"We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes."Virtually everyone has to wear a public mask in order to be accepted by others. That's a simple fact of human psychology. When circumstances (such as anonymity, strong emotion, or sufficient power) allow a character to take off that mask and act in complete accord with their inclinations, they reveal what's beneath the mask. The secrets this mask hides are varied and are not always dark. A villain, for example, may be hiding a soft spot. Sometimes a person may never know they had a hidden self before the mask comes off. The change is even a surprise to them. Other times the person is well aware of their hidden self and are determined to keep it hidden. This hidden self that people don't show to others is what Beneath the Mask is about. This hidden self is sometimes portrayed as "the real self". Occasionally the person actually wants someone to see their hidden side (the "real me") but for some reason can never get people to see it. More complex works might argue that the hidden self is just a part of the real self, and that the public self is also part of the real self. The concept in Western philosophy originated with Carl Jung, who referred to the mask people wear in public as the "persona", and their hidden desires as their "shadow." Related to G.I.F.T. and What You Are in the Dark. Often used in conjunction with Hidden Heart of Gold, Jerk with a Heart of Gold, Jerkass Façade, Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, Sugar and Ice Personality, Sad Clown, Stepford Smiler, and The Proud Elite. Obfuscating Stupidity and Obfuscating Insanity can be subtropes, as can A Darker Me. Not to be confused with Hidden Depths or Rich Idiot with No Day Job, which are about skills and roles rather than personality. Compare and contrast Becoming the Mask, where the facade itself actually becomes part of the character's personality.
— Paul Laurence Dunbar
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Anime and Manga
- Magical Project S: Misao Amano's normal self is that of a stereotypical Shrinking Violet friendless, blue-haired Ill Girl. However, this persona falls away when she's transformed into Pixy Misa, the manifestation of her deeply repressed id: an egomaniacal Chaotic Evil jealous Dark Magical Girl trickster.
- Death Note: An Alternate Character Interpretation for Light Yagami. The Death Note only showed his true colors. And conversely, even in full-blown Kira mode, he still realizes that he cares a lot for his little sister.
- Sakura is a perfect example: her inner side shows us what she actually thinks about something but is not willing to say or do. Although Inner Sakura hasn't been seen since the timeskip, and Sakura is now more willing to say what's really on her mind. A bit of a cross between Becoming the Mask and Character Development.
- One theory is that Sakura broke out of her Stepford Smiler attitude and embraced "Inner Sakura" after it helped her break out of Ino's body switch jutsu during the Chuunin Exam.
- Meditating at the Waterfall of Truth reveals the depths beneath Naruto's own Stepford Smiler habit. He had truly hated and despised the villagers who treated him poorly, and questioned the sincerity of their change of heart regarding him, but he buried those feelings deep down. Due to the Nine-Tailed Fox's presence, they coalesced to form a split personality who would feel all the negative emotions Naruto refused.
- This aspect of Naruto was hinted at early on when Karin encountered him and got a feel of his chakra. To her surprise, his chakra had three layers: Bright, warm, and comforting; dark, cold and overwhelming; and corrosive, chaotic and sinister. The last one is from the Nine-Tailed Fox's; the first two polar opposites were Naruto's.
- Played with in Itachi: The first time the mask "slips", he's crazily taunting his brother and showing obsession with power. It later turns out this was him trying to goad Sasuke into killing him, and doesn't resemble his real personality at all. It really turns out that he's an extremely Tragic Villain who despises himself for his Necessarily Evil actions and loves his brother more than anything else in the world, even the love for his village that forced him into destroying the Uchiha clan. The Stoic personality, however, is just who he is; apparently he was born without the ability to express emotion.
- Later, in the Ten-Tails Revival Arc, Naruto calls Obito out on this after their chakras link and Naruto learns of Obito's entire past and his true emotions. Obito never truly let go of the Will of Fire he always cherished as a child, but to go forth with the Moon's Eye Plan, Obito convinced himself that he doesn't care about anything anymore, even his Team Minato, when in reality, they meant the world to him.
- Sakura is a perfect example: her inner side shows us what she actually thinks about something but is not willing to say or do. Although Inner Sakura hasn't been seen since the timeskip, and Sakura is now more willing to say what's really on her mind. A bit of a cross between Becoming the Mask and Character Development.
- Grings Kodai from the Pokémon Movie Pokémon: Zoroark: Master of Illusions seems at first to be a friendly businessman who cares for his own city...it turns out he's actually trying to destroy said city's ecosystem so that he can renew his ability to see the future and is also horribly abusive towards Pokémon.
- Code Geass plays with this trope. Lelouch Lamperouge is a Brilliant, but Lazy highschool student living in Area 11, a Britannia-occupied territory formerly known as Japan. When we first see him, he's skipping class in order to do some high-stakes gambling. He seems to regard everything with indifference or disdain, and as we get to know him, it becomes clear that he has a strong sense of justice but has come to accept that there's nothing he can do to fix his government's deep-seated corruption and institutionalized racism. Then he gets superpowers. He maintains his Rich Idiot with No Day Job facade to avoid suspicion, but secretly becomes Zero, a masked freedom fighter dedicated to dismantling the most powerful government in the world. The series heavily contemplates identity and character, and repeatedly addresses the irony that Lelouch needs to put on a literal mask in order to take off his metaphorical one.
- It should also be mentioned that in his conversations with CC Lelouch strongly implies that he was planing to overthrow Britannia since he was a child, gaining the Geass simply meant that he could start much earlier and move much quicker than he otherwise would have been able to. As such one can say that his hidden personality was already simmering in the depths of his lazy life before the story kicks in.
- His father's ultimate plan? To remove all "masks" via an Assimilation Plot.
- Also happens to be the case with Mao, who we first see as a Wicked Cultured Manipulative Bastard with mind-reading powers. It's only after he Mind Rapes Shirley, beats Lelouch at chessnote , and sets up a Batman Gambit to get the two of them to kill each other (which nearly works) that we discover he's really a deeply-hurt Psychopathic Manchild with a very good Freudian Excuse.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion:
- Asuka constantly put up a mask of bold confidence and arrogance to hide she was a very insecure, frightened child. It is visible in some scenes where she is alone (in chapter 8, when she is putting her plug suit on, she is hesitant and worried) or when she is hanging around someone she trusts (like Misato in the hot spring scene in chapter 10). After chapter 22 and her Mind Rape, though, her mask falls apart.
- Gendo Ikari is portrayed as a cold, calculating, and ruthless chessmaster. But as the series goes on and the audience gets several glimpses behind his exterior, making it increasingly clear that he is actually a lonely and socially awkward man, who struggles with feelings of extreme self-loathing and believes that he is unworthy of being loved. In other words, Not So Different from his son, Shinji.
- Essentially everyone in Princess Tutu, but particularly:
- Fakir, initially portrayed as a selfish, manipulative jerkass, accidentally reveals himself to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold when Ahiru is briefly stuck as a duck and he falls under the influence of Cuteness Proximity.
- Kraehe is initially portrayed as doing things just For the Evulz, but by the end, it's revealed that she only wanted to be loved.
- Gundam Build Fighters has Aila Jyrkiäinen, who appears to be an Emotionless Girl with an icy, detached view of the world. Episode 10, however, reveals her Cuteness Proximity and excitable emotions when it comes to food. In the end of Episode 21, she abandons her stoic masquerade entirely.
- Beet the Vandel Buster has Grineed, who actually wears a literal mask (more like an extra outer skin) to keep himself calm and composed, instead of the raging beast that is underneath. Needless to say, Beet and the squad bust it out of him pretty quick.
- In Kare Kano, Arima is insanely scared of what's beneath his.
- Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl has the protagonist who gradually feels more and more free to act more feminine.
- Seems to be a theme in Durarara!!, where pretty much everyone involved, up to and including the district of Ikebukero, has a hidden second side beneath the personalities they show to the world.
- Kurei from Flame of Recca personifies this trope, he even wears a mask! He may seem like one of the most cruel, heartless and sadistic characters in the series, but most of his actions are driven by his love for people he cares about.
- Higurashi: When They Cry sort of plays around with this, where in first and last arc of the anime's first season the characters discuss social masks and not speaking about things they don't want to speak about, such as in the first arc, both Keiichi's and Rena's hiding their respective Dark and Troubled Pasts, and in the last arc, Keiichi hiding that he killed Rena and Mion in the first arc.
- However, it's played more straight with Rika in the second season, where although everyone knows about her place in the Furude family, she acts like a child usually would at her age. At least, the age everyone thinks she is. However, when she's seen alone with Hanyuu, she acts much more like a stoic, or even a Determined Defeatist.
- Barnaby Brooks Jr. from Tiger & Bunny has two masks superimposed on one another. The first is the guise of a charming, skilled ace that hides a rude, untrusting Ice King beneath it. The rude, untrusting Ice King mask in turn hides a traumatized, lonely man who doesn't know what to do with his life beyond getting revenge on the organization that assassinated his family.
- The second cour, as well as Word of God, proves that Kotetsu also wears a mask. Thanks to an almost pathological fear of sharing his burdens with others and a reluctance to make himself vulnerable, quite a bit of his doofy, Idiot Hero behavior is something he exaggerates to lower peoples' opinions of him so they won't bother with (and therefore worry about) him.
- Ivan Karelin is another example. As the hero Origami Cyclone, he's loud, brash, and over-the-top. As Ivan, he's an awkward, insecure Shrinking Violet.
- Haruhi Suzumiya: Sometimes the only way to determine that Kyon has leaked a comment instead of internally snarking it is when another character responds to it. In addition the title character does not know that he's leading a conspiracy to keep her from her true abilities and so sees the silent snarking as silent support.
- Also, Itsuki Koizumi is implied to have much more going on under his always-smiling, friendly, easy-going exterior than meets the eye, especially in those few moments when he slips up and lets a little of his anger, stress, or loneliness show. Confirmed in Volume 11 when he goes completely ballistic at Fujiwara for trying to kill Haruhi. Also, Haruhi takes him as her ever-loyal ally without realizing he is The Chessmaster behind much of what goes on.
- In Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, Fai's personality change following the events of Acid Tokyo is a powerful example of this trope.
- Several characters in Life are like this, typically to mask their Jerk Ass side.
- In Kimi no Iru Machi when Haruto first meets Eba Rin he wonders how such a level headed person could be related to Yuzuki, even if only as step-sisters. Eventually Rin gets tired enough of the mask that she completely discards it with Haruto, in fact she is more honest with herself around Haruto and eventually Yuzuki that she doesn't put it back on around them, leading her to change just a little bit.
- Maho Nishizumi of Girls und Panzer typically acts as an Aloof Big Sister to Miho. However, beneath that mask lies a kinder individual, who gets along well with her family maids, is willing to lend Mako her team's helicopter to help her visit her grandmother in the hospital, and strives to live up to being Nishizumi heir mainly so that Miho can live and do tankery the way she wishes.
- In Toradora! Ami is, to her classmates, a cute, sweet, fresh-faced model that's a bit of an idiot. But to the people that know her well, she's stubborn, sometimes bitchy and actually quite manipulative. It's mentioned several times that she genuinely wishes people would accept her "true" self, but is afraid of how people would react.
- Sasame from Prétear is outwardly flirty, cheerful and quick to offer up a listening ear, but is secretly struggling with bitterness and depression due to unrequited love. In the anime his mask eventually comes off after he more or less has an emotional breakdown, while in the manga his mask slips off occasionally, but he continues to try to keep up the act until the end.
- During the Soul Society arc, Byakuya goes to considerable lengths (like, nearly-letting-his-adopted-sister-get-executed lengths) to maintain the mask of the perfect, stoic Seireitei noble, bound by two conflicting vows that could not be resolved until Ichigo intervened. The end of the arc reveals that he really wants nothing more than to protect Rukia. And while he still puts some importance on keeping up appearances in later arcs, we also get to see a much more three-dimensional underlying personality: a Hot-Blooded Bratty Half-Pint with a Hair-Trigger Temper who learns to keep his cool and grows up to be a Father to His Men. He even discovers he enjoys a fight for the sake of a fight.
- Ryuuken also has a stoic Proud Elite persona that obscures his gentle, protective, and intensely caring inner self. The unique aspect to Ryuuken's lifelong mask, however, is that he has completely reversed it while maintaining the masquerade. In his teens, as heir to a powerful bloodline, he was expected to behave as an example for all Quincies and tended to disguise his true intentions behind a facade of rigid adherence to tradition. At some point during the last 20 years, this flipped to a facade of completely disowning his family heritage, while still hiding the same softer intentions. Uryuu believes his father to be a hypocritical, intolerant, money-obsessed Dr. Jerk who refuses to use his power and hates his son...a conclusion Ryuuken's actively encouraging. Only Isshin seems to know Ryuuken's true intentions, and considers him a trustworthy friend.
- Sailor Moon has Minako Aino. She's always nice and ditzy, a boy-crazy prankster apparently harmless... And yet it's made clear that a large part of this is a well-constructed act: if circumstances require her to act mature she'll show a surprising wisdom and empathy, if you manage to see through the mask and tell her she's more than willing to admit it (and if she doesn't trust you, you're better start begging before she kills you), and if you piss her off, you're dead-you and everything around you. What she'll never do is show her chronic depression (and boy, she has good reasons to be depressed...).
- Kobeni's older sister in Engaged to the Unidentified is a model straight-A student at their school, is the Student Council President, and is famous not only for her industriousness at campus, but for her community work outside of it as well. She has many open admirers among the male and female segments of the student body. However this is a well-constructed facade — at home or with her family, Benio true personality surfaces: a laid back and outright teasing teenager who dotes on her younger sister a little too much, and currently fixates on her much-younger prospective sister-in-law Mashiro.
- In Attack on Titan, quite a few characters have built up public masks to hide portions of their true personalities or characters, with some even Becoming the Mask as a result.
- Krista hides her true insecurities by very purposefully acting as The Pollyanna, something that she's repeatedly called out on by her closest friend, Ymir. Ironically, Ymir herself has built up a very intentional Jerkass Façade to keep others at arm's length and conceal her true kindness.
- Commanding officers such as Erwin, Pixis, and Levi build up a public persona in order to function in a professional manner. For Erwin and Levi, their cold and unemotional masks keep their very human vulnerabilities hidden from public view, while Pixis often behaves like a foolish old man to hide his true cunning and ruthlessness.
- Annie's cold and aloof demeanor keeps most people at bay, though Eren and Armin both state that she's a much kinder person than she wants people to realize. When her mask finally does slip away, it's particularly unnerving and tragic at the same time.
- Reiner hides his extensive issues beneath a cheerful and reassuring mask, always playing the reliable big brother so that others will feel more confident. Bertolt, his childhood friend, keeps his emotions hidden beneath a soft-spoken and stoic demeanor. When he finally does reveal his emotions and speaks up for himself, it startles everyone — characters and audience alike. Justified, in that both are Titan spies living in deep cover. Reiner's mask hides a ruthless and deeply pessimistic person, while Bertolt's disguises his true kindness in order to cope with his actions.
- Rurouni Kenshin:
- Kenshin's Crouching Moron Hiddenbadass and Obfuscating Stupidity masks hide deep depression and feelings of unworthiness.
- Saitou's almost literally a "wolf in sheep's clothing".
- Aoshi's Jerk Ass stoicism hid how much he cared for his people, and later his rage and violence hid depression and feelings of failure.
- Love at Fourteen A major theme of the series is the difference between how a person presents themselves to the world and how they really behave, which they can only show around certain people.
- The Animated Adaptation of Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note shows how Aya feels beneath the socially required Japanese Politeness and stoicness through the heavy use of Hexagonal Speech Balloon. On the other hand, she also hides the fact she's actually a social misfit by playing the role of the local wallflower. She later wondered this latter point is why she doesn't have any friends—she could get along with the other kids, but by oppressing her personality she has too little to be likable.
- Blue Exorcist: On the surface, Yukio Okumura is calm, polite, and professional. But inside, he's really a big ball of anger, resentment, and jealousy towards his brother Rin. Beyond that, for most people, he puts up a smiling facade, but to those he is closer to such as his brother and Shura, he shows his true colors of having a rather short fuse and being generally grumpy.
- ViVid Strike!: Rinne may present herself in the public as a stoic, no-nonsense fighter intent on becoming the strongest there is, but underneath this facade lies a sad, lonely girl with a fear of losing everything because of her weakness. When alone in the bathroom after losing to Vivio for the second time, we quickly see that deep down Rinne the "weakling" is still present as she breaks down crying.
- One Piece: During the Syrup Village arc, we meet Klahadore, the butler and caretaker of the local Ill Girl Kaya. He initially seems to care for Kaya and her well-being... but is soon revealed to be Kuro, former leader of the Black Cat Pirates, who had been planning for three years to kill her and take her inheritance for himself so he could comfortably retire. When Kaya discovers the truth, Kuro outright spells out to her that he absolutely hated every second of his servitude to her and "endured" it.
Kuro: I, who was once the dreaded Captain Kuro, bowed and scraped to a spoiled little girl, and catered to her every whim... Can you fathom my humiliation?
- The Sentry, though he pretends to be a Lawful Good hero, has a dark side that manifests against his will.
- Jean Grey's Phoenix persona was retconned to be her actual innermost personality, not a separate entity. It is very different from her public persona.
- In Superman story arc Superman: Brainiac, Clark and Lois talk about their co-worker Cat Grant, who became a very different and unpleasant person after losing her son. They suspect that she is trying to hide her pain behind a mask.
Lois: The way she's acting...
Clark: Cat left the planet after her son died. Everything she's wearing right now, everything she's pretending to be, she's using it to cover up. I don't need X-Ray Vision to tell me when someone's hiding behind a disguise.
- Black Adam of Captain Marvel was chosen as a champion of justice, but when he received superpowers he didn't react as his patrons expected him to.
- Anya's Ghost is largely about hiding behind masks. Anya goes to great lengths to hide her nationality and blend in at school, while Elizabeth hides her knowledge about her boyfriend Sean's wandering love life to maintain the illusion (and delusion) that her relationship is an envious one, and Emily hides her nature as a Yandere (and murderer) so that she can live through Anya vicariously.
- Outwardly, X-23 is The Stoic bordering on an outright Emotionless Girl, and many characters (even people who are ostensibly her friends) treat her like she's nothing but a cold, unfeeling killing machine. Underneath the cold facade, however, she's a confused and suicidally depressed jumble of loneliness, heartbreak, and rage. Her detached persona is there entirely because she doesn't know how to handle what she feels, and to protect others from her anger.
- Deadpool is known as the merc with a mouth due to his wit and constant and often nonsensical talking. This carefree and jovial nature is actually a mask under which is severe depression and self-loathing resulting from the many, many tragedies and tortures he has endured. It has compounded more so in recent issues with the death of his former love interest and the possible death of their daughter.
- A common portrayal of Batman is that "Bruce Wayne" is just a front he uses to fit in to society. The Dark Knight is his true personality.
- Ray of Plutona is a jerk to everyone. Turns out underneath that facade he's just another kid afraid people will mock his terrible family situation. He jumps at the chance to hang out with actual friends.
- A Crown of Stars: Asuka had worn a bunch of masks after her mother's death to protect her emotionally-damaged, insecure self. She has worn so many when she trained to become an Eva pilot, when she fought Angels, when she got turned into the plaything of dictators… that she is not sure of what her real self is anymore, and she does not know whether Shinji loves her or one of her masks. Someone else assures that Shinji knows her real self better that she thinks and she can always turn one of her masks into her real self.
- Advice and Trust: Shinji had noticed Asuka pretended being harsh and prideful but she was a frightened, vulnerable kid deep-down. After getting together she shows him her kindest, nicest side constantly.
- Cenotaph plays this in an interesting way. Taylor is already very emotionally remote, due to the abuse she suffered at Emma, Sophia, and Madison's hands. When she wakes up from her coma in Calling Card 1.5, she reflects that she should feel more sadness than she does. After all her father was just murdered because of her, her BSOD fugue lasts until she visits her mother's grave, when she finally breaks down. This theme is repeated in Coordination 4.2, during the funeral.
- The Child of Love: As they talk during the Obon festival, Shinji says Asuka can be very annoying or very nice. Then she says she tries to avoid pain by driving people away, and Shinji muses it is like if they are hiding behind a shield. For a while after her reconciliation she showed her sweet side underneath the harsh exterior only to Shinji.
Shinji:"You're right, Asuka-chan. It's kind of like...we're hiding ourselves from the pain behind a shield."
- Child of the Storm has Jean-Paul, who affects a harmless Camp Gay Gay Best Friend Chivalrous Pervert Gratuitous French speaking persona. While he hasn't shown much of what is beneath the mask, it is noted that when someone starts treading on thin ice, he goes cold in a manner that reminds Harry of Loki and drops the Gratuitous French and all the mannerisms (though Word of God suggest that he really is fairly Camp Gay). He also proves capable of performing an almost absent minded Sherlock Scan on someone he barely knows and in a fight, unhesitatingly uses his speed to throw a rock at mach speeds into the eye of a giant werewolf.
- Carol projects a spiky aura to people she doesn't know - this is mostly reported rather than seen, as Harry befriends her pretty quickly - but underneath she's got a natural Big Sister Instinct and she's generally softer and kinder (relatively speaking).
- Harry himself is noted as coming out from his repressed shell and being freer with his emotions following his being reclaimed by Thor, as well as becoming notably more assertive and confident, with a pronounced temper (though as McGonagall observes, it was always there, just very well hidden). However, he still generally defaults to Adorkable.
- Children of an Elder God: In her first scene Asuka is interacting with Kaji, someone she trusts implicitly, so her mask is dropped and she behaves nicely. Later she is meeting other people, including her co-workers, so she keeps her mask on and she acts like a harsher, more prideful person. Throughout the story she gradually falls her mask as she gets closer to other people, especially Shinji.
- Doing It Right This Time: Asuka was a lonely, frightened, vulnerable girl that fabricated a mask of harshness and arrogance to push everyone away so that no one hurt her. After the canon events she has realized it was very counterproductive, so she has dropped it. She is still bold and daring but she no longer tries to look mean.
- Fantasy Of Utter Ridiculousness: In Touhou canon, Yukari is known as a superlative chessmaster with a cunning mind, a brilliantly lazy trickster capable of playing both sides against each other. After the story's final battle, we find out that much of it is a facade; she's aware of Evil Coop's existence and how important Megas really is to Gensokyo, and she's dreading what could possibly happen with the situation completely out of her hands.
- Ghosts of Evangelion: Asuka often comes across as short-tempered and mean-spirited, even though she doesn't mean most things she says. Shinji and their daughter can see through her mask, though.
- HERZ: Asuka had created a mask of harshness and abrasiveness to hide her real, vulnerable inner self after her mother’s suicide. However it prevented her from feeling her mother and Shinji’s love. Rei eventually convinced her that she had to drop it and open up to be loved back and be happy.
- Some people like Kurumi wondered why Shinji had fallen for such a fiery woman. Shinji liked Asuka’s fierceness but he had also seen her real self under the mask.
- Last Child of Krypton: Asuka asks Shinji why he likes her and Shinji replies he has seen her real self under her "tough, boastful, rude girl" mask, and he knows she is brave, intelligent, and kinder than she thinks she is.
- Seen in a Danny Phantom Fan Fic called Masks In which Danny's double life has caused Mr Lancer to keep him in school for the entire weekend with Jack and Maddie's blessing in order to find out why he is slipping up so badly. One notable thing that the author does to expand on the superhero masks is that Danny is actually wearing three masks to hide who he is.
- The One I Love Is: In chapter 6 Shinji finally realizes Asuka's self-assuredness and confidence were a mask to cover a very fragile self-esteem.
There before me, from this girl who'd never shown anything but self assuredness, was a catalogue of failures.
- In DC Nation, Fauna lampshades this when it comes to Nightwing. After seeing him as Dick Grayson, she wrote in her Character Blog that not many people put a mask on when they want to be themselves.
- Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: During a heart-to-heart talk with Shinji, Asuka says she has worn so many masks since she was a little chlid sometimes she is not sure of what her real self is: when she was a scared, lonely child she created a mask of an arrogant, hostile genius and fearless pilot to protect herself; later when she became Power Girl she wore the mask of an heroine; and a short while later she became Supergirl and tried to be a real heroine. However it drives her crazy trying to be the paragon of morality and virtue everyone thinks she should be, so that she asks Shinji becoming her confidant because he saw beneath his mask and did not run away.
- Inverted by Jack O'Lantern in Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With The Light. Although he wears a public mask to be accepted by his fellow citizens, he also begins wearing a ghoulish pumpkin-headed costume and committing increasingly deadly crimes to reveal his true personality. He is well aware of the irony in wearing a mask to reveal his true face, but he considers himself superior to the pathetic, mindless sheep and cattle that make up most of the rest of society because he's willing to embrace just what he really is.
- In Power Girl story A Force of Four, Kara couldn't allow herself to seem vulnerable when she arrived on Earth. She had to behave as a brash, self-assured and tougher-than-nails woman, even if she came across as a bitch with a chip on her shoulder, because she didn't want anybody to see the lost, afraid little girl underneath.
Tough girl, her mental jester mocked her. Everybody thinks you're such a tough girl.
But she had to be tough. Finding out that so many years of her life were a pre-programmed lie, coming to a strange world, finding only one man of Krypton and then losing him, turning from innocence into grim experience on a planet she never made... she had to be tough, or break. She had to wall the little girl off, most of the time, and put on the casing of the big, tough, capable bitch.
- You Obey is built around this trope, and is all the more chilling for it.
- In the Legend of Zelda high school AU fic Break My Fall, Vaati has been in love with Green for years, and is using intimidation as a means to cover up his insecurities. Not only that, but he was friends with Blue in grade school, making Blue the only person who has even an inkling to what he's really like.
- In Out Of The Dead Land, Bucky initially wears the mask of the person he wants to be (i.e. the old, non-traumatized Bucky that Steve remembers), then the mask of the empty, unfeeling Winter Soldier when the first mask is torn off. His true self ends up being somewhere in between these two extremes.
- Tangled Adventures In Arendelle: Elsa has this perhaps the most. Her training and her whole "conceal, don't feel" business has her still putting on masks of indifference or composure in order to keep her true feelings from showing. Trying to project an appearance of control and composure even in the worst of times, and to maintain her newfound control over her powers. However, by the time Frozen's movie plot is over, her more private persona is given more exploration whenever she's around Anna or the Fitzherberts. It's fairly apparent that she's a rather insecure, sad ruler, but also with a lot of passion for her family, and a great desire to move on from the worst of times.
- Referenced in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion doujinshi Matataki no Aida ni. Madoka has always seen Homura as this cool, collected girl; she's surprised to find that Homura doesn't agree.
Homura: I'm not composed. Ever. [...] When I'm talking to you, I'm always a bit nervous.
- In Off The Line Cloud in real life is timid and unassuming while Rainstorm in Terra Online is assertive and brave. Cloud's body language shifts when he decides to "be Rainstorm" when standing up for himself.
- In The Fifth Act Sephiroth's POV showing that beneath his arrogant aloof exterior, he's deeply lonely, disconnected man. He's Lonely at the Top and desperate to get Cloud, who surpasses him in strength to be his rival. The omakes also show him take great pleasure in letting loose and causing havoc.
- During their wedding in The Second Try, Shinji told Asuka that he had seen under her "tough girl" mask and he realized that she was a vulnerable, hurt girl who he wanted to protect with all his strength.
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide, several characters -Shinji, Misato, Hikari...- comment that Asuka is a very different person than most of people think, because even though she may look strong and arrogant... that is a mask; and her real self is hurt, vulnerable and without self-esteem:
Because, like an frozen, unforgiving iceberg, there was a lot more to Asuka beneath the surface.
- In Thousand Shinji, when Shinji met Asuka, she seemed to radiate confidence, certainty and arrogance. However, he witnessed one of her breakdowns when they were in her mecha's cockpit, and when he probed her mind, he sensed that she was hiding a lot of pain, sorrow and fragility beneath her feigned arrogance.
- Evangelion 303: When Shinji met Asuka she came across as an arrogant, short-tempered woman. When they started living together, though, he realized that she was hiding a softer, more vulnerable side. Later on, Asuka said that Shinji was the only one who had seen her real self beneath the mask.
- In Higher Learning, Asuka was actually a nice, caring girl underneath her harsh mask. After opening up to Shinji she displays her real self openly more often, and it annoys Shinji that his classmates all of sudden think that they have a chance with her now they’ve realized she’s not a complete bitch.
- In episode 5 of Once More with Feeling, Shinji thinks about Asuka’s abrasive and obnoxious behavior and how it was all a lie to hide her real self.
Then the Second Child had arrived, bringing with her conflict, friction and more then a few painful contusions to his head as she continually let him know exactly what she thought of him as an Eva Pilot, a man and a human.
All of it a giant lie to shield the four year old girl desperately hiding deep behind the moats, minefields and electrified fences she had placed around her heart.
- In Like A Wish, Kallen muses that Lelouch Lamperouge and the Demon King were both masks while Lelouch vi Britannia is dead, meaning Zero was the real Lelocuh. She wonders at the irony that the only time Lelouch isn't wearing a metaphorical mask is when he wears a physical one instead.
Films — Animated
- In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston is not as nice as he seems to be (see also Villain with Good Publicity).
- Megamind thought Titan would be a lot more heroic than he turns out to be.
- Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas seems to have shades of this trope. To the citizens of Halloween Town, he's the charismatic, self-confident, terrifying Pumpkin King. What they don't know is that Jack is very unhappy and bored about doing the same thing every year and longs for something different. Then he discovers Christmastown . . .
- Gothel appears to be a loving though overprotective mother towards Rapunzel. But when Rapunzel finds out she was the lost princess and Gothel had kidnapped her all along, she reveals her true greedy nature that she would do anything to keep Rapunzel's power to herself even murder.
- Flynn's daring, thieving personality is also a mask. As well as everyone at The Snuggly Duckling.
- Elsa is the queen who represses all her emotions to keep her from endangering her own kingdom and her family. After running away from her kingdom after her powers are displayed publically, she sings the musical number 'Let it Go', which is this entire trope personified. It contrasts from her regal and repressed behaviour earlier and her much more open behaviour after this point in the film.
- Rise of the Guardians
- As much as he would like to have everyone believe his irresponsible, devil-may-care act, Jack's transformation into the spirit of winter also caused him a lot of grief, due to becoming invisible, intangible, and inaudible to normal people for 300 years, and given no purpose with it, causing him to feel unnecessary. When his act slips, Jack is a depressed teenager who suffers from abandonment issues, and his bouts of mischief are a desperate attempt to be noticed by someone.
- Similarly, Pitch Black has moments when it seems he is Not So Different from Jack; his nature as the Boogeyman made him feared by the world, and while he was able to deal with it at first, the appearance of the titular Guardians made him feel like he was now obsolete. What ultimately separates the two is while Jack decided to be a carefree prankster, Pitch decided to have a Face–Heel Turn.
Films — Live-Action
- In Bridesmaids Helen is the typical Alpha Bitch. At least that's what it appears on the surface. But when she breaks down crying, she reveals she's in a loveless marriage, and just gets invited to weddings because she's good at organizing events.
- Enter the Dragon: In reference to Han, the villain, whose martial-arts tournament is a front for a really nasty operation: "You must remember... the enemy has only images and illusions, behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image, and you will break the enemy."
- The basic premise of The Mask is that putting on the mask unleashes your id, not only making you act like you've always wanted to, but do anything you want, cartoon physics and all.
"It's like it brings your innermost desires to life. If deep down you're a little repressed, and a hopeless romantic, you become some kind of love-crazy wild man."
- When Stanley puts on the Mask, he loses his inhibitions and acts the way he always wanted. When Dorian puts it on, though, he loses his pretenses of being an old-school Mafioso and goes straight demonic.
- In Pirates of the Caribbean Tia Dalma initially helps and even cares for Jack Sparrow, but in the third movie it is revealed that she is actually Calypso, a sea goddess. When she regains her full powers she becomes a destructive force of nature who doesn't care much about the various factions' petty struggles.
- Red Eye: Jackson Rippner eventually doesn't even bother holding up the mask.
- In the film version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the darkness tempts the main characters, showing their hidden desires.
- The knights' elaborate, mask-like helmets in the John Boorman film, Excalibur, show the real personae of the wearers.
- A major theme of Wild Things. Sam appears to be an honest, upstanding educator, but he's really a sleazy, exploitative pervert. Kelly appears to be an all-American teenage girl next door, but she's actually an angry, sexually confused cokehead who hates her family. Ray appears to be an honest if overzealous cop, but he's actually a Dirty Cop who enjoys prostitutes and is quite willing to murder anyone who pisses him off. Suzie appears to be a white-trash loser, but she's actually a brilliantly calculating Chessmaster who manipulates everyone else. Lampshaded by Ray, although in reference to another character.
Ray: People aren't always what they appear to be, Jimmy. Don't forget that.
- Psycho - everyone, the hard working secretary who isn't, the local cop who pulls over a woman for speeding, but really they are role-playing for a more intimate encounter, everyone. Especially, of course Norman, who is really only a more extreme case.
- The World's End talks about how adults often hide their unhappiness behind outward success, houses, money, etc., as the characters reveal the problems in their seemingly successful lives. Then there's Gary, whose outward facade of cheer and energy cannot hide his depressive state.
- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: The Pretender Alice. At first glance, she's just a pretty and popular, if strange, fellow student who attends parties and- if her carried books are any indication- studies just like everyone else. Of course, she's actually a misanthropic Decepticon spy who's more than willing to drop that façade in a heartbeat to kill, if it means completing her mission.
- X-Men: Apocalypse: Quicksilver's jovial facade hides some deep-seated daddy issues regarding his estranged father, Magneto.
Peter Maximoff: He left my mom before I was born. I met him ten years back, but I didn't know it was him. By the time I figured it out, it was too late. Then I saw him on TV again, and I came to the house looking for him, but by the time I got there... (sighs) Late again. You know, for a guy who moves as fast as me, I always seem to be too late.
- Throughout the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters, Jillian Holtzmann comes off as a confident, flirty, cocky and light-hearted eccentric who casually throws herself into danger, is barely fazed by anything and takes eager delight in teasing and Trolling everyone around her. Until the very end, when she eagerly stands up to make a toast to her fellow Ghostbusters in a bar — and, much to their surprise, awkwardly stammers out a heartfelt and sincere tribute to her newfound friends and how much having them in her life means to her, while being on the verge of tears all the way through. It's a suggestion that beneath her self-assured cockiness and charm, she's a much lonelier, insecure and vulnerable woman than she'd previously let on.
- In Dragon Bones, Ward has been Obfuscating Stupidity for the past seven years, but that is not the only mask he wears. He eventually tells Oreg that he has been imitating a famous ancestor when acting as leader, and his father while fighting, and doesn't even know what his own true self is. Oreg says he knows Ward's true self. To the reader, it is rather obvious, as Ward instinctively saves his enemy, (little surprise, as saving people is a habit of his), and also when he consents to kill Oreg, something which Oreg counted on him to do. It Makes Sense In Context. He acts rather consistent over the course of the novel, in his actions, if not in his words and feelings. Ward's younger brother Tosten was a bit creeped out when Ward took a break from acting like a mentally retarded Gentle Giant, in order to stop Tosten from committing suicide, the one time Ward broke out of the mask prior to his father's death. (He did the pretending in order to make his father consider him harmless and not try to kill him again.)
- In Twilight, Rosalie Hale. Though she seems superior, emotionless and shallow to Bella at first, it is revealed that she actually envies Bella and is very much capable of deep feelings, loving her family, and being sad on the inside because of her inability to get pregnant.
- In The Dresden Files, wizards have two major abilities related to this.
- A Soulgaze is a one time per person link. When initiated by the wizard staring into someone's eyes for a few seconds, each sees the other's True Self.
- The Sight shows the essence of how things are — magical workings and their aftereffects are visible, people's mental and emotional trauma and strengths, etc. Anything seen with the Sight is permanently etched into the wizard's brain.
- Sherlock Holmes puts up a cold and stoic façade, but shows a softer side from time to time.
- The entirety of the Ciaphas Cain novels is about a HERO OF THE IMPERIUM who secretly regards himself as a Dirty Coward whose every action was motivated by self-interest. Whether or not you believe that depends very much on how you interpret his true character.
- Inverted, in a fashion, for most of 40K's xenos races. In Cain's stories, we see these races as they would appear to someone who can't get inside their heads. We Terrans see the Orks as comic loonies because we can see through their eyes, but Cain sees them as ravening barbaric brutes. We see the Necrons as Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds because we know what their lives look like from the inside, but Cain sees them as omnicidal eldritch abominations. In short, Cain's stories allow us to see what 40K looks like when you can't see Beneath the Mask.
- In Under a Velvet Cloak, we see Nox (the Mistress of Secrets) automatically knows EVERYONE's secrets, such as how God has tuned out of the mortal world, or even how Satan is at heart a good man who honors his agreements to the letter (twisted though that letter may be), despite being highly effective at his job as an Incarnation. Nox also has the power to reveal anyone's secrets, which she uses very rarely.
- In Elias Canetti's book Crowds and Power, he speaks in detail about masks and hiding of a true-self in relation to power. For Canetti everyone wears a mask and for this reason a ruler is never able to truly trust in anyone, which is a cause of paranoia regarding betrayal. For Canetti the "unmasking" is crucial in the movements of power.
- John le Carré takes a very dark look at this in the Karla trilogy. The protagonist, George Smiley, appears to be a slightly myopic, helpless, and generally tragic old man who is genuinely sick of all the betrayals and lies that constitute his profession and that has wrecked his personal life. Only occasionally do we see why he's still in the Circus: he is brilliant and very, very good at what he does, i.e., the betrayals and lies that constitutes the intelligence life. His opponent, Karla, appears to be an iron-willed fanatic for whom taking advantage of the opposition's humanity is part of the job. It is not until Smiley's People that we see the crack in his mask: his love for his illegitimate daughter, Tatiana, who is driven insane by her inability to recognize the spymaster as her father. The ending of Smiley's People implies that beneath their masks, Smiley and Karla are Not So Different - a revelation that drives Smiley to retire for good.
- In The Gun Seller, the protagonist notes that a certain revolutionary leader puts on a different mask for every member of the cell. To one true believer, he's a fiery and passionate Che type; to the Southern hick, he's a rock and roll adventurer; to another, he's a philosophical seeker after truth. His true self is only hinted at when he instinctively strikes a small child on an airplane.
- Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho wears the mask of a sociable, high-flying yuppie to hide his murderous desires.
- In The Pale King, Meredith Rand is so gorgeous that no one realizes how many issues she's hiding. That is, until she starts talking...
- In Beachwalker, the titular character spends much of the book pretending to everyone, including herself, that she can handle everything. Underneath, it's starting to take its toll.
- Double Subverted in Deep Space Nine Soldiers of the Empire. Klingons underneath their swagger are lonely overworked soldiers grumbling about their lot just as much as human soldiers do. But when inspired they put on their mask again and go into battle as a true Proud Warrior Race.
- Joan Foster muses on this in Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood: having reinvented herself several times in her life, she's not particularly interested in seeing what's beneath the facades of the people she encounters, having decided that "facades were just as truthful" as what they hide.
- This is where the title comes from in Yukio Mishima's Confessions Of A Mask. One of the biggest themes is how the main character tries to appear normal in Word War II Japan and the reader is the only one to see his inner workings.
- In The Legendsong Saga Solen realises that one of the dangers of Glynn's muteness is that he talks to her as though to himself, risking lifting his mask and exposing the fact that his personality as a wastrel is just an act.
- Particularly in the Citadel, it is said that courtiers just wear layer upon layer of masks. The protagonists' allies are notable for having the fewest masks, and liking them the least.
- The Reynard Cycle: Reynard is, outwardly, a Deadpan Snarker, who likes to trade Witty Banter with his foes while engaging in dramatic swordplay. When he loses his cool however . . .
- In Words of Radiance, we get to see, just for an eyeblink, Shallan Davar's true face:
An image formed in front of her, born of Stormlight, created by instinct. She hadn't needed to draw this image first, for she knew it too well.The image was of herself. Shallan, as she should be. Curled in a huddle on the bed, unable to weep for she had long since run out of tears. This girl... not a woman, a girl... flinched whenever spoken to. She expected everyone to shout at her. She could not laugh, for laughter had been squeezed from her by a childhood of darkness and pain.That was the real Shallan. She knew it as surely as she knew her own name. The person she had become instead was a lie, one she had fabricated in the name of survival.
- In Twig, Genevieve Frey, a Mad Scientist on the run, acts kind and courteous to the narrator, Sylvester, when they first meet. He observes that, given what he knows she's done, she must have a far more bloodthirsty and dangerous side, which she acknowledges, but she rejects the idea that this side of her is hiding:
This isn’t a duality. I’m not one of the Balfour Academy soldiers, drinking a potion to become virile, ugly, and monstrously strong. There isn’t a lever inside me that determines which of me you’re talking to at once. A knife can cut or stab. The label doesn’t change. It’s still a knife.
- In Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note, Aya plays the role of the wallflower to hide the fact that she can't fit into the class, so as to avoid to be seen as a weirdo. As her interactions with the male cast shows, despite being quite self conscious, she isn't really shy.
- Star Wars: Kenobi: Ben puts on a pleasant front, but occasionally allows himself to grow solemn and sad, given Annileen a glimpse of the Obi-Wan Kenobi who was forced to kill his best friend just a few weeks ago. Annie notes that most people on Tatooine are the opposite—hiding any pleasant parts of their personality under a layer of abrasiveness.
- The Girl from the Miracles District: Nikita puts a front of an Aloof Dark-Haired Girl - and, to some extent, she is one, but inside, she's also a woman scared of her father and wishing for a normal life.
- Several characters in StarCraft: Liberty's Crusade would discuss what Mengsk could be like under the mask - as Kerrigan points out, he's unreadable. When Raynor calls him out on sacrificing Kerrigan, he engages in his well known tirade prompting Liberty to remark that Mengsk has finally shown his true face: that of a power crazed madman.
Live Action TV
- Game of Thrones:
- During his private moments, Renly Baratheon is shown to be more insecure than the confident facade that he projects in public.
- Varys drops the Sissy Villain act when he gets really serious.
- In private (and once when confronted by Tywin in a deleted scene), Pycelle drops his infirmity, elderly befuddlement, and rambling old man monologues to reveal a virile, cunning man playing a part to avoid unwanted attention.
- In "The Gift", the High Sparrow declares it his intention to strip away the "finery" of the great houses and see them judged for what they truly are. More subtly, the same episode removes the High Sparrow's own mask: he is still a man of simple conviction and extreme piety, but his affable humility diminishes through his conversation with Olenna culminating in an implied threat and when he arrests Cersei his posture, expression, and eye contact become much more confrontational, revealing the fanatic zeal that lets the apparently gentle old man command the violent Faith Militant.
- Major Zod pretended to be an ally to Clark and a caring leader until he received his superpowers, revealing his hidden lust for power. "Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven."
- Lana Lang once received Clark's superpowers, using them to try to expose Lex's secrets, discredit him in the media, and when all else failed kill him. Then again, given the absolute hell he'd put her through just to steal her from Clark, can you blame her?
- There was an episode with a flower that made people act out their secret desires. There was also the red kryptonite for Clark.
- In the original Twilight Zone, the episode "A Piano in the House" featured a magical piano. When it played certain song rolls, the music forced people to show their true natures. The sadistic host who owned the piano loved it. He used it on his party guests, showing a noble man was greedy, how a woman was vain. His come-uppance was when his wife, sick of the abuse going on in the party, put a roll in that affected HIM. He then showed how terrified and needy he was to everyone.
- Niska in Firefly is fond of quoting the mad Chinese philosopher Shan Yu, who once said "Live with a man for 50 years, share meals, spend every waking hour with him. Then one day take him and dangle him over a volcano's edge, and on that day, you will finally meet the man." In his second appearance, he made the mistake of dangling Malcolm Reynolds over the volcano, and was terrified of who he met.
- Mal himself presents himself as a hard-edged heartless mercenary of a Captain, but pretty much everyone on his crew knows he's mostly a softy at heart, provided you do not betray him or his own.
- Jayne really is a heartless mercenary, but as the show goes on, it is revealed that he sends money home to his mother to care for his family.
- This is a major premise of House, as all the main cast including the patients are not always what they seem to be, in the case of the patients their lies often complicate the medical procedures of the team , while House himself dedicates his time to discover the secrets of his co-workers. House certainly thinks that this is humanity's natural state, given his famous quote "...Everybody lies".
- In one episode Thirteen finds a very depressed-sounding poem written by a young patient that starts "Beneath The Mask that others see..." and thinks he's depressed/suicidal. She uses this to browbeat the patient's parents into agreeing to something they had been refusing to do. It turns out that it was for a writing assignment, and wasn't how the patient personally felt at all. What the parents did just made the patient feel worse.
- Sherlock and John, well, you know, a different version of this. Sherlock is really a jerk, but, through Character Development we find out that he has a likeable side to him. John is revealed to be your plain, boring, meek guy, but it turns out that John's an adrenaline junkie. Also, he had no confidence in himself but Sherlock gave him that. Mary is supposedly an enemy of Sherlock, but-nope. She isn't, and than it seems as if she's a sweet, normal girl. Whoops. She's an assassin from the CIA.
- Moriarty is seen to be your normal, stupid, Camp Gay boyfriend to Molly but it's revealed that he's Sherlock's Evil Counterpart. Also, he wanted to end John's life. No wonder Sherlock had to fake his own death. John's who entire safety was at risk.
- Lizzie McGuire displays the title character's duality with an animated version of Lizzie saying whatever Lizzie is really thinking.
- Thomas Barrow on Downton Abbey is manipulative, dastardly and downright cruel, but whenever his mask of indifference and rudeness slips (usually on occasions involving death or spurned affections) he's shown to be a lonely man desperate for affection and to actually have something resembling a heart.
- The Doctor, in Doctor Who. Yes, he wears celery, offers people jelly babies, and has a fascination with Cool Hats; seems like another harmless eccentric fellow, right? Yeah - that "harmless eccentric fellow" can quite literally tear the heavens asunder and reshape reality if he really feels like it. Still want to piss him off?
- To add to this trope, despite the Doctor and his silly gimmicks, the Steven Moffat era has made it quite clear how much the Doctor hates himself for some of the difficult calls he has to make.
- In iCarly, Nevel is a polite, nice kid when within his mom's vicinity, but is a complete Jerk Ass outside of it.
- Pretty much the entire basis of Hannah Montana.
- Odyssey 5 has Kurt occasionally show a much kinder side than his usual persona.
- Effectively everyone of any importance on Babylon 5, as summed up by G'Kar's word of warning to Catherine Sakai: "No one here is exactly what he appears. Not Mollari, not Delenn, not Sinclair... and not me."
We Centauri live our lives for appearances. But when a I look beneath this mask I am forced to wear I see only emptiness. And then I think of you, and I say, "To hell with appearances."
- The Centauri in particular, as Londo confides to his lover Adira:
- After Londo makes a Deal with the Devil, sparking a war between the Centauri and the Narn, in order to bring the Centauri Republic back to glory, he ramps up his nationalism and Fantastic Racism against the Narn to a large degree in public, in an attempt to conceal how much terrible guilt he feels over his part in the entire situation.
- In Wizards of Waverly Place, behind her facade, Alex is insecure, dependent, and scared teenage girl, who desires to be accepted (somewhat by her peers and definitely by her parents, but mostly by Justin).
- Harper's facade. Throughout the series, we see glimpses of truth where she hints at things that...are rather depressing for a kid's show...
- In Real Life, David Henrie, Selena Gomez and Jake T. Austin are almost the opposite of their characters, Justin, Alex and Max Russo. In the show, Justin is actually The Klutz and an uptight Hollywood Nerd, while David is laid-back, boisterous and supportive, inclined towards the cool guy type. Alex is a Manipulative Bastard and apathetic Anti-Villain, whereas Selena is really nice, vibrant and open. Max is a big idiot, dumb enough to misspell his own name, while Jake is smart and studious, much more serious than his cast mates, as seen in most interviews. Selena and David even impersonate each other in a live talk show, and the difference between the representations of their real personalities and their characters' personalities is quite striking.
- Much of the drama in Hannibal revolves around Hannibal Lecter's carefully constructed public life as an affable, erudite gourmand and socialite. His former therapist (who has more of an inkling than most people, and therefore fears for her life) calls it his 'person suit'.
- In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), Jake recognizes that despite Sam's attempt to appear calm and keep them all calm, Sam is really "freaked to hell".
- While Breaking Bad's Walter White is also mentioned on the other page, the series also invites the viewer to consider whether Walter had broken bad a long time ago and was just waiting for the right catalyst to be set loose, and there's plenty of valid evidence for both interpretations.
- Lady Gaga's song "Poker Face" is about this; the title refers to how it's customary to mask emotions as much as possible when playing poker to avoid giving anything away.
- Electric Six has stated that they play disco dance music because it's "exactly what we are not."
- Pink Floyd sang of this trope in their song In the Flesh: "So ya, thought ya might like to go to the show/To feel the warm thrill of confusion—that space cadet glow/Tell me, is something eluding you, sunshine? Is this not what you expected to see?/If you wanna find out what's behind these cold eyes, you'll just have to claw your way through this disguise!"
- Britney Spears' "If U Seek Amy" video shows off how conflicting public and private selves can lead to confusion in the media. How certain people put on an act to maintain a fanbase or a group of supporters.
- The song "True Colors" from Cyndi Lauper. Makes a mention to this trope.
- The song "Mr Roboto" by Styx uses this trope. "I am the Modren man/Who hides behind a mask/So no one else can see/My true identity."
- Billy Joel's "The Stranger" is about what a person is beneath the mask. "We all have a face, that we hide away forever / And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone..."
- He gets pretty cynical about it. The song is about how no matter how close you are to a lover, there are some secrets you never tell, and you shouldn't be surprised if they're hiding their nature from you - because you're doing the same to them.
- Adding the qualifier: "We may never understand how the Stranger is inspired / But he is not always evil, and he is not always wrong."
- The Beatles' "I'm a Loser" : "Although I laugh and I act like a clown / Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown"
- Queen's "The Show Must Go On". "Inside my heart is breaking; my make-up may be flaking but my smile still stays on."
- Boyce Avenue "More Things to Say" : "All we know is the mask and not your face"
- The track "The Mask" by The Fugees on The Score is about people pretending to be somebody or something else behind a mask.
- R.E.M.'s "Imitation of Life" is about how people tend to hide their insecurities while trying to be happy. The music video is a 20-second clip set at an outdoor party played backwards and forwards, with dozens of smaller events going on, many of which aren't immediately apparent in the first viewing.
"That sugarcane that tasted good, that's who you are, that's what you could. Come on, come on, no one can see you cry..."
- Slipknot's song "The Devil in I" certainly gives off this feeling.
- Explored deeply in Jekyll & Hyde, most notably with the song Facade and its numerous reprises.
There's a face that we wear in the cold light of day/ It's society's mask, it's societies way/ And the truth is... That it's all a facade.
- Fiyero in Wicked pretends to be a carefree, "brainless" playboy, but there's more to him than meets the eye, as Elphaba reveals after they rescue the Lion cub. Cue the beginnings of Character Development.
Elphaba: You could have just walked away back there.Fiyero: So?Elphaba: So no matter how shallow and self-absorbed you pretend to be—Fiyero: Excuse me! There's no pretense here. I happen to be genuinely self-absorbed and deeply shallow.Elphaba: No, you're not. Otherwise you wouldn't be so unhappy.
- Final Fantasy:
We all wear masks because deep down inside we are nothing but beasts. The question I ask you is, to which do you submit—the mask, or the beast?
- A classic case is Squall from Final Fantasy VIII. On the outside: cold, cynical, mean, rude, and very much a Determinator. On the inside, he is collapsing: constantly questioning himself and why he continues to do what he does, and cripplingly insecure about how other people perceive him. He uses his anti-social exterior to hold others at arm's length rather than risk the pain of rejection or loss because such feelings devastate him.
- In Final Fantasy VII lead character Cloud Strife spends some 2/3rds of the game under a mask; a persona based seemingly on his deceased best friend, Zack Fair and former commanding officer Sephiroth. Only after a Journey to the Center of the Mind does Cloud finally become "Cloud" again, admitting that his subconscious constructed a persona to protect his fragile ego after his breakdown.
- Zolku-Azolku, an NPC in Final Fantasy XI, discusses the concept:
- In Halo 3 the normally calm Prophet of Truth shows his true colors as a mad alien willing to kill his fellow prophets and an entire race of aliens while trying to reach godhood. This is a result of Becoming the Mask; in Halo: Contact Harvest, Truth doesn't come off as particularly pious and initiates the Human-Covenant war simply to conceal humanity's status as 'Reclaimers' and gain control of the Covenant. He's been lying for so long and with such conviction that by the time he dies, even he believes his lies.
- Forerunner AIs Guilty Spark and Medicant Bias both hid their true intentions until their betrayals due to rampancy.
- Gravemind acts as a calm, pragmatic, smooth-talking individiual with a high love for poetry, but when Master Chief is penetrating through the Flood's defences at High Charity, Gravemind slowly shows itself as the ragefilled, angry, ruthless, hot tempered, screaming, murderous monster it actually is.
- Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 2: General Shepherd betrayed Task Force 141 and killed them, revealing himself to be a Well-Intentioned Extremist. Very hard for Price and Soap to bear, though not too hard to believe.
- This trope is a staple of the Persona series, right down to the title: it comes from the Latin word for "mask".
- Persona 4 in particular is all about what we have behind the mask (the "shadow" self, both in game terms and in Jungian psychology) and facing it. Interestingly, the characters achieve happiness not by rejecting the mask entirely, but by reconciling it further with their stifled feelings.
- Persona 5 has Shadows and Personas both reflect the true feelings of their other selves. For the villains, they generally show the characters' true sociopathic, twisted desires. For the heroes meanwhile, they generally expose their Revenge Before Reason, Well-Intentioned Extremist desires to change the society and adults that've wronged them; they even awaken their Personas by literally ripping a mask off their face. There's even a song in the game called "Beneath the Mask", with the singer not really knowing who they are without their mask.
- Dragon Age:
- Zevran in Dragon Age: Origins appears to be a smartmouthed skirt-chaser, but closer inspection reveals a mess of homesickness and guilt.
- Dragon Age II:
- Isabela has got an honorable side buried under all the greed and selfishness, and under her carefree sex-without-attachment persona she just wants to be loved.
- Implied with Aveline and her tough-as-nails guardswoman persona. She's a very private woman who refuses to elaborate on her feelings and regrets after losing her husband, and has a similar attitude towards the party after she remarries.
- Hawke, if played with a sarcastic/charming personality, acts flippant and irreverent to mask deep-seated feelings of loneliness, due to all the loss they endure over the course of the game. Their status as a Sad Clown is even more noticeable after the murder of their mother.
- A bittersweet one for King's Quest: despite his return to Daventry, his rank of prince, and his joy of being a free man with a loving family, Alexander considers that identity as "a cloak." The Kings Quest Companion establishes that he still considers himself to be "Gwydion," the name he had as Manannan's slave. In the series guide, he makes a concession to both identities by signing his name Alexander-Gwydion.
- Heavy Rain has Lt. Blake and his boss, Captain Perry, liking By-the-Book Cop Norman Jayden. However, their true selves revealed that they don't like him.
- Laharl from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness tries his very best to be completely perceived as an evil demon, but his more positive qualities, like his forgiving, noble and strangely kind nature, is regularly provoked to the surface throughout the game.
- Tales Series:
- Zelos from Tales of Symphonia at first appears to be a Skirt Chasing pervert who uses his rank as the Chosen to bring Ladies to his bedroom and simply just relishes the limelight. Inside, he's really a calculating individual who suffers from self-loathing due to an EXTREMELY messed up childhood, which involves his mother telling him "You Should Never Have Been Born" just before she dies.
- Tales of Legendia: Grune starts of as an Amnesiac who is basically the teams personal Cloud Cuckoolander. Later on, even though she tries to hide it when she figures it out, it is revealed that Grune is really a goddess of time whose only purpose is to battle with her evil counterpart in order to determine the fate of the world.
- Tales of Vesperia. After his Face–Heel Turn and subsequent redemption we get to see the person behind Raven's sleazy-selfish-pervert mask. After revealing, he does return to the mask though, because he much prefers that persona.
- Throughout the Mass Effect series, as the commanding officer, Commander Shepard is forced to constantly show an air of calm, confidence, and no fears or worries. As Mass Effect 3 goes along, this mask begins to crack more and more, as s/he is slowly broken down by the pressure of stress of having an entire galaxy on his/her shoulders, and begins to show a great deal of worry, fear, exhaustion, loneliness, and begins to question whether s/he can actually pull it off and defeat the near unstoppable threat of the Reapers.
- Borderlands series:
- There's a moment in the Borderlands 2 DLC Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage where Mad Moxxi makes some innuendo that relates cunnilingus to literal cannibalism, and manages to disgust herself. She apologizes and says that her innuendo talk is "just a defense mechanism" and her part of the radio goes silent for a while.
- The fact is, Moxxi wears a mask because she's ashamed to have been born into the Hodunk clan and tries to resemble her relatives as little as possible in public. This is contrasted with her daughter Ellie, who has just as much distaste for the Hodunks but insists on being herself, to Moxxi's disappointment. In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, Moxxi is mortified that the PCs get a peek beneath the mask by walking in on her without her trademark exaggerated makeup, wearing dirty overalls, and singing in her natural redneck accent as she works on a robot.
Nisha: I hereby promise not to tell people the slutty clown is also a slutty mechanic.
- Bastila from Knights of the Old Republic is arrogant, bossy, and Holier Than Thou about being a Jedi. However, she adopts this attitude because she feels enormous pressure to be a perfect Jedi, because of her rare Battle Meditation ability and the crucial position it puts her in despite her youth.
- Thoma from Agarest Senki. On the outside: Casanova Wannabe with Obfuscating Stupidity and invoking Open Mouth, Insert Foot. On the inside: Cultured Badass, very romantic man who likes deep meaningful conversations. Dyshana outright warns him not to become the mask because he'll lose all his good qualities if he does.
- In Batman: Arkham Origins, after Batman rescues Alfred from the rubble in the Batcave, and it appears too late to save Alfred from dying in his arms, the Dark Knight suffers a Heroic B.S.O.D. before discovering that he has to revive Alfred with the Shock Gloves. While Batman is doing so, the subtitles identify him as "Bruce Wayne" rather than "Batman", as he is on the point of giving up Batman's status.
- In Senran Kagura, Murakumo is quite a literal example. When she is wearing her hannyuu mask, she is a ruthless, stoic shinobi who will kill any one ordered to. Remove the mask, and she instantly turns into a Shrinking Violet manga artist, who seriously cannot go on without having something covering her face.
- Ace Attorney:
- Dahlia Hawthorne. She seems so sweet and innocent. She actually has the most intended murder victims, at seven. One of which was Phoenix himself. She is a very nasty person.
- We also have Phantom from Dual Destinies. Beneath the mask of a cheery, hammy detective lies more masks. And beneath those masks, each coated with sociopathy and ruthlessness, there's nothing.
- Lesteena in Eien no Aselia isn't sure whether her normal personality or the one she pretends to be when she gets a chance to relax is the real one. The answer seems to be both and neither.
- Jeff Ryan, who acts helpful and charming in public when his real personality is much more snarky and rude towards people. But he upholds his mask in public, because he's simply doing what he must to get along well in the world.
- The kidnapper himself, considering he has repeatedly kidnapped women, but has yet to be caught or figured out. All the while acting like a regular college student.
- Tohsaka in Fate/stay night is a bit of a funny example. She acts like a perfect and kind student, but beneath that she's irritable, dishonest about her feelings, Not a Morning Person, selfish and something of a troll. However, beneath that is something she doesn't seem entirely aware of: She values people's lives a great deal, will die for others, values fair play and honesty and is actually rather kind. Nor is she as ruthless as she thinks she is.
- Almost every character in Hatoful Boyfriend is putting on a front of some kind. All the main characters appear to be dating sim stereotypes - the Childhood Friend, the Rich Kid, the Popular Kid et cetera. They're all hiding facets of themselves that the player can discover slowly. The Childhood Friend is struggling with questions of lifespan, the Rich Kid cares less for his family's wealth and more for talents he's been forbidden to develop, the Popular Kid is a Teen Super Spy and a Stepford Smiler and The Atoner.
- Virtually every main character in Nameless is hiding something beneath their masks, whether it be friendliness masking yandereness or confidence masking identity issues. Even the protagonist is hiding her doll-collecting hobby from her friends out of fear that she won't be accepted otherwise.
- In Sunstone a recurring theme of the webcomic is masks and how despite the fact these characters use persona in their BDSM, beneath these masks they are all perfectly normal (and in Ally's case Adorkable) people.
- Tower of God: Lero-Ro. He is actually quite angry about some of the decisions his boss Yu Han-Sung makes and how things work in Evankhell anyway, but manages to hold his criticism back and presents himself in a calm demeanor.
- Rachel. She acts like she still is Baam's friend, but in truth she already sold him out for her own dreams.
- To the new characters introduced in Season 2, Baam. He acts like an emotionless sociopath who won't hesitate to kill or fail everyone to pass the floor tests but that's because if he fails any of these tests, one of his friends will be killed by FUG. And he'll only know how many of his friends survived when he reaches the top. Which makes it even sadder because while the readers know that at least some of his friends are still alive, for all he knows, they could already have been killed (by the fierce competition in the Tower or by FUG) and he's doing everything for nothing.
- Vriska in Homestuck tries with all her might to live up to the example of her famous ancestor, Marquise Spinneret Mindfang, preferring that everyone view her as the Spider8itch than risk showing a hint of weakness. Even she doesn't realise this until she kills Tavros, and either sadly or happily depending on your opinion of the character, it's too late.
- Everyone who has the knight class is typified by this.
- In Ears for Elves, Luero calls out Tanna on her near-constant smiling. He goes on to say "Masking your emotions may be necessary for dealing with most people.".
- "Wastelanders Anonymous": Felix literally where's a mask and when he takes the mask off, his personality changes dramatically. The mask is part of his attempt to gain acceptance among the other plague doctors.
- A significant part of Antimony's character in Gunnerkrigg Court. For the first six chapters she seems like an Emotionless Girl, but she finally breaks down sobbing with her new best friend Kat over her mother's death and her father inexplicably cutting off contact with her. She maintains her stoic persona around everyone else most of the time, only taking it off around Kat, Reynardine, and in the Forest. Flashbacks show that her father Anthony had similar tendencies when he was her age.
- Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog has elements of this in both the Hero Antagonist, who looks like The Cape but is really an arrogant bully; and the Villain Protagonist, who's trying to woo the girl of his dreams as Billy, but is also trying to Take Over the World. Both masks come off at the end, with tragic results.
- Both Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer actually have three layers to them. On the surface, Billy is just Billy, leading a normal life, trying to woo Penny, underneath that he's the power-hungry Dr. Horrible, but even deeper down he's just Billy. As Penny mentioned, she first thought Hammer was just a big jerk, but he became really sweet later on. However, he really is just a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk.
- Like with pie.
- Both Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer actually have three layers to them. On the surface, Billy is just Billy, leading a normal life, trying to woo Penny, underneath that he's the power-hungry Dr. Horrible, but even deeper down he's just Billy. As Penny mentioned, she first thought Hammer was just a big jerk, but he became really sweet later on. However, he really is just a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk.
- In Neopets: Xandra in the "Faerie's Ruin" plot initially has a facade of a helpful and nerdy innocent appearance with anger issues (even using glasses to appear more innocent pictured here◊. However she is revealed to be a Well-Intentioned Extremist with a completely "machiavellian" and egomaniacal personality pictured here.
- Ask That Guy with the Glasses is a nicely layered version of the trope. The "mask" is a distinguished gentleman, underneath that is a bastard who likes playing with people, underneath that is an invoked Complete Monster, and underneath that is a cesspool of self-loathing and damage.
- Iron Star of the Whateley Universe. He's a hero in the Future Superheroes of America club at Superhero School Whateley Academy. He's really a massive jerk who is in the superhero game for what he can get out of it. He's already stringing along three different girls in the Future Superheroes of America club and who knows how many elsewhere.
- In Worm, Rachel Lindt, also known as the supervillain Bitch, is about as violently antisocial as a human being can get ... because her powers have overwritten her ability to parse normal human interactions with canine social instincts. As her Interlude reveals, given the choice, she actually wants to have friends — she just doesn't know how.
- Parodied by The Onion, reporting a study that found that the average person becomes an unhinged psychotic when alone at home.
- The RWBY song "Dream Come True" is narrated from the perspective of minor character Pyrrha Nikos. It shows her to be significantly more snippy about Jaune than her in-show dialogue would otherwise suggest.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Admiral Zhao, though at first considered merely Lawful Evil, was revealed in the season finale to be completely insane, even killing the moon spirit.
- Toph Bei Fong pretends to be a weak well-mannered girl in front of her parents, but is a very powerful Earthbender and much more informal with her friends. Sometimes Played for Laughs.
- Princess Azula infamously pretended to be a secure, strong, cold woman. It was revealed in the last episode that she was a lonely woman that wanted someone to trust, but lost her friends and didn't have anyone to confide in, and was crazy and sad because she wanted her mother's approval. It wasn't a coincidence that when she became more powerful thanks to nearly becoming the new Firelord and getting a power upgrade that it became too much for her to handle.
- Prince Zuko as well, especially in season one. He is introduced as a ruthless, conceited bully of a prince who only cares about himself and seemingly looks down on everyone, including his superiors. In reality, he's just a good-natured kid who wants his father to be proud of him. Over the next two seasons, this facade begins to gradually break and by the final episode it has disappeared completely.
- Helga from Hey Arnold! expressed her true feelings for Arnold when alone.
- Trixie Tang from The Fairly OddParents was secretly a tomboy that liked comic books and disguised herself as a boy because she had fear of being judged and rejected due to the fact that she is a popular girl and the Alpha Bitch of her school. Unfortunately, though, this layer fell victim to Flanderization, and Trixie became a flat, one-note Alpha Bitch with no redeeming values.
- In Phineas and Ferb, there are numerous examples:
- Candace Flynn is secretly a fan of a series called Duckie Momo (a parody of both Hello Kitty and Pokemon). She used to wear a costume in order to hide her love of the series from her friends, going as far as lying to both her boyfriend and her best friend.
- Isabella has a hidden crush with Phineas, something both Ferb and Candace are aware of. However, in front of him she pretends to be Just Friends.
- Perry the Platypus acts as a non-sapient animal (where it is not uncommon for someone to claim. that because he is a platypus, he doesn't do much), but in reality he is a very skilled and smart secret agent.
- Suzy, the sister of Jeremy, pretends to be a dumb innocent girl, but in reality she is very smart, and cruel to whoever threatens her relationship with Jeremy.
- In Teen Titans Raven keeps her emotions largely in check, rarely expressing any sentiment more passionate than a sarcastic quip. Then the episode "Nevermore" gave her a Journey to the Center of the Mind, where we got to see all the different sides of her personality. One side is perpetually depressed and endlessly apologizes for all the mean things she's said. Another side is a Blood Knight who just loves to fight. Another is a gigantic demon made of pure rage. And, most disturbing of all: a perky, giggling Raven who loves the color pink and thinks Beast Boy is funny (something Raven would normally rather swallow her own tongue than admit to).
- Beast Boy is funny. His jokes, not so much.
- Another side of her is a protective side towards her friends. Good luck if you make her mad by messing with them.
- In Danny Phantom there are several cases:
- Vlad Plasmius has a facade of being a nice guy in front of the Fenton family (except Maddie) and the general public by being a well-known billionaire and later mayor.
- Danny Fenton had a facade of indifference and naivety over his secret identity in front of his sister and his parents. This was mainly to protect them.
- Dash's best friend, Kwan, has a facade in other to be accepted among the popular crowd. Deep down, he is insecure and unsure about the things he does (bullying and whatnot).
- The Flash in Justice League is about the only character who wears a literal mask, but not a metaphorical one. He's the same fun-loving guy whether in or out of his civilian identity.
- Artemis in Young Justice definitely has a facade, as Red Arrow points out. She is even willing to let a villain escape because of it.
- As does Impulse. His personality during his introductory episode is more or less an act that he uses to hide the fact that he comes from a Bad Future.
- Kevin Spencer, in his confrontation with Love Interest Shawna, states that beneath all her sociopathic, murderous tendencies, she's really a popularity-obsessed bitch.
- Casper the Friendly Ghost, in one of the older cartoons, Fright from Wrong, is force-fed a huge jar of "Mean Pills" by his mean uncles, who want him to be a mean ghost to humans. But Casper spends the rest of the short putting them through the wringer (both literally and figuratively). It would appear that this example wouldn't count since Casper was drugged to act like that, right? Ehhh, not so much... he reveals at the very end that he never took the pills; all the cartoonish brutality he'd unleashed on his uncles was all him just trying to teach them a lesson! The little Friendly Ghost has a vicious side hidden under the "friendly".
- In ThunderCats (2011) Rascally Rabbit the Drifter is an always smiling, Brilliant, but Lazy man who's facade is one of carefree, perpetual mild amusement. In actuality, he's deeply depressed and grieving a personal loss, to the point of fixatedly attempting to save others from duplicating his mistakes by delivering Adventure Rebuffs and an unending stream of unsolicited advice, all the while peppering his speech with his insistent "I don't care."
- In Gravity Falls Wendy is actually constantly freaked out, despite acting cool and calm. She says this is because of her family.
- Pacifica. She is introduced as an Alpha Bitch, but the true nature behind that is not pleasant. Her whole family consists from liars, cheaters and thieves, and claim that Nathaniel Northwest was the founder of Gravity Falls (He wasn't). Her parents encourage her Alpha Bitch attitude and Pavlovian trained her to respond with obedience to a bell, and she is shown to be quite terrified of it.
- Stan himself. He is shown to be grumpy and greedy, but actually cares about his family because it's the only family he has left.
- A comedic example occurs in "The Kindergarten Kid". Even as Peridot's various plans to capture a gem monster fail, she remains indefatigably confident and upbeat...until Steven points out a flaw with her latest one. Peridot abruptly screams, "I'm doing the best I can, Steven!"
- The Miraculous Ladybug character Adrien is the "superhero as true self" variant of this trope. As Cat Noir, he's an adventurous, wisecracking Casanova Wannabe. As Adrien, he's a lonely child at the mercy of a neglectful father who forces him to maintain a somber, perfect reputation. Activating his Miraculous' disguise gives Chat the freedom to act in ways that he never could otherwise (although many of 'Adrien's' insecurities definitely carry over).
- The Rorschach test is an old test that psychologists used to use to find insights into an individual's personality through their interpretations of ink spot patterns. Indeed, this is/was the whole aim of psychoanalysis.
- All Stepford Smilers, naturally.
- This concept is widespread in East Asian cultures, where it's referred to as one's "face", meaning their dignity, pride, etc. Causing someone to "lose face" by embarrassing them is a big faux pas, since it destroys their social standing.
- Many people today are jaded from the harshness of life. The simple fact is that if we were to get worked up over everything that went wrong, we'd drive ourselves insane. Because society demands certain behaviors in certain situations, these people have to fake emotional responses such as fear, shock or outrage if only to not be seen as callous at best or a sociopath at worst.
- In astrology, Your Rising sign (determined by where the sun is on the horizon when you are born) represents how people perceive you. Your Sun sign (determined by time of year, which can be determined through any newspaper horoscope) represents how you relate to people (your persona). Your Moon sign represents who you are when you are alone (your shadow).