Zero-Approval Gambit

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Bruce Wayne: People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do?
Alfred: Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They'll hate you for it, but that's the point of Batman. He can be the outcast. He can make the choice no one else can make: the right choice.


Sometimes to make a Heroic Sacrifice, a hero needn't die. Sometimes he must sacrifice something else... his good name, his reputation and his integrity.

A character attempting a Zero-Approval Gambit will deliberately paint himself in a bad light in order to achieve some greater good. This might involve falsely confessing to a crime he didn't commit, or it might involve him being an enormous Jerkass contrary to his usual nature. The net result is that he will be hated, hunted or disgraced for all time. In short, he willingly becomes a Hero with Bad Publicity. Note that this isn't a short-term trick. A Zero-Approval Gambit is usually permanent or takes a huge amount of work to undo.

This is an inverse of Villain with Good Publicity; compare Good Is Not Nice, Necessarily Evil, Noble Demon, What the Hell, Hero? Can result in a Hero with an F In Good or a 0% Approval Rating (in fact, this can be the cornerstone of the entire gambit). Sometimes done to facilitate a Genghis Gambit. Most of the time it involves becoming a Silent Scapegoat.

Examples of Zero-Approval Gambit include:

Anime and Manga

  • Uchiha Itachi from Naruto and Naruto: Shippuuden. Probably the most intense example available, since it involved him killing his family,made him a wanted mass murderer in the eyes of the whole world and made his brother hate him so intensely that Sasuke chased him for years just to kill him,all so that the world could know peace. Also because he had to adopt the mask of an Akatsuki member for years, something he hated, just to keep up the act and continue to be of use to Konoha by keeping the Akatsuki away from the village.
  • In Code Geass, Lelouch sets himself up as the functional emperor of the world and runs Britannia with an iron fist. He does this in order to unite the world against a single, common enemy, i.e. himself. Once this is accomplished, he has Suzaku assume the identity of Zero. He then orders Suzaku to assassinate him in public in the guise of Zero, thus causing the world to rally behind its hero and eliminating the last source of hatred on earth. It worked. Bonus points for being an accidental pun on this trope.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima sees Arika attempt this to create an everlasting peace in Mudus Magicus; she was made out to be the instigator of the war, choosing to accept this (they were going to execute her). Nagi ultimately saved her, but made it look like the execution succeeded.
    • Well, she didn't exactly attempt it so much as "If I'm going to be blamed and executed for the war, I might as well go along with it so my death can accomplish something useful."
    • The TRUE source of all the Badass in Negi's DNA.
  • Taiga's run for Student Council President in Toradora! was essentially this. Declaring that if elected she'd essentially be an Evil High School Overlord was part of a plan to get the reluctant Kitamura to step up to the plate.
  • Jintetsu of Kurogane does this almost compulsively, since he thinks so little of himself. The most prominent example is when he doesn't tell Makoto who really ruined her family (her adopted "father", Renji). This leads her to continue to believe he (Jintetsu) had done it, thus allowing her to maintain her fond memories of Renji.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Roy Mustang did this when he enacted a plan to make it appear that he burned Maria Ross to death (it was actually a fake cadaver, and Ross was being sneaked out of the country). Ross was under arrest for the murder of Maes Hughes and was to be executed, so Mustang saved her life]while making it appear to the higher ups that his desire for vengeance was quenched. All the while, Ross's friends and family continue to think she's dead, making Mustang a bloodthirsty murderer in their eyes (at least until they learn the truth).
  • Anthy from Shoujo Kakumei Utena combines this trope with The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask. It turns out she's an ancient Goddess-Princess who watched her brother, the God-Prince, being blamed for all the evil on earth. As a child, she decided to take the blame and let herself be punished by the world for all eternity. She subsequently spends the entire series serene and calm, while suffering the anguish and hatred of the entire world... because her brother coped by becoming evil instead. Eventually subverted when it turns out that none of it was necessary, and all it took for her to change her situation is to overcome her fear of change and simply walk away.
  • In the Edolas arc of Fairy Tail, Prince Mystogan wanted to paint himself as the villain who made the magic go away (it actually was his fault) so that Pantherlily could kill him and be the hero who could reunite Edolas. Pantherlily wanted to do it the other way around. In the end, however, it is resolved when Natsu steps up as the Great Demon King Dragneel so no one has to die.
  • The Record of a Fallen Vampire. The humans and the vampire distrust each other. They distrust each other so much that there's a war just waiting to be launched, which would very likely destroy the world. Strauss' solution? Take on everyone's hate; both human, vampire, and dhampire, so that they will always have a common enemy to unite against, despite them STILL not liking each other. If that's not a Zero Approval Gambit, nothing is.
  • In Special A we discover that antagonist Yahiro Saiga pulled one of these years ago. Having discovered that one of Akira's friends was a Gold Digger who was only interested in using her for her money, Yahiro used his family's wealth and his own skill as a Manipulative Illegitimate child to force the girl to transfer. Akira discovered this, and rather than telling her why he did it, Yahiro let's her think of him as a monster and maintain her happy memories of her friendship. Flashforward a few years to the series, and Akira still hates him for what he did, as does Yahiro's ex-friend Kei, and most of the Special A class. He doesn't try to correct their image of him, and instead plays the villain until well into the series.
  • Gundam Wing has a two-person variation, where Zechs Merquise and Treize Khushrenada put themselves in charge of the militaries of the space colonies and Earth respectively and then start the biggest, most terrible war they can so the common man will finally realize War Is Hell and actually do something to prevent it. This is apparently somewhat subtle in the anime; the manga and novelization have Zechs come right out and admit to this trope.
  • Partially averted in Inazuma Eleven where in the fourth season, Inazuma Eleven GO, Gouenji Shuuya of all people turned heel and took on the name Ishido Shuuji in order to save soccer from Big Bad Senguuji Daigo. It is partially averted since quite a few people in-universe know he's actually Gouenji and vice-versa such that it doesn't hurt his reputation that much to anyone inside the Fourth Wall. In the end his gambit paid off and his position transitioned to the leadership of La Résistance leader and Big Good Hibiki Seigou, thereby ensuring the safety of soccer for everyone. Funnily, it was played straight with the fandom.


  • Booster Gold, who dooms himself to being seen as a fame-obsessed fool while he's saving the universe through time travel. Since his foes are also time travelers, hiding his true importance reduces the risk of being targeted for a Grandfather Paradox. For the same reasons, his mentor and son Rip Hunter carefully hides his entire identity from everyone.
  • On the inside, Batman is one of the most compassionate, good-hearted, and moral individuals on the face of the Earth. But hardly anyone has ever seen this side of him because he spends almost all his time cultivating a fearsome image and a gruff persona so that criminals will be afraid of him. The downside is that law-abiding members of society end up afraid of him too and other heroes think he's a jerk (if they aren't also afraid of him).
  • This is a reoccuring theme in Marvel Comics. Most heroes have gone through this at one point or another.
  • The Achille Talon story Le roi des zotres depends on this. The only other choice for ruler being a peace-loving beatnik, Achille sets out to look like a bloodthirsty madman channeling the worst dictators of history. Successfully pissing off every single age branch, social class and profession, he barely escapes with his life but the country is restored.

Fan Works

  • Explicitly stated in Fallout Equestria: Littlepip, having become the Wasteland's face of good, acknowledges the need to secure its safety and recovery, despite what the world - and her friends - might think of her.
    • Applies to Scootaloo as well.
  • This is, essentially, what the dwarven noble protagonist does in the opening chapters of Dragon Age: The Crown of Thorns, an elaborate Dragon Age Alternate Universe fanfiction which has six wardens, plus Alistair, as main cast, among other things.
  • In Armored Core: From the Ashes, Ghost may be doing this. Hopefully.
  • In the Pony POV Series, Princess Celestia is more than willing to use an alias to write unflattering tabloid articles about herself if it benefits the greater good in some way. The tabloids would demonize her anyway, at least this way they're doing it in a way that benefits somepony. In the finale of the Princess Gaia Arc, she writes such an article, painting herself as the real Big Bad of the Nightmare Whisper incident to spare Fluttershy from being demonized by the tabloids for something she will not and cannot ever repeat so the poor girl can move on. She even has her Day Guard make it seem like she's attempting to surpress the article so the conspiracy theorists will assume it's true and leave Fluttershy alone.


  • Bruce Wayne pulls one of these at the end of Batman Begins. Batman pulls an even bigger one at the end of The Dark Knight.
    • Harvey Dent manages a rare short-term version in The Dark Knight when he turns himself in as Batman, so that the Joker will come out of hiding and attack him, allowing the real Batman to do the same to the Joker. This works, and proves that Harvey's not Batman in the process, so that his reputation is restored.
  • In the movie version of Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan lets the world think he's gone on a murderous rampage, so they'd unite against him instead of killing each other.


  • Jaime "The Kingslayer" Lannister in G. R. R. Martin`s A Song of Ice and Fire broke his vows as a member of the Kingsguard and killed King Aerys the Mad, to prevent the total destruction of King`s Landing, which Aerys planned to burn down to spite his enemies as they breached the gates. For the entire series he is reviled and distrusted by nearly everyone he meets as a result, none of whom (except for Brienne, the only person he tells the story to,) know why he did it. In the end it seems he was too occupied with the political turmoil after the murder and hunting down Aerys' other alchemists to make a big deal out of it, and by the time things had calmed down it would have looked like he was just making excuses for the murder, which his pride would not allow.
  • In Stephen Donaldson's Mordant's Need, King Joyce exemplifies this trope. After spending the majority of his life building his kingdom from scratch (Including collecting every magician in the world into one place), he faces new threats in his old age. In response, he pretends to descend into senility, making everyone hate him and his regime. Because his enemies think that he's weak, they attack his kingdom at the same time (to get at the magicians.) His senility flushes out all opposition to his regime at the same time.
  • Explored from various angles in the original Ender's Game series, most explicitly with Admiral Lands of the Lusitania Fleet.
  • Jacen Solo in Legacy of the Force. Although in his case, he actually is being thoroughly evil, though his intentions are noble. Sort of.
    • And Corran Horn before him, who took the blame for the destruction of the garden paradise world of Ithor to spare the rest of Jedi Order.
  • The Dresden Files: In Turn Coat Warden Donald Morgan allows himself to be considered a traitor to A) prevent any blowback on the actual (mind-controlled) murderer, who he's in love with and B) prevent a civil war from breaking out in the White Council.
  • In Five Hundred Years After (part of the Khaavren Romances series), Adron's last words are: "Don't tell them that I meant well."
  • In the sixth book of the Harry Potter series, Severus Snape kills Albus Dumbledore. For the next year, he is reviled by all of his former friends and just about everybody in the wizarding world. At the end of the seventh book, it is revealed that he had arranged this with Dumbledore almost a year before, as a plot to save a student from the act and to let Dumbledore die with dignity, as well as to cement Voldemort's trust in him.
  • In the chronologically last of the Hornblower series, "Admiral Hornblower", Hornblower comes across a boat full of well-armed French revolutionaries out to spring Napoleon from St Helina. The only way he can foil it is to lie to them, and pledge his honour that Napoleon had died. Inverted, though, in that, as Hornblower is returning to port to hand in his resignation, he is met by another ship and informed that Napoleon had actually died.
  • In No More Dead Dogs, by Gordon Korman, Wallace does this at the end when he takes the blame for sabotaging the school play in order to protect the real culprit, Rachel's little brother.
  • The plot of Bad Prince Charlie centers around a scheme to have the throne of Damask taken by an unpopular ruler so that the neighboring kingdom of Noile can be seen as saviors when they conquer it, at which point the people who engineered the scheme get paid off and the 'tyrant' (Who doesn't care for his home country anyway) gets banished. The strange thing is that Charlie manages to make himself unpopular by being competent.
  • God-Emperor Leto II of Dune sets up such a gambit. To preserve humanity, he becomes, well, a tyrant for three and a half millennia, but his plan also necessitates his demise. Now, a god can't simply die or commit suicide, because that would not stop the worship of him; so he arranges things so that his own people would revolt and topple him by force.
  • Successfully done, kinda, in The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach: The Emperor, being immortal, spends several centuries making himself unpleasant while mounting an effective rebellion against himself in a disguise. All because he wants to die, and knows that if he just suicided without utterly destroying his image as a god-like being, his empire, that he ruled for over 200 000 years, would never be free of him. He even arranges for his unwilling killer never to reveal the truth, and for his desacrated corpse to be exhibited as an object of shame.

Live Action TV

  • In Sherlock, the plot of the season two finale is entirely about Moriarty's plan to discredit and eventually kill Sherlock Holmes.
  • In My Name Is Earl, Earl takes the blame for his ex-wife Joy so that she could take care of her children and husband.
  • Doctor Kelso has done this a number of times on Scrubs. He's not a hero, but he uses the staff's hatred for him to make them more efficient.
    • Cox once said he was wrong about a drug addict (he said the addict wasn't still taking drugs when he was) so Elliot wouldn't have her optimism crushed.
  • Because Captain Sobel in Band of Brothers is such a difficult officer, Easy Company ends up going to war better trained. He's pretty much hated for it the rest of his life.
    • However, this is debatable as the real Sobel was an actual Jerkass.
      • In the books, though they still greatly dislike Sobel, the men of Easy Company give him the respect he's due for their training. They hate him, but they know that without him, they likely wouldn't have survived.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Sins of the Father", Worf takes dis-commendation and shame on his family name for the good of the Empire, even though he knows the real villain was the father of the politically powerful Duras.
    • And in the episode "The Defector", a Romulan Admiral defects to the Federation to prevent a Romulan-Federation war.

Admiral Jarok: My daughter will grow up believing that her father is a traitor. But she will grow up.

    • In Deep Space Nine, Worf refuses to follow the High Council in a war against the Cardassians. They strip him of the family honor he worked so hard to get back.
  • Wesley's reasoning for stealing Conner in Angel is that, though he's betraying his friends and they'll hate him forever, he's saving Conner and sparing them the burden of knowing that Angel's prophesied to kill his son. Unfortunately, this decision's made after several sleepless weeks, which is perhaps the only justification for the mixture of Idiot Ball and We Could Have Avoided All This misunderstandings that follow.
  • The Doctor destroys Amy's faith in him to kill the Minotaur in "The God Complex." Looks like he's going to need a new companion .
    • The Seventh Doctor did the same thing to Ace in The Curse of Fenric, for similar reasons.
  • Perverted a bit in "Misfits" where Curtis needs break up with her ex without getting upset and triggering his time-warping guilt. Queue the awesome breakup montage.


  • In Wicked, Elphaba tells Glinda that no one can ever know the truth that she was only rebelling against an tyrannical Wizard.
  • A big theme in Into the Woods. The witch neatly sums it up:

"No, of course, what really matters is the blame. Somebody to blame. Fine! If that's the thing you enjoy, placing the blame, if that's the aim, give me the blame!"


Video Games

  • The Joy/Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is an example, although you don't find out until three-quarters of the way through the ending cutscene, long after you've won.
  • Yakuza has The Hero, Kazuma Kiryu, take the fall for his friend Akira at the beginning of the game.
  • One probably happens in the end of Metroid Fusion, when at the end of the game, Samus redirects the space station's orbit to impact SR-388, to ensure that the X parasites do not take over the galaxy. It's implied that the Federation does not like this, but by now you've seen that the Federation's been breeding Metroids (even Omega Metroids) for "various purposes", which means that they're starting to do the same kinds of things as the evil Space Pirates.And what makes it worse, Samus has the DNA of the Metroids and pretty much all of the (now extinct) SR-388 ecosystem, which means the Federation will probably want to get her for many reasons now.
  • In Final Fantasy III, the Dark Warriors are this trope combined with True Neutral. They've destroyed the overflow of light in the world to keep the balance, after which the world slowly started edging towards darkness instead. If they hadn't, the lack of balance would have caused the world to be destroyed - but in the meantime, they're known as the ones who ended the happiest era known on the planet.
    • Luckily, the majority of the people you talk to during the game actually seem to understand this.
    • No, the happiest era known on the planet was ended by the Flood of Light, which was rapidly destroying the world when the Dark Warriors showed up and saved the day. The Flood of Light was actually burning everything.
  • In Suikoden II, Riou, Jowy and Nanami's old master, Genkaku, had to duel with his best friend from another country in a final match between champions to end the war. He finds out his own king poisoned his sword, and once the duel begins he refuses to attack, after which he is banned from his country as a traitor to go live in the other country he was previously at war with, where he is known as a coward.
  • In Mass Effect 2 Tali can pull one of these to exile herself from the fleet (and destroy her reputation) to save her father's.
    • Admiral Hackett basically tells Shepard that s/he's going to have to pull one to prevent a human-batarian war after you slowed the Reaper invasion by destroying a colony of 300,000 batarians. If you give a Renegade response at the end, he blatantly tells you that you're a convenient scapegoat.
  • This, combined with Gambit Pileup, aptly describe the (Anti-)Villains of Ar Tonelico 2. Your party even get to try to make people agree to your madman's scheme to drop a significant part of the Floating Continent to power-up a literal stairway to heavens in order to make real an ancient miracle that's proven to not work before. Oh, and there is a nice song playing when you drop the thing, too!
    • Subverted by Jakuri/Myuru, she never bothers with painting herself in good light. And she does Kick the Son of a Bitch several times in the story.
  • Touhou 8: Imperishable Night. Basically, your party cast a spell that makes the night never end in order to find the source of a potentially world-threatening magic that only appear at night. If they don't find the culprit at the time the sun is supposed to rise, the entire Gensokyo will gang-up on them. You Can't Get Away With Nothing either; the Barrier Maiden Reimu Hakurei and the guardian of humans Keine Kamishirasawa (oh, and Marisa) is out for your characters' head.
  • In Tales of the Abyss Van attempts mass genocide in order to guarantee everyone true freedom. Of course, this leads to a very negative opinion of him, as no one knows his true intentions.

Visual Novels

  • Miou in A Profile goes out of her way to get Masayuki to distrust her, but he won't do it.


Western Animation

  • The Question makes an assassination attempt against Lex Luthor in Justice League Unlimited, in order to prevent a seemingly unavoidable future in which Superman kills Luthor and the Justice League Jumps Off the Slippery Slope. He reasons that, since he's already considered a nutty Conspiracy Theorist by the public, his arrest and fall from grace will leave the rest of the Justice League relatively untarnished. (Of course, the show never allows heroic characters to kill human beings unless it's a Bad Future or a parallel universe, so Luthor kicks his ass.)
  • In The Simpsons episode "Separate Vocations", some bad guidance counseling Bart and Lisa end up swapping roles, with Bart becoming the goodie-two-shoes and Lisa the surly rebel. Lisa ends up stealing all the Teachers' Edition textbooks (crippling the school, since they don't know the material otherwise), and Bart is the one to find the books in her locker. In order to keep Lisa from destroying her future by getting expelled, Bart takes the blame, his recent good relationship with Principal Skinner softening the punishment to 600 days' worth of detention.
  • In the Tale Spin episode "Plunder And Lightning", Kit pretends to betray Baloo, Rebecca, and Molly to gain Don Karnage's trust and allow them to escape the air pirates.

Real Life

  • Napoleon Bonaparte once tricked a man who'd challenged him to a duel to meet him on the palace grounds... Where he was promptly arrested by Napoleon's men. Napoleon did this because his devotion was to France itself, not to his own personal honor and glory.
  • Often a strategy employed by coaches or trainers of sports teams: the goal is to force teammates to put aside whatever personal differences they might have by subjecting them to a Training from Hell, thus bonding over their mutual hatred for the guy putting them through it. This strategy worked so well for Herb Brooks while training the 1980 US Olympic hockey team that they took the gold medal against very long odds, and to this day members of that team still speak of Brooks as the most brutal coach they've ever had.
    • This is also used in the military, except in the military going through hell continues as they do their job.


  • This has always been part of The Green Hornet; he uses his position as a supposed "bad guy" to get villains to trust him when he offers his services and to intimidate friends and foes alike (sometimes intending them to betray him!). This has remained consistent from the radio serials through the TV show and the 2011 movie.