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Ambiguous Innocence

"All things truly wicked start from an innocence."

Ah, Innocence is grand. Likely related to the story of the Garden of Eden is an understanding that rather than always meaning goodness, innocence may also entail the absence of a sense of right and wrong, making it closer to amorality. This understanding is sometimes applied to the Psychopathic Manchild. Children Are Innocent sometimes carries the implications of this as well. This may be invoked as the explanation for how someone who Used to Be a Sweet Kid could still go horribly wrong.

On the other hand, the villain may often assume this, and that all good characters are really naive — if they understood things, they would be as evil as he is.

Compare Pure Is Not Good and Virginity Makes You Stupid. The related idea of the "Fall" being a good thing is very common (perhaps even required) in works where God Is Evil and/or Satan Is Good. See also Ignorance Is Bliss, Kids Are Cruel. Obliviously Evil is related. If a character comes off as ambiguously innocent not because of the inherent amorality of innocence but because the writers can't remember how grown-up the character is supposed to be, it's Ping Pong Naďveté.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Sensui from YuYu Hakusho has the same sort of thing going for him, although it's played off a bit differently. A devout Demon-Hunter from childhood, with a moral-code so rigid that watching a group of humans raping, torturing and murdering dozens of innocent-and-helpless demons shattered his mind into seven personalities and set all of him off on a genocidal fit of raging misanthropy.
  • This is exactly what made Majin Buu in Dragon Ball Z so dangerous. He thought like a child; all he did was a game, including murdering almost everyone on the planet. As soon as someone managed to get close enough to him to explain that what he was doing was wrong, though, he pulled the plug immediately.
    • Before he grew up into the messiah we know, Goku was much more willing to kill possibly because of this.
  • Explored in Neon Genesis Evangelion with Kaworu, particularly in the manga. Sadamoto had Twain's Mysterious Stranger in mind when plotting out his character, resulting in what some fans call 'Evil Manga Kaworu'.
    • Most notably, he snaps a stray kitten's neck, reasoning that it was faster and more merciful than letting it starve to death. It takes several panels for the cat to die and the cat is clearly in pain the entire time. We also get a shot of Shinji's horrified face.
  • In Keroro Gunsou, when Fuyuki was younger his dream was... to rule the world. Also, visiting Keronian kids Chiroro and Karara cause all kinds of trouble when they try to conquer Pokopen themselves.
    Narration: "That innocence is what's scary." Was Natsumi right?
  • The episode of Cowboy Bebop "Pierrot le Fou" explores this, though not with a child. Instead, the "innocent" in question is the (adult) superhuman assassin named Mad Pierrot, who has the mind of a toddler and, as a result, is incredibly sadistic. He's also deathly afraid of cats, and breaks down crying for his mother after taking a minor wound for a thrown knife, having been protected from higher energy projectiles previously.
  • Mao of Code Geass also has a form of this, since he grew up into a Psychopathic Manchild.
  • Virgin Ripper: Nagi, a kitten who became a humanoid shinigami after he died but has since been traumatized into amnesia still has his soul-reaping claws (sword-blades on his hands a la Capt. Kuro). He loves his "mama" and won't hesitate to "make squishy" anyone who hurts her, including a pair of Hansel and Gretal expys.
  • A recurring theme in Hunter × Hunter is that Gon doesn't judge people. Even when he should. He's forgiven or befriended a surprising number of serial killers. Just don't you dare let him catch you engaging in Moral Myopia...
  • This is one possible interpretation of Akito in Fruits Basket - he just made life hell for people because no one ever told him it was wrong.
  • Light Yagami of Death Note can come off this way; his Black and White Insanity and Lack of Empathy are often regarded as evidence of his immaturity and childish inability to understand the world around him or connect to others, thereby making his mass murder spree seem like an adequate way to spend his time. Light does admit that he understands killing people is a crime - he just never admits that it is wrong. It doesn't help that he can kill without seeing people die.
  • Ultimo, the Ultimate Good douji from Karakuridouji Ultimo is currently recovering from this; before he was even worse. An example: while in feudal Japan, bandit Yamato taught him that Aristocrats Are Evil and he took it seriously. Later on they met Spoiled Sweet princess Gekkou who was ready to renounce her royalty, marry Yamato and live for the common people; Ultimo killed her for the only reason of her being an noble, just as his master taught him. Yamato even lampshades it.
    Yamato: The good of children is evil for adults.

    Art 
  • The work of the Danish artist Julie Nord suggests this trope.

    Comic Books 
  • Lenore the Cute Little Dead Girl, the cheerful grave-dancing girl in the picture, is an innocent undead abomination who has a habit of accidentally killing all her pets. From her page: Lenore's actions often result in the death or injury to those around her, and in various forms of chaos, yet she is not a malicious character, and often thinks she is doing good.
  • A character (or rather, a Basanos Card) from Lucifer is called Innocence and takes the form of a young girl. She turns out to be pretty much out-and-out evil in the end.
  • Little Keiko travels with her "Uncle" Jei and later "Auntie" Inazuma, who call her "My Innocent" and slaughter everyone who they believe is evil, which thus far has been everyone (except Keiko and Inazuma, obviously). Considering that Jei thinks that Usagi Miyamoto isn't just evil but the evil he must slay to rejoin the gods, what the heck does that make Keiko? Word of God originally wanted Keiko to be Jei's next host, but that seemed a little excessive to make a child that evil. Maybe in a few years...

    Fairy Tales 

    Film 
  • One possible interpretation of the character of Lily from Legend is this. Darkness goes out of his way to tell everyone how innocent she is, but in the first few minutes of the movie, we witness her lie and steal. Later, she takes to manipulating Darkness with terrifying ease.
    • The other explanation, naturally, is that it was never she who was innocent, but Jack.

    Literature 
  • The villain in the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Whose Body? is a sociopath who kills for the fun of it, and has a dream of returning people to the pre-Garden of Eden state by freeing them from guilt (and implicitly making them more like himself). Note, that Sayers was also a Christian writer.
  • C. S. Lewis explores this idea in the planet of Perelandra in the Space Trilogy which was without original sin. In an aversion, it wasn't depicted as a bad thing. The entire plot of Perelandra is the hero's efforts to prevent the Adam and Eve figures of the planet from committing their own Original Sin, and his success in doing so is presented as cause for celebration.
  • Like C.S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury also explored the idea of an entire species of innocents, in "The Fire Balloons". It is about a human missionary who wants to save the Martians' souls. He eventually discovers that their souls do not need saving. This is not presented as making the Martians bad so much as making humanity tragic because we are comparatively destined to sinfulness.
  • A Case of Conscience explores a theme similar to the two examples above, with a twist. It is a science fiction novel by James Blish in which a Jesuit Priest is part of the team that establishes contact with the first known sapient extraterrestrials. They have a working civilization, but no religion; they are completely without any concept of God, an afterlife, or the idea of sin. The story ambiguously suggests that they were created by Satan.
  • In J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, the defining traits of children and fairies (and Peter Pan especially) is that they are innocent and heartless. Peter himself is an especially poignant case: being stuck in childhood means that he cannot learn from his experiences—or even remember them. At the ending of the traditional stage play, when Wendy is starting to outgrow Neverland, she mentions that Tinkerbell is dead of old age (fairies don't live very long) and Peter asks, "Who's that?" Also note Peter's merriment and delight at killing pirates and Indians.
    • It's also mentioned that when there are too many Lost Boys, or they started growing up, Peter "thinned them out."
  • Several Terry Pratchett characters, including Mr Teatime and Banjo from Hogfather. And possibly Carrot.
  • A major point in His Dark Materials is that innocence is ignorance.
  • Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger discusses this in great detail (along with many other stereotypical beliefs about the concepts of good and evil).
  • The Howlers from Animorphs were a Tyke Bomb Super Soldier example of this. They were created by Crayak, the Bigger Bad of the series, for the sole purpose of rendering other species extinct. When Jake morphed one he expected violent rage and killing instinct. What he got instead was a sense of playfulness like a dolphin (note that dolphins are a good example of this in Real Life). Howlers are just a bunch of fun loving three year olds who believe their acts of genocide are harmless games and that their victims aren't real beyond their role in the game. This causes Jake to recall with shame the moment he laughed as a Howler fell to his death — he had gloated about killing a child.
    • Crayak works hard to enforce this innocence. The Howlers have a collective memory, and he ensures no memory of a Howler dying is included so the concept of death remains alien to them. They're eventually rendered useless to Crayak after witnessing a single moment of love between two humans.
  • The Great Gatsby: After Nick confronting Tom about what he did say to Wilson that made him to kill Gatsby and himself, Tom answers he accused Gatsby of running over Wilson’s wife with his car. Then Nick realizes Tom is sincerely incapable to understand why this is an evil act:
    I couldn't forgive him or like him but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made. . . .
    I shook hands with him; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child. Then he went into the jewelry store to buy a pearl necklace--or perhaps only a pair of cuff buttons—rid of my provincial squeamishness forever.
  • Dear God, Rhoda Penmark, in both the book and movie The Bad Seed.

    Live Action TV 
  • Samantha Who addresses something like this in the way she treats her amnesia, describing her new, "good" personality as a "clean slate" and asserting that she is not responsible for the actions she committed before this time. Also interesting is one episode titled "The Virgin", which applies to her in an unusual way- her amnesia has caused her to lose all memory of ever having sex.
  • River Tam has moments where she comes across like this, blended with Obliviously Evil. She's around seventeen and extremely intelligent, but behaves like a child most of the time because of the damage to her mind both psychological and physical. On top of that, she experiences a lot of Hallucinations and has certain "triggers" that set her off (for instance the Blue Sun logo and the "Fruit Oaty Bars" commercial), so often her perceptions don't match up with what's really happening in the first place. She does usually have a sense of right and wrong, but she's prone to sudden violence and also sometimes seems oblivious to social conventions.
    • It was discussed by the other characters on one occasion, after she casually shot a couple of armed gunmen with her eyes closed and even lightheartedly bragged about it, like she'd come in first at a game.
  • When Reid on Criminal Minds is kidnapped by a serial killer who only kills people when he has unambiguous proof that they are "sinners," Garcia says something hopeful about the idea that the killer might not hurt him, since he's "completely innocent." Morgan quite correctly points out that when you're dealing with real people, there's no such thing. Turns out he's right.
  • In an episode of the 1960's tv show "The Defenders" the father and son team of lawyers defend a man accused of murder who says he is innocent. As they rise to hear the verdict, the defendent turns to his lawyer and says "However it turns out, I want you to know I did it." the verdict is "Not Guilty" and the man walks out a free man

    Theater 
  • There's an idea in lots of plays with Wife Husbandry (i.e. Moliere's The School for Wives) that having an ignorant wife is not actually a good thing, as while they might be too ignorant to plan to cheat on you, they are also too ignorant to avoid being seduced. A good example of this idea is in the Flashman books with the title character's Brainless Beauty wife Elspeth. While he's a Handsome Lech and deliberately a scoundrel, she is likely (it's never completely revealed) a nymphomaniac and serial adulteress who as Flashman notes is equally amoral because of her stupidity.
    • Elspeth is so clueless that when Flashman first seduces her she actually asks him "Was that what the minister means by fornication?" Then again, it might just be Obfuscating Stupidity.

    Video Games 
  • Morrigan from Dragon Age: Origins, for a given value of "innocent". She knows little of the outside world, having lived all her life in the Kocari Wilds with occasional visits to civilization. Her cynicism and social Darwinism is largely the result of her upbringing by Flemeth.
  • Orpha in Eien no Aselia was raised to think of killing as a good thing. So she appears quite sadistic while completely unaware of how her behavior horrifies Yuuto. She wanted his approval and tried to get it the way she had been taught.
  • The amorality of innocence is one of the major themes of Remember11, and is the foundation of one of its major twists: there is one more person involved in Satoru and Kokoro's "Freaky Friday" Flip predicament - one of Utsumi's unborn twins, who killed Enomoto (and slashed his corpse with a knife as if it was a crayon) and wrecked the living room at SPHIA during a major tantrum. One of the TIPS describes the "baby colic" phenomenon as a baby's simultaneous desire and inability to recklessly "play" with the world. In addition, the childlike Hotori/Inubushi kills a sick rat without the slightest remorse, rationalizing it as a Mercy Kill, which leads Satoru to theorize her spree killing at a hospital was born from the same motivation.
  • Alluded to by Concordia in Pokémon Black and White when remarking that N's innocence is both beautiful and terrifying. But rather being innocent of right and wrong, it's his innocence of the world that prompts his mistaken belief that Pokemon are better off without humans.
  • Suggested in the cases of both the Manpigs and the Engineer in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. During your explorations, you'll come across a series of cells in which you can observe non-hostile Manpigs trying to eat, playing with blocks, and weeping in corners. It's suggested that the majority of them were made from the mentally disabled and the homeless. The Engineer is more obscure, but he comes across as quite child-like the further you go into the game. His visions of the 20th century drove him to genuinely believe that there was no other way to save humanity other than to kill them all and begs Mandus to let him finish, seemingly quite puzzled and hurt by his attempts to sabotage the machine.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, this is used in some of the witches' personas. Eva-Beatrice gets a touch (although she's closer to a teenager, Eva screaming at her for murdering her husband had a lot of tones of this), but more notable was "pure and sweet" little Maria. So pure and sweet that she's rooting for everyone to go to the Golden Land, and in one arc, even murders her own mother upon deciding that her mother would never do such awful things, and so Rosa must be being possessed by the evil witch. Of course, the part about murdering her mother is implied to be All Just a Dream, indicating that deep down she really is afraid that Rosa doesn't love her.

    Webcomics 
  • The Dimension of Lame from Sluggy Freelance is populated entirely by pure, innocent people. This makes manipulating them very easy for the Demonic Invaders. They equate peace with good, so were quite cheerfully looking to find Torg to turn over to the invading demons to get them to leave. So good they are not, as they'll sell out anyone if it'll get them peace no matter what the horrible consequences for who they sell out.
  • Basically the entire point of minus., which combines this innocence with omnipotence, resulting in an imaginative little girl who can do anything she wants, from creating magical worlds of wonder to effortlessly bringing nightmares to life, from creating a whole new afterlife to ending life as we know it.
  • The eponymous character of Axe Cop is described by the comic's artist as "borderline psycho." Axe Cop is also written by a six year old. Draw your own conclusion.
  • The shadowy creature encountered by Digger is initially innocent to the point of amorality. Digger tries to teach it good, but it's slow going due to the myriad of cultures with differing moral systems in the area.

    Web Original 

  • Bonesaw of the Slaughterhouse Nine from Worm, who's one of the worst serial killers in the Wormverse. She doesn't necessarily do what she does out of malice. Rather, she feels the idea of a concrete moral system is absurd and doesn't apply to her, and she'd rather do what she finds fun and interesting. It just so happens "fun and interesting" usually means "horrific human experimentation and torture."

    Western Animation 
  • GIR of Invader Zim often comes across as sweet and innocent... certainly dumb. But just as it's plain he doesn't understand the reason for conflict, he also often relishes in destruction. (And as the episode in which he was stuck in "duty mode" demonstrated, if he worked properly he would be evil.)
  • Xavier of Xavier: Renegade Angel is this trope in spades. He has a noble desire to help people, but ends up destroying everything. For example, he is once transported to a dimension that moves backwards. He sees a man getting run over by a car in reverse- Xavier sees the man as a bloody corpse miraculously healed, then walking backwards. So what does Xavier do on his heroic quest? He steals a car and starts driving it backwards, killing dozens of people, believing that he is saving them.
  • Despite being described as evil, the Flame Princess from Adventure Time isn't really malicious. It's just that, given she's never really set foot outside her home in the Fire Kingdom, she doesn't get that other creatures in the Land of Ooo don't like being set on fire, and her flames get dangerous when she gets too passionate, which causes problems when Finn falls in love with her.
    Flame Princess: Fire's purpose is to burn... which is why I'm going to make this land my fire kingdom!
    • Lemongrab counts, too. He's done some pretty horrible things, but without personal malice, and we don't entirely know if he knows that what he does is harmful to others. Even the overtly "good" characters, like Finn, Jake, and Princess Bubblegum, don't hold him entirely accountable for his mistakes, because he A) is an idiot, B) has the maturity of a seven-year-old, and C) he has an autism-like developmental disorder which severely limits his understanding of social boundaries.


Age Inappropriate ArtSubverted InnocenceAmusement Park of Doom
    Tropes Of InnocenceAmnesiacs Are Innocent
Alignment-Based EndingsMorality TropesAntagonist Abilities
Ambiguous GenderThis Might Be an IndexAmbiguously Bi
All Hail the Great God Mickey!Religion TropesAngel Unaware
Lenore the Cute Little Dead GirlImageSource/Comic BooksLove Martyr

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