is a Stepford Suburbia with extremly cute Lego Funny Animals.
  • The Perry Bible Fellowship often used this trope with great effect.

Web Original

  • The Nostalgia Chick's BFF Nella's My Little Pony story thing crosses very quickly into this, involving loveless marriages and a Hooker with a Heart of Gold pony.
  • Absolutely inverted by Mortasheen The setting is a sprawling continent-sized toxic urban wasteland of twisted science and sorcery that is home to degenerate humans and hundreds of species of horrific bloodthirsty monsters (many created by the humans as living tools or weapons) where life is either nasty, brutish and short or agonizingly drawn out for far too long... and yet most sentient beings who live there cheerfully take it all in stride, and behave pretty much like you'd expect if this was a standard happy-go-lucky Pokémon-like world instead of a hell-world that could otherwise give Warhammer 40,000 a run for its money. However, all the horrible monsters are still nice to their trainers, including the Devilbirds, the Unknowns and the Wormbrains
  • Charlie the Unicorn was established as being here once. Charlie's kidney was stolen at the end of first film.
  • Natsumi Step! is a cute, relaxing flash video about a girl on an adventure in a magical place, where she meets cute animals has a lot of fun. She seems to have suffered some heartbreak and depression in the past, but that's all better now, and she gets a happy ending! But there's something... off about it. She kills her boyfriend, possibly with a crowbar, then kills herself. She's in purgatory, and is on her way to Hell at the end of the video. "Natsumi Step!" is meant as "Natsumi stepping" down a train station platform and killing herself.
  • Don't Hug me I'm Scared.
  • Facebook
    • The movie about Facebook's creation, The Social Network, also shows signs of this. All of the main characters become rich & successful for creating the site... while screwing each other, and having severe emotional problems due to decisions made.
    • Facebook is especially so given how many people treat it as Serious Business. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandparents watch your every move, not to mention companies are sure to go straight to facebook to see if you are worthy of hiring.
  • Brian Bull's Day of the Barney Trilogy has Barney and Baby Bop take over the world via a worldwide concert in which Barney encourages the children to kill any adult they can manage to with great success. The adults are driven into hiding and Barney and Baby Bop take the children under their wing as their Special Friends. The kids are well-fed, adequately supplied with Barney toys, and Barney and Baby Bop are always happy to play games and sing songs with them. And when they turn thirteen, the kids get a Special Gift that turns out to be immediate butchering with a machete if you are a boy or Medical Rape and Impregnate if you are a girl. The girls do end up dying as the Loved Ones burst out of their chests, but much later on than the boys...
  • Heaven in The Salvation War. The Eternal City is filled with temples, covered with jewels from a thousand worlds, and all designed to praise the almighty God, made to wonder the angels with it's beauty. The humans, however, get to live in slums as serfs, constantly living in fear of offending the insane God who is to blind to see that humanity is on the brink of destroying them. The city itself, as noted by several characters, has many cracks and structural problems below the jewels and artificial beauty.

Western Animation

Jasper: Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts. Boy, I'm getting mighty sick of this. (pop! Jasper is transformed into a dog with his head on it) Woof! Woof!

    • Also "Treehouse of Horror V" when Homer returns from the past to find that Flanders is ruler of the world.
  • South Park was like this until season 5 came along, and at that point it just became a textbook example of a Crapsack World.
  • The entire premise of Happy Tree Friends. Although, most of the "crapsack" part of it comes not from anyone being particularly horrible (except maybe Flippy), but simply from most of the inhabitants being incredibly clumsy...
  • Moral Orel: a seemingly nice suburban town full of depressed, miserable, and extremely disturbed souls trying their damnedest to appear wholesome and normal. Seasons 1 and 2 played it for laughs. Season 3... not so much.
  • On The Fairly OddParents, the planet of the Giggle Pies, the cute things that come in Invader-Os cereal already mentioned in Sugar Apocalypse.
  • Futurama, the world of the future looks exactly as we envisioned; flying cars, jetpacks, lazers and a cure to everything. Except that everybody's too poor to afford anything, war is fought on a bigger scale than ever, and everything everywhere is run by idiots.
  • From Justice League:
    • One episode has several of the characters end up in an Alternate Universe which was almost exactly like the Silver Age Superhero comics the Green Lantern used to read as a child. On first glance, the world looked like a stereotypical wholesome and child-friendly '50s superhero setting. Upon closer inspection, the world turned out to be a post-nuclear war landscape whose survivors were forced to live in a psychic Masquerade generated by the mutated Kid Sidekick of the original heroes of that world.
      • There are other hints of the slightly crappy nature coming through as well, in the form of Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: Hawkgirl doesn't take too kindly to having the only other female superhero suggest they make cookies for the menfolk, and Green Lantern doesn't know how to take a white superhero calling him "a credit to [his] people."
    • At a cursory glance, the world the Justice Lords created might look like this. All the super villains are caught, Gotham City is actually clean, and crime has been so thoroughly eradicated that the local superheros are bored out of their minds. Of course, the saccharine side of things is really paper-thin, as it's no secret that the reason for all of this was because the Justice Lords went Knight Templar on the world and took to ruling it with an iron fist.
  • Adventure Time takes place in the Land Of Ooo, a Fantasy Kitchen Sink filled with brightness, colour, and a literal Sugar Bowl in the Candy Kingdom. Except that background elements imply (and Word of God states) that Ooo is actually After the End, the "Mushroom War" devastating the planet and turning the survivors into the vast array of creatures shown. In addition to hordes of Exclusively Evil monsters at every turn and especially horrifying things like Marceline's Dad and The Lich lurking around, Ooo isn't exactly a pleasant place to live. The characters seem geuninely happy about their world (except Ice King, but that's mostly due to him being The Sociopath who can't connect to anyone), but few of them are particularly intelligent, Finn included.
  • Jonny Quest, if one considers the Venture Brothers as an extended Canon (which it is, according to the Word of God). While Jonny as a boy was happy and content traveling the world and solving mysteries, the grown up Jonny in the Ventureverse is initially shown as highly neurotic due to the years as a boy adventurer, basically implying this to be the fate of all 10 year-old mystery solvers.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Ba Sing Se. A giant, bustling city that is efficient and pleasant to live in (at least for the middle and upper classes), but the world war with the Fire Nation is kept secret (even from the Earth King) and those who try to reveal the truth find themselves spirited away and brainwashed by the Dai Li (their Secret Police).

"There is no war in Ba Sing Se."

  • Superjail! is a show that brings this easily. Just pay attention to the locales Jailbot flies over and not think this world is an anus of hell.
  • In later seasons, SpongeBob SquarePants appears to have become this. Despite the happy setting of the series, this is a world where characters like Squidward and Ms. Puff are stuck to deal with Spongebob, Mr. Krabs is allowed to underpay his employees, treat them bad, and get away with it all, including attempting to drive Plankton to suicide. And yet Spongebob helps him get away with it all. Well, most of the time.
  • In ThunderCats (2011) this is quite deliberately employed as the premiere's opening minutes treat the viewer to a gorgeous aerial Epic Tracking Shot of a Shining City, the Catfolk kingdom of Thundera, while a soothing narrator tells of the kingdom's "peace and prosperity" and its ruler's "just heart." Less than a minute after the narrator finishes speaking, the camera tilts downward from a bright, painterly city vista to dark, miserable slums where "Alley Cats" are violently beating a hapless Dog.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls, the city of Townsville. It's frequently shown to be a friendly big city with people that are willing to help, but it's always attacked by monsters and is inhabited by all sorts of criminals and villains.
  • The bright and cheerful setting of My Little Pony makes it popular for Darker and Edgier fanworks. Apparently, the writers of the G1 series agreed, because damn if the ponies didn't set up shop right in the middle of snake's nest of evil. The first special had some kind of demon kidnapping ponies and turning them into dragons. The second had a catgirl sorceress try to make the ponies into her potion making slaves. The movie starred a group of witches that tried to kill the ponies and wreck the place, because it was getting too nice. Oh, and because it was a barren wasteland before the ponies moved in. The series would establish that no, that kind of thing is not an anomaly. After viewing a marathon of the series, one can be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that the ponies are a bunch of Stepford Smilers living as well as they can as an act of defiance to the world that they're stuck in.