"He had thought he knew Dumbledore quite well, but he was now forced to conclude that he barely knew him at all. Never once had he imagined Dumbledore's childhood or youth; it was as though he had sprung into being as Harry had known him, venerable and silver-haired and old. The idea of a teenage Dumbledore was simply odd, like trying to imagine a stupid Hermione or a friendly Blast-Ended Skrewt."A newly introduced character who has had little backstory or Character Development undergoes a sudden shift in characterization that becomes their "established" self for the rest of the series. Common with the Ensemble Dark Horse and Ascended Extra. What separates Belated Backstory from normal Character Development is that this change in characterization happens without warning and little justification from what had already been shown of that character. However, since it usually occurs early on in a series, it's often accepted by fans as a needed Re Tool to change the character along with the not-yet-solidified flow of a new series; in other words, a Sub-Trope of Early Installment Weirdness. Really, just mix and match from the Backstory Index. This phenomenon is not really Character Derailment, as producers often state that they just didn't know the character back then, and a more complex and interesting character usually arises from retooling of the initially more flat portrayal, instead of the other way around (though not always). This happens a lot in webcomics when attempting Cerebus Syndrome, to overcome a previously flat cast. See also Divergent Character Evolution. Not to be confused with Origins Episode.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- This happens in the last episode of Seitokai no Ichizon to the main character Ken Sugisaki, as he explains to the in-story defictionalized Nakameguro how he got to be where he was (a Harem Seeker in the besides him all-girl student council): after two-timing two girls, he became a social outcast in his old school. After switching schools, he met Kurimu, who inspired him to make everybody around him happy, Minatsu, who told him to seek his own strength instead of just looking up to her, Chizuru shared mutual comfort with him when they were at their low-point and Mafuyu who saved him from freezing to death. This made him fall in love with each one of them, so to be with them, he became the valedictorian to occupy the last seat of the student council, into which the girls were recently voted. Cue the first episode and the first words he said to them as a group. That he loved them all and would make them all happy in his harem. Since the entire series was more of a screwball comedy, this was a most memorable ending.
- Many of the villains underwent this in InuYasha, with personalities in their later appearances very different from in their first appearances. Most notably, Sesshomaru went from Evil Gloating to The Stoic, Koga went from Smug Snake to Noble Demon, Naraku went from Magnificent Bastard to Evil Evolves, and Kagura became The Starscream.
- One of the most famous examples of this is Dragon Ball with Son Goku's backstory as a Saiyan.
- Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27, but was not given an origin until Detective Comics #33.
- Wolverine is definitely an example of this trope. We got bits and pieces of his back story throughout his rise in popularity, but his full back story wasn't finally fleshed out until the origins miniseries was printed in 2006.
- Magneto's backstory as a Holocaust survivor, though now considered an essential part of his character, is actually this. He's been the X-Men's archenemy ever since the series' first issue in 1964, but his tragic backstory wasn't revealed until Uncanny X-Men #151 hit the stands in 1981.
- Judge Dredd's Origin Story wasn't written for nearly thirty years.
- Libra, a two-issue villain with no background details from the Justice League of America comics of the early 1970's, was reintroduced in the 2008 crossover Final Crisis, and finally given a back story.
- In Lovehammer Inc a conversation about the customs of a planet Angron conquered years before has him casually mention he's been married at least twice, which came as a complete shock to most of the rest of the Imperial Family. It doesn't seem to matter particularly to him, perhaps explaining why he hadn't mentioned this before.
- Late in the third act of R.O.T.O.R., the protagonist reveals that he spent much of his childhood on an Indian reservation. This appears to be an attempt to justify his ability to find R.O.T.O.R. in the woods.
- This is exactly what happens to Fernald (The Hook-Handed Man) in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
- Huckleberry Finn, when he transitioned from supporting character in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to main character of his own self-titled novel.
- Angel from the Charlie Parker Series is initially described as being able to "steal fluff from under the president's nostrils". Later books give him a backstory as a rubbish thief with plenty of jail time under his belt, whose talent with locks and security systems gave him the potential to be a good thief. His partner Louis also gets this to an extent, going from ruthless, amoral assassin to a mama's boy who suffered from racist attacks and homophobic bullying as a child and is very picky about who he kills, refusing to kill women or children.
- Yellowfang from Warrior Cats doesn't have her backstory explained until the second book, and her characterization changes to reflect it afterward.
- Harry Potter: Despite being major characters, we learn next to nothing about the pasts of James, Lily, Snape, Dumbledore, and Voldemort until the last three books.
- Sam Vimes in Discworld apparently only learns his own backstory as the books go on. In Guards! Guards! he's vaguely surprised to learn Ankh-Morpork ever had kings and doesn't seem to feel strongly about them either way; Men at Arms is both the first mention that the last king was executed by Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes and the first book where Sam expresses anti-monarchist views; and by Feet of Clay a large part of his character is his fierce egalitarian beliefs and pride in his otherwise despised ancestor.
- Danni Sullivan from Scrubs is a rather less successful example of this happening; her initial character was fun, likable and sensitive but when she reappeared she had turned into an obnoxious, slutty, vapid party girl.
- The attempt to write around this is distinctly odd as well - apparently she was pretending to be somebody she thought JD would like. Which is weird seeing as she's well in character by the first time she and JD meet and neither Jordan (her sister) or Dr. Cox (her brother in law) seem to notice any change in her personality.
- Harmony Kendall from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an interesting case: in her earlier appearances her main defining trait was her meanness, especially when she took over leadership of the Cordettes from Cordelia. After becoming a vampire her (considerably expanded) role focused mostly on her stupidity and clinginess instead. In fact, aside from the whole bloodsucking, no problems with killing thing, she actually became far less obnoxious. This was taken even further when she started appearing on Angel and developed into a likable, if highly incompetent, ally of the good guys. Even her rather ineffectual betrayal at the end is done without rancour on either side (Angel actually counted on her betraying him as part of his plan, and writes her a letter of recommendation).
- In an even more noticeable example in the same series Anya (a former demon turned into a human) had no major difficulties adapting to human customs early on, but as soon as she took on a larger role she suddenly started using Spock Speak and had had tremendous problems grasping human things like tact and mortality.
- Happens to Pythagoras in Atlantis who goes from innocent, triangle loving, loyal friend to Jason and Hercules, to suddenly being revealed to have accidently killed his father after pushing him away, trying to protect his mother from one of his father's drunken attacks, causing his father to fall hard and hit his head, killing him instantly. However, after he is forgiven by his younger brother, who spent the entire episode trying to get revenge on the mystery 'burgler' who he was told killed his father he goes back to being his innocent, Adorkable and long-suffering genius character once more...
- This happened to Cameron of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles as regards her noticeably more advanced socialization skills in the series pilot. This was due to the large time gap between the production of the pilot and the rest of the series, during which the writers decided that pulling her back would make for a more interesting long-term character arc.
- Taylor Townsend from The O.C. underwent a lot of changes between her introduction at the start of the third season and joining the main cast at the beginning of the fourth. Early on (when she was clearly a villainous character), she had an affair with a Sadist Teacher, which was promptly forgotten about when she settled into her established Genki Girl personality. The development of a fairly one note villain into a sympathetic character seems to have been thanks to the unexpected charm of the actress (Autumn Reeser) and the writers deciding to run with it.
- Many of the less major characters on the American version of The Office exhibit this: Meredith's alcoholism, Toby's "Sad Sack" attitude, Angela's religiousness, the entirety of Kelly's personality... the list goes on.
- When casting Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the specification for Dr. Julian Bashir was, "We're going to need a doctor, maybe someone with an accent?" They really had no plans for him, and his defining characteristics (his friendships with O'Brien and Garak, his genetic history) were all added later.
- The Doctor of Doctor Who. For the first six years of the series he's not given an on-screen backstory, apart from being cut off from his home planet, but the assumption appears to be that while his people have access to vastly advanced technology, including what will become regeneration, they're essentially indistinguishable from humans. Then the Time Lords are introduced, he's revealed to be a Time Lord who was on the run from his people, and he's demonstrated to have a very different biology from humans.
- Despite being the Big Bad during the first two seasons of Supernatural we learn nothing about the Yellow-Eyed Demons motivations until season 4.
- Hell, we don't even learn his name until season three: Azazel.
- The radio version of New Dynamic English gives backstories to almost all of the cast from the software. Max and Kathy were given more personality as we see them interact in the Story Interludes.
- The back-story of Big Boss, Solid Snake's nemesis in the MSX Metal Gear, was not fully fleshed out until Metal Gear Solid 3, transforming what was a two-dimensional 8-bit villain into a tragic hero.
- Similarly, Solid Snake went in the 8-bit games from a silent protagonist with no backstory, to a Flat Character with no backstory. In Metal Gear Solid, he's given his crucial Backstory of being a clone/son of Big Boss, and his entire personality changed and developed as a result, becoming quite three-dimensional.
- McDonnel Miller in Metal Gear 2 and Metal Gear Solid, who served mostly to dispense fourth-wall breaking video game ergonomics trivia, became Kazuhira Miller in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, with a much more fleshed out personality and a backstory involving his mother having been a prostitute in Japan during World War II, and witnessing the suicide of Yukio Mishima.
- The Materials in the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable games started as one-dimensional Omnicidal Maniac Evil Twins of the three Aces formed from the remains of the Darkness of the Book of Darkness. When they returned in the sequel, it's quickly revealed that they're not mere remains of a dead abomination but sealed beings that are much older, and they now come with fully fleshed personalities to boot, with Stern as a Deadpan Snarker Hypercompetent Sidekick Spock, Levi as a very childlike yet friendly Boisterous Bruiser Dumb Muscle, and Lord Dearche as a Royal Brat Evil Overlord wannabe who grows into a Noble Demon. And they all possess Undying Loyalty towards one another.
- Kuja from Final Fantasy IX , which is especially grating because throughout most of the game he is a completely unsympathetic monster.
- The Fell Dragon Grima, main antagonist of Fire Emblem Awakening, had no backstory and very little personality beyond being a Generic Doomsday Villain. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia includes a postgame quest that details his backstory: he's the result of a Mad Scientist (well, Alchemist) experimenting on dragon corpses and Divine Dragon blood in order to create the Ultimate Life Form. It worked a little too well...
- Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn did this for Ashnard, Big Bad of Path of Radiance. While we knew in that game that Ashnard became king by killing everyone else in line for the throne, ending with his father, we don't find out how he did it until Radiant Dawn. We also find out that he took a princess of the Dragon Tribe as his wife in hope that the resulting child would be super-powerful, but cast both her and the son out when he found out he had no particular special powers. That son would turn out to be Soren, which makes a lot of sense in hindsight, although neither Ashnard nor Soren are aware of this.
- While Bob from ReBoot was a very popular and interesting character, some fans quickly caught on to small changes to his personality to better fit the backstory revealed in season 4. That could partially be blamed on the three plus years between seasons.
- Specifically, during season 4, Bob adamantly believed that viruses could be cured rather than merely deleted and that "deletion" should be avoided at all costs. This initially seemed like Character Development, but then multiple flashbacks during that same season made it clear that he had always been that way, even though he had made several genuine attempts to kill Megabyte in earlier seasons.
- Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons went from a generic classmate of Lisa's to The Ditz and Cloud Cuckoolander.
- Doctor Zoidberg from Futurama went from being a normal (well, alien) doctor with a humorously poor understanding of human anatomy to the very essence of a Butt-Monkey (...with a humorously poor understanding of human anatomy). He now is perpetually poor and hungry, is generally disliked by just about everyone, and is put into question whether he actually is a doctor or not.
- His doctorate is in art history.
- This is discussed several times in Futurama's notoriously good DVD commentaries, more from the angle of 'why did Hermes start hating Zoidberg'
- The Professor doesn't hate him, but... that's about it.
- His lastest backstory shows he was an MD and was even competent, until a Yeti tried to crack his head open
- In the first two seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Avatar Roku is basically only known as the Avatar before Aang. It isn't until season 3 where we learn more about him.