Fourth Wall Observer

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Tell that to Deadpool.
"Pinkie Pie, Who knows the shows audience, and isn't afraid to address them represents the Element of: Fourth Wall Humor"

Abed: Shirley, would you like to spin off with me? I'm just riffing here, but maybe we could open a hair salon.

Shirley: I don't understand, Abed. Is this you being "meta"?

The Fourth Wall can be a fragile thing, but some are more fragile than others. Oft times, it stands just outside the sight of the characters, completely unnoticed, even though we all know it's there. But sometimes, even when everyone else can't see, there's someone who notices that there happens to be a script, or that someone's watching him, or that they're living life on a set.

As you can probably guess, this trope is about that one guy in the group who knows his life takes place behind a tv screen, knows that he's being written by someone, or can see the little effects that happen all around him. Usually, his friends dismiss him as being completely off his rocker, though he probably is. If it's a villain, expect him to be Dangerously Genre Savvy.

Compare Meta Guy, who is the stage below this: completely Genre Savvy, but not necessarily knowledgeable of the Fourth Wall. Also compare Red Pill, Blue Pill.

Examples of Fourth Wall Observer include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Apparently, most main characters in Gokinjo Monogatari and Paradise Kiss. In Paradise Kiss, Yukari goes as far as to dispute the story summary with author Ai Yazawa.
  • Rosario + Vampire has Koe the bat, who narrates to the audience, as well as acting as a censor by flying between the camera and any inappropriate shots - no one knows who he keeps talking to all the time.
  • Love Hina: Has Mutsumi and Su doing this from time to time, For example:
    • Mutsumi talking to Naru about a letter from Keitaro

"Don't you remember…I told you about it just a few pages ago."

    • Su talking to Keitaro about his broke leg.

"Can't ya just put a band aid on it and make it better in the next scene like ya normally do?"

    • The anime only Kentaro. Originally The Rival, morphed into something of a personified Deus Ex Machina, who makes some comment about the narrative he points at the subtitles when Naru gets his name wrong.

"Well. I suppose that's all the screen time I'm getting this time."

  • Many tankobon volumes of manga (ie, any individual-series manga you'd pick up in a shop) have additional sketches or comments from the author between chapters. Some of these are just random blurbs of information about the author and what went on when making the series, others fall into this, bordering into No Fourth Wall territory. A particular set of examples in several of the tankoban volumes of Fruits Basket are single-panel reactions from characters stating their disdain at not being featured as prominently in that particular volume, with another talking about the one with the most focus, or whoever's on the cover. Some go as far as to have the characters actually holding the very book themselves.
  • In AnotherHOLiC, the ;;xxxHolic;; story written by Nisio Isin, Yuuko Ichihara says that something is "most vexexing". When Watanuki asks if she just stuttered, she replies "No. Merely a typo."
  • Jessie, James and Meowth in Pokémon, particularly in the English dub, frequently reference the writers, the artists, the audience, the half-hour time slot, and the fact that they're in a "cartoon"—and if they're in a movie, they're sure to appreciate being "on the big screen". None of the other characters seem to notice this.
    • Or do they?

Jessie: Prepare for trouble like you've never seen!
James: And make it double, we're on the big screen!
Ash: I'll have to catch this on video!
TR: GAH! (near-face fault)


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Deadpool of Marvel Comics is known for being able to see through the fourth wall and snap it in two if he wants to. The reasoning is because he's a very special kind of insane, which occasionally allows him to perceive things others cannot. From being able to see the yellow boxes that he thinks in, to referring to the last time he showed up by issue number, Deadpool's odd observations are even occasionally plot points; for example, Deadpool is unaffected by Marvel's recent massive retcon of the past twenty years of Spiderman's history, leaving some fans to speculate it was put there as an editorial escape plan if necessary.
    • Likewise She Hulk is known for knowing about the fourth wall. She has arguments with editors and artists, has at least one time used panels to win a fight or skip over boring parts of a story, and has complained about advertisements or used them to her advantage.
    • Unfortunately, with Marvel becoming Darker and Edgier by the minute, she's seen doing this less and less.
      • The current excuse for removing this aspect of her character is that She-Hulk is no longer aware of the fourth wall, and has forgotten all these instances of knowing about it. The times when she was, have been explained away as a "side-effect of her gamma-irradiation" which caused her to see things that may not have been there. Funny how this side effect seems to only affect her and not other gamma-irradiated folks like The Hulk...
      • Also, think about it a little bit; if She-Hulk knows about the Fourth Wall, doesn't that kind of make Deadpool less special? (Squirrel Girl below is okay; she's obscure enough not to form a problem)
      • According to some sources, she still has the ability but just lets Deadpool have fun with it instead.
    • There's also Squirrel Girl and her squirrels, Fun Personified.
      • When Deadpool and Squirrel Girl team up in a GLA special, the Fourth Wall doesn't so much break as slink away quietly with its tail between its legs. Rather than explain to her in detail what happened to her boyfriend Speedball, Deadpool just hands a copy of the relevant comic to Squirrel Girl and lets her read it.
    • Most of the characters written by Fabian Nicieza become Fourth Wall Observers during the recap pages. They are allowed to, because the recap pages are not in continuity (a clause even Deadpool is forced to follow).
      • Which doesn't prevent him from, in the story, wishing that the recap page were in continuity so he might have a clue about what the hell was going on.
        • Amazingly, these recap pages are in continuity for Squirrel Girl.
    • And of the Dangerously Genre Savvy villain category, there is the Purple Man (at least in his Alias appearences).
  • While The Joker is occasionally like this in normal comics as well, in the Emperor Joker storyline, where he gains 99% of Mr. Mxyzptlk's powers, he becomes one of these big time, occasionally making references to the comic and the industry, which the other characters usually ignore. Among the best of these that he did was sticking a "Why Didn't Anyone Call In To Save Me" sign on Jason Todd's skeleton (a reference to the fact that DC used a phone-in poll to decide whether he would live or die), and, faced with the fact that he couldn't erase Batman from existence due to his obsessions, yells at the artist to stop redrawing him.
    • Mxyzptlk himself is Fourth Wall Savvy. In a recent issue of Batman/Superman:

"I wanted you all to have a little more fun. And to sell a whole bunch of issues."
[offpanel Superman] "What?"
"Nothing."

  • In a Simpsons Comics Hallowe'en story, after multiple alien invasions and random people spending several panels ranting about conspiracy theories, Sideshow Bob turns up to tell the Truth—they're "all merely pen and ink creations trapped in a juvenile comic book!" He gets laughed at at first, but proves his case by pointing out the comic book panels and then forcing everyone to look at the reader.
  • The Incredible Hulk used to pal around with a group of super-powered do-gooders called The Pantheon. Except Paris wasn't quite the do-gooder they thought. In addition to causing outright chaos, he speaks to the reader, is aware when the end of the book is coming up and at one point, turns the book OFF. Creepy.
  • In issue 66 of Alpha Flight, Whitman Knapp becomes one of these for the length of the issue, treating the writer with sarcasm. It turns out to be a delusion created by the Dreamqueen.
  • Again with the Hulk. Rick Jones, long-time superhero sidekick, has developed 'comics awareness' as detailed in 'Captain Marvel #60'. He does not seem fully aware he is in a comic book, but he can clearly see the forest for the trees. Years of dealing with cosmic beings who can rewrite reality on a whim has made him the most genre-savvy of the entire Marvel Universe. He recognizes when it is time for the wacky adventures to stop for now. It's not perfect, mind, he accepts the comforting delusion that his wife had a pleasing lesbian affair due to telepathic influence, not because she was bi and the marriage was on the rocks.
  • Flint Dartson of A Loonatics Tale is renowned for constantly breaking the fourth wall. While he may not make it known to the other characters, he continually acts knowing that there is a script and author causing the events around them.
  • An interesting case in Supergod in which the Dajjal was talking out loud while the narrator was also making an Apocalyptic Log. Since he is The Omniscient, then he is probably aware of the fourth wall.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Genie from Disney's Aladdin is one of these; though his insights usually have more to do with real world events, celebrities, and popular characters than actually referencing the fourth wall, he still has the same effect on the other characters. The cartoon series discusses this at one point, where Aladdin explains to Jasmine that Genie is just referencing things that don't exist yet, and basically admits that he just ignores him when he does this.
  • Stranger Than Fiction is an interesting variation. The main character can hear the narrator and recognizes a sort of fourth wall, but the narrator is actually someone in his world whose writing dictates his life. In fact, they eventually meet.
  • In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the titular character adresses the audience.
  • The Graverobber, of Repo! The Genetic Opera, so very much. He speaks directly to the camera on multiple occasions, and even refers to the medium he's in during "Epilogue".
  • Boris Yelnikoff from Woody Allen´s Whatever Works
  • Paul in Funny Games
  • This trope's inverse is basically the plot of The Truman Show
  • In a Finnish comedy film from the Uuno Turhapuro series, a waiter has been tricked, by two alcoholics, into drinking a full bottle of vodka. Later, when a lady enters the restaurant, and listens to the waiter singing a song, she glances around, and declares with an enlightened face: "I see. This must be a Finnish movie. There's no other explanation for the presence of so many drunkards in one scene."
  • The titular character becomes this after returning to his fictional life at the end of Last Action Hero.
  • Mel Brooks plays this for laughs (of course), not that his films have much of a fourth wall left to observe. At one point in Blazing Saddles, for example, some characters go to a movie theater where they watch Blazing Saddles to find out what will happen to them next.
    • There's also a scene in Robin Hood: Men in Tights where all the characters consult the movie's script to resolve an issue in Robin's archery tournament. Fourth wall? What fourth wall?
    • And in Spaceballs, Helmet finds out where the heroes escaped to... by watching Spaceballs. This includes fast-forwarding past the embarrassing scenes that happened to the bad guys, and accidentally finding the scene where they are watching Spaceballs, causing a very confusing conversation about defining the concept of "now".
  • Deadpool in his 2016 feature film. He can even notice and comment on nested Flashbacks:

A fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break. That's like... sixteen walls!

Literature[edit | hide]

Susan: ...Do you think we might be in a children's book?
Ed: Of course we are, if you look down you can see the page numbers.

    • A similar thing happens with Bromosel in Bored of the Rings, after it has been foretold that he'll die sometime "around page eighty-eight." None of the others seem to understand this, but whenever they get into dangerous situations, Bromosel is mentioned as taking a quick glance at the page number.
  • One of the Reminiscences of Ijon Tichy from Memoirs of a Space Traveller by Stanislaw Lem is about a scientist that succeeds in creating sentient AI in the form of computer-generated phantoms living in a digital world. One of this beings is aware of how things are (or rather foreknows it), and is held by the others as a madman. It is suggested in the story that its characters may well be in the same situation.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In one of the later seasons of the X-Files a movie producer witnesses a skeleton assemble itself and walk/dance around the room. When talking about it later on he says: "It was either animatronics or CGI." For the record it was the latter.
  • Originally, Denny Crane was the only one who knew that Boston Legal was a TV show. In later seasons other characters, particularly Jerry Espenson, start to notice as well.
  • If Abed on Community had a job description (other than "student"), it would be "Fourth Wall Observer." He believes the world to be like TV, and because he's a character in a TV show, it is. He can even predict the future thanks to his knowledge of tropes. Heaven knows why he doesn't have a handle here.
    • Abed does break the Fourth Wall occasionally. In one episode opening skit, the other characters ask him if he can stop acting like everything is a TV show. His reply? "That's kind of my gimmick... but we did lean on that pretty hard last week, so I guess I can lay low for an episode." He has no further lines that episode. And, yes, the previous episode had been particularly Abed-heavy.
    • This gets even better when Jeff starts to understand Abed's way of thinking a little bit after some time, slightly becoming a Meta Guy himself. More frequently referring to 'seasons' and 'episodes' as well.
  • The Hi Def TV episode "'Til Death has the character Doug, who spends whatever screen time he has being the Fourth Wall Observer. He is suddenly fully aware of when the camera is on him, that their food is from brands that don't exist, convenient plot elements, censors, the laugh tracks, that all the rooms have only three walls and there is no such thing as a second floor. He is even unfortunate enough to catch a glimpse of one of the mics. Needless to say all the other characters think he's a little off his rocker.
  • Effy from Skins does this quite often, most noticeably in the final shot of the finale of series two.
  • Played with in The Muppet Show, which was sort of a Show Within a Show. The "outer" show's fourth wall remained largely intact, while Waldorf and Stadtler (aka "The two old guys in the balcony") were this to the "inner" show.
  • The eponymous character in Malcolm in the Middle turns to the Fourth Wall in the middle of scenes to talk about his Dysfunctional Family directly with the audience. No one else in the show seems to notice.
  • Made in Canada lead character Richard Strong would open every episode with a short rant about a topic that would turn out to be pivotal to the episode's plot and explain to the audience mid-episode where he stood with his own scheme amidst the stack of other zany schemes. The episode ends with either the winner looking to the camera and saying "I think that went well" or the loser saying "This is not good."
  • Lovejoy regularly speaks to the audience, usually to share a witty observation. No one else seems to notice or comment on this, though Lady Jane does giggle once when she overhears him.
  • One visitor in The Cube is a film critic who tells the man that he's just a character in a teleplay, and produces a TV to show him the ending.
  • Tracy Jordan on Thirty Rock when he's off his meds.

We're all on a Show Within a Show! My real name is Tracy Morgan!


Professional Wrestling[edit | hide]

  • WWE's Triple H holds the crown of fourth-wall breaking. From hinting at his Real Life marriage to Stephanie McMahon to cracking jokes about the referees, the sound crew, the cameramen, and how the Heel/Baby Face relationship works. Some of his more humorous examples are:
    • To an audience at a Raw taping: "And for the millions, who, five minutes ago, were watching at home. (crowd boos) Oh, come on! It's like, 11:08, guys, we're off the air!"
    • After a microphone malfunctions at a press conference: "Crack sound team we got here. Where'd you buy these things, Wal-Mart? I think we're gonna be auctioning them off later, you might wanna get a receipt."
    • To Shelton Benjamin, coming down the ramp during an episode of Smackdown: "Shelton man, stop right there. That's not how this works. See, I'm doing what we call a 'promo' (does air quotes). In this 'promo', I'm gonna stand here and talk about how I'm gonna beat you in our match. And then you're playing what we call a Heel, you've gotta wait till my back is turned and then sneak up on me. That's how this works."
    • To Vince McMahon off of Vince's outraged "What are you doing here?", after first waiting several minutes for the crowd to stop cheering: "I'm waiting for this pop to die down, man, did you hear that?"
  • The whole "Cm Punk will leave the company with the title" story has kind of turned punk into a fourth wall observer. Every story connected to it revolved around real life issues. Its very evident when punk had promos with Cena because theres an obvious contrast when Punk is talking about the stuff that make all the smarks cheer their heads off while Cena stays totally in character and treats Punk like the evil Heel

Video Games[edit | hide]

Kefka: After all, she's a - good ol' friend of mine!

  • The Scout in Team Fortress 2 refers to himself as a class, the battlefield as a map, and taunts people by telling them to Rage Quit.
    • The Sniper (who mentions respawning) and Soldier (who recognizes that his rockets are subject to random-chance Critical Hits) can also count.
  • The MLB: The Show series does an admirable job making its in-game presentation as if it were a TV broadcast, but occasionally, the commentators will break the fourth wall. During a cutscene of a frustrated pitcher, Rex Hudler will comment that "he's using words we can't use in the video game!". And if you get a generous call at the plate as the year's cover athlete, Dave Campbell will remark, "See, that's the kind of call you get when they put you on the cover on the game." Conversely, if Roy Halladay (opposing franchise MLB 2K11's cover boy) has a bad call go against him, Campbell will opine that Halladay would have gotten the call if he was on their cover.
  • In the Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Visual Novels, most of the cast seems to be able to read Keiichi's exact thoughts, with the excuse that his expressions are very easy to read. But then sometimes, they will somehow do it when he's in another room and has nothing to do with the current situation...
  • In Dead Rising 2, player character Chuck Greene, always says something relevant when you have him put on new clothes. Get him to Crossdresser, and he'll express discomfort, saying things like "Um...Seriously?", "Uh..." "If you say so..." and "I got a bad feeling about this." These seem to be his only moments.
  • Deadpool carries his Medium Awareness into video games with him. You fight him in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 because he declares that it's time for an "obligatory mini-boss fight". In Marvel vs. Capcom 3 he geeks out over meeting Street Fighter characters (and thinks that KOing them means he gets the cover of Street Fighter V), makes "Welcome to Die!" and "Curleh mustache" jokes upon seeing Magneto, criticizes Spencer's redesign, beats opponents with their own health bars, grabs the camera to address the player... long story short, he knows he's in a video game.

Deadpool: "Taunt Button!"

  • If a certain bartender in RuneScape is asked where a brave adventurer might find her or his fortune, he fears that giving away hints will make the 'computer game' too easy. One of the options on the resulting dialogue tree triggers an amusing conversation in which the bartender attempts to explain things by heavily breaking the fourth wall, only for the player character to give up and tell him that he is obviously mad.
  • In Max Payne, an unknown person turns Max into a Fourth Wall Observer. During one of Max's hallucinations on the drug V, he is told by an unknown person that he is in a graphic novel (what the cutscenes are presented as). He instantly relizes that his life is all fragmented still shots and the fact that he can see his thoughts and words hanging in thought/speech bubbles in the air. The same voice then tells him that he's in a computer game. Once again, he instantly sees "weapon statistics hanging in the air, endless repetition of the act of shooting, time slowing down to show off my moves, the feel that someone is controlling my every step."
  • Every World of Warcraft player character, and I'm not referring to chat and player controlled actions, eg "Not Enough Rage".

Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Cherry from RPG World is quasi-Fourth Wall Savvy. She keeps questioning the tropes of the game in which they exist.
  • Drowtales: Kiel "has an imaginary friend who just happens to be wherever the camera is."
  • In Order of the Stick, all of the characters show Medium Awareness and huge amounts of Genre Savvy, but Elan generally shows more than the rest, but not necessarily knowledge of the fourth wall more than the rest (as the characters consider the fourth wall more part of the sets of rules for their universe, and rarely ever directly break it as much as reference it). However, the Oracle does show complete omniscience in that regard, talking to the audience as well as the general Medium Awareness the characters show, and gets the same reactions as most of these examples, thus, he is one of these relative to the rest of the characters, even though the other characters show bits of No Fourth Wall themselves. This has extended as far as borrowing things from themselves in other places on the site, with the artwork for those places being contemporaneously updated to reflect the change.
    • Think of it this way: Most of the characters have a jackhammer with which to dig a hole (size varies with the character) through the Fourth Wall, through which they can look at and interact with our world. The Oracle? He gets an Earthmover, and is very well acquainted with the controls.
    • In particular, the demon roaches who are always loitering around can break the fourth wall at will, and do so at every possible opportunity.
  • Tea, the white-haired girl in Gunnerkrigg Court, appears in some between-chapter bonus pages to talk directly to the reader. Since author Tom Siddell has stated that all strips (except for the one in which he himself appears alongside Tea) are canon, it can be deduced that Tea has the power to see our world and know about her own world's true nature.
  • Just about every single character in Jayden and Crusader.
  • The four kids (and Karkat) from Homestuck each get a few pages after their introduction for fourth wall breaking, though after that they are stuck with an intact fourth wall for the rest of the story.
    • Jack Noir had a Fourth Wall, but someone stole it. The fourth wall eventually becomes a plot point.
    • And then there's Doc Scratch, who is perfectly aware of the readers thanks to being The Omniscient. He even pranks us and calls the author a fool.
  • Joel in Concession. In fact it was recently revealed that spiritual awareness involves knowledge of the fourth wall.
  • The protagonist of A Beginner's Guide to the End of the Universe is not a full-fledged Fourth Wall Observer who knows he's in a comic, but he's the only person in the world who is aware of the game mechanics of the RPG Mechanics Verse. All of the other characters just brush off his references to them as nonsense.
  • Penny from Out at Home behaves this way regularly, most recently here.
  • Erin from Dragon City pretty much knows it's there. The rest of her family is quasi-aware of it because she often gets in trouble for breaking the fourth wall, but for the most part, everyone else pretends they don't know.
  • In Keychain of Creation:
    • The Sidereal fate-ninja Nemen Yi dodges attacks by jumping between panels and utilizes skewed perspective to do things that should be impossible (such as slashing three people standing ten feet apart with a single strike). On one page she even breaks off part of the nearest frame and uses it as an Improvised Weapon, which other characters still cannot see. (In Exalted, Sidereals can see and manipulate Fate in a way no other human can.) However, she does not acknowledge the audience.
    • The Fair Folk take this to the next level: They're fully aware that they exist in a webcomic, and in fact attack the party solely because they wouldn't exist otherwise. They also operate the Fourth Wall Mail Slot, bringing letters to other characters who have no clue who sent them. Of course, the humans think they're insane. All this is perfect, because in Exalted The Fair Folk very much treat themselves, each other, and Creation as fiction and story-telling, and they've even been compared to role-players.
  • In Persona 4 TW, Teddy is this; it's more or less his new gimmick instead of Bear-puns and -kuma Verbal Tics. Hasn't started talking directly to the audience yet, though.
  • Everyone in the Mega Crossover fancomic Roommates (and persumably in its Spin-Off s Girls Next Door and Down the Street) has some level of Medium Awareness... But the Good Omens guys take the cake: They know the author, his/her phone number and according to author comments Crowley steals his/her beer.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Digeri Dingo from Taz-Mania. So very much.
  • Phineas and Ferb's Perry the Platypus frequently looks at the camera and sighs or rolls his eyes.
  • Garfield and Binky get this in one short on Garfield and Friends. Binky even frightens the cartoonist resulting in him and Garfield being drawn badly.
  • Sammy the Fish becomes one of these in an episode of the Canadian stop-motion series What It's Like Being Alone.
  • Some fans of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic suspect Pinkie Pie of being this. She gives a number of Aside Glances throughout the series, although Word of God chalks these up to animation errors. However, at the end of the pilot she asks the audience if they're as excited as she is about Twilight coming to live in Ponyville, and at the end of "Over A Barrel" she briefly holds open the Iris Out.
    • And in "A Friend in Deed", we get a look into Pinkie's mind (apparently her Friend-Making Checklist is made of felt in her head), only for her to hold up one of the felt-checks from her mind and grin at the audience. Probably one of the more blatant 4th wall-observing moments.
  • Greg Weisman had the idea that Puck in Gargoyles would be able to do this, but Executive Meddling prevented it.
  • In what has got to be a consolation for the above, in the Weisman-run The Spectacular Spider-Man, the Green Goblin was shown to see through the fourth wall on occasion, and in one instance of this, quotes/paraphrases lines from Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • In Batman the Brave And The Bold, Bat-Mite was turned into this in order to rescue him from the scrappy heap, giving him a refreshing spin on his usually annoying characterization that just doesn't fit with usual Batman fare. This eventually gets deconstructed. Bat Mite applies his reality warping powers in an attempt to force the show to jump the shark and get cancelled, allowing a darker cartoon to exist. When Ambush Bug points out that a Fourth Wall Observer wouldn't be welcome in that type of cartoon, Bat-Mite is forced into nonexistance.


Web Original[edit | hide]


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • John Carmack, in a similar vein to the X-Files example above, after decades of designing game engines, could apparently look at anything in real life and determine what type of CG technology was being used to render it.
    • Having computer graphics as a hobby has a similar effect, only the results are geared more towards being able to tell what primitives and texture components you'd need to recreate what you see in the computer.
  • Anyone who has a lucid dream. For those who don't know what they are, in a nutshell, they're dreams that you're aware they're dreams whilst having them. Exactly how aware you are of them being dreams vary, though.
    • Without enough awareness, you can take full control as a Reality Warper or will yourself awake.
  • In Real Life, there is a variant of paranoid schizophrenia now named "Truman syndrome", in which the patient believes that their lives are actually a television show. This may be the best and most controversial example of Defictionalization ever.
  • Religions are big on this. When it gets right down to it, prayer is begging the author for a happy ending.
  • Physics. Especially quantum physics, where the scientists observe how weird the underlying rules of reality can get.
  • Bill Hicks: "It's just a ride."