Involuntary Shapeshifter

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"In the heat of composition I find that I have inadvertently assumed the form of a large centipede. I am accordingly dictating the rest to my secretary."

—A letter from Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters

A character possesses some manner of Shapeshifting ability, but is unable to control when their transformations from one form to another occur.

This can be classified into a few rough groups:

If the character can successfully identify and isolate the external stimulus they react to, they may be able to limit or control their exposure to it (for example, a Transformation Trinket containing the stimulus) and generally use it like a Voluntary Shapeshifter—although unlike the Voluntary Shapeshifter, they still risk unexpected transformations should they encounter the stimulus otherwise.

Sometimes, a character who has recently acquired Voluntary Shapeshifting abilities may need time to learn how to control their powers, and will go through a short phase of triggering their transformations unexpectedly or accidentally as they come to terms with their power.

If their transformations are specifically triggered by stress or anger, the character may be Hulking Out.

Note that being an Involuntary Shapeshifter is a recurring character ability—the character is usually aware that they have such power and just lack the ability to control it—the ability must not be confused with any of the following, superficially similar shapeshifting subjects or transformation topics:

  • Baleful Polymorph: A magic spell, curse (disease, etc.) causes a non-shapeshifter to become transformed into something else. It may or may not work on an existing Voluntary Shapeshifter, depending on whether it also imposes a Shapeshifter Mode Lock.
  • Metamorphosis is a singular transformation event, often involuntary, but not a recurring ability.
  • A Type 2 Fisher Kingdom will cause all characters in its region to be physically transformed in some manner to match whatever Weirdness Censor the world forces upon them; the shapeshifting powers belong to the world itself, and not individual characters.

See also Animorphism, which itself can be voluntary or otherwise.

Examples of Involuntary Shapeshifter include:

Anime and Manga

  • The titular character from the one-shot 1989 OVA Baoh: The Visitor. Less a true shapeshifter than a being with amazing transformative abilities. While the protagonist, Ikurou Hashizawa, certaintly won't be winning any points for his looks any time soon (at least in his transformed state; in his Ordinary High School Student persona, he's not nearly so hideous) he is outfitted with a veritable arsenal of biological weapons and is nigh-indestructible. And perhaps most importantly, he seems to retain most if not all of his awareness and reasoning abilities even when transformed.
  • Urusei Yatsura has Rei, the green-haired space bishonen 99.9% of the female cast lusts after at one point...and his anger (jealousy)/excitement (food) - triggered transformation. Has to be seen to be believed.
  • Ranma ½: Ranma, Genma, and all the other Jusenkyo-cursed characters. As stated above this sometimes borders Voluntary Shapeshifting as hot and cold water are something that can be obtained fairly easily...but are also hard to avoid.
  • Most of the cast on Fruits Basket.
  • On Tokyo Mew Mew, Ichigo's cat ears and tail pop out whenever she's frightened or excited. This occurs most often in the presence of her love interest, but also inadvertently led to the discovery of the fourth Mew Mew.
  • In the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie, Utena and Shiori turn into cars, for reasons that only make sense if you read the plot as an allegory.
    • Nanami also turns into a cow (or at least thinks she does) in both the regular series and the movie.
  • Princess Tutu: Princess Kraehe's Transformation Sequence; her Secret Identity tries to deny Kraehe's existence, which only seems to increase her hold on the body.
    • Tutu's own transformation might be considered involuntary, too, as the behind-the-scenes author that "writes fate" at the beginning of the story calls her into being by speaking her name; however, she always agrees to it. What Ahiru doesn't agree to, though, is turning into a duck when she gets excited and having to cart her clothes to the nearest water source.
  • Young mermaids in Seto no Hanayome transform if splashed with water, making a water gun a viable weapon on one occasion. With enough practice and focus, one can (painfully) resist this effect.
  • Dragon Ball character Lunch (Launch in the American dub) changed personalities (and hairstyles) whenever she sneezed.
    • In Akira Toriyama's less famous work, Doctor Slump, Chinese immigrant Tsun Tsuku-tsun inexplicably turns into a tiger when he comes into contact with a girl.
    • The Oozaru, or "great ape" transformation on the full moon is essentially this for all Saiyans. The only way to stop an Oozaru rampage is to chop off the Saiyan's tail or blow up the moon. For Goku and Gohan, it's very much a curse, though other, more bloodthirsty Saiyans (such as pre-Namek Vegeta) use the transformation to their full advantage. This of course has something to do with the fact that they are apparently able to keep their minds while transformed and direct the brute power. Goku became fully animalistic while transformed with no memory of his actions in Oozaru form afterwards. Making him unaware that it was he who killed his grandfather.
  • Kanon has an animal to human one in Makoto.
    • Which gets revisited in Clannad with Shima, with all the Tear Jerking drama that comes with it.
  • Ren/Run in To LOVE-Ru. Ren transforms into Run (his female self) and back whenever he sneezes. Each of them has his/her own mind and can communicate with each other, but Run loves Rito and Ren loves Lala. Although Ren usually transforms because of an unexpected sneeze, Run tends to force herself to sneeze when one of her plans (usually to embarrass Lala in front of everyone) fails, making it a not-so-Involuntary Shapeshifting.
  • Much of the initial storyline of the manhwa The Bride of the Water God is moved by the fact that the eponymous Water God Habaek becomes a little boy during the day and only regains his true adult form at night.
  • Negi of Mahou Sensei Negima has been in the process of transforming into a demon ever since he started using magia Erebea; this transformation manifests if he loses control of his emotions. Once he found out, he decided that instead of trying to stop it, he should just complete the transformation and get it over with immediately.
  • In The Cat Returns, the Fisher Kingdom effect of the cat's world lingers on protagonist Haru; even after returning home, she still turns into a Catgirl whenever she's around the Baron.
  • This is done several times in Pokémon. Castform changes shape depending on the weather. In the Pokémon Special manga, Red's Eevee would "Evolve" every time he got near a Thunder, Fire, or Water stone, as a result of some genetic experimentation preformed on him by Team Rocket. (This stopped when he permanently evolved into an Espeon.) Also, Deoxys can change shape depending on what region it's in. In the manga, Team Rocket managed to find a way to emulate other regions so Deoxys could transform voluntarily. However, during a battle in Kanto, the stones that allowed it to transform into its Hoenn forms were destroyed while Deoxys was in its Hoenn form, which hurt Deoxys badly.
  • Saban's Adventures of the Little Mermaid saw the title character able to use a magic whistle to switch forms between human and mermaid, but she would revert back to a mermaid whenever she got wet. Cue the villains constantly dumping things on her at the most inopportune moments.
  • Protagonist Kate Menella from Love is in the Bag turns into a bag whenever she gets excited over something.
  • The five protagonists in Ame Nochi Hare will transform into girls whenever it rains.
  • Yayori from Neko De Gomen has little control over when she has cat ears and tail and when she doesn't.

Comic Books

  • Marvel's Bruce Banner is the poster child (and Trope Namer) for Hulking Out, due to his transformations being involuntarily triggered by anger or stress.
    • At a couple of different points he becomes more stable, either locked into a particular form for a stretch or able to take control over his emotions to the point that he can mostly suppress or evoke the change as desired.
  • Spider-Man is at times forced to battle The Lizard, a scientist and friend who periodically transforms into a lizard-like humanoid by way of the experimental regenerative treatment he tested on himself, usually triggered by extreme stress. In addition, Spidey himself has had trouble with more spider-like mutations.
  • Ghost Rider used to transform at night. After a while, he would transform whenever there was danger nearby, regardless of the time of day. But eventually, he became able to control it completely.
  • In Batman Gotham Adventures comic, The Creeper (Jack Ryder, who in the DCAU was transformed into the Creeper by Joker's laughing gas and toxic waste) is seen involuntarily transforming due to not using the medicine and a bit later mentioning that Creeper has gotten stronger and now only needs a rush of adrenaline to transform even under the medicine. (So he jumps out of the apartment building's window.)


  • The T-1000 from Terminator 2 suffers this after recovering from being frozen and shattered in the foundry. It's a series of deleted cutscenes showing the cyborg keep losing control of his colours and changing to the environment that he walks on.
  • Occurs in just about every incarnation of The Shaggy Dog.
  • Madison in Splash turns back into a mermaid whenever she gets wet, as demonstrated in the scene where the mad scientist Walter sprays her with a hose.
  • The Nutty Professor: Quite a lot happens in the '90s remake, especially at the end.
  • Ladyhawke, a story of two lovers. By day, she is a hawk. By night, he is a black wolf. And as long as a day is followed by night and a night is followed by day, they can never meet.
  • The title character of Woody Allen's film Zelig is so neurotically driven to to fit in with those around him that he physically transforms to become "just one of the crowd", and is able to spontaneously become morbidly obese or black as needed to not stand out.


  • In Animorphs', Rachel had an allergic reaction to a crocodile morph, and the book "The Reaction" dealt with her uncontrollable changes back and forth.
    • One book had Marco changing into hybrid morphs whenever he was stressed out. At the worst possible times. And some of them, like the Osprey/Lobster, couldn't even breathe.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, Nanny Ogg's cat, Greebo, is temporarily turned human. Afterwards, his morphic field remembers the shape and shifts back to it when under stress, much to Greebo's consternation. Also, in The Last Continent, the Librarian catches the flu and, again, because of a weakened morphic field, changes shape every time he sneezes.
  • In Katie MacAlister's Aisling-Grey-Series, Drake (Aisling's mate and dragon-in-human-form) shapeshifts only when he orgasms, otherwise he isn't able to willingly shapeshift anymore.
  • Sewer Jack of the Wild Cards series turns into a huge alligator under stress. His life has a lot of stress.
  • In Marie de France's lai Bisclavret, Bisclavret must change into a wolf every week, and can not change back without his clothing.
  • In the Chivalric Romance The Swan Children, the children are born (to a swan maiden) with chains about their necks. When these are removed, they turn into swans.
  • As werewolves, Wolfs of course transform at the full moon. However, if they become too distressed they will also transform then, which is a very painful process. The strain of it plus injuries sustained kills Wolf.
  • In JK Rowling's Harry Potter books, involuntary shapeshifting at the full moon is part and parcel of lycanthropy. It cannot be cured, but a Wolfsbane potion can be used to counteract The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body.
  • Played for laughs in Thorne Smith's screwball comedy novel The Stray Lamb (1929): T. Lawrence Lamb meets a little russet man who puts a spell on him that causes him to transform into different animals uncontrollably - first a horse, but also a seagull, a goldfish, a cat, a lion, a dog and a kangaroo.
  • A Torchwood spinoff novel reveals that this has happened to Torchwood employees so often in the past that they provide an informative pamphlet on what to do (last updated 1958). It notes that if you're capable of reading the pamphlet, you've already passed the biggest hurdle by not going utterly mad from the revelation or dying from incompatibility of nervous systems.
  • In Devon Monk's Dead Iron, Cedar's werewolfery is this. As opposed to the Baleful Polymorph his brother got.

Live Action TV

  • Galidor: The main character's special ability allows him to exchange his limbs with other beings, an ability which works properly a very small percentage of the time.
  • The British TV show Woof! was based around the premise of the main character unexpectedly turning into a dog at the most inconvenient moments, with the only warning being a suddenly itchy nose.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
    • Odo's race, the Changelings, cannot maintain solid forms for extended periods of time, with Odo himself having to occasionally return to his native liquid form, usually once per day. His main piece of furniture? A bucket to sleep in.
    • In one later season, Odo is locked into his humanoid form as a punishment for being the only Changeling to kill another Changeling. He got better.
    • In another he's the victim of a device that prevents him from shapeshifting while it's active, as a form of torture. What happens to him isn't pretty.
  • Fraggle Rock gives us Skinfred, a one-off Empathic Shapeshifter whose physical appearance changed depended on what other people thought about him; it's impressive how upbeat his personality was given this form of being Blessed with Suck. Red and Wembly like him, think he's very cute and friendly...and that he sports goofy pigtails. Ma Gorge does not like him, thinks he's creepy and scary for living in her flooded basement, and wonders if he's actually a giant, fanged, two-headed monster. Guess what happens next. (Skinfred: "Aw, I hate having to be a monster!")
  • Julia Jekyll and Harriet Hyde had this as the theme, the main character was a girl who uncontrollably turns into a furry yeti-like thing at inopportune moments.
  • H₂O: Just Add Water: The mermaid girls change forms when in contact with water.
  • In one episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, "The Undead", a witch named Lydia (who transforms into a bat in the movie), appears on the Satellite of Love. As she tries to deliver a scary speech to Mike and the 'Bots, she starts shapeshifting into all sorts of things, uncontrollably. "I've never been a football before!" She ends the segment stuck as a bottle of drain cleaner. The funniest one is when she very briefly shifts into Pearl Forrester, who looks very confused at her new surroundings.
  • Doctor Who – Time Lords can "regenerate" when dying, an Emergency Transformation that revives their body with a new life (and a new actor). It is unclear whether or not the regeneration process is voluntary or if it happens automatically; in one episode, the Master voluntarily refused to regenerate, choosing to let himself die.
    • Also, regeneration does not seem to be a particularly traumatic experience in Time Lord society, with its members casually congratulating each other on their new appearance. It's only the Doctor who seems to have a particularly tough time of it.

Mythology and Folklore

  • In European folklore, werewolves are not in control of their shapeshifting; it being an artifact of phases of the moon and/or the presence of certain plants (such as "Wolfsbane", aka Aconitum spp.). Well, there are two kinds of werewolves in European mythology - the merely cursed and the truly evil. The former indeed usually change under certain conditions (like the aforementioned full moon), while the latter deliberately turn themselves with evil witchcraft, which typically involves wearing fur of a wolf on their back.

Newspaper Comics

  • In Safe Havens it is established that although mermaids can generally shapeshift freely between mermaid, fish, and human forms, if a mermaid remains in human form for 12 hours they must spend their next 12 hours as a fish (and vice versa) to balance it out. This is a plot point for the mermaid Remora after she joins the (otherwise human) regular cast; in one event her personal Masquerade was nearly discovered when a basketball game ran into overtime and the team had to get her off the court before her transformation kicked in.

Video Games

  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Due to a Heroic Sacrifice from the first game, when Sora transforms into his "Drive" forms, it may occasionally "malfunction" and turn him into "Anti-Sora" (who looks very similar to a Heartless) instead in Kingdom Hearts II.
    • Also, Riku using Darkness changes his appearance to look like Ansem in Kingdom Hearts II. Why he's eventually able to stay Riku...well...That's what the MST3K Mantra was made for.
    • Riku only transforms into Xehanort's Heartless when tapping into his power. Riku himself isn't unskilled in the use of Darkness himself, he loses his new form only because the exploding Kingdom Hearts' power 'purified' him. Or something. Kingdom Hearts doesn't really make sense.
  • Vincent Valentine of Final Fantasy VII has this problem thanks to Hojo. He has varying degrees of control over it, although in Dirge of Cerberus, he can't control his Chaos transformation when the Protomateria is pulled out of his body.
  • Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan: Goro Okami wolfs out at the sight of round objects (Be it a bald head, eggs, a baseball, ear rings and eyes). He fears that this will freak out her date but in the end, she finds out and loves him even more.
  • Cave Story: During the closing credits, Sue and Itoh are returned to their human forms, only to revert back to their Mimiga forms when they sneeze. Whether or not this becomes a recurring problem is never explained.
  • Certain Pokémon in the videogames have the ability to change between various physical forms. The third-generation Pokémon "Castform", for example, changes its shape (and elemental type) depending on the current weather. (Castform also has the ability to control the weather). Giratina can only assume its serpentine Origin Form with the help of the Griseous Orb, and Shaymin can only transform into its Sky Form with a Gracidea flower in its possession.
  • In Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, the Prince acquires a "Dark Self" that takes over his body during times of extreme danger (though the player is still in control of the Prince), and can only change back if he touches water.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and Oblivion both have diseases that can turn your character into a vampire (or, in a Morrowind expansion, a werewolf.) After this happens, your character will constantly have to battle their own involuntary shapeshifting by drinking blood -- you normally look human, but spend long enough without feeding and everyone will recognize what you really are. Falls into the first variety for werewolves, and both the first and second for vampires if Oblivion is to be believed.
  • In the Jak and Daxter series (all games but the first), the titular character is infected with a substance called Dark Eco and transforms into a hulking, monstrous version of himself when sufficiently angry or distressed. He eventually learns to control it to some degree. The same thing happens to Daxter during Lost Frontier.

Web Comics

  • In Sluggy Freelance Aylee will occasionally have to wrap herself in a cocoon and emerge in a new form, though usually retaining a green skin tone and vaguely reptile/dragon like features. This was originally done because Aylee's first form was too close to the Xenomorphs from Alien to be copyright-friendly, but has since been used as an important plot point or simply an excuse for a gag.
  • Kieri, an angel in Slightly Damned, was cursed by a guardian and turned into a snow bunny (subsequently nicknamed "Snowy"). The curse is weak enough for her to generally control it, but she does regularly transform ("poing!") into her bunny form at inopportune moments, such as any time she gets excited, suddenly startled, or starts having a sneezing fit.
  • The changes in Jules from The Key to Her Heart are controlled by his/her emotional state, over which he's learned meticulous control; except, of course, when it's funny.
  • In El Goonish Shive, there are multiple examples. Elliot, for example, has shapeshifting Gender Bender powers, but he's at a stage where his body doesn't know its limits, so basically, he needs to transform every day to burn off excess magical energy, or else it'll overload at some inopportune moment, causing him to involuntarily transform with barely any warning.
  • 8-Bit Theater: Red Mage has this happen to him late in the series. He randomly shifts between himself and a flowery...tentacled...thing... that resembled a monster the team had previously encountered.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • In the Evolution animated series, as a result of him volunteering as a human guinea pig for finding a cure against the Genus, Wayne Grey undergoes random mutations (including growing extra limbs, splitting into more copies of himself, or becoming animal-like in appearance) every time there is a high concentration of alien cells in the surroundings.
    • In one particular episode where the aliens grow out of control and briefly take over the whole world, he kicks into overdrive and explodes into a pink goo.
    • In the final episode, the whole team gets sent on the Moon. Makes you wonder what the hell a two-headed spacesuit was doing in a space shuttle.
  • Various Transformers have had occasions where they lose control of their transformations between robot and alternate modes. Most commonly, this happens when they're hit hard enough, or as a reflex when one is startled. Beast Wars was rather fond of the former.
  • American Dragon: Jake Long, Jake began to shift randomly from human to dragon, sometimes one body part at a time, in one episode. Application of "liquid plot" did this once, revealing his identity to his worst human enemy.
  • Early in Danny Phantom, Danny has trouble controlling his powers and would sometimes go partially ghost at random. Led to his pants falling down at one point, memorable for a line that followed later that episode. The beginning of the episode "Identity Crisis" really emphasized this with Danny's shape shifting abilities. Very amusing.
  • In the Teen Titans episode "The Beast Within", Beast Boy (who is normally a Voluntary Shapeshifter) has had occasional mishaps, such as a series of transformations that occurred during a sneezing fit from the common cold.
    • Or that one episode where Raven learned how to use her powers to force him to change into another creature against his will.
  • Beetlejuice, from both cartoon series of the same name, changed constantly based on any wordplay to be found in his dialogue, apparently by force of habit. In one episode, some of the bad guys he'd faced exploited this by tricking him into saying "I'm coming apart at the seams", and then scattering his body parts when he literally fell apart.
  • Similarly, Bonkers in one episode caught "literalitis", a disease which caused him to take the form of any idiom he heard.
    • In another episode his first partner, Detective Lucky Piquel, caught "toon flu" and turned into this little three-inch high character when he sneezed.
  • The main character of Turbo Teen would shapeshift into a talking car when his body temperature rose, always at inopportune times.
  • Darkwing Duck gets zapped with an experimental Transformation Ray in one episode, and gains the power to turn into anyone he looks at. Downside is, he can't turn it off.
    • And this was only one of many episodes of Darkwing Duck with this trope as the premise.
    • A Donald Duck comic story by Carl Barks once used a variation where Magica De Spell comes up with a concoction that, after having been sprayed onto somebody's face, would change the victim's face to that of anyone they look at. She naturally plans to use it to blackmail Scrooge to get his dime.
  • In the episode "Dexter's Date," Freakazoid! is zapped at a television station and cannot change back into Dexter Douglas, leaving his date waiting - and turning instead into random celebrities. (Fortunately, he turns into a blue Louis Armstrong just in time for his lines in the huge splashy "Hello Dolly" musical number parody. Don't ask.)
    • The weird part was he always had his own voice, except for the Louis Armstrong bit...
  • A TV series titled Monster By Mistake features a main character who is a young boy named Warren, Warren turns into a blue monster whenever he sneezes.
  • The episode of Batman: The Animated Series where Batman manages to guilt Clayface into doing this, by showing him clips of all the roles he's played in the past...and as Clayface remembers each one, he's turned into that character uncontrollably, until it literally turns into a type of torture: Clayface begging Batman to stop, but unable to until he's exhausted and supposedly capturable. It's debatable whether Batman was trying to get this reaction, since he'd already seen Clayface involuntarily start shifting into Batman upon their first meeting. His look of surprise suggests that he may not have expected such a strong reaction.
    • Though, given the way the episode ends, it's equally possible that Hagen was simply playing to his audience: Batman. He was an actor, after all....
  • In Project G.e.e.K.e.R., Geeker is a genetic shape-shifter who can't control his abilities; he sometimes collapses into a puddle when he panics; in one episode, he sleep-walked through the city for several nights—in Kaiju form.
  • Dingo of Sonic Underground had the ability of transforming into virtually any other object or person, though these were invariably orange in color. His transformations were completely under control...of his partner Sleet, that is, not himself.
  • Word of God has it that, in the Transformers metaseries, Primus, Unicron, and the Original 13 Transformers's bodies automatically change to fit the physics of whatever universal stream they enter (similar in effect to a Fisher Kingdom, but caused by themselves, not the universe they enter). Primus and Unicron stopped there, but the other 13 changed further to fit the specific idiosyncrasies of the local Transformers. For example, when The Fallen was in the G1 universe, he looked blocky, and in the live action movie universe he looks more thin, lithe, and pointy. Also, in G1 he was on fire, while in the movie universe, due to physics, he was merely glowing red-hot.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: During the last two seasons of the first cartoon, this began happening to the turtles themselves: at inopportune moments, they would transform into monstrous, mindless forms. At the same time, the turtles had made a new ally in Carter, who also suffered from his own kind of involuntary shapeshifting, albeit one in which he kept control of his faculties.
  • An episode of The Fairly OddParents had Cosmo shapeshifting against his will due to his "Fegiggly Gland" working wrong.
  • Chuck Jones' bizarre late-entry Looney Tunes "I was a Teenage Thumb" had a wizard with the hiccups who would transform into different random things with each 'hic' - a lamppost, a touring car, a hot-air balloon...
  • Kaeloo‍'‍s Mr. Cat is one of these, his transformations into random objects usually brought upon by Kaeloo beating the stuffing out of him.