Created By: KingZeal on June 17, 2013 Last Edited By: KingZeal on June 21, 2013

Sub Character Rivalry

An arch-rivalry where one or both are not Protagonist and Big Bad.

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Do We Have This One?
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Seen It a Million Times

In this trope, a strong interpersonal Conflict which is central to the story's Plot is held not between The Protagonist and the Big Bad, but between one or more characters that are lower in importance--such as The Dragon, the Number Two, or someone even less prominent.

Although this is less common than cases where the Hero and the villain are the main antagonists to each other, we've Seen It a Million Times nonetheless. This sort of plot device appears so often because it opens up several interesting situations.

When The Hero isn't the main belligerent, they'll usually join the adventure just to help out an ally and show just how dependable and loyal they are. Or, it can show the exact opposite traits in the hero, and showcase than an Anti-Hero is only in it for the money. In this scenario, a Noble Demon or Manipulative Bastard will say something like "My quarrel is not with you" to the Hero, or offer them better compensation than their client, to try to get the uninvolved hero stand down.

When the Big Bad isn't involved in the feud, they'll often berate the minion for bringing a pack of heroes breathing down his neck Sometimes, they'll even offer up the minion the Hero is after, if the heroes just agree to leave him alone. An Anti-Hero will often defeat the person they came for and then attempt to end their part right then and there, but more fettered heroes will accept that their higher calling isn't about revenge anymore.

When one or both belligerents are characters of little renown, this scenario is often used to flesh out a Flat Character, or to make someone seemingly unimportant into the Hero of Another Story, and prevent The Hero from being the center of the universe.

Also, it can create an element of uncertainty. Since one or both isn't a major character, you can't count on Plot Armor to save them. Further, when the villainous side isn't a major character, it can make the actual Big Bad seem that much more menacing or mysterious.

This is so common in series with Knight Errant heroes that those kinds of examples should be withheld.

It's also common in Fighting Games, and other genres with different selectable points of view.


[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
  • Used a lot in Naruto
    • Orochimaru, the first major Big Bad, is targeting Sasuke, the deuteragonist, not Naruto himself.
    • Itachi, the second major villain, is again the arch-enemy of Sasuke, although he is after Naruto too because he's a Living MacGuffin.
    • Tobi, the second major Big Bad, repeats the circumstance above; he has a grudge against Kakashi specifically, but is after Naruto because he's necessary to the Evil Plan.
    • Uchiha Madara, Tobi's partner in the Big Bad Duumvirate is really after Hashirama, the first Hokage, his best friend and mortal enemy.
  • In Dragon Ball:
    • Vegeta is the one with the vendetta against Frieza, not Goku, the hero. Until Frieza kills Goku's best friend.
    • Gohan mentions this while training to fight Cell. He's never seen Cell, so he can't get angry enough to activate Super Saiyan. Later still, when Gohan steps up to fight Cell himself, he can't activate Super Saiyan 2 because Cell hasn't made the fight personal enough yet. Then he kills Android 15.
  • In Bleach, Aizen calls this out on Ichigo. Ichigo has no reason to actually want to fight Aizen, because Aizen's done nothing to him personally (later chapters reveal that this is a lie), and it's actually Urahara Kisuke (and the Vizards) who really want to see Aizen dead.
  • Bossun from Sket Dance is the leader of the Sket-dan, while The Rival Tsubaki is the vice president of the student council. Subverted later when Tsubaki got promoted to president.
  • In Puella Magi Kazumi Magica, the Big Bad Kanna Hijiri, while also acting as an Evil Counterpart to Kazumi, actually hates Niko, one of Kazumi's comrades the most.

[[Folder: Live-Action Film]]
  • In Man of Steel, Colonel Hardy develops a rivalry with Faora, the Big Bad's Dragon. Because he is severely outmatched and not even a recognizable character from the Superman franchise, there is a greater sense of danger than the fight between the two marquee characters. The unequal power scale between them also demonstrates just how much of a Badass Hardy is, and allows Faora's warrior-like admiration for his courage to shine through.
  • In the 2009 Star Trek, Nero has a bone to pick not with Kirk, the star, but Spock, the deuteragonist. This allows Nero to pull of something like destroying planet Vulcan which probably wouldn't have happened if it was Kirk he was targeting.
  • In Payback, Porter has no real vendetta against the Outfit. He just wants to get his money...and kill Val Resnick...but mostly get his money. The outfit is pissed that Val made this guy their problem.


  • This is a critical mechanism in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The roiling feud between the Montagues and the Capulets was so pervasive that in the first act, their servants are hating on each other. It is this enmity between the two houses that compels the title characters to attempt their fateful ruse.


Community Feedback Replies: 11
  • June 18, 2013
  • June 18, 2013
    Who says that a rivalry has to be between a Hero and Big Bad that we need a separate trope for B-rank rivalries?
  • June 18, 2013
    Yeah i feel like this is already covered by The Rival and Arch Enemy. Just specificy who's a rival to who in the examples.
  • June 18, 2013
    That's not really feasible. I came up with the idea for this trope after watching Man Of Steel, which would make your solution problematic. Spoilers for those who haven't seen it.

    The film deliberately creates an animosity between Faora, Zod's Dragon, and Colonel Hardy, who's basically a nobody before the movie starts. Hardy is the first person to mouth off to Faora, he later gets enough respect from her that she chooses to give him an honorable death through a Knife Fight, she personally chooses to target him over other soldiers during the climax, and he's the one to ultimately defeat her at the end.

    Nothing in the story proper says that they're rivals or archenemies, but but it's clearly put into effect. What makes it problematic in my opinion is that if we expand "The Rival" or "Arch Enemy" to include a running confrontation between two characters, The Rival and Arch Enemy as they exist would lose all meaning. Would that mean Thanos and Shanna The She Devil are Arch Enemies because there's an entire arc about them battling? What about Magneto and Gambit, who are often shown fighting over Rogue?
  • June 18, 2013
    Can't you just say that Faora is The Rival of Hardy?

    If you look at the examples a lot of characters have multiple rivals in different contexts.

    And there are several rivalries between supporting characters and supporting antagonists too
  • June 18, 2013
    Again, you could, but like I said, that seems to me like there's a separate trope here with different meanings, such as implying that not everything in the story revolves around the protagonist of the Big Bad, or that the hero and the antagonist only crossed paths out of happenstance.

    I think this trope is as different as Official Couple is to Beta Couple.

  • June 18, 2013
    Beta Couple is usually a foil to the Official Couple, this Beta Rivalry just seems to exist whether or not it has any bearing on the Official Rivalry. or seems to be a secondary rivalry that someone in the Official rivalry can have on the side.

    I'm not denying the trope outright, i know what you're talking about.

    i'm just trying to make sure it's significantly distinguished from the existing rivalry tropes to merit a split.
  • June 18, 2013
    Of course. Opinions are welcome.

    I'd say that this has a similar sort of "foil" leanings, though I should probably make that clear in the description. Again using Man Of Steel as an example, the rivalry between Hardy and Faora is more poignant because he's not the star. He can die. And he's not a superhuman. That contrasts the fight between Superman and Zod, who are roughly on the same level of physical might--and Superman is the star, so we don't expect him to die.
  • June 19, 2013
    • This is a critical mechanism in William Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet. The roiling feud between the Montagues and the Capulets was so pervasive that in the first act, their servants are hating on each other. It is this enmity between the two houses that compels the title characters to attempt their fateful ruse.
  • June 20, 2013
    Live-Action TV

    Star Trek Voyager had a couple in-crew rivalries or enmities that were a major feature in some episodes: Chakotay and Tom Paris, and later B'elanna and Seven of Nine. These were generally personality clashes: Chakotay the orderly disciplinarian vs. Paris the snarky rebel; and McCoyish B'elanna vs. Spockish and Borg-mannered Seven.
  • June 21, 2013
    Compare Sitcom Archnemesis?

    • Manga/X1999 has supporting characters Subaru and Seishirou on opposing sides of the war to save/destroy the earth, wrapping up the Foe Yay-ridden rivalry they've had since the end of Tokyo Babylon.