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Art-Style Dissonance
Proper Lady my ass.

This is what happens when the story or themes behind a cartoon, comic, or such don't match their art style. It can be intentional (a specific way for the author to get their point across) or unintentional, in which case it is often jarring. It is often used to portray a work of fiction within another, so the audience doesn't mistake it for "reality". In such instances, Stylistic Suck may come into play.

Can be a sub-trope of Mood Dissonance, and is itself the supertrope of Grotesque Cute and Sugar Apocalypse.

Compare with Crapsaccharine World.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Advertisement 
  • The "Dumb Ways to Die" ad from Metro Trains in Australia. Cute, colorful, blob-things singing happily...until they get horribly mangled, ripped, burned, explosively decompressed...and continue to sing, even though some of their heads/entire bodies are missing.

     Anime and Manga 
  • Barefoot Gen. It looks like a Saturday Morning Cartoon in the vein of Astro Boy. It isn't.
  • Some have said that the contrast between the cute moe art and the bloody, psychological horror plot is part of what makes Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and Elfen Lied so creepy. It's even worse in the original visual novels for When They Cry. The art style can best be described as "Weird looking chibi-Puni Plush". Hard to imagine that cute little style is from one of the darkest series to come out of Japan in The Noughties. The remakes give off a very "Romantic visual novel" look. It has romance, but it's definitely not a romance series.
  • Madoka Magica. It uses characters done in the cute style of Hidamari Sketch to tell a story that can be likened to Neon Genesis Evangelion.
  • The anime adaptation of Violinist of Hameln, originally a parody manga, removes all the humor and plays the Dysfunction Junction for its full angst value, but keeps the art style.
  • Kaiba, Just look at the page picture, then look at the trope list.
  • Gosick has a cute moe-esque style reminiscent of Rozen Maiden and a cheerily-colored opening, but is a murder mystery through and through.
  • Gundam Age, has a children's cartoon art style with the tone of the story remaining dark and mature.
  • Cromartie High School has a very sharp-edged, heavily-shaded style that makes it look like a fighting anime in the vein of Fist of the North Star. It's actually a high school sketch comedy, even if they still react to everything as seriously as an action series would.
  • Now and Then, Here and There isn't quite as cutesy as some of the examples on this list, but it's unusually stylized for such serious subject matter. This works in its favor, softening the blow of the most traumatic scenes.
  • Chirin No Suzu looks like a cute children's movie and, while it is a children's movie, it is very dark.
  • Bokura no Hentai looks like a series aimed at young girls, but the content itself is a rather dark Seinen based around a Dysfunction Junction trio of middle schoolers.
  • Pretty much anything by Hitoshi Tomizawa. His art is cute, which makes sense since his characters tend to be fairly young. As for his manga itself, it's usually very violent and weird. He even did the art for Battle Royale II: Blitz Royale, which is every bit as violent as the original novel.
  • When promotional artwork for the Karneval anime came out, it received a lot of flack by those unfamiliar with the original manga for being another "Bishōnen" or "fujyoshi" series. In actuality, it's a rather dark Bio Punk Josei manga set in a Crap Saccharine World and just happens to have a predominately male cast and colorful artwork. The first chapter alone includes the near-rape of a child by a monster woman who then goes on to gruesomely devour a bunch of thieves who break into her mansion.
  • Junji Ito is a noted horror author with a distinctive style that fits very well with the genre of his work. This style doesn't change in the slightest when he writes Ito Junji No Neko Nikki, a comedy manga about his cats.
  • Il Sole penetra le Illusioni comes pretty close to being a horror series. The art style is reminiscent of Disgaea.
  • One Piece uses a bright, exaggerated style similar to many other shounen works, in a world where on the off chance the World Government isn't oppressing you, the Pirates are.
  • Princess Tutu. A Magical Girl show that takes place in a whimsical town of pastel colors, ballet, and fairy tales. Unfortunately for the characters, their fairytale has not been Disneyfied, and they are the cosmic playthings of an Ax-Crazy tragedy-loving writer.
  • Bokurano looks like a normal shonen mecha series but it's far, far darker than normal and is a seinen.

     Comics 

    Eastern Animation 
  • Squirrel and Hedgehog, a North Korean children's cartoon. Cute Funny Animals alternate between frolicking in the idyllic paradise of Furry North Korea and waging war on American Wolves, Japanese Weasels, and South Korean Mice. Even without characters getting shot and killed on-screen, the blatant militarization of Furry North Korea is pretty disturbing.

     Fan Works 

    Film-Animation  
  • Once Upon A Girl is animated in the style of the family friendly Hanna-Barbera/Filmation cartoons, but it is absolutely not appropriate for children in any way, it is a collection of fairy tale parodies in which each segment ends with the characters having sex, with plenty of nudity and foul language scattered throughout.
  • The Animated Adaptation of The Haunted World Of El Super Beasto may look like it was done by Spumco, but its not all appropriate for anyone under 18.
  • Born Under Fire is a Colombian animated movie that looks like animated series like Charlie and Lola or Pinky Dinky Doo. It is actually a dramatic documentary about the on-going war conflict in Colombia told from the perspective of children who have witnessed the events, incorporating their drawings into the film.
  • The extremely simplistic and cartoonish character designs from the CGI movie Killer Bean Forever would make any viewer think that is some kind of silly comedy for kids, but is actually a serious action film with almost no comedy (except for a couple of Black Comedy moments) and lots of killings, as the title suggest.
  • Along with the Animation Age Ghetto trope, this could be one of the reason of why some viewers could make the mistake of think that Felidae is a movie for kids due its cartoonish, almost cute characters designs. And also the fact the main characters are talking cats.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Transhuman Space is widely considered by fans to have suffered in its early days because the artist then responsible for all the illustrations apparently perceived more Body Horror in the high-biotech setting than the writers quite intended.

     Video Games 
  • Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. It's probably the darkest game in the entire series, dealing with some fairly deep thematic stuff (like aging, losing one's friends, cheating, etcetra). But it still has the same cuddly, puni plush aesthetic as the other games.
  • Harvest Moon 64 qualifies. It has simplistic, childish character models and cutesy anime character portraits. But the game deals with alcoholism, implied abuse, stagnating marriages, Parental Abandonment, and death among other things.
  • Tales of Symphonia. The cute-looking visuals contrast the genocide, fantastic racism, black and grey morality, and a Woobie destroyer of worlds.
  • Tales of the Abyss is one of the darkest entries in the Tales Series. The character designs may be a bit less colorful than some of the other games, but the graphics still remain fairly cute, even when they're depicting a child drowning in poison, trapped under his father's corpse.
  • Just about all the above also apply to Valkyria Chronicles, on top of it being a fairly dark War Is Hell story where Anyone Can Die. (yes, even your squad members)
  • Similarly, Chrono Cross. Brightly-colored, often hand-painted visuals, and come on, Chrono Trigger was so fun! *cue Darker and Edgier Mind Screw storyline featuring copious Nice Job Breaking It, Hero and Fantastic Racism, which also retcons the ending of CT into something a lot darker*
  • Cave Story features mentions of war (with implications that the protagonist was one of the "killer robots" involved), a Big Bad whose experiments are somewhat reminiscent of Mengele, and a boss fight that forces you to kill one of the cutest characters in the game. But just look at the robots! The in-game graphics just make it even more jarring.
  • Conkers Bad Fur Day could best be described as the video game equivalent to South Park. Death, sex, drunkeness, scatalogical humor, swearing...not a kids game. But Rare made it with the same adorable art style that characterized their family friendly fare like Banjo-Kazooie.
    • Conker: Twelve Tales was originally going to be a family-friendly game, not too dissimilar from Conker's Pocket Tales, but then Rare caught on that it would've been too similar to their own Banjo-Kazooie, so they turned it into what we now know as Conker's Bad Fur Day...while keeping the art style intact.
    • Banjo-Kazooie itself is quite prone to this at times, considering the truly titanic amounts of adult humor and dark storylines Rare snuck into their family-friendly game.
  • The Mother series is colorful, cartoony, and filled with beautifully subtle details. The battle screens suggest you're fighting during a psychadelic trip-out, and the characters almost look like they're from a stylized Peanuts comic. And, implicitly and thematically speaking, it's probably the darkest Nintendo has ever gotten.
    • Mother 3 is a prime example. For the first 15 minutes, it's averted, but after that it takes a swan dive into the depths. Compared to the art style, the story gets so dark, you would need the light of a thousand suns to be able to see three feet ahead. Though, admittedly, there are comic relief sections, it's still one hell of a contrast.
  • Intentionally done in Yggdra Union, where Kiyuduki Satoko's Puni Plush art style helps to conceal the dark nature of the game until the player gets whacked in the face with it.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker introduced a cartoony and very brightly colored art style very different from the Ocarina of Time era's more realistic art. However, its storyline has many dark undertones: A Great Flood that reduced the world to a handful of islands that were once mountaintops—not to mention the fact that the final battle culminates in Ganon being stabbed in the forehead.
  • Raze's Hell features mostly cutesy art... since you play as a monster bent on fighting the cuddly Evil Army bent on destroying ugly creatures.
  • Bastion looks like a Sugar Apocalypse at first, but it eventually becomes clear that the world (or at least the main character's nation) was pretty messed up even before the Calamity.
  • This is one of the criticisms often aimed at the Battalion Wars games: Their art style is a little too cute for the combat involved, but not quite cute enough for the characterization of the units and commanders.
  • Pokémon, especially Pokémon Platinum and Pokémon Black and White. With the cutesy look and the bright colors who would expect such a series to be so darn right horrific and depressing? The Mystery Dungeon spinoffs are especially bad, as they center around the incredibly cute Pokemon in an apparently idealistic land but are in a league of their own.
  • Corpse Party: Book of Shadows has a surprisingly cutesy art style for a game about people being murdered in gruesome ways.
  • The Binding of Isaac mimics Thick-Line Animation, and has a protagonist who looks very baby-like despite apparently being at least kindergarten-age. Edmund McMillen has said this was a deliberate design decision—the grotesqueness of what Isaac goes through would not be bearable if drawn realistically. And even with the art-style used, some of the bosses are still flat-out disgusting and horrifying, such as Blighted Ovum, The Wretched, or Super Lust.
  • Long Live the Queen is about an adorable pink-haired magical girl princess... in a world filled with Eldritch Abominations, Villainous Incest and more assassination plots than you can count. It tends to be marketed with warnings that this is really, really not meant for kids.
  • The bright and colorful visuals of Odin Sphere belie the very dark and serious story that effectively explains The End of the World as We Know It and how The Magic Goes Away.
  • Gretel And Hansel features very cutesy, childish drawings undergoing horrible twisted Fairy Tale torments.
  • Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes is about a very idealistic little girl, and the art style reflects how she views things. This makes it all the more jarring when her illusions begin to slip, and she starts to see blood and dead bodies.
  • The Professor Layton series, which has a cute and quirky art style... and yet often features topics such as revenge, government coverups, tragic pasts, implied murder, and the loss of loved ones.
  • Some of the Super Mario Bros. games fall into this. All of the Mario games utilize bright colors and cutesy character designs, but Nightmare Fuel abounds in this series and whenever there's anything more than an Excuse Plot, it tends to be somewhat dark or scary. Especially Super Paper Mario, which has one of the brightest art styles of the series, but one of the darkest stories of any Nintendo franchise.
  • The Touhou fangame Koumajou Densetsu features a very dark artstyle but the story and characters are every bit as nutty as the main series.
  • Team Fortress 2 is a class-based first person shooter where a group of mercenaries (most of whom probably have varying degrees of mental instability) are continually fighting a frankly pointless fight over a worthless piece of land thanks to rather ruthless (and somewhat evil) contractors. The artistic style? It looks like a cartoon. This is complete with ridiculous animations (a building/upgrading Sentry, for starters) and Ludicrous Gibs.
    • This was because during development, Valve was having trouble producing something that would give players a Willing Suspension of Disbelief, so they decided to make it look like a universe where ridiculous things are supposed to happen in it, such as how certain abilities (such as rocket jumping) are possible, or why some seemingly arbitrary rules are in place (like, for some reason, you can't jump over a 3 foot high fence that leads out to a sprawling field), hence the reason why they chose a more "stylized" art direction: So that you won't ask yourself these questions in the first place.
    • This also helps it fit in with Valve's dark, irreverent, and somewhat... silly sense of humor. This sums it all up nicely.
  • Minecraft looks like a harmless children's toy at first glance, until you play Survival mode. Constant threat of starvation as well as brutal undead creatures and otherwordly monsters out for your blood that are far more threatening than their blocky, cartoonish designs could ever suggest are what awaits in this bright and colorful Lego Land. Needless to say, if Minecraft is a playground, it's an evil playground that shows no mercy and wants you dead.
  • Similarly, Terraria takes much the same philosophy and gives it the backdrop of a cutesy cartoon style. Want to build that nice, big 8-story house filled with expensive furniture and decorations and gold bricks? Well then be prepared to face those zombies and skeletons and Demonic Spiders that made Minecraft a living hell, only this time with Eldritch Abominations thrown into the mix.
  • Many platforming games fall into this when it comes to how hard they are, especially the older crop from the 80s and early 90s. One just wouldn't expect the cute cartoon video game to have controller-breaking difficulty!
  • Wild Star has Nexus, the bright, colourful, vibrant, and lush planet of wonders and extremely dangerous predators, plants, and predator plants. Not counting the locals who would love nothing more than to kill and/or eat you, you also have the Exiles and the Dominion who are waging an all-out war on each other, plus the numerous criminal cartels and third parties rushing to the planet to get a piece of the "homeworld of the Galaxy's most advanced civilization" pie. There's also what killed the said most advanced civilization, who are still lurking around...
  • Kerbal Space Program is a game about cartoonish Little Green Men who try to launch themselves into space atop rockets. While there's nothing actively trying to kill you in the game, it more than makes up for it by being unexpectedly faithful to actual physics. If you don't know what you're doing or are expecting the game's flight model to be as cartoonish as the art style, your rockets will crash.
  • The Dragon Quest series starts off pretty campy and cutsey, but tkaes itself seriously. This is what makes certain games like Dragon Quest V and Dragon Quest VII so unusual, because they're quite depressing and dark (respectively) given their cutsey Akira Toriyama artstyle.
  • Yesterday - the artstyle is rather dark and cartoony, in contrast with the game's content.
  • The world of Eversion starts out bright and cheerful, but becomes gradually less so as you evert to higher levels, and it's not long before the game reveals its true colors.
  • Some of the dream worlds in Yume Nikki fall under this, but the most notable one is the Pink Sea. Pastel colors, balloons, gentle BGM... how could this area - of all the other areas in the game - be so scary?
  • Some of the worlds in Fire Emblem come off as this way. The Game Boy Advance entries mostly being this due to the artstyle being bright and colorful as a result of the SP model not being standardized for most of the runs. (Not so much in 8) Some of the Darker and Edgier entries likewise have a darker artstyle, especially "New Mystery" and "Awakening".
  • In the [adult swim] game series Candy Mountain Massacre, a virus has turned the inhabitants of a Sugar Bowl setting into triggerhappy psychos with guns and bombs. The second game turns things in this direction, with the Cake Queen having turned her land into one of dread for both the Cupcakes (the only inhabitants unaffected by the virus), but also humans unfortunate enough to set foot in the place — and one level has you blasting your way through what is in all intents and purposes a torture chamber. Yikes!
  • The setting in Naughty Bear. Even before the main character goes on his killing spree, the whole place is populated by tremendous Jerkasses.
  • Phantasy Star II has the darkest narrative in the series while it has the most colorful design and environment. In contrast, Phantasy Star IV's settings are rather barren and darker, but the story is shonen anime-like and characters crack a joke and tease each other frequently.

     Webcomics 
  • The Perry Bible Fellowship.
  • Axe Cop uses a slightly-exaggerated but fairly realistic style a la most mainstream comic books. But since the plots are written by a six-year-old, the actual content of the comic is completely insane.
  • Kit N Kay Boodle is drawn in a cute cartoon style, yet features near constant furry sex. Many readers find this extremely jarring.
  • Sonichu. This incredibly-disturbing webcomic has art that looks like it was drawn by an elementary-schooler. Of course, this is because its creator is Giftedly Bad.
  • Kagerou starts out this way, with extremely bright colors and cartoonish art contrasted against the dark plot and tendency towards gore. Eventually, though, the art evolves into a more realistic but still brightly coloured style.
  • Nana's Everyday Life has very cutesy, somewhat chibi-like art. It is also based on Elfen Lied, starts out as a Black Comedy, then gets worse.
  • Purple Pussy is a super cutesy drawn webcomic for girls... featuring an unending supply of Cluster F Bombs and Toilet Humor that will burn your eyes out.
  • Wondermark is a Cut and Paste Comic made from sophisticated Victorian art. The jokes tend to be either very silly observations on modern neurotics to very silly poop jokes.
  • Niels has the same cutesy style as Scandinavia and the World by the same author, despite having much darker subject matter. The author's third comic is in a different style, so this is clearly a deliberate choice.
  • Come on. Married to the Sea, anyone?
  • xkcd is surprisingly smart for its limited art style.
  • Romantically Apocalyptic. Its art is frighteningly realistic and grim. The actual comic? A hilarious Black Comedy.
  • Dolan comics are poorly drawn comics with horrible spelling that look like they were made by a three-year-old. But don't let that fool you; they're actually blackly comedic comics about an Ax-Crazy Donald Duck.
  • Unsounded has gorgeous, vibrant art... for a crapsack world filled with casual Fantastic Racism and rampant nationalism. It's all the more horrific for how accepted it is.
  • Kevin & Kell. A cute, quirky world of Funny Animal characters... where fangs are more powerful than ideals and savage instinct triumphs over reason and empathy. By the world's local ethos (its ok to kill as long as you eat it) ethnic cleansing could just be another name for a BBQ.

     Web Original 

     Western Animation 

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