Needs More Examples, especially in the lit section. May need a better title. Rolling Updates. Will launch this weekend if no objections are raised.
This is a trope applying to the dynamics of groups of four. While the Four-Temperament Ensemble
seeks to classify members by their personality, this trope classifies members by their outlook, or life philosophy, especially as demonstrated when the Group is faced by a problem or challenge.
Keep in mind that this trope crops up in more character-driven works and will probably be absent from a work where the group of heroes are more cohesive or single-minded. That is to say, if there isn't much argument within the group, then they never have much chance to demonstrate the differing traits making up this trope.
The dynamics for this trope are very effective because it combines the best parts of a Red Oni, Blue Oni
(The Cynic vs. The Optimist) and a Power Trio
, (The Cynic (Ego)
- The Realist (Superego)
- The Optimist (Id)
) placing The Realist in between the two opposing views, along with a fourth member (The Apathetic) to contrast all of them at once, including a fourth dimension to the argument, and even the potential for a fifth to be conflicted over the issue, often resulting in a Three Plus Two
. All of this in a package that can even be coupled with the Four-Temperament Ensemble
for double the fun. This is some serious Cast Calculus
. Basically the trope is this:
- The Cynic
- Common Attributes: logic, practicality, criticism, Deadpan Snarker, hostility or antagonism, caution, prioritizes survival over other goals, skepticism, lacking compassion for people unwilling to make painful choices, disregard for social norms such as rules or politeness, questionable morality, book smart or street smart.
- Common Characterizations: The Spock, The Lancer, Anti-Hero, Knight in Sour Armor, The Snark Knight, The Rival, Only Sane Man
- Most common Perspective: Black And Black Morality
- The Optimist
- Common Attributes: Determination, loyalty to ideals, Honor Before Reason, morality or friendship over rules, self-sacrifice, feelings over facts, lack of forethought, disregard for consequences, stubbornness, optimism, blind faith, naivety, prioritizes 'the right thing' over survival.
- Common Characterizations: The McCoy, Idiot Hero, The Heart, The Pollyanna, The Determinator, The Messiah, Plucky Girl
- Most Common Perspective: Black and White Morality
- The Realist
- Common Attributes: Takes the middle ground or Take a Third Option, mediation, objectiveness, decisiveness, balance between the group's well-being and the goal, personal code, disciplinarian, calm or quiet, leadership, experience, adaptability, willingness to bend the rules.
- Common Characterizations: The Kirk, The Captain, The Aragorn, Team Mom / Team Dad, The Fettered, The Mentor
- Most Common Perspective: Black and Grey Morality
- The Apathetic
- Common Attributes: Aloof or busy, uninvolved or neutral, different background or culture from other characters, different goals or priorities than other characters, perhaps enigmatic and lacking apparent goals at all, mysterious, ambivalent or not invested in the outcome, just along for the ride, silly or crazy, inactive, observer, support member.
- Common Characterizations: The Quiet One, Non-Action Guy, Cloud Cuckoolander, The Smart Guy, Heroic Sociopath, Wild Card, Supporting Protagonist
- Most Common Perspective: Orange And Blue Morality
Occasionally the group will be joined by a fifth, called The Conflicted to make a Five-Man Band, or the The Conflicted will replace The Apathetic.
- The Conflicted
- Common Attributes:Indecisive and conflicted, changeable, doesn't have or voice strong opinions, empathy, prioritizes peace and cohesion among the group, appeasement, self-doubt, lack of confidence, fear, need for approval, dependent, blind trust of others.
- Common Characterizations: The Chick, Team Pet, Reluctant Warrior, Sad Clown, Hurting Hero, The Ingenue, The Eeyore
- Most Common Perspective: Grey and Grey Morality
A variation on this trope involves there being a group of four with a Cynic and an Optimist who are always as such, but the remaining two members trade between being the Realist, Apathetic or Conflicted roles, or do away with two of the roles, simply having them share the same role, with one being the main holder and the other in a supporting role or crossed with aspects of the Apathetic.
It is possible to expand the group beyond four or five members using this trope as a template and fitting additional characters into each slot, portraying different parts of the role, four is simply the minimum to qualify for this trope. Beyond that the number of members is unimportant so long as a significant amount of the members are not Apathetic, in which case it pretty much defeats the purpose of the trope, which is group conflict. If only a small part of the group (such as just the leader and his lancer) is ever involved in the conflict then it's not this trope, and probably a more job or role-oriented ensemble trope, such as Five-Man Band
, Six Student Clique
or Magnificent Seven
Example of this Trope in Action:
Situation: Our group is on an Adventure IN SPACE!
, when suddenly they get pelted with space debris, their propulsion system is destroyed and they realize they are on a collision coarse with a meteor with very little maneuvering capabilities.
- The Cynic proposes they dump the ship and all their belongings and escape in space pods, even if it means leaving that urgently needed medicine they are transporting on board to be destroyed.
- The Optimist finds this idea appalling and insists that either they will fix the ship in time to get out of the way or what maneuvering capability they have will be enough, usually without any evidence to support this idea.
- The Realist goes over the pros and cons of the situation, calming down the argument to the point where actual decision making can happen. Eventually he chooses a side or proposes a third option everyone can live with. This may lead to acting on whatever plan he supports.
- The Apathetic may be a mechanic running about in the background, frantically trying to fix the propulsion systems with little time to think of anything else. Another portrayal is as an enigmatic passenger, watching the proceedings with bemusement, seemingly unaware of apathetic of the danger. Alternatively they are gathering up their things, hopping in an escape pod without consulting anyone and saying "It's been real guys, see ya." Then again, they might just be insane.
- The Conflicted, should there be one, will be on the verge of tears throughout the ordeal. They may be in the corner quietly worrying, wanting to to believe in The Optimist, but unable to stay strong when faced with everything that can go wrong. It might be that rather than distress over the situation, just as bad or worse is the way it has split the members of the group against each other. Conversely, they might just opt to scream "What are we going to do!?" in the background without contributing anything constructive.
Compare Cast Calculus
, Morality Kitchen Sink
, Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
, Four-Temperament Ensemble
, Four Element Ensemble
, Five-Man Band
Anime and Manga
- Black Lagoon: Revy as Cynic, Rock as Optimist, Dutch as Realist, Benny as Apathetic.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (Early episodes): Simon as Cynic, Kamina as Optimist, Yoko as Realist, Leeron as Apathetic.
- Later it becomes: Simon as Cynic, Nia as Optimist, Yoko as Realist, Leeron as Apathetic.
- At the beginning of season 2 is was: Rossiu as Cynic, Kittan was Optimist, Simon was Realist and Viral is Apathetic, then it turned into Gimy as Cynic, Simon/Kittan as Optimist, Leeron/Yoko as Realist and Lordgenome as Apathetic. Maybe.
- Naruto: Sasuke as Cynic, Naruto as Optimist, Kakashi as Realist, Sakura as Apathetic.
- A later incarnation of the team, is Sai as Cynic, Naruto as Optimist, Yamato/Kakashi as joint Realists and Sakura showing definite Conflicted tendencies.
- Other teams get in on it too
- Squad 8: Shino as Cynic, Kiba as Optimist, Kurenai as Realist, Hinata as Apathetic,
- Squad 10: Shikamaru as Stoic, Ino as Optimist, Asuma as Realist and Choji as Conflicted or another Realist
- Team Gai: Neji as Cynic, Lee as Optimist, Gai as Realist and Ten Ten as Apathetic.
- Team Kakashi Gaiden: Kakashi as Cynic, Obito as Optimist, Minato as Realist, Rin as Conflicted.
- Trigun: Wolfwood as Cynic, Vash as Idealist, Meryl as Realist, Milly as Apathetic or Conflicted.
- Dragon Ball Z (Namek Saga): Bulma as Cynic, Gohan as Optimist, Krillan as Realist, Vegeta as Apathetic.
- (Cell Saga): Android 18 is Cynic, Goku is Idealist, Android 16/Future Trunks are Realists, Vegeta is apathetic, and you can sneak Krillin in there as Conflicted.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Kyoko/Mami Tomoe (timeline 3) as Cynic, Madoka/Sayaka as Idealist, Homura Akemi as Realist, Kyuube as apathetic.
- Princess Tutu, Krahe as Cynic, Princess Tutu as Optimist, Fakir as Realist, Drosselmeyer as Apathetic
- Cowboy Bebop: Spike as Cynic, Faye as Optimist, Jet as Realist, Ed as Apathetic.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Roy as Cynic, Ed as Optimist, Riza as Realist, Al and Winry as Conflicted.
- One Piece: right at the beginning when there were only 4 members, it was Uusopp as Cynic, Luffy as Optimist, Zoro as Realist, Nami as Apathetic.
- Digimon, Adventure 2: TK as the Cynic, Davis as the Optimist, Kari as the Realist, Yoli and Cody rotate between Apathetic and Conflicted, and Ken checks in as the Apathetic until he joins the team and becomes a second Realist.
- Lucky Star: Tsukasa (Optimist), Kagami (Cynic), Miyuki (Realist) and Konata (Apathetic).
- Bakemonogatari: Araragi (Optimist), Senjogahara (Cynic), Oshino (Realist), Kanbaru (Apathetic) and Hanekawa (Conflicted, but goes Cynical when she becomes black!Hanekawa).
- D.Gray-Man's four main characters: Allen (Optimist), Kanda (Cynic), Lenalee (Realist), Lavi (Apathetic, or at least tries to be)
- Empowered: Emp (Optimist), Ninjette (Cynic), Thugboy (Realist) and Caged Demonwolf (Apathetic). Sistah Spooky probably counts as a second Cynic.
- Circle of Magic: Tris as Cynic, Sandry as Optimist, Briar as Realist, Daja as Apathetic.
- Lonely Werewolf Girl: Daniel (Cynic), Moonglow (Realist), Vex (Optimist) and Kalix (Apathetic).
- Beauty and Delicious (co-Optimists), Dominil (Cynic), Thrix (Realist) and Malveria (Apathetic).
- Everworld - Jalil as the cynic, April as the optimist, David as the realist, Christopher as the conflicted, Senna as something of the apathetic.
- Inception: Cobb as Cynic, Ariadne as Optimist, Arthur as Realist, Eames as Apathetic, Yusef as second Apathetic by default of he's barely part of the group, and Saito is more of a Sixth Ranger than anything else.
- Babylon 5: Ivanova is the Cynic; Dr. Franklin is the Optimist; Garibaldi is the Realist; Sheridan is the Conflicted. Marcus is the Apathetic.
- Alternatively Marcus is the Optimist and Franklin is the Apathetic.
- House, M.D.: (Beginning of the show) House is the Cynic, Cameron is the Optimist, Foreman is the Realist, Chase is the Apathetic.
- The cast goes through some changes to the point that it doesn't fit this trope but in the sixth season it picks back up with House as the Cynic, Masters as the Optimist, Foreman as the Realist, Chase as the Apathetic and Taub as the Conflicted.
- iCarly: Sam is The Cynic, Carly The Optimist, Freddie the Realist, Spencer the Apathetic
- Victorious: Before Tori shows up, Jade is The Cynic, Cat The Optimist, Robbie the Realist, and Beck and Andre share the Apathetic role.
- Firefly: Original crew is Jayne as the Cynic, Inara as Optimist, Mal as Realist, Zoe as supporting Realist, Wash as Apathetic and Kaylee as Conflicted. Later Simon becomes another Optimist, Book becomes another Realist, and River another Apathetic.
- Star Trek Voyager:This probably applies to the rest of Star Trek shows. While there are obviously more than four or five characters, the overlapped roles have characters that fall under different aspects of each role. For example, Tuvok is the coldly-logical Cynic, Paris is the street smart Cynic and Torres embodies raw hostility.
- Cynic: Tuvok, Paris, Torres
- Optimist: Neelix
- Realist: Janeway, The Doctor
- Apathetic: Chakotay, Seven
- Conflicted: Kim, Kes
- Fringe: Peter is the Cynic, Walter is the Optimist, Olivia is the Realist and Astrid is the Apathetic.
- Gears of War 2: Marcus as Cynic, Domin Santiago/Cole the train as Optimist, Baird as Realist, Dizzy as Apathetic
- Final Fantasy XIII: Hope as Cynic, Snow as Optimist, Lightning as the Realist, Fang as the Apathetic, Vanille and Sazh as Conflicted.
- Half-Life 2: Barney Calhoun as Cynic, Alyx Vance as Optimist, Dr Kleiner as Realist, Dr Mossman as Apathetic.
- Legend of Dragoon. Dart is the Realist, Lavitz is the Optimist, Rose is the Cynic, Shana is the Conflicted. Haschel later joins as the Apathetic. This setup holds from the time Rose joins all the way until Dragoon's It Was His Sled moment happens, where it transitions into a proper Five-Man Band.
- Gargoyles: Demona as Cynic, Goliath as Optimist, Eliza Maza as Realist, Xanatos as Apathetic
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- Season 1: Sokka as Cynic, Katara as Optimist, Aang as Realist (seems weird I know, but he's actually the mediator most of the time while the siblings argue, and Katara is so obviously The McCoy), Zuko or Momo/Appa as Apathetic
- Season 2: Toph as Cynic, Katara as Optimist, Aang as Realist, Sokka as Apathetic or a milder Realist.
- Dark version which fits it even better: Zuko as Cynic, Ty Lee as Optimist, Azula as Realist, Mai as Apathetic
- Season 3: Turns into a Five-Man Band, doesn't fit right.
- Young Justice: At the beginning when there were only 4 members, it was Speedy as Cynic, Kid Flash as Optimist, Calder as Realist, Robin as Apathetic. Later, when Speedy left and Superboy joined them, he replaced Speedy as the Cynic and Me'gann came in as the Conflicted.
- In 8-Bit Theater, Black Mage as Cynic, Fighter as Optimist (because he is so child like and optimistic and contrasts black mage, they even came in together at the start of the story), and then Red Mage and Thief are both Apathetic, because Red Mage only cares about stats and Thief only cares about money, neither of them are interested in getting between Black mage and Fighter, though Red Mage does have some Realist and Leadership tendencies of thinking up plans and trying to actually get the group to complete missions and what not.
- Homestuck: John (Optimist), Rose (Cynic), Dave (Realist) and Jade (initially a second Optimist, but quickly becomes conflicted).
- The four patron trolls: Kanaya (Optimist), Terezi (Cynic), Karkat (Realist) and Vriska (Apathetic).
- The Midnight Crew: Spades Slick (Cynic), Diamonds Droog (Realist), Clubs Deuce (Optimist) and Hearts Boxcar (apathetic).