"What's going on in this candy coated heart of darkness?!"A setting which, at first sight, looks nice and cute. The world is full of cheery colors, people are smiling, happy and helpful, and you're probably thinking you've just stepped into a Sugar Bowl that seriously Tastes Like Diabetes. Suddenly, you notice something wrong, and upon investigating, you realize that every single thing below the surface is horribly wrong and dysfunctional. Maybe the society is Powered by a Forsaken Child. Maybe the cheeriness is maintained by totalitarian rulers that dole out horrible punishments for the slightest infractions. Maybe the bright and shiny part isn't the only part, and the more traditional Crapsack World is kept hidden from the public eye. Maybe it's just a manufactured atmosphere or even reality. Basically, this is a Stepford Smiler on the scale of an entire setting, where behind the bright, cheery and colorful appearance, it's really a Crapsack World. Compare with False Utopia, when one of the main points of the story is the contrast of how perfect the world looks and how imperfect it truly is, Town with a Dark Secret, Peace & Love, Incorporated, Light is Not Good, and Stepford Suburbia. Often involves Fridge Horror, Sugar Apocalypse, Grotesque Cute, and Glurge. A Type B cynical portrayal of The Promised Land that isn't a used-up and barren wasteland is likely to be one of these. If the seemingly perfect world is a full-on illusion, created to entrap or otherwise fool someone, then it is a Lotus-Eater Machine. See also City in a Bottle, where Crystal Spires and Togas meets Government Conspiracy, and Soiled City on a Hill, which can be a former Shining City that retains its shiny exterior even though its heart has become corrupt and rotten. Urban Segregation can result in this if the viewer is initially shown only the utopian parts of the setting. A child-oriented Adventure-Friendly World is prone to being this. Contrast with Sugar Bowl, the (usually) non-ironic version of this trope. Compare and contrast Vile Villain, Saccharine Show and the similar Uncanny Village wherein a would become a perfectly ordinary Sugar Bowl if its horrifying villain were removed, whereas a Crapsaccharine World is fundamentally rotten to the core. Contrast People's Republic of Tyranny, Fauxtivational Poster, and A World Half Full, where it looks like a Crapsack World, but it can get better. Happiness Is Mandatory can be this, but often fails to create even a pleasant veneer over things. Note that this trope is about a setting. If the art style clashes with the mood of the work, that is Art-Style Dissonance instead. As this trope involves the revealing of a world's true nature, expect spoilers ahead.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- In Berserk, an already dark and depressing series, we meet Rosine, a Dark Magical Girl who transformed a crater's valley in a realm for elves filled with birds, butterflies, flowers and evergreen meadows. But, for being young and apparently harmless, Rosine is an Apostle. And before long, we see that her elves' favorite hobbies includes playing war. And not only do they happily slaughter one another, they also like to use their insect-like appendages to skewer one another in the ass. And that's not even mentioning how they're created from human children she kidnaps, or the way said elves are created.
- Dai Mahou Touge opens with a Tastes Like Diabetes Sugar Bowl for the Magical Land Punie comes from. It's later revealed to be a brutal despotism run by an Evil Overlord who rose to power through a smear campaign against the old monarchy and is more than willing to commit mass slaughter to keep the people in line. By comparison, Earth itself is a more traditional Crapsack World.
- In the first chapter of Daily Life with Monster Girl, a newsreporter claims that the Exchange program was a huge success and that the world hasn't changed much from the integration of monsters into society. It's interesting that all of the girls shown are barely monstrous. The world's view on our protagonists is much, much harsher.
- It's a good thing that the manga's tone is generally light-hearted and comical, and all problems are caused by misunderstandings that get resolved in the space of a chapter, because the setting is not so bright and cheery as it initially appears. There's Fantastic Racism, pollution, extraspecies terrorist groups, con men that indulge in Super Human Trafficking, an underwater kingdom led by a crazy queen, the undead (shown to be proficient at using weapons)... also, all the girls are way stronger than humans, and while the MC is pretty much Made of Iron, other people in the Exchange program may have found themselves in serious trouble.
- Dragon Ball
- In Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’, Frieza's Ironic Hell is depicted as being a colorful landscape filled with fairies and angels frolicking and playing for all eternity while the fallen space emperor is forced to watch from a cocoon hanging from a tree.
- The Dragon World may seem colorful and friendly, but the peaceful atmosphere of the series is mostly limited to the Earth. The universe is filled with gods and godlike beings who can destroy planets just by sneezing too hard. There is even an official God of Destruction whose job it is to destroy planets, populated or not, so new ones can be created by the Kais. That god also happens to be a Psychopathic Manchild who will destroy planets because he didn't like or was denied food. You also had an organization that went around wiping entire population of planets so they could sell them to the highest bidder. Even worse, this empire was the closest thing to a central government in the universe since Frieza and his family were practically gods among mortals, and the galactic police were helpless against their power and the Supreme Kais, who are the good gods that balance the Gods of Destruction, could do nothing to stop them since they're not allowed to interfere with the affairs of mortals. Even with the galactic patrol, they have a weapon known as an Extinction Bomb that releases a virus that can kill off an entire species on a planet, usually used as a Mercy Kill. Jaco accidentally used an Extinction Bomb which wiped out a planet and only got scolded for it. If that isn't bad enough, you have Gods of Destruction from other universes, who are all notoriously violent, that can come and blow up your planet without warning because they're looking for something, or you may have the bad luck of running into a rogue Supreme Kai who've decided that all mortals should die for the good of universe and slowly wipe out your population. On top of all that, you have Zen'o, who is the supreme ruler of the multiverse, who can wipe out the entire universe on a whim and has done so in the past. The Earth is only peaceful because almost all of the strongest warriors in the universe happens to live there, they have a Reset Button in the Dragon Balls, and they have gained favor with the gods thank to Goku making friends with King Kai, the Supreme Kais, Beerus, and even Zen'o, along with having great food. Even then, humanity was terrorized by Cell, all but wiped out by Majin Buu, and was conquered by King Piccolo decades earlier. Frieza also successfully blows up the planet and it's only revived because Whis rewind time. Future Trunks' timeline shows exactly what will happen to the Earth if it lost its fighters, especially Goku, and the Dragon Balls.
- Mobile Suit Gundam 00 lampshades this early on, after the Time Skip. The world now run by the Earth Federation seems to be better off than in Season 1, and it is commented on multiple times that lots of people genuinely believe this. However, Celestial Being, Katharon, and anybody else capable looking beyond the surface know the truth: The world looks that way because the obscenely brutal State Sec are doing their best to make sure that's what the majority of the public believes, partially to squelch any potential insurrection as a reaction against Celestial Being in Season 1.
Sergei Smirnov: Information control... This is all fake.
- Higurashi: When They Cry is a Double Subversion. Hinamizawa seems to be a Town with a Dark Secret, Watanagashi is presented as a Fête Worse than Death, Oyashiro-sama a Religious Horror, and the girls a Themed Harem of yandere and Cute and Psycho. Sure, the series is a Psychological Horror and every arc starts with happiness and fun and ends with horrors. However, the answer arcs (which are still creepy; Meakashi-hen, Shion's arc, may possibly be the most disturbing fragment of the series) show that the people of Hinamizawa really are all good at heart (yes, even the Yakuza family we're initially led to suspect is behind everything, they have nothing to do with the recent deaths and disappearances), Watanagashi's sordid roots have been seized upon to hide the opportunist Big Bad's conspiracy, Oyashiro-sama is an adorable moeblob who suffered more than anyone else in the series, and the Hate Plague isn't limited to the girls nor are they in themselves crazy. The last few arcs, where the Games Club forges a stronger bond and resists the insanity, have them resort to nonlethal and sometimes even nonviolent tactics to protect the village and their friends. Oh, yeah, and there's a happy ending.
- Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit takes place is a time where Japan has extremely low crime rates and high prosperity and wealth. This is because of a system where students entering the first grade receive a vaccination. One in every one thousand of these contains a nano-capsule that will kill the recipient sometime between their 18th and 24th birthday, regardless of how they're lived their life up until now, in order to teach the people the value of life. And if anyone speaks out against it, they are deemed 'social miscreants' and get injected with the nano-capsule. Yeah.
- Karneval definitely has shades of this, along with a good deal of Art-Style Dissonance. Those colorful, happy, whimsical circus shows that get put on from town to town? Those are apologies to the people from the government for disrupting town life by pursuing dangerous criminals in the area. The performers are essentially super soldiers and assassins whose job is to locate and destroy a race of Humanoid Abominations, the result of one crime organization's ongoing foray into immoral genetic experimentation.
- The Tokyo of The Roaring '20s is described as such in Kasei Yakyoku. From a fansub group:
"At this moment in time, the city is a mixture of extremes: past and present, rich and poor, good and bad. This is a city where we see both horsecarts and motorcars, swords and pistols, lords and businessmen..."
- More or less every town, city and other form of population concentration points in the world of Kino's Journey feature this trope. For example, the nation Kino visits in episode 12 boasts about its peaceful nature, having abandoned the war machines it used in past wars with its neighbor and its citizens living happily and in harmony. However, how the two nations reached this lasting peace becomes known later on, as Kino witnesses small but well armed forces from both nations slaughter unarmed civilians that belong to neither. These civilians are castaways, no one cares about them, so the wars of the past were replaced with a competition where both nations kill these outcasts as much as they can in a set time limit. At the end the bodies are piled up on a weight meter and the side that killed more "wins the war", after which both return to live in peace.
- The Ryugu Shelter in 7 Seeds is a gorgeous, beautiful underground amusement park that includes comfortable bedrooms, all sorts of entertainment ranging from sports to music to arts and crafts, and you even have some celebrities and entertainers to enjoy! It's also a shelter for the people to live in when a meteorite brings about The End of the World as We Know It. And then things got worse.
- Gundam AGE: it turns out to be a False Utopia managed (to a degree) by a State Sec more concerned with maintaining public image than their citizens' welfare.
- Naruto has an idealistic setting with the bad guys falling before The Power of Friendship or inspiring speeches, but the world it takes place in is pretty dark. Trained assassins are raised from childhood in villages run by other trained assassins and are hired out to anyone with enough money. The good guys are apathetic at best, the bad guys are all incredibly powerful, not only capable of but more than willing to kill anyone who looks at them funny for no reason other than because they can. The governments and agencies that are supposed to deal with this sort of thing are largely self-absorbed and not likely to put any real effort into pursuing anyone who tries to defect from their village (which seems to happen quite a lot), which is just as well because no one whose job it is to get rid of rogue ninjas is capable of defeating 14-year-olds, much less city destroying badasses. Finally, before the start of the series, said ninja villages were constantly embroiled in various wars against each other (and themselves), with several major world wars and they always picked unaffiliated countries to stage their wars in, meaning lots of innocent people are caught in the crossfire. After the series starts, you've got villains who instigate a war because they were passed over for leadership of their home village, villains who are willing to destroy cities just to prove a point, villains who subjugate the souls of the dead and force them to fight against their loved ones, and the Big Bad willing to plunge the entire world in Lotus-Eater Machine because the girl he was in love with died and he willed to create a world in which this did not happen with while the Bigger Bad just wants people to treat him like the god which he considers himself. Most importantly, there is Fantastic Racism against the people who house the 9 most powerful beings in the world, who are "demonic" in the first place because of people treating them as nothing more than sources of power and as destruction-seeking monsters. The titular character lives his early life with this.
- One Piece
- Skypiea and Dressrosa. Gorgeous cities, lush landscapes, people seemingly happy with their lives, loved/respected monarchs. But under the vernish you find slave labor, and if you ever displease the authority your very existence will be erased. Skypiea improved a lot after Luffy beat Eneru, to be fair.
- One Piece in general. From the beginning it is never portrayed as an especially safe world (being that it is a story about pirates and, bar the protagonists and some others, they are NOT The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything). But at the same time this status quo is portrayed as idealistic and romantic in its own way: it's a world of adventure where men and women can take to their ideals and live free on the sea, and there are lots of wondrous, fantastical things to see in the world. It gets less sunny when we witness the upper echelons of the World Government, how they condone slavery on a massive scale, Fantastic Racism against non-human species, and have committed genocide in order to preserve some dark secret. Per-arc the illusion is shattered as well (as mentioned with Dressrosa and Skypiea), where a magical island will have dark histories of racism, war, or infiltration by government agents.
- No matter how idealistic or romantic a world may be at first, once the corruption of the World Government became prominent in the storyline, One Piece struggled really hard to not cross the Crapsack World line. First came Smoker's unearned promotion to cover up the fact that a rogue privateer of theirs was defeated by pirates, something that really pissed Smoker off because of its Medal of Dishonor nature. Then came Robin's backstory, wherein she gained a huge bounty at the age of eight for no other reason than that she could read the Poneglyphs, effectively ruining any chance of her living a normal life and forcing her on the run for twenty years. Though those can be (weakly) justified and one could accuse the World Government at the very least being mildly corrupt (or at least, no more corrupt than Real Life governments today). Then came Sabaody, which introduced the Celestial Dragons, the descendants of those who created the World Government, and the "rulers" of the world. Once they came into the picture, one can honestly say the World Government is evil. They blatantly disregard the law, shooting people who even slightly irritate them, parading their slaves around without batting an eyelash, when slavery was supposedly abolished two hundred years ago, and giving no other excuse for their actions than simply having the blood of the "creators" of the world, which supposedly makes them divine by nature. The sad part is that they are completely outside the law, meaning their actions cannot be punished, and worse yet, attacking them is considered to be a crime of the worst sort — enough that if they so desire, they can send an admiral after you.
- With two exceptions any Pretty Cure movie will have the heroines visiting some far off fantastical land that's incredibly sweet and innocent-looking... until something causes them to look a little bit deeper and find the movie's Big Bad ready to show up and give the girls hell.
- Sekirei takes place in one of these. The capital city of Teito is a prospering metropolis 20 Minutes into the Future, benefiting greatly from the heavy investments of MBI and generally a fantastic place to live. Some lucky residents even get to meet one of the 108 Magical Girlfriends just waiting to form an everlasting bond with them. Expect tons of Fanservice and harem comedy. The downside is that There Can Be Only One and participation is not optional, with anyone that attempts to escape being hunted down by the Discipline Squad. Over time, the private military owned by MBI takes over the capital and enforces increasing levels of martial law to force the Sekirei to kill one another. Oh, and that amazing Magical Girlfriend? She's a Red Shirt and you're Blessed with Suck. Minato, the hero of the series, is determined to Screw Destiny because the idea that only one person gets a happy ending is unacceptable to him.
- Shitsurakuen becomes this for girls when you realise that only the guys have it easy in Utopia Gakuen, girls are nothing more than commodities to be traded and fought for and as we later find out, some of the boys themselves HATED the rules yet they could do little to change them.
- Sound of the Sky takes place for the most part, in a lush, incredibly beautiful mountain village where people live fairly happy lives. As the series goes on however this is revealed to be one of the few places still like this, with most of the world being rendered uninhabitable due to a past war that was so devastating that it apparently killed off all life in the oceans and humanity technologically regressed to early twentieth century. To make things worse, the handful of major nations left are fighting for what remains and that shrinks every year as the remaining habitable land is undergoing irreversible desertification. Nobody seems shocked at all to have teenage girls enlisting in the army.
- Hong Kong as depicted in Haou Airen. A bright, shining city full of prosperity and fun things to do... while gangsters train children like the Bastard Boyfriend male lead as assassins in a shadow war filled with rape, murder, and suicide.
- Lady Jagara's city in Wolf's Rain is implausibly neat, clean and sterile, and all of the inhabitants seem to be walking around in a trance, pretending that everything's hunky dory and will be forever (it won't). However, it does have an undercity which more accurately reflects the crappy state of the world outside.
- Zalem turns out to be this in Gunnm. You can ask for assisted suicide (the grisly "End Joy," which turns out to be full of blood) and all inhabitants HAVE A FREAKIN' CHIP FOR BRAINS. Also, if you learn about the previous spoiler, a "special team" is going to take care of you immediately. Everybody who doesn't fit or threatens order in any way is eliminated, frequently via being dumped down the floating city's giant garbage chute. In the sequel we learn that the Solar System at large is probably a worst Cold War parody imaginable, the children are outlawed and exterminated (or simply eaten by the Organic Technology-obsessed Venusians), Earth Sphere, despite its idyllic appearance, is run by a fascistic dictatorship that imposes involuntary Mind Control, real Neo-Nazis run rampant on Mars, Jovians, the most sympathetic major faction, is a Soviet Union parody that'd give Robert A. Heinlein nightmares, and the most popular entertainment is to watch a bloody tournament where cyborg martial artists kill each other messily for sport (and, maybe, some political rights). All of this is a massive improvement.
- Outbreak Company takes place in an amazing fantasy world with magic, dragons, lizard people, and elves. But most people are illiterate, masters regularly abuse their servants, and non-humans are 2nd class citizens.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica takes place in a Shining City where Magical Girls battle in secret against Monsters of the Week, granted wishes by their cute sidekicks. The city's on the brink of destruction, the girls are opportunistic liches, the Monsters of the Week are Fallen Heroes who forcibly underwent a monstrous transformation, the wishes never turn out well, even when not twisted, and the cute sidekicks are deceptive Starfish Aliens who treat both normal humans and their charges as little more than cattle.
- The Movie plays with this. It seems to take place in an idealized Magical Girl paradise, but it's actually Homura's witch labyrinth. And yet, as Sayaka points out, it really is a perfect world, even if it's an illusion, since one isn't secretly doomed to horrific fates or anything like that. The ending has Homura take control of the real universe so she can make it exactly like the labyrinth. But this time, it's considered evil, mostly because it was a conscious decision (the first time around, Kyubey tricked her into doing it). Whether this outcome is Crapsaccharine or just Saccharine is seemingly left up to the audience.
- Kotoura-san... Good grief. The people are literally living in lies and ignorant bliss. Practically everyone has No Sympathy, and Haruka is among the rare few who realizes what's wrong with this society thanks to her Telepathy and innocently exposing everyone's true feelings to their denial, disbelief, and chargin even though she can't help it. Worse, her once "Childhood Friends" then outcast "the monster" (Haruka) so disgracefully, the insult haunts her for much of her life afterwards.
- How crapsack is the setting? Well, when the main character starts exposing everybody's lies, not only do they give her hell for this, they outright resort to blaming the victim and accusing her of being the liar even though everybody involved knows that isn't true; and not a single person questions this, not even her parents. This is primarily due to these Yes Men confiding in their facades as a ploy to fit in. Even with Values Dissonance in mind, this is still an inexcusably low blow against the Honest Advisor who was simply being curious.
- In No Game No Life: The world is peaceful because crime and war etc. are forbidden by God, and all bets are enforced by Magically Binding Contract, and so such agreements must be honored. However, this means that skilled cheaters are the most dangerous people in the world, capable of dooming even countries in a single game. Also, the sentient species are ranked by magical ability, which means humans are at the bottom of the barrel and dying out as a result.
- Hisae Iwaoka's manga Hoshigahara Ao Manjuu no mori takes place in an old and peaceful forest. Hosting many cute and adorable beings such has living rocks and lilies that wouldn't mind swallowing you whole is you ever turn your back on them.
- In Fairy Tail, the capital of Edolas is a shiny amusement park of a city kept prosperous with stolen magic, while the rest of the world is literally falling apart.
- In New Game!, the world of Peco, Eagle Jump's latest project, is a soft and fluffy world that follows a cute female protagonist who kills other characters, skins them, and then wears the skin as a disguise to easily kill others. Saved from being gory because everyone else in Peco is a living stuffed animal.
- The setting of Accel World is a futuristic society with many seemingly wonderful advances in technology, but the Neurolinkers essentially enable Parental Neglect, and even an advanced network of security cameras doesn't keep the world entirely safe. Brain Burst is also like this, as it's a ruthless struggle for survival, where people desperately cling to their points and often do very unethical things to earn them.
- How Hieronymus Bosch's masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights portrays the world. Everything seems bright and cheery and people of every race seems happy and content but everywhere are grotesque situations and bizarre creatures representing sin and immorality.
- This illustration by Ben Dreyfuss◊ turned up in an article in Mother Jones: for now, never mind what the article was about, just let that picture sink in.
- Discussed in Transformers: More than Meets the Eye when the crew visit the aptly-named planet Hedonia. Rewind mentions that every outwardly pleasant civilization must have a less pleasant side, which he then sets out to find. As it turns out, Hedonia's actually pretty tame compared to the other examples he lists off— though they are some of the galaxy's foremost suppliers of high-end weaponry.
- A thief in The Unwritten finds himself turned into a rabbit and transported into a magical Winnie-the-Pooh-like forest setting with other Talking Animals. His life there consists of escape attempts and nervous breakdowns. He eventually meets the author of the books in her fictional avatar as a young girl and tries to tear down her image of innocence and expose her as a middle-aged fraud desperately clinging to childhood innocence. She reveals she's rather well-adjusted, in fact, but that means keeping all her adult fears hidden in the world of her books. Mr. Rabbit learns the hard way what this means. He got out, and corrupts every world he touches ever since. The next place he ended up was a slightly less idealistic Talking Animal land and a lot more straight example of this trope, where he became an Evil Overlord in all but name, just his "subjects" (or at least the narrator) were too naive to notice. It's chilling to read the overly optimistic narration while as reader understanding the horror of it all.
- A strip by Argentinian cartoonist Quino depicted a tourist first arriving to a foreign country, who is first delighted when he sees that everyone from the cab driver, hotel employees and people on the street are always singing a merry tune... until policemen, The Men in Black and government agents surround him suddenly, and menacingly observe that he is not singing.
- The Unfunnies, full on.
- The world Scott Pilgrim lives in. Sure, everyone has superpowers, and everything is incredibly awesome, but there seem to be no repercussions for challenging someone to a fight and beating them to death.
- Before Superman and Supergirl arrived on the scene, Metropolis was a Crapsaccharine City. It's a bright and shiny metropolis... that was being ruled by Evil Overlord Villain with Good Publicity Lex Luthor.
- In Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, Lex Luthor's discoveries, especially his solar battery, have apparently turned Metropolis into a place where pollution, waste, unemployment, homelessness... were no longer a concern. Then it was revealed that the design of his solar battery was based on analyzing the corpse of baby Kal-El, whom he murdered himself.
- And to a greater extent, the entire DC Universe, which is full of fantastic worlds and costumed heroes with amazing abilities and origins, but also psychotic supervillains and other megalomaniacs from all over the galaxy who threaten the world and even the universe on a regular basis.
- Woodbury in The Walking Dead. It promises salvation from the Zombie Apocalypse but is ruled by the despotic Governor.
- Corona from Pk2, the sequel of Paperinik New Adventures, is an alien planet that managed to obtain a perfect balance between technology and nature and an incredibly high level of life. It is also a place where kids are raised in a flat-out abusing way, being a member of the government requires you to be emotionally stunned, and anyone that isn't 100% behind this is treated as a criminal. In fact, Everett Ducklair is a fugitive from it.
- Gothtopia has the normally dark and melancholic Gotham City become a bright and sunny paradise. Crime is low, people are living their lives, and the Batfamily is operating in the daylight and wearing bright, inspiring costumes. However, suicide rates are unusually high and the heroes start to figure out what's really going on.
- How Overman views the utopia he built on Earth-10 in Mastermen #1, disliking the fact that it was built on the brutal deaths of so many.
- The Marvel Universe has loads of courageous costumed heroes and adventurers...with a slew of emotional problems, who are constantly underappreciated, if not outright feared, by the people they save. And that's not even taking into account all the supervillains who make their lives a living hell. For all the superheroics, the world is still a terrible place, especially in more mundane parts of The Verse, like Hell's Kitchen.
- One could consider The Terrible Secret Of Animal Crossing to be this. Even though the world always seems a little... off, the protagonist doesn't actually figure out anything too strange until about halfway through.
- Any Sailor Moon fanfic that frame the Silver Millenium as a dystopian future.
- In Sonic X: Dark Chaos, Sonic's home planet is a nice and rather peaceful place to live. The rest of the galaxy? NOPE.
- Episode 69 has Marmolim. A planet inhabited by cute beady-eyed aliens with a penchant for magic. Sounds great - except for the fact that they've nearly been wiped out by Shroud, and are torn in a religious civil war between Christians and Maledict-worshipers.
- New Jerusalem, the Angel capitol city, is subtly implied to be this with the Big Brother Is Watching You and Happiness Is Mandatory overtones.
- The Games We Play depicts Mistral as this. Between the fact that open misery draws the Grimm and The Mafiaesque grip the ruling Families have on the kingdom, Granny's city is crime infested in such a way that people can cover their eyes and pretend its (sic) clean.
- In the Doctor Who fanfic The Last Great Time War, the outermost Time Lord colony seemingly becomes a peaceful utopia. In reality, it's an illusion created by the Horde of Travesties to lure in victims so they can devour their timelines.
- C'hou in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. Since the four pretty much viewed C'hou as a Crapsack World in With Strings Attached, they are initially pleased by the changes wrought by the Pyar gods when they return. The new city Tevri'ed is beautiful and full of interesting things, money is easy to make, and the guards are friendly and helpful. In particular they like the new inhabitants, the G'heddi'onians, who are pleasant and civilized. Less than a day later, they've been jumped five times by both outworlders and inhabitants, and within a few more days they thoroughly hate the “Geddies,” who viciously turn on the four when they don't act heroic in the proper way. For example, George saves a library full of people by ripping up an evil magic book—and the Head Librarian fines him heavily for destroying a unique item. And things just get worse from there. While everyone blames the Black Tower for making things bad, the lousy behavior of nearly all the people wasn't created by them.
- In-story, the Flying Island of Tipaan, a luxury resort run on the backs of the Svenjaya, an oppressed servant race. The four at least manage to alleviate their lot.
My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic — Fan Works
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan works seem particularly prone to this, possibly because the world is shown to be a Sugar Bowl but is also full of dangerous mythological monsters. Everything from Celestia being depicted as an oppressive tyrant to Pinkie Pie having some rather unpalatable hobbies turn up regularly.
- Fluffy Pony works (works involving a species of genetically engineered "magical pony" pets) offer an interesting inversion; Fluffy ponies are designed to see the world as a Sugar Bowl, regardless of how cruel and harsh the world may be-Depending on the Writer-making their world this trope through their eyes, while the human characters see the world for what it really is. Though it is not impossible, for a Fluffy that has had enough experience with the world to realize how dangerous the world is. Combine this with them being programmed to be naturally innocent, trusting, weak, and naive, and throw them in a world full of natural predators, many other things in nature that can kill them, and a surprisingly dis-appropriate number of humans who want to mistreat if not outright torture them for little to no reason, (Again, how prevalent this is depends on the writer and there are usually just as many people who genuinely want to help and care for them.) and those who aren't lucky enough to be taken into a loving household, will often either have to learn they live in a Crapsaccharine World or end up either dead or just saying "Wan di" on loop, till something kills them.
- The Conversion Bureau. The ponies are willing parties to the genocide of humanity...and it's considered a good thing.
- In the spin-off story The Conversion Bureau: The Other Side of the Spectrum, TCB!Equestria paints itself up as a paradise, but any veneer of niceness is easily broken if you dig deep enough. For one thing, it's shown that the Empire is very dreadfully unprepared to support the massive influx of newfoals coming in, and if you even so much as question Queen Celestia's "wisdom", you could get sent to a prison camp where you'll be worked to death or tortured, as TCB!Spike learned the hard way. There are also mentions of re-education centers; PHL members Aegis and Verdant Tract allude to having had brushes with those in the past, something which neither of them want to go through again. And according to TCB!Granny Smith, the whole land is "poisoned and dying".
- In Jericho, most of Equestria appears to actually be sweet, but there are... darker parts. It starts to get dark in chapter 3, where the main character, Jericho, a pony from a faraway land, stumbles across a dark Government Conspiracy around the western borderlands of Equestria. It gets lampshaded.
- Chains actually pulls this off in a far more subtle fashion. In this story, Equestria basically follows mostly to being the Sugar Bowl it always has been in the MLP canon, it even has Princess Celestia as still mostly a benevolent ruler and the resident Big Good. However, if you're a human living in Equestria (yes, they fully exist in this story) consider yourself enslaved.
- "What the hell is going on with this country? It all looked so sugary and nice up until an hour or so ago."
- Lines And Webs Equestria appears to be a Sugar Bowl because it has been socially designed as such by Celestia, who is using the Elements of Harmony to slowly strip all ponies of free will.
- Rainbow Factory, both the song, the original fic, and its many many spin-offs portrays the titular factory, as a cover up for a death camp, where children who have failed their flight test are ground up for material to make rainbows, so they can eliminate weaker children and preserve Cloudstale's own idea of strength.
(from the song): in the Rainbow Factory, where fears and horrors come true, in the Rainbow Factory, where not a single soul gets through.
- While the fact that one of Equestria's greatest heroes turns out to be Serial Killer in Cup Cakes is bad enough, some of the many spin off works present Pinkie's murders as part of a larger conspiracy, going up to the highest levels of Equestrian Government.
- In true Fallout fashion, the backstory for Fallout: Equestria reveals that past-Equestria slowly became one do to the brutal war with the Zebra Nation, splitting the government between six ponies who had no experience in politics, invention of mega spells equivalent to nuclear bombs thanks to Fluttershy's well meaning efforts, and the increasingly morally questionable actions Equestria had to resort to, up to and including spying on it's citizens to make sure everyone is "happy" and getting into the heads of anyone who may be a threat in a desperate attempt to keep things together. It goes without saying, things just kept going From Bad to Worse.
- In Friendship is Witchcraft, ponies pride themselves on ignorance, slavery, racism, and general abuse to non-pony races is openly tolerated, dark forces plague the world on a regular basis, Twilight is allowed to cause mayhem and commit evil dead on a regular basis, without any negative effects to herself, Fluttershy openly runs an Apocalypse Cult, and the ponies in general are either too ignorant to notice horrors of their world or just don't care.
- My Little Pony: The Mentally Advanced Series has Equestria ruled by the Ax-Crazy Affably Evil evil Mad God Celestia, who's "teachings" turned her student into a cynical alcoholic mess, most of the ponies are either shallow and self serving or mentally unstable, there is a secret war being fought between Eldritch Abominations that ponies are too ignorant to notice, Fantastic Racism is rampant throughout the three species of ponies, the entire cast live depressing lives, and the various events of the series rarely end with any real resolution.
- Ultra Fast Pony: Equestria is ruled by a self absorbed immortal, who openly treats her subjects however she fills at the moment without a care in the world, the world is populated almost entirely by selfish jerk asses, murder has been illegal for all of ten years, criminal organization commit acts of violence with very little in their way, and Ponyville is in such deplorable state, its rat infestation is the only thing keeping their crocodile problem confined and the water is contaminated with arsenic.
Rainbow Dash: There's one thing I'll never understand, Scootaloo. Why can't everyone in Ponyville just accept me for who I am?Scootaloo: <Maybe because we live in a corrupt society where the lower class are mistreated while unelected dictators take all they want without thought towards building a more stable future for us all to live in.>(and later)Chrysalis: My changelings need to consume pure love!Twilight: And you came looking for it in Equestria?Chrysalis: Yes.Twilight: That's stupid. You're stupid!
- Scootertrix the Abridged: Though Lighter and Softer than the examples above, it is still ruled by a very irresponsible Princess Celestia, who usually leaves her subjects to fend for themselves and recruits three school aged fillies to serve as her generals in a war between Equestria and two different evil empires closing in from both sides. Oh, and the series also deconstructs the idea of characters being aware of the fourth wall, by showing how mentally and emotionally draining it would be, knowing that their lives are nothing more then a show, that can be cancelled at anytime and having to live with the burden that if the general public found out, it could have devastating consequences to the world, and if they uses their fourth wall abilities too much, it could create plot holes that will come back to bite them in unsee-able circumstances.
Films — Animation
- Ringing Bell has a great example of this trope. The first half of the story starts out with a world where everything appears to be great and the sheep live happily. Then, the Wolf King kills Chirin's mother. Things get progressively darker and darker until the Downer Ending of all Downer Endings comes. Chirin kills the wolf. Despite this, Chirin gets rejected by the other sheep, and lives a desolate life alone in the wilderness until he finally dies, having killed his only friend.
- This is a bit of a Lost Aesop in the CGI version of Astro Boy.
- The world inhabited by the Other Mother in Coraline. It goes from full preschooler to full hell so gradually that it's downright creepy.
- Pleasure Island from Pinocchio is a perfect textbook example of this. The Coachman takes disobedient boys here to allow them to do anything at all that they want, including smoke cigars, drink beer or play pool, but eventually, they are turned into donkeys and sold off by the Coachman. (Of course, the fact that Pleasure Island is a gigantic carnival-world - and not the wholesome kind of carnival, either - should have tipped somebody off.)
- Though the point isn't emphasized, Duloc in Shrek is one of these: it is squeaky-clean and Disney World-like, but ruled by the tyrannical Lord Farquaad. Anyone who doesn't meet his standards gets rounded up and dumped in Shrek's swamp.
- Sunnyside, the daycare center in Toy Story 3. What originally seems like a utopia for abandoned or donated toys is actually a dictatorship run by Lotso the bear. The new toys are brought into the room where the toddlers play with and misuse them until they're broken, and anyone who tries to break out of their intricate security system is either imprisoned or tortured. But after Andy's toys manage to overthrow Lotso, Sunnyside became much more hospitable.
- Frivoli from Twice Upon a Time may be the land of sweet dreams, but it's not much better than the Murkworks on a few levels. Their ruler, the Chef of State, is an illiterate doofus, the "Pantry of Pomp" is an apparent Kangaroo Court, and our heroes Ralph and Mumford are treated like crap for ultimately minor screw-ups, apparently because they're "funny-looking".
- Another Pixar film, Wall E, features this on the Axiom space liner. What was meant to be a five-year cruise for Earthlings while the titular robots cleaned up the polluted planet instead turned into a perpetual cruise. Everyone has gotten so fat from living in microgravity while being pampered by robots that everyone is traveling on hoverchairs meant for the infirm - no one has actually walked in centuries. Even the entertainment consists of watching robots play golf at the driving range.
- Cowslip's warren (the Warren of the Shining Wires) from Watership Down. The Man leaves food daily, there's lots of poetry and culture, and whatever you do don't mention the wires. (Granted, given that their choices were "near-complete extermination" or "guaranteed collective survival", the rabbits may have been justified in their choice.)
- Thneedville in The Lorax. Everything looks great, but all of it is manufactured, fresh air has to be bought, and right outside the wall is a dystopian wasteland.
- The Sugar Rush world in Wreck-It Ralph. It seems like a sugary paradise, but it is utter hell for Vanellope von Schweetz who is cruelly treated as a "mistake." Worse is that it wasn't always like that. The place was usurped by King Candy, a.k.a. Turbo, and the population reprogrammed to treat her like that.
Ralph: What's going on in this candy-coated heart of darkness?
- The Lego world presented in The LEGO Movie is a very bright, merry, and cheery place, with people complimenting each other and getting along well... expect that there are a lot of posters and signs emphasizing obedience to President Business, any creativity is suppressed and destroyed (with everyone living their lives via instructions, with anyone who deviates being killed via melting), and the world is heavily segregated.
Films — Live-Action
- In Running Scared (2006), the home of the torturing, murdering pedo couple, decked out like a kindergarten playroom. Video
- Any City in a Bottle on film. Logan's Run, Æon Flux, The Island, etc.
- Or other Gattaca-type setting: A.I., for instance.
- The Truman Show, where the whole world in which Truman Burbank lives is a giant television studio situated in Hollywood and he is the main character (and its only inhabitant who isn't an actor) of an incredibly epic reality show. He grew up in that world, which is portrayed like a mix of the modern age and the stereotypical 1950s American suburban society, but is "On air, unaware" the whole time. He starts finding out when things begin to fall apart; first a flood light falls from the sky, then he accidentally discovers a make-up room for the actors behind the doors of a fake elevator. Then he notices he can't leave his hometown, ever: all flights out are full, every bus out of town he tries to leave on breaks down, and when he tries to leave the city with his own car, the local nuclear power plant coincidentally has a meltdown and the whole area is sealed off. He finally manages to get out by sailing away and crashing into the horizon.
- The future city of San Angeles presented in Demolition Man looks just rosy. No crime, no war, everything is bright and shiny... Yeah, it's a real Sugar Bowl. Too bad sugar is banned by the government because it's bad for you. In fact, absolutely anything that might be the least bit harmful, offensive or disruptive to anybody is. No meat products, no alcoholic drinks, no contact sports, no swear words, no spicy food, no uneducational toys and no physical contact (up to and including sexual intercourse). In the words of the film's villain, it's like if Oceania was run by an evil Mr. Rogers. This namby-pamby, "oppressing you for your own good" society is why there's a gang of well-armed but actually pretty friendly hobos trying to avoid it all by scraping out a free living in the city's sewers. In turn, the city's founder groomed the villain in cryosleep to exterminate undesirables like them, to keep his idea of a perfect society alive.
- Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels. Although the films mostly show the glittering, affluent urban paradise of the top level, the Revenge of the Sith novelization mentions that the sublevels of the planet/city can be "worse than Nar Shaddaa," a notorious crime hub.
- This is established before the prequels, in the form of an essay written by an Imperial propaganda minister, who cheerfully describes the planet's technological wonders, mentions in passing that crime is being wiped out, and points out the magnanimity of the Emperor in granting aliens designated housing areas regularly patrolled by Stormtroopers, to better protect them from any intolerant locals. Said author was a nonhuman himself.
- Harry S. Plinkett also notes in his review that daily life on Coruscant is busy, bright, and chipper, even when the most traumatic and horrific war to ever be fought in the galaxy is going on. Coruscant is filled with the Republic's ultra-wealthy and privileged elite, and emblematic of the decadent and corrupt society that was the Republic in its final days. And, Harry notes, it's still going strong after 20 years under Emperor Palpatine, whose most redeeming quality was, apparently, being smart enough not to shit where he ate.
- The future setting in The Purge seems like a utopia, and actually, it almost is. The only catch is, you have to be able to survive the 12-hour period once a year where the government lets the citizens do anything without any legal repercussions. Of course, it's actually worse than that. If you survive being attacked by someone you thought you could trust, like the protagonists, did, you'll never trust them again. It's also hinted that the biggest reason for this event is the government's way of weeding out the poor and the weak. Worst of all, the movie portrays humanity itself in a very grim way, showing that, if given the opportunity to commit murder and get away with it, most will take advantage of the opportunity, simply because they can.
- The sequel, however, downplays it, with a resistance that rises up against the Founding Fathers who decided that not enough people were dying, so hire some death squads to kill the poor.
- Hot Fuzz: "Statistically, Sandford, Gloucestershire is the SAFEST village in the country!" Tell that to the castle crypt filled with the corpses of every minor nuisance to step foot in Sandford.
- Serenity has Miranda, a planet that was a failed attempt at creating a utopia by dosing the population with a chemical designed to curb their violent impulses with the ultimate aim of doing this to every world. The result is a ghost planet filled with abandoned buildings, the corpses of people who became so docile because of the aforementioned chemical that they laid down and died, and those who had the exact opposite reaction to the chemical, becoming the cannibalistic and psychopathically violent Reavers.
- This is the plot of the Norwegian movie, Den Brysomme Mannen (The Bothersome Man). A man steps off a bus in a desert and is taken to a city where everything seems nice on the surface. He gets a nice house, a pretty girlfriend and almost anything he desires, but there is one catch. Turns out that the place is a dystopia where emotions are nonexistent, food and drink is flavorless and there are no children anywhere.
- The Gotham City of The Dark Knight Saga seems more prosperous and optimistic than the Gotham of the older Batman films, but we learn rather quickly that at the ground level crime is eating the streets whole while the upper class just chooses to ignore it, wrapped up in their own success. The citizens of Gotham do care enough to take some action to rebuild their city, and thanks to the Bat himself corruption and crime are taking a beating and the Police Are Useless mantra is cut down, and Earn Your Happy Ending is in full effect.
- Most of the films of Tim Burton run on this in one form or another. Pee-wee's Big Adventure begins with a typical day of breakfast and a bike ride to the shopping mall— and ends with Pee-Wee's bicycle being stolen and his becoming so distraught that he slowly goes deranged. The Deetzes and their rich friends in Beetlejuice think it would be fun to conduct a séance with the dead... and the fun suddenly stops when the ghosts they resurrect begin to crumble into dust before their eyes. The Joker holds a parade in downtown Gotham City to celebrate the town's 200th anniversary, showering 20 million dollars on the streets to lure the crowds in... so that he can gas them all to death. And in Edward Scissorhands, the neighbors who are so kind to Edward in the beginning turn violently on him once they suspect (incorrectly) that he's a burglar. And his version of Alice in Wonderland (2010) isn't exactly set in a proper Wonderland. This may be former Disney animator Burton's way of demonstrating that "Disneyland" isn't all it's cracked up to be - especially since his more realistic movies (Big Fish, for example) depict worlds that are neither wholly good nor wholly bad.
- The city from Metropolis is well-maintained and prosperous on the top, but the entity maintaining that façade is the proletariat living underground.
- The United States in Harrison Bergeron, inspired by the short story of Kurt Vonnegut. A world where everyone is finally equal - by lobotomizing the overtly talented, if needed.
- The Untouchables director Brian De Palma deliberately made Chicago crime lord Al Capone's surroundings very lavish and sumptuous:
"My image of The Untouchables is that corruption looks great. It's like Nazi Germany. It's clean. It's big. Everything runs smoothly. The problem is all the oppressed people are in some camp somewhere and nobody ever sees them. So the world of Chicago is a slick world. A world that's run by money and corruption and it looks fabulous."
- The Finnish science fiction film Ruusujen aika (Time of the Roses). The future Finland of 2012 where class differences have been eliminated, diseases eradicated, wars are history, everyone is finally chemically happy, the world is ruled by scientists and civil servants instead of politicians - and under the surface everything is horribly wrong.
- The Italian film I'm Not Scared features this, largely due to the fact that the main character is a naive young boy. His quiet little rural village seems nice enough, but most of the villagers (including the main character's parents) are involved in the kidnapping of a young Milanese boy.
- Neo Seoul in Cloud Atlas has all the features: established early on as a fantastically advanced metropolis complete with glittering spires and dazzlingly colorful interiors, it's also made abundantly clear that it runs on slave labor; most of the menial work is performed by the genetically engineered Fabricant underclass, who are forbidden by law and religion to hold rights until the day of their Exaltation - a lavish retirement ceremony in which they are allowed to become full citizens. Of course, it's later revealed retired Fabricants are secretly executed and recycled into cheap protein to feed the rest of the Fabricant population. Plus, all the color and luxury is a hologram façade, and places like Papa Song's and Hae-Joo Chang's apartment are just bare concrete rooms, while outside the upper-class regions of the city, illegal marketplaces and Fabricant brothels flourish, and the flooded ruins of Old Seoul serve as a constant reminder that the metropolis is in very real danger of running itself into the ground.
- Eden Parish in The Sacrament initially comes off as a self-sustained utopia where people can live together regardless of the race or background. It's only until later that we find out that the people aren't allowed to leave, and those that disobey the rules are severely punished.
- The titular town in Pleasant Ville is an example of this. There is no poverty, serious illness, or hostility. All the residents go through their lives seemingly constantly being "pleasant". Even the laws of physics seem to conform to "pleasantness" as there are no fires, and roads out of Pleasantville only ever lead back into town. But as the protagonists soon realize, the fictional lives of the Pleasantville townsfolk are shallow and devoid of meaning. Their society lacks any form of culture, depth, genuine emotion, sexuality and even color. People are only capable of performing the tasks they are specifically shown doing on the show and lack the knowledge to do anything else. Furthermore, as changes begin to set in, the previously "pleasant" townsfolk react in fear by destroying all forms of cultural expression such as books and paintings, imposing cruel laws, and implementing segregation. You might say it's a deconstruction of '50s shows like this by displaying some actual problems of the times.
- Summerisle in The Wicker Man may count as this, as it is not as peaceful and joyous as it seems to be.
- Brave New World is of the "bright and shiny" variety of dystopia. Sure, everyone's healthy and has (and is apparently satisfied with) all the toys and drugs they could ever want, but all of them hatch out of bottles and are programmed from birth to be satisfied with their (also pre-programmed) lives, seven-year-olds having sex is considered late, and the whole thing depends on the intentionally-stupidified and drugged-up lower classes and shallow, selfish, immature upper classes. What education there is (which seems to be entirely for the higher classes) focuses almost exclusively on the applied sciences, with very little attention devoted to theoretical science or liberal arts. It's a peaceful, stable society, but one built at the cost of creativity and self-expression—and very few even realize what it is that humanity's lost as a result. Made slightly better by one of the leaders being a relatively Reasonable Authority Figure, and that freethinking people who can't stand the luscious reality have an option to move to remote islands where life is harsher but more open-minded and less restrained (then again, we never see any of the islands), but not by much.
- What makes this type of dystopia especially scary is that it is perfectly realizable. Huxley wrote his dystopia in 1931, when it felt like a distant horror: the technological evolution has advanced it into 20 Minutes into the Future. This prospect became so scary to Huxley himself that he wrote a warning pamphlet Brave New World Revisited where he stated his book was intended to be a dystopia and warned about things evolving towards his nightmares. Huxley's dystopia has no invaders from outer space, no breaking of natural laws, no speculative technology - most of the things he saw as pure science fiction are everyday stuff today (2016).
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the city of Qarth. It seems like a Shining City were everything is beautiful and its people are courteous and civilized. Beneath the shiny exterior lies an economy built on slavery and politics dominated by a bureaucracy impassible to those without inside knowledge, poisoned wine and assassins. And the city's Ancient Tradition, the warlocks? They invite people to their headquarters so their leadership can feed on their life energy.
- Several of the Free Cities qualify. Lys is a tropical island paradise nestled in the warm waters of the Summer Sea. The Dragonlords of Valyria created "Lys the Lovely" to be a pleasure resort with beautiful climate, good wine & beautiful people. So where's the crap in this ? Those beautiful people are sex slaves, kidnapped en masse by pirates,corsairs & slave merchants from all over the world. Lys's fortunes & fame rests upon being a massive whorehouse of beautiful slaves.
- Volantis as well. Proudest & oldest daughter of Old Valyria, rich, mighty & boasting of magnificent structures like the Long Bridge & the Black Walls. But the crap is becoming very noticeable through the cracks, as any astute observer can spot the city's decay as discontentment rises among the slaves (the overwhelming majority of the city's population) & the corrupt warhawk administrators try to pacify the situation with heads mounted on pikes.
- King's Landing itself is a pigsty as everyone agrees, but the Royal Court appeared to be a wonderful world of courtly romance, glamour, balls & tourneys from Sansa's viewpoint. At the beginning at least. Until the crap utterly overwhelms the saccharine.
- In The Hunger Games, The Capitol. Everyone there is happy, healthy, and lives a life of luxury and decadence. The price for this utopia? The Districts, full of wage slaves who live in poverty, working themselves to death to provide for the Capitol.
- This Perfect Day by Ira Levin features a seeming utopia with no poverty, hunger, violence, or fear. Everyone is happy, helpful, and content. But they're all being drugged and genetically engineered to be so, controlled by a supercomputer that in turn is controlled by a secret cabal of immortal "programmers" who live in luxury, apart from the rest of society.
- Harrison Bergeron, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut. Life is happy, neat, nice and comfortable. Unless you're too far above average, in which case you get to meet the Handicapper General.
- John Dies at the End's climax takes place in an alternate dimension, where humans live in harmony with nature, having harnessed biotechnology. Kittens are used as relaxing healers. There is no fighting, there is free love and peace. Oh, by the way, said humans are horribly deformed and would love to introduce you to their evil God, who maims entire planets of those who resist and eats people wrapped in bacon. There's a reason why the protagonist deems it "Shit Narnia".
- The descriptive part of Georges Perec's W or the Memory of Childhood, starts off with the eponymous island portrayed as an utopian land ruled by sport. As it goes into detail, the text descends into the description of a horrendous land of slavery and madness, allegory of German concentration camps, in which some of Perec's relatives had died.
- The Giver is set in a Community which seems to be harmonious, peaceful, and happy. Family units share their feelings, politeness is mandated, and everyone is given a task that suits them. But when Jonas receives memories of what the world was like before, he learns that the Community has completely sacrificed choices, colors, individuality, even love. And when he discovers what it means to be Released to Elsewhere, he realizes that the Community has even traded away basic human dignity and respect.
- The Land of Oz from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is considerably more crapsack than one would first think, what with half of the land being under the brutal oppression of two wicked witches, and the Emerald City being a lie in every inch of its being. Things improve in the later books, though, especially under Ozma.
- The books also give us some others. For instance, the land of the Mangaboos, a beautiful land with glass houses and lit by six colored suns (it's belowground), and inhabited by beautiful vegetable people. Except that said vegetables are heartless and horrifyingly xenophobic, trying to destroy anything that enters their land that's not a Mangaboo. Or the Valley of Voe, full of kind, good-hearted people, natural beauty, delicious fruit that grants invisibility... and vicious man-eating invisible bears, such that it's only possible to survive there if you're invisible so the bears can't see you.
- The world of the Kindar in the Green-Sky Trilogy starts here. It's a peaceful utopia where there is no overpopulation, hunger, homelessness, everyone's employed (there is an option for people to change careers, but it's seldom used), crime is so rare as to be a curiosity, violence is unheard of (even two year olds squabbling over a toy is a sign of ill-parenting), and everyone has Psychic Powers. Scratch the surface and we get widespread narcotic use (in the form of a ritual berry), the psychic powers are fading at earlier ages than ever (the protagonist thinks he's merely average when it turns out he's probably the most powerful psychic on the planet), everything run by the Ol-Zhaan, the Ol-Zhaan run by a secret cabal in its ranks, and one huge Big Lie keeping all in place. Raamo's recruitment was part of a Batman Gambit on D'ol Falla's part to atone for her actions as the grandmistress of the cabal, and once the Big Lie is uncovered, things start to heal up.
- The Wizarding World in Harry Potter starts as a wondrous, perfect place, and an escape for the main hero from his dreary and miserable life. Then it is gradually revealed that the government is ridiculously corrupt and incompetent, the state prison is a hell-hole, where psychological torture is par for the course (and thanks to item 1 landing there is a piece of cake), keeping (probably brainwashed) slaves is a common practice, and all beings that are not wizards, be it magical creatures or non-magical people, are treated with barely obscured contempt and paranoid fear. And the only person who could potentially rectify the situation is hobbled by his adolescent complexes and adamantly refuses to take charge, even though he was offered it thrice. It turns out Voldemort isn't so much a person that totally goes against the ways all Warlocks think, but merely exemplifies the flaws of their society Up to Eleven (there's even mention that a noticeable amount of people in Wizard society were on Voldemort's side until they saw how far he was willing to go). As the books go on, there are hints that this way of thinking may be on the way out and some social changes are just starting to take effect,, not the least reason being that Voldemort's return shows and exploits the corruption in the Wizard government, thus letting our heroes repair it when he's defeated.
- Genua from Discworld, when Lily Weatherwax oversees it. On the surface, it looks like a happy, shiny fairy tale kingdom... because she wants it to be that way. Toymakers are thrown in jail if they aren't able to tell little stories to the children "like they should," thieves are beheaded on first offense, and the Assassin's Guild has packed up and left "because there are some things that sicken even jackals."
- Terahnee in Myst: The Book of D'ni. It looked like such a fantastic place to live — until it was learned that it was built on the backs of slaves who were killed if they made a sound or even saw a slave of the opposite sex. And just in case, they were all neutered, and the Terahnee were trained not to even see them.
- Ursula K. Le Guin's The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is like this - everyone is happy and rejoicing, and then you find out that all their happiness depends on this one child being continuously, abjectly miserable. That child is kept hidden in a basement, starving. And every adult knows about it. The ones who walk away are those that can't bear the knowledge and leave, though it's hinted they're going to somewhere better.
- Uglies: Magnificent beauty and nonstop fun from the moment you turn sixteen onward. At the price of government psychos putting lesions in your brain and Super Soldiers after anyone who thinks for themselves.
- Camazotz, the planet controlled by IT in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.
- H. G. Wells' The Time Machine: the Time Traveler arrives on the future Earth in what seems to be a natural paradise inhabited by the peaceful Eloi, the descendants of modern humans. He later discovers that the Eloi's way of life is sustained by the subterranean Morlocks, who raise the Eloi on ranches like this and feed on them for sustenance (and the Morlocks are arguably the more sympathetic of the two).
- Robert Silverberg's (The World Inside). Everyone lives in gargantuan apartment blocks ("urban monads" with names like ChiPitts) and never goes out. The entire human race is obsessed with having as many children as possible - one protagonist is ashamed of having only four. It is seen as selfish (and therefore, criminal) to refuse sex to random strangers. And everyone is really, really happy all the time... because the ones who aren't happy are either lobotomized or dropped down the recycling chutes.
- Brandon Mull seems to revel in this. His Fablehaven series starts off cheerfully, with a rather enchanting premise (a nature preserve full of magical creatures! Solve your grandparent's candy-coated mysteries to find out more!), but around the second book, starts showing its true, dark colors. His standalone novel The Candy Shop War is similar, starting out with the Sugar Bowl concept of magical candy and ending up with several near-homicides, Body Horror, Bad Future, and much more.
- Franz Kafka's Up in the Gallery concerns a circusgoer who comes to realize the bright show going on in front of him isn't what it seems.
- Here's what's visible through one of the demon's doorways in Nocturne:
"...a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, woods and hills and streams under a mellow sun, yet redolent with an aura of complete and implacable evil."
- Sanctuary, the world of Diablo, is a straight-up Crapsack World, but the tie-in novels show what it's like when it's not being assaulted by The Legions of Hell. It's not actually any better, but it's better at hiding how screwed up it is.
- The Galaxy from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is very effectively portrayed this way in most of its incarnations. It's a shiny, glistening wonderland of incredible science, technology, and living commodities... inhabited by an ignorant, apathetic, and irresponsible citizenry that chooses to use it all for selfish and nonsensical goals, such as mining the past for resources that are rare in the present (and keeping the future from doing the same) or creating doors and elevators with genuine people personalities. It is also gradually revealed that only the very well-to-do ever get to take advantage of such commodities anyway, a large majority of Galactic citizens being penniless hitchhikers.
- The Futurological Congress by Stanisław Lem. It's a beautiful utopian future, Earth is green and healthy, every single problem is taken care of, anyone can get the Nobel Prize, people can control weather, their own looks, and their own lifespan without much trouble... only all this is generated by tons of chemical hallucinogens spread in the atmosphere, and really people live on a frozen, overpopulated and starving Earth, some of them are brainwashed into believing they are robots whose job is to spray humans with the hallucinogens, and the chemicals have caused gross mutations in humanity.
- A Ticket to Tranai by Robert Sheckley. Tranai is a planet where everyone is happy: anyone can become its High President whenever one wishes because anyone has the right to put a bullet through the current High President's head, all wives are young, beautiful and loving because they are kept in hibernation for most of the time, and when the husband dies, the still-young widow is free to enjoy his money, there are no divorces because it's legal to Murder the Hypotenuse, there is no violence because robberies are acceptable too, and, anyway, if you want, you can let out your feelings on your robot which is purposefully designed to be slow – to put it short, it's the Utopia embodied!
- Pam Bachorz's Candor where life is idyllic and teenagers behave until you find out that everyone is being controlled by Messages played in music that brainwash them without even realising it.
- In the 1987 picture book Hey, Al. Al and his dog, Eddie, are transported to a magical utopia ruled by birds. Their life there is at first heavenly, but soon becomes terrifying as they realize they are slowly being turned into birds themselves. Think of Pleasure Island from Pinocchio, but even more freakish.
- Alypium from Erec Rex is a bright, shiny Magical Land full of humor, wonder, and all sorts of charming happenings. It's all a hotbed of fiery racism, conspiracy, deep-seated political corruption, and murder.
- Watership Down. The refugee rabbits, after a hazardous journey, are offered shelter in Cowslip's warren without even having to fight to get in. The rabbits there are all big and well-fed as there is plenty of food left out in the fields, and have even developed their own high culture, such as art and song. The other rabbits get quite annoyed when their Waif Prophet Fiver insists the place is evil. It turns out the reason the food is left out in the field is that the warren's surrounds are intensively snared by the local farmer — the entire warren is one big rabbit hutch.
- According to David Foster Wallace's essay, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" (from the book of the same name), large cruise ships are, well, exactly what it says on the tin.
- Transformers: TransTech's Axiom Nexus sure looks like a utopia at first glance, compared to every other Transformers universe. It's the only universe where the Civil War never happened, and millions of Cybertronians of all factions and universes live together in a shiny, high-tech city. In actual practice, however, the Civil War still exists... just in the form of political intrigue, corporate warfare, racial/class tensions and bigotry, gang warfare, and lots and lots of red tape. And if you happen to have any tech in your body that the TransTechs find interesting and/or dangerous, regardless of whether you intend to do anything wrong with it or not, they'll at best kidnap you and at worst kidnap you and then find out what makes you tick.
- From the viewpoint of The Other Light faction in the Left Behind book Kingdom Come, Jesus Christ's Millennial Reign is a utopia for "naturals" as long as they obey God's laws and become believers before they reach 100 years of age — otherwise, they instantly die and go to Hell. Over the course of time, the Other Light does manage to win enough converts with their manifesto claiming God Is Evil because of his 100 years of age limit, so that the world at the end of the Millennium becomes a Crapsack World again, with the Other Light being a massive army ready to defeat God and Jesus Christ when Satan is released. Guess how that turned out!
- Istar in Dragonlance eventually devolved into this, as most strongly illustrated by Time of the Twins and the Kingpriest Trilogy. Everything was more peaceful, orderly, and prosperous than anywhere else in the world or any other age- because the Kingpriest had mind-readers seeded throughout the general populace ready to arrest anyone who had evil thoughts. The punishment for these arrests was to be Made a Slave, having a metal collar welded to your flesh and then pitted against other slaves in gladiatorial matches in the style of ancient Rome. Oh, and one of the Kingpriest's advisors was actively planning a genocide of dwarves, kender and other "lesser" species.
- The Great Gatsby show us that the world of the rich is not nice: Tom is a cruel bully because he knows his Glory Days are in the past and he suspects (rightly enough) that no one respects him, Daisy is a Stepford Smiler, both of them are adulterers, alone and scared, and they have to deal with Nouveau Riche delinquents like Gatsby himself - whose only defense is being less of a Jerkass than they are. And the scary part is that Gatsby world is Real Life world. How many of us wouldn't jump at the chance to be rich even knowing this?
- Gatsby's life is also pretty crapsaccharine — he's a gregarious millionaire who throws lavish parties on a regular basis and lives in a huge estate, but everything about him is a lie. His name is actually James Gatz, he gained his fortune through criminal means, and none of his parties' guests give a damn about him, to the point that only two people other than Nick (one of whom is his father) attend his funeral. He does all this to woo the love of his life away from her unfaithful husband, only to find that she is unwilling to leave him. As a result, he winds up a deeply lonely and unhappy man. "Poor son of a bitch" indeed. The book as a whole heavily deconstructs The American Dream, so it's not surprising that it illustrates how wealth can bring misery instead of happiness.
- In the 24th century of The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin, the entire Solar system has been colonized out to the Oort Cloud, Mars has been terraformed, and thanks to technology lifespans are measured in centuries and no-one goes hungry, unclothed or unhoused. But everyone is at least partly property in which other people own stock, there's a near permanent underclass of "pennystocks" and everyone has a tracker implanted in them. And it's getting worse; once you were born owning 45% of yourself, now it's 25%.
- In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, Menelaus only slowly learns the underside of the world he was re-awoken in.
- Atlantic Monthly contributing editor Robert D. Kaplan wrote an article about what it would take for world peace — a seemingly admirable goal — to be achieved; it's called "The Dangers of Peace" and can be found in a book of his collected articles titled The Coming Anarchy. The world he describes is not the kind of world one would ever want to live in.
- "Fade to White", an Alternate History short story by Catherynne M. Valente is set in a post-World War III United States that deliberately maintains the facade of The Fabulous Fifties — in truth dissent is repressed through drugs and propaganda/advertising, infertile men (and blacks and asians) can be selected by a Lottery of Doom to be sent off to certain death as frontline soldiers in high radiation zones, the few men who are not infertile serve as fathers in rotation to several families, all of whom pretend the others don't exist. Everyone maintains a Stepford Smiler outlook to stop themselves from thinking just how bad things are in reality.
- Christmasland in NOS4A2, where it's Christmas everyday and unhappiness is against the law. The children who are taken there, however, are drained of their souls and changed into creatures who thrive on cruelty.
- Alaalu from book seven of Young Wizards by Diane Duane. Everything seems perfect: long lives, few accidents, little pain, but this perfection is a symptom of a bad idea from millennia before and only The Lone One (aka Satan) can help.
- In Those That Wake's sequel, New York is this—barely a step up from the dystopia it was in the first book.
- The titular factory in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the few positive portrayals of this kind of setting. A mostly cheerful and happy-looking candy factory with dancing Oompa-Loompas who teach children important values but at the same time these children are taught these values in ways that could (and in at least one adaptation may indeed) bring upon their deaths, which would mean that they never truly have a chance to learn from their mistakes. The way Willy Wonka nonchalantly describes these events adds to the atmosphere. In the 1971 film adaptation, sheer luck spares Charlie and Grandpa Joe from what would be the most gruesome death of the bunch. Despite that, the Wonka factory is portrayed in an overall positive manner as a land of wonder and imagination in contrast to the grim outside world...which is full of nasty, foolish, rude, conniving people who seem to get all the breaks in life and feel themselves to be above the rules while the sweet, selfless, rule-following people tend to finish last. Suddenly a place that runs on poetic justice principles doesn't seem quite so bad...
- Then there's the situation with the Oompa-Loompas, where the cheerful dwarves who do all of the work in the factory have a disturbingly slave-like relationship with Mr. Wonka (in the eyes of some readers, anyway). Part of their jobs is taste-testing Mr. Wonka's various new magical chocolate-and-otherwise recipes, which can have disastrous side-effects, and they get paid in cacao beans and/or chocolate only. On the other hand they have no real need for money, they are given comfortable living spaces inside of the factory, Mr. Wonka treats them well, and, as is noted, the Oompa-Loompas chose this life in preference to their old one. That was living in a tropical jungle filled with monsters that would eat entire families of Oompa-Loompas at a time, and where the only food they had to eat for all three meals was mashed caterpillars!
- Nede, one of the worlds that Neshi the Tech Detective visits in The Wandering. It's a peaceful world where its citizens engage in ritual sacrifices to their God who is actually Satan.
- Going Bovine has CESSNAB (Church of Everlasting Satisfaction, Snack and Bowl), a cult that wants everyone to be happy and does so by suppressing all other emotions: the bowling alleys are rigged so you only ever get perfect strikes, the only book you can read preaches more of their messages, and people aren't allowed to be sad, even when they have legitimate reasons. One guy who's upset because his dog died is treated like he's committing a major crime for it. Thankfully, things end up changing.
- And Then There Were None: The house on the island is very clean, bright, well lit, with modernist features, and it is very well organized. The ten guests who enter it don't suspect that such a building would be their doom, with a killer who will attempt to kill you in the most creative way possible.
- In Divergent, the faction system is hyped up as the reason that the Chicago society can prosper in a world where everywhere else is practically uninhabitable wasteland and everyone considers it as the right thing to uphold. The first thing signifying that there is a major problem is the existence of the factionless, people who are not accepted in any faction and thus have to live as subhumans, yet everyone accepts it as natural, even the protagonist Tris. Then Tris receives the results of her Aptitude Test which shows that she does not fit in any faction because she is a Divergent, a status which will earn her certain death should the superiors find out about it. This "prosperous" world slowly goes downhill from that point, eventually ending up straight into the Crapsack World territory by the events of the final novel.
- Imminent Danger And How To Fly Straight Into It: features a very pleasant galaxy full of beautiful planets and fascinating technologies that can be used to improve your life. Except a quarter of the galaxy has already been conquered by the evil Rakorsian Empire, various other factions like the Ssrisk are also fighting for control, organizations like Chakra Corp are allowed to conduct horrible experiments and operate above the law, and the only real form of law and order is largely useless.
- The Gold City in Lucy Daniel Raby's Nikolai of the North is a city made of gold, ruled by a lovely and benevolent queen who adores children, with its climate eternally warm in spite of it being situated in the polar region, there are beautiful gardens with swans, peacocks and luminescent fish in the ponds, and festivities are held practically every day. But there are foul, ugly and rude goblins all over the place, the newcomers and everyone who dares to oppose the glorious happiness live in muddy outskirts that rather resemble a prison, and the beautiful young queen is in fact a beastly old witch who steals from children the very essence of childhood, turning them into dull heartless bores whose only goal in life is to serve the Gold City. With that childhood, the queen is able to retain her gorgeous looks. Not to mention she's turned to stone a whole race of elves and plans world domination.
- On Angel, Lindsey and later Gunn were at one point trapped in a hell dimension that appeared to be an idyllic peaceful suburban neighborhood superficially, but had them living in a home that had a demon in the cellar that would rip their heart out every day, only to have them heal and relive the same thing the next day. And if anyone interfered or tried to upset the status quo all the residents would mindlessly shoot at them with machine guns.
- Jasmine's utopian Los Angeles in the previous season, where everyone is happy and fulfilled, but at the cost of mind control (and Jasmine eating people). Yet despite that Jasmine's way is incredibly attractive, even after people have been removed from her influence; all of the main characters at some point or other talk about how they miss Jasmine's love and the feeling that everything was finally good, to the point that after Jasmine's death, representative of demonic law firm Wolfram & Hart Lilah shows up to congratulate the main characters on ending world peace.
- Bates Motel: Pines White Bay is seemingly idyllic town...whose wealth comes from drug dealing, sex trafficking, and all the dangerous criminals that follow this trade, a corrupt sheriff's department. And that's without getting into the family of Norman Bates...
- The Charmed double episode "It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World." The heroes team up with their evil counterparts from a Mirror Universe introduced in the same episode, causing "a shift" in both worlds when they perform an act of good in the other world. Their world turns into a manically happy world, complete with an anthropomorphic cartoon sun that never sets, where minor infractions are punished severely; Phoebe is shot by a police officer for having parked illegally, and the hospital is mainly in the business of amputating the limbs of lawbreakers—and those of people who violate hospital rules. The Charmed Ones from the mirror world reveal that the opposite has happened to their already-evil world; mutilation is now the standard punishment for exhibiting a minor kindness like saying "Gesundheit" if someone sneezes. After Leo commits an act of "great evil" in the main narrative world by killing the Elder Gideon—ostensibly a good guy but who is actually the antagonist of the season arc—both worlds regain their respective status quos.
- The UnSub's house in "The Uncanny Valley" in Criminal Minds.
- To go into further detail, the UnSub in this episode is a childlike woman named Samantha who loves to play with toys and has set up a perpetual tea party for herself and her favorite dolls. The problem is that the "dolls" in question are actually adult women who Samantha kidnaps and paralyzes with an IV-administered drug, locking them into complete immobility while totally conscious of everything going on. To make matters worse, the victims eventually die from severe dehydration, and Samantha has to go out and collect another "doll" to replace the broken one. In other words, the women are being forced to watch their own slow, painful death, all while wearing pretty dresses and makeup and sitting at a bright pink table. Granted, Samantha has an extremely good reason for her insanity, but that doesn't make her personal play-world any less creepy.
- Doctor Who has done this several times.
- "The Celestial Toyroom", a Pocket Dimension ruled over by the Celestial Toymaker, though even at first glance it shows its evil aspects.
- In 'The Macra Terror", a society fashioned after a holiday camp.
- "Paradise Towers", in which the titular condominium has crumbled into a Judge Dredd-style Dystopia After the End, though some still put on a cheery facade.
- The setting of "The Happiness Patrol", where the government has made good cheer mandatory, although, largely because of the direction and production design, this comes off more as an Informed Attribute.
- Morphoton in "The Keys of Marinus" is also an example.
- In "The Savages" there is the advanced and idyllic society of the Elders. It is revealed this is maintained by draining the life force of savages living outside the city for the Elders.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus played this with their usual flair in the "Fairy Tale" sketch:
Narrator: Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lived in a valley far, far away in the mountains, the most contented kingdom the world had ever known. It was called "Happy Valley", and it was ruled over by a wise old king called Otto. And all his subjects flourished and were happy, and there were no discontents or grumblers, because wise king Otto had had them all put to death along with the trade union leaders many years before. And all the good happy folk of Happy Valley sang and danced all day long. And anyone who was for any reason miserable or unhappy or who had any difficult personal problems was prosecuted under the "Happiness Act".
- Both the modern-day town of Storybrooke, Maine and the Fairy Tale kingdoms of Once Upon a Time are this. The fairy tale realm is littered with corrupted rulership, thieves, and dark magic. Prince Charming's kingdom is flat broke. Cinderella's kingdom is suffering from a drought. And no matter where you look, Rumpelstiltskin is cutting deals. The town of Storybrooke looks like a quiet, idyllic community, but everyone's been ground to submission under Mayor Mills's stiletto heels and Mr. Gold owns everything through a Chain of Deals like he did as Rumpelstiltskin.
- The Prisoner. Ohhhh boy. To put the setting simply, it's a panoptic prison disguised as a seaside resort.
- Played for comedy in Suburban Shootout, where a picture-perfect English village is dominated under the surface by rival gangs of upper-middle-class housewives.
- One Sliders alternate dimension is a world where everything looks great, and there's a great big lottery which they enter. Wade wins. However, she may have wanted to read the fine print: the lottery does give the winner anything you could ask for, but also requires you to give up your life shortly. It's a voluntary population-reduction program, and the real benefit is mainly to the next-of-kin.
- In Stargate SG-1 episode "Revisions", SG-1 finds a small idyllic village. It looks like a perfect town until people start disappearing, and everybody but SG-1 forgets they ever existed.
- An episode of Stargate Atlantis had the team come across a seemingly beautiful world untouched by the Wraith and with no crime. It turns out the worst criminals were originally sent to an island where the Wraith would devour them. This was so effective crime virtually stopped, so standards became a lot more lax. One man who had been wrongfully convicted of murder was sent there, and a woman who tried to tell the Atlantis team about it was sent to the island for treachery.
- Star Trek has done plenty of "planet where everyone is happy and everything is perfect, except it turns out everything is really horrible" stories.
- Landing on one of them which is filled with beings empowered by human imagination is the only crime that still is punished by the death penalty in the Federation.
- One example is the Changeling homeworld in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a planet of islands, beautiful gardens, and monoliths. Most of the planet is covered by the Great Link, a sea of liquid Changelings living in constant, blissful union with each other. Did we mention that it's the base of operations for the Dominion, and that the Changelings are the Founders of the Dominion, cruel tyrants who want to stamp out freedom in the Alpha Quadrant just like they've already done in the Gamma Quadrant?
- The Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life", from the Jerome Bixby story of the same name. Small town USA with everyone bright and happy about to celebrate the birthday of a 6-year-old boy with lots of presents and love. Until we find out that the 6-year-old boy (played by Billy Mumy of Lost in Space and Babylon 5 fame) is a telepath who requires everyone to be bright and happy all the time, otherwise he kills them in rather horrible ways. Everyone constantly mumbles to themselves about how happy they are, otherwise they die. Or worse — if they are people he loves, he might try to help them.
- The 2002 version of the show had its own example in the titular gated community in "Evergreen", where children considered "unsalvageable", as in not fitting their definition of a happy household member, are sent to "Arcadia Military School", really a fertilizer plant, where they are killed and turned into fertilizer, so they can "help the world in someway for a change". The cold indifference of the people, who allowed this to "bring peace to their household", makes this one of the most unsettling episodes of the reboot.
- The backdrop of Weeds.
- Wonder Woman TV Series: Queen Hippolyte claims Paradise Island is an Utopia because is a Lady Land. (No men means no wars, no greed, no barbaric... masculine behavior). They also are an Advanced Ancient Acropolis of immortals. Once Princess Diana has seen a man for the first time, she dares to disagree: Paradise Island is a Crapsaccharine World because the very same reason.
Queen Hippolyte: We are stronger, wiser and more advanced than all those people in their jungles out there. Our civilization is perfection!
Princess Diana: No! There's something missing, Mother. When I look at Steve Trevor, I feel things. Things I've never known before.
- The X-Files episode Arcadia is set in a seemingly pleasant gated community. The community has some very strict rules enforced by a horrible monster that kills anyone caught breaking them.
- The "Paradise" in Xena: Warrior Princess season 4 looks like Eden inhabited by a guru who will teach anyone techniques on how to achieve complete peace but he's actually a parasite who feeds on people's goodness and lack of that will turn one to stone. The ones who are immune are eventually driven mad by their own demons.
- The kids in The 100 are told to make their way to Mt. Weather, as it's the only safe haven left on earth. When they get there, it appears to be a charming rustic shelter, shielded from the terrors of the outdoors, and run by a just and benevolent leader. In reality, they plan on harvesting blood and bone marrow from the kids, even at the cost of hurting or killing them.
- Devo's "Beautiful World". It starts off talking about how great the world is. Then it becomes apparent that this is someone else's opinion and that the narrator of the song doesn't agree with it. The idea is that the person who says the world is beautiful has been conditioned to believe it is and doesn't know about the bad things. The video makes this apparent.
- Definitely exemplified in the song "Handlebars" by the Flobots (by extension, this song makes an example out of Real Life). The first half is well enough off, describing the good that we people can do. It's "good to be alive" in a world where we can do anything. However, the song takes a sharp turn in the middle:
I can hand out a million vaccinations
Or let them all die in exasperation
Have them all healed of their lacerations
Have them all killed by assassination
- Hotel California by The Eagles.
- R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People" is sometimes interpreted as a parody of Communist Chinese propaganda machinery, despite Word of God indicating that it is supposed to be straightforwardly cheerful.
- Oh, You Pretty Things by David Bowie.
- The PV and lyrics of the Vocaloid song "Hello, Planet".
- Lily Allen's song "LDN" about London and how everything looks exciting and wonderful at first, but when you take a second look... Indeed, most of Lily Allen's songs come across this way due to the musical style they use and the sound of her voice. "Smile" and "The Fear" come to mind.
- "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton starts out about a nice and sweet song about unrequited love, but soon takes a sinister turn into escapism, cyborgs, and kidnapping.
- Dmitri Shostakovich's 5th and 9th Symphonies are portrayals of this trope.
- In the video for Travis cheery tune "Flowers in the Window", the band drives into a small town in the middle of nowhere that is inhabited solely by beautiful pregnant women. After about four minutes of the band wondering how this could be, Fran Healy wanders to the outskirts and comes upon a solitary shackled man in a pen, screaming and presumably begging Fran to free him. Fran and the boys, fearing a similar fate, high-tail it out of there.
- The Mastodon music video for "Deathbound" depicts an eclipse making the inhabitants of the puppet world of Magicland Ax-Crazy. Played for Laughs.
- There Is No Depression in New Zealand, by 1980s New Zealand rock group Blam Blam Blam. The song is told from the viewpoint of the Government of the day, which maintained a façade of civil order while public unrest was threatening to boil over.
- The Dean Martin song "Do You Believe This Town?" is about a town that, on the outside, seems like Mayberry, but is actually brimming over with greed, corruption, and bigotry.
- Corey Hart's Sunglasses at Night comes across as this, after record label executives wanted a more romantic context to the song.
- Suggested in Peter Schilling's "(Let's Play) U.S.A." with this line:
"Did you hear the master plan? One nation under Disneyland."
- Paranoia. "Happiness is mandatory, Citizen. Are you happy?"
- Bretonnia in Warhammer. A bucolic feudal kingdom with idyllic countryside, Disney-esque castles, knights in shining armour and princesses in colourful dresses, Bretonnia looks like heaven on earth compared to the grim and less romanticised Empire to the immediate east. Bretonnia is also home to an almost unbelievably oppressive and brutal feudal system where the vast majority of the population toil away in practically inescapable poverty, the nobility are meanwhile regarded as infallible and control almost every single aspect of their lives, knights can kill serfs for pretty much any reason they feel like (such as daring to lay eyes on their prized Pegasus), and the local religion is a cult dedicated to a "Lady of the Lake" who is more a Lovecraftian horror than an Arthurian legend and also known for kidnapping small children with magical ability - the girls come back as priestesses, and the boys, well nobody really knows honestly what happens to them.
- When Warhammer 40,000 introduced the politely expansionist, harmonious Tau Empire, many fans cried foul for the newcomers not fitting in with the crapsackiness of the setting. Subsequent fluff, however, has offered hints that its peaceful society is the result of mind control, and that rather than being dissident-free, dissidents are instead quietly taken out of sight, resulting in something closer to Nineteen Eighty-Four than a true paradise.
- Inverted with Nurgle. Falling in with the worshipers of the God of Decay may look pretty atrocious, but in truth Father Nurgle's children are just as Affably Evil as their patron. In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, at least these guys are happy with their lot in life.
- The ultimate proof that this trope is relative to the setting is the world Q'sal in Black Crusade. On the one hand, it is in constant progress through dazzling inventions, full of people locked in the prime of their life, holds the prestige of being one of the biggest industrial and economic powers in their region, and is generally considered to be one of the best places to live in the setting. On the other hand, they openly run one of the biggest and most stygian slave markets outside of Commorragh, mostly as a mean to get "raw" souls in bulk, which powers their society and inventions. It's also led by people whose faith in a god (who is, among other things, the God of Hope) actively drives them to fuel their welfare with so many souls, to the point that souls are the main currency on the planet. To make matters worse, it's an open secret that the three city states of Q'sal are locked in a permanent cold war that drives them to outperform and use espionage on each other. If they ever did get into an open war, their combined influence could bring the entire sector into a savage war from which it might never recover.
- The First Age in Exalted. A Crystal Spires and Togas paradise filled to the brim with life improving Magitek and ruled over by three hundred divinely empowered god-kings singled out for just how awesome and special they are. Only said god kings are hard-wired to become more unstable as they become older and more incredibly powerful. After a thousand years, they're willing to do anything for amusement and to prove their excellence, from starting wars for fun, to creating life to capricious and random murder. And although they don't admit it, most of them don't consider ordinary mortals real people. Have fun.
- There is nothing inherently wrong with Lorwyn in Magic: The Gathering. The plane itself is a perfectly nice place; not all of its citizens are, though. Oh, and don't stick around there when the Aurora comes (every fifty years or so), because it turns into Shadowmoor, where you don't want to end up.
- Ravnica counts while you're at it. It looks like an okay place to live, then you realize everyone is trying to kill you, rob you, kill you, steal your identity, kill you, and generally screw you over. Even the "good" people. And you don't get any rest after death.
- Kaladesh is little better. Praised for following the Grim Dark Battle for Zendikar and Shadows Over Innistrad blocks (both defined by grim struggle against Eldritch Abomination hordes and, in Innistrad's case, the world itself going mad), Kaladesh is brightly colored with strong themes of invention, discovery, and progress. It is also home to a brutally thorough Consulate that restricts what ideas are allowed in polite society and a vast network of renegade cells dedicated to fighting consulate tyranny. Oh, and Tezzeret, The Dragon to Magic's current Big Bad, seems to be running the show.
- Changeling: The Dreaming counts, despite being set in the literal World of Darkness. You are a fairy, living off of the imagination you inspire in others, and doing courtly fairy things and adventuring in a dream world. Except the modern world is so poisonous to fae that you can literally die of boredom waiting in line at the bank, and all the best ways to stave this off will slowly drive you crazy.
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the Malfean abode of Empress Aliara is a magnificent castle filled with pleasures and addictions. Unfortunately, her realm offers only insatiable longing, never fulfillment. Heady perfumes and incense merely cover up the odor of rot, and the realm's servants are actually slaves who cannot leave.
- Xenogears starts off in Lahan, a bucolic little village full of friendly people and good times. Everyone is happy and a major celebration is about to commence. Once you are booted out into the wider world, it becomes very quickly apparent that Lahan was probably the only bright spot in a world otherwise rife with misery, poverty and war and giant robots. Which gets worse. This trope presents itself to the player over and over again throughout the game. If you see a place in Xenogears which looks like a nice place to live, you simply don't know enough about it yet.
- Downplayed in its Spiritual Successor, Xenoblade, but still present. Bionis might be a beautiful place, but that doesn't change the fact that it's full of hostile monsters. It doesn't help that the Homs are on their last legs thanks to repeated invasions by a race of nearly invincible killer robots, the High Entia practice eugenics and are openly racist towards half-breeds, and there's a criminal syndicate run by a brutal drug lord who ends up getting away with his crimes unless you complete a specific chain of sidequests before reaching a certain point in the game. And that's not even getting into the fact that all life on Bionis was created as a backup energy source for a Mad God.
- Xenoblade Chronicles X is a bit more overt about the crapsack nature of the world. Sure, Mira is full of gorgeous views, but Earth has been destroyed, humanity is on the brink of extinction on a planet filled with hostile monsters, and some of same aliens who destroyed the earth in the first place have come to finish the job.
- The bright, sunny, 1950's America of Destroy All Humans!. Looks all hunky dory on the surface, until you start reading people's minds.
- Dear God, the MOTHER trilogy, especially the last one. After a long, winding game with a story so vague it's almost taunting you, it comes right out and slaps you in the face with Leder's speech, in which you learn the small island you live on is the only inhabitable place left on earth, and prior to Porky's time travel abuse, there were only a small handful of survivors left in the world, completely oblivious and susceptible to being wiped out by any disaster. Hurricane? Minor fire? Disease? There goes the human race. And then, you know what happens in this colorful and kid-friendly game? Your long-lost brother deliberately electrocutes himself to death and you blow up the island. Yes, all of the main characters and NPCs live through it, but you don't ACTUALLY find out what happened to them after the end of the game.
- The second game, EarthBound, isn't much better, what with corrupt police, gang violence, an alien invasion, a cult that makes human sacrifices, and a plethora of brainwashed citizens that want nothing more than to beat the main characters senseless. Fortunately, things get better once the Big Bad is defeated.
- Chrono Trigger brings us the magical Kingdom of Zeal from 12,000 B.C. — warning sign number one right there, nobody from later on the timeline has ever heard of it. At first glance, it is presented as an idyllic world where everyone's needs are taken care of, free time is devoted to the study of science, magic, philosophy and sleep, and the worst thing to worry about is overly pretentious navel-gazing. It's all downhill from there. Oh, and the "idyllic" floating sky-castles? Those are off-limits to the humans who can't use magic, who are confined to dirty caves on the surface, which is locked in an ice age.
- Mass Effect:
- Mass Effect is on the whole a relatively upbeat game; you spend most of the time wandering around in nice bright shiny places and fighting pretty clearly evil monsters while most everyone else was on your side. Then Mass Effect 2 comes along and gives us insight into all sorts of Body Horror and Mind Rape associated with the Reapers, the politicians have all decided you are a fearmonger and not worth listening to or supporting, and the Reapers are on their way. Your companions are thieves, mercenaries, thugs, assassins, vigilantes, mad scientists, serial killers, and Tali, and your only support while preparing for what is likely a Suicide Mission comes from a notorious human-supremacist terrorist group. Good luck.
- The first game did provide a pretty blatant example, though: the Citadel is a beautiful space station of extraordinary technologies and breathtaking architecture, home of intergalactic politics and justice. Unfortunately, there's also a great deal of political infighting and bureaucracy going on here, meaning that almost nothing can be done through official channels, even when there's a crime syndicate having citizens attacked in broad daylight. Also, nobody is sure how the place even works, because the mysterious Keepers who maintain the station have a nasty habit of self-destructing if anyone tries to stop them. Finally, the very end of the game reveals that the Citadel itself is just one big back-door entrance for the Reapers.
- The Mass Relay Network, the wondrous technology that made galactic civilization possible is nothing more than the Reapers' means of sowing and corralling organic life across the galaxy that allows them to harvest it at their leisure. It's Cowslip's Warren from Watership Down on a galactic scale, and the Mass Relays are the Shining Wires.
- Illium from the second game is a definite example. It looks like a beautiful, high-class world in keeping with asari stylings and culture; in actuality, it's like every nightmare vision of anarcho-capitalism, where anything (including drugs with known side effects that include neural scarring) can be sold with the proper license and executives can hire mercs to kill their own employees. Tela Vasir sums it up, "Illium is just Omega with fancy shoes."
- BioShock is not an example, since the player is Late to the Tragedy and only sees the city as a gutted urban battlefield, but supplementary material and the later Burial at Sea DLC that show Rapture in its prime fit this. The underwater city is a gorgeous monument to art deco design, and an Objectivist paradise where entrepeneurs can flourish without business restrictions and artists can create without censorship. But look a little closer and you can see the signs of Rapture's approaching downfall: an increasingly-tyrannical Andrew Ryan clamping down on anything that threatens control of "his" city. A Mad Artist electrocuting dancers who offended his muse. Growing discontent from all those who played the game of ruthless capitalism and lost, now trapped in an Underwater City they aren't allowed to leave. Little Sisters, orphans (or not) converted into living ADAM factories to sate the addiction of a spliced-up population...
- In BioShock 2 we see what Rapture looks like from a Little Sister's perspective. Here, the dilapidated corridors are transformed into an eerily beautiful palace, decorated with heroic statues of Subject Delta's achievements and populated by elegantly-dressed men and women; there are also "angels" lying around the place, asleep in piles of rosebuds and surrounded by clouds of butterflies. However, activating the "gather" command while arround these angels briefly undoes the illusion, revealing that the supposed angel is the decaying corpse of a splicer: the rose petals are actually blood, and the butterflies are... well, flies. Worse still, the well-dressed men and women are really splicers employed by Sofia Lamb; now that they're being paid in ADAM, they're no longer interested in attacking you... well, almost. Oh, and that curious sound of sleigh-bells ringing in the distance? In reality, that's the sound of Augustus Sinclair getting tortured. The soft, sad harp that plays throughout only underlies the whole situation.
- BioShock Infinite brings out a much straightforward example in the form of Columbia. It's a beautiful Steam Punk city floating in the sky, equipped with lush parks, stately architecture, and a hell of a lot of advanced technology on display - complete with mechanical horses, casual airship travel, robotic replacement bodies, and superpower-inducing tonics. The people are all friendly, pious, and hold America's Founding Fathers in very high regard. And if you win a raffle at the annual fair, the prize is the first throw in the stoning of an interracial couple. Soon you discover that the city is also a weapon of mass destruction that stopped taking orders from Washington long ago, and now wanders the world, attacking anything its controllers see as a threat to American interests. Then you explore the oppressive factories filled with exploited foreign laborers that keep Columbia afloat, and the shantytowns that host the Vox Populi, a well-intentioned resistance movement that wants to topple the Founders, the xenophobic, hyper-conservative plutocrats who rule the city. And then once the Vox start making gains, they quickly devolve into murderous Bomb-Throwing Anarchists out to massacre everyone else.
- To the average human civilian, mankind is rapidly colonizing across the galaxy under the command of the United Nations Space Command, technology is advancing at a tremendous pace, almost everyone is being taken care of by a futurist government, and despite conflicts against the Insurrection and the alien Covenant, human has been able to hold its own. In reality, even before the Covenant showed up, almost all projections showed the UNSC being torn into warring factions by the Insurrection. Then the Covenant showed up, and twenty-seven years of war almost undid all the centuries of progress in space humanity ever made, as the Covies systematically destroyed every human world they would find. For most of the war, the average civilian did not even know about how badly humanity was losing because of government censorship in the attempt to prevent widespread panic. The post-war UNSC has been up to the same tricks, presenting itself as much more united and powerful than it truly is. Meanwhile, its Office of Naval Intelligence has been actively working to sweep its skeletons under the closet (particularly regarding the true origins of the SPARTAN-II program), and have enacted pseudo-Orwellian security measures on UNSC core worlds.
- The Forerunners were initially presented as Perfect Pacifist People who created a high-tech utopia where they looked out for the galaxy's lesser species under their "Mantle of Responsibility". However, The Forerunner Saga reveals that their Ecumene was actually an increasingly corrupt imperialist empire which was downright nasty to those species it saw as foes.
- In Psychonauts, Gloria's Theater has two different settings, which can be shifted by changing the lighting. The first is a Tastes Like Diabetes sugarbowl, and the other is a Darker and Edgier version of the same world where the formerly cute kids in flower and puppy costumes start attacking. After finding out more about Gloria's past, it seems the second setting is more accurate to her life.
- Professor Layton is in general a huge fan of the Town with a Dark Secret, but only one city can be considered crapsack: Folsense from Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. This thriving town owed its massive prosperity to a gold mine owned by the Herzen family, but recently the miners found something else. They thought they could refine it into somthing valuable, except soon the residents started dropping like flies. People started leaving the city in droves, calling it "cursed" and attributing it to this mysterious new mineral.
- Ragnarok Online, but given its origins, it should not come as a big surprise. The City of Lighthanzel has 3 layers of this. At first it looks like a good place to live in, bright, colorfull etc. then you learn about the slums and the class segregation but it's still not that bad. Then you learn people in the slums tend to go "missing", and there's a secret Bio Laboratory below the City.
- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening has an initially upbeat tone. It isn't afraid to throw humor into the plot (talking animals!) and it initially seems to have kinda the same plot as the others. You're not out to save the world, you're going to awaken the Wind Fish, whatever that means. Then you find out that you're trapped in a reality created by Nightmares, and you've been playing in a pre-apocalyptic dreamland the entire time.
- Taris in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was shown to be one. Sure, the upper levels looked nice and shiny, but they were generally reserved for the snobby rich folk. The most people had to put up with gang-wars in the Lower City, but that was nothing compared to the filthy, mutant-ridden squalor of Undercity. Things didn't improve 300 years later.
- Fable I has a strong fairytale vibe with idyllic towns and countryside and Troperrific characters and storylines. It also features necromancy, ancient evil artifacts, averts Infant Immortality and really, Anyone Can Die. Or sacrificed to the dark gods by the player.
- Santa Destroy in No More Heroes, honestly, doesn't look like to much of a bad place to live. Good pizza, law abiding drivers, and people who generally mind their own business. They don't even require guards at the border. But then you find out that some organization is promoting a bunch of hitmen (many of whom are very mentally disturbed) to fight each other to the death. Also, business men are even more corrupt than normal. It becomes a crapsack world when it all goes public though. At that point you better watch your back.
- The world of Golden Sun seems like the standard fantasy setting. But the game's plot makes you wonder if the Failure Is the Only Option. Either the world is slowly decaying to nothing, or the world is in constant danger of destruction by outside forces. Choose one or the other but there is no in between, to say nothing of good old fashion war and conquest, which never really goes away.
- Morgal, the newly-established nation of brightly-colored furries and skillful musicians... the "newly-established" part involves a violent and gruesome revolution from Fantastic Racism and enslavement, the (recently-orphaned, new) king is being manipulated by treacherous advisors from a nation whose hat is apparently total war, and peace among the beastfolk is maintained by a monthly festival that includes food, drink, and music for the beastfolk, and death by boiling for any human prisoners, be they criminal or innocent (one such prisoner is a child).
- Dark Dawn's NPC chatter and in-game universe encyclopedia suggest that the Golden Age of Man was a lot less golden if you were a non-Adept or a beastman.
- The Telltale Games sequel to Back to the Future has one in Hill Valley in an alternate version of 1986. The city is publicised as one of the cleanest, safest most law-abiding cities in the United States. This is because its ruler (or rather, his wife pulling the strings) is an insane Moral Guardian, who has banned everything from alcohol and cigarettes to public displays of affection, and Dungeons & Dragons and Science Fiction novels. By 1986 surveillance cameras and bugs are everywhere and Edna is resorting to brainwashing to keep people like Biff rehabilitated.
- Short indie platforming game Appy 1000mg. To say more would be to spoil it.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion features Camoran's Paradise. The top layer is a beautiful, flower-covered woodland meadow, that happens to be teeming with vicious Daedra. The bottom layer is a burning wasteland of torture and imprisonment. In Camoran's Paradise, you get to live forever. The downside of that? It means that Camoran can torture you forever.
- Grand Theft Auto V, after the dark and gloomy Grand Theft Auto IV, has given us the best looking setting so far in the entire series, with colorful forests, sky-high mountains, and a bustling metropolis. That doesn't make it any less worse than the previous game. Smog covers the city of Los Santos, the drug trade is huge up north in San Andreas, barrels of nuclear waste are dumped into the ocean, and corruption is on every level of the totem pole. The people are either vapid, vain, self-entitled assholes under the facade of being friendly or destitute, hateful assholes who will do anything for a quick buck, usually illegal activities.
- In Beyond Good & Evil, Hillys seems nice, even though the Domz are invading it. The great alpha sections protect the poor citizens and defend the cities. Only that the Alpha Sections ARE Domz, abduct citizens to turn then into more Domz, the ones who know it are portrayed as rebels, and the protagonist being the Domz' power source.
- The city in Mirror's Edge is this, if the word of the Runners can be trusted. Described as a conformist Police State, it does have police that are willing to use lethal force (against you and the other Runners, at least) it does seem to have a Sinister Surveillance system in place, and many nasty obstacles to stop you, like roof-mounted fences, often electrified or topped with razorwire, but other than that, the place doesn't seem so bad. It's a beautiful city, impeccably clean with perfect weather all year, the citizens are healthy (smoking and obesity is nowhere to be seen) and the economy seems to be in good shape. It even has a reliable mass-transit system. Indeed, most crimes committed by the people in charge of the city don't happen onscreen in the present day. This has led to a great deal of Alternate Character Interpretation by fans: Are the Runners freedom fighters, as they believe, or small-scale terrorists? The story would be the same either way, and would even have a happier ending if the latter were true. Not for Faith, but for the city.
- Mirror's Edge: Catalyst describes the city of Glass in more detail: the city is beautiful, technology is advanced, and anybody in midCaste or higher lives pretty decent lives, if ones dependent on their quality of work for the corporate-run government. But scratch beneath the surface, and things are much bleaker: resources such as fresh water and energy are rapidly dwindling, the economy is dependent on indentured servants and slaves working in toxic, radioactive "Greylands" to produce the food and goods necessary, everyone is constantly monitored by the State Sec for any hint of "Policy-breach", and the nation is locked in a Cold War against a totalitarian empire on one side and a mysterious theocracy on the other. And Kruger is developing a mandatory nanomachine injection that will allow the government to manipulate the populace's emotions, lulling them into a state of enforced contentment with their lot in life.
- The planet of Motavia in Phantasy Star I was a hostile desert world crawling with monsters. By Phantasy Star II, however, it was transformed during the 1000 year lapse of time into an idyllic world of lush green forests and plentiful harvests, where everyone's needs are met and the average citizen has no need to work. Unfortunately, everyone lives under the oppressive thumb of the Mother Brain, the supercomputer that helped make life on Motavia ideal. The ending reveals Mother Brain to be the creation of aliens from the planet Earth, who destroyed their own planet through war and pollution and sought to conquer Motavia after terraforming it and rendering the inhabitants too weak to fight back.
- City of Heroes' expansion Going Rogue took place in an alternate dimension called Praetoria, a gleaming silver and gold utopian empire where everyone is satisfied and Emperor Cole rules humanity with compassion, justice, and honor. The player quickly learns, however, that the utopia of Praetoria is held together by a ruthlessly totalitarian government that uses multiple supernatural methods to keep the population complacent. The city's water supply? Spiked with a potent chemical that suppresses negative and combative emotions. The advanced robotic servants, seen everywhere maintaining, cleaning, and building the city? They are equipped with laser guns and Tesla cannons and can, at a moment's notice, be used turned into super-intelligent killing machines by the creator. The psychics on every street corner, scanning the city for crimes in progress? They also scan the minds of everyone passing by, looking for "dangerous" thoughts, like hostility or dislike toward Cole. The Praetorian Police Department are loyal only to their Emperor and will banish anyone deemed a problem into the deadly wasteland outside the city. The police department and the government as a whole are also horribly corrupt, with members routinely abusing their power just to punish those they dislike.
- Under the city is little better. There is a Cyber Punk-styled Resistance based out of the city's Absurdly Spacious Sewers, but it has its own internal problems. Its leadership is split between the Wardens, who want to take down Cole, but leave the structure of Praetoria largely intact, and the Crusaders, who just want to burn it all to the ground, claiming the city is far to corrupt and oppressive to be saved. The sewers are also teaming with Ghouls, zombie-like creatures that are the result of horrific experiments performed by Cole and his Praetors.
- Much later, in the ruins of Old Praetoria, the players learned it was far worse than even that. Most of humanity is dead, with Hamidon and his Devouring Earth controlling most of the planet. Praetoria was just a carefully-negotiated region where humanity is allowed to live, as long as the truce between Cole and Hamidon holds. (Had the game continued, Issue 24 would have shown the dire consequences of defeating Cole, as the shining city would have become a ruined wasteland covered in monsters trying to slaughter or convert the last humans in the world into more of Hamidon's minions.)
- While most of the setting of Dark Souls is a straight up Crapsack World, Anor Londo hides it a little better. On the surface, it's a shiny city that is one of the few places resisting the darkness ruled by a beautiful goddess. It's all an illusion, courtesy of Gwyndolin. The sunlight, the beautiful goddess, everything.
- Jylland, the setting of Final Fantasy Tactics A2 mostly comes off as a happy renaissance-ish fantasy land. Then you find out that it's essentially ruled by a crime syndicate. And start noticing that there's there's no law outside of the cities, little in them, and everything is handled by hiring mercenaries...
- Similarly, Ivalice from the previous game is presented as a similarly happy fantasy world... torn apart by clan warfare and under threat by monsters.
- The Pyro in Team Fortress 2 turns out they sees the world as an extreme colorful world of sunshine and happiness, and the Pyro brings rainbows and joy to the baby versions of the other classes. In reality... not so much.
- In Sonic Colors, Sweet Mountain is a small planetoid made out of gigantic cakes, gingerbread men, peppermint candies, and tree-like lollipops. It's also been rebuilt into a munitions factory by Dr. Eggman. He does try to disguise his sites by keeping most of his own structures sweets-themed (such as jelly bean missiles, doughnut holding tanks, and toxic waste that looks like syrup), though.
"We seem to be losing pressure on level seventeen. Please hold your breath against the harsh vacuum of space until you pass out from oxygen starvation. After that you won't care. Enjoy the ride!"
- There's also the case of Planet Wisp, the home planet of the cute wisps. Upon entering the level, you are treated to lush landscapes with plenty of flowers and happy wisps. Travel further into the stage, and you'll see the foundation for Eggman's factories starting to crop up. Eventually, the majority of the lovely green environment you were introduced to is replaced with oceans of oil and numerous huge factories filled with missiles, saw blades and imprisoned wisps.
- Eggman's Interstellar Amusement Park in general counts as this. Sonic himself admits how nice it looks, but listening to some of Eggman's PA announcemets should give you an idea of how hilariously unsafe it is even if you don't count the numerous death traps set out for Sonic.
- Zanarkand of 1000 years ago in Final Fantasy X. Seymour describes it as "the great and wondrous machina city" and the player is dazzled by the bright lights and technology. There's blitzball all the time and plenty of parties. However the city was at war with Bevelle and sent young summoners to the front line to fight for them and had a huge robotic weapon hidden under the city to use as a trump card. And what's more is that the city was destroyed but Yu Yevon has created an illusion of it fuelled by the power of thousands of dreaming people.
- Warhammer 40,000: Rites of War is set on an Eldar maiden world, that is, a planet terraformed to be a paradise, and the scenery is appropriately gorgeous. Being that this is 40K, that just means that this is the most beautiful setting imaginable for a colossal war, but it's not as bad as you think...it's much worse: just wait until you find out who the real enemy is.
- Persona 4 is the most upbeat and optimistic game in the series (especially compared to the Persona series' much darker parent series.) It's still a murder mystery revolving around the party confronting people's inner demons, and the town the game takes place in turns more nightmarish near the end and the Protagonist's 8 year-old cousin is kidnapped and killed (fortunately, she can get better.)
- All of the games in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series are like this, possessing a setting that initially seems even brighter and cheerier then the main series, but having plots that deal with the darker issues that lie beneath.
- In Rescue Team, the land is constantly being ravaged by natural disasters that are so troubling to the populace that that they're willing to kill off the hero when they're mistakenly led to believe that they're the cause of it all.
- In Explorers, criminals run rampant, and parts of world are becoming frozen in time. You eventually learn that the entire world is going to become victim to this, plunging it into an eternal darkness you get to bear witness to when you visit the future.
- In Gates to Infinity, crime is also made out to be commonplace, and many Pokemon have become hostile, selfish and lacking in any trust amongst one another. It's eventually revealed that all of the negativity has created an Eldritch Abomination that's going to destroy everything, and the villains have decided that this is for the best. Even though destroying it does alleviate the world's problems to a degree, it's acknowledged that there's nothing keeping things from going back to as they were before, and that one can only hope for a brighter future.
- Conker's Bad Fur Day is just as bright colourfull and cheery as Banjo-Kazooie. Then the swearing and excessive violence appear, and it's clear this game isn't Banjo.
- Max Payne 3 opens on the glamorous world of upper-class Sao Paolo before gradually revealing the grimy, violent underclass Hidden in Plain Sight.
- Broken Age gives us two examples for the price on one. Vella's story opens on Sugar Bunting, a picturesque pastoral village comprised of bakers; who sacrifice young maidens every 14 years to a monster (and in fact all the beautiful areas in Vella's story do the same thing). Shay's story however takes place in a wonderful ship that is designed to care and entertain children which gradually becomes a living hell as the child matures.
- Gensoukyou, the setting of Touhou, is explicitly a "paradise", a Fantastic Nature Reserve for an immense variety of weird and wonderful Cute Monster Girls. But there are still humans left, and they're continually at the mercy of the youkai that outpower and outnumber them. While youkai eating humans isn't as prevalent as it once was, it still happens. The youkai themselves experience frequent Fantastic Racism against and between themselves, to the point that there's a massive Fantastic Ghetto filled with youkai others considered undesirable. And the closest thing there is to law enforcement is a single lazy, ignorant miko who's in the habit of attacking youkai for being youkai. And Kotohime.
- The interesting thing about Gensoukyou is that it goes both ways - yes, it's a place built for youkai to flourish, but it's one of the last places they can exist. If they prey on the local humans too much they face retribution, and the youkai and deities are dependent on Gensoukyou's humans since they're some of the last people who believe in the supernatural. Plus, the aforementioned shrine maiden is a Barrier Maiden whose death would cause Gensoukyou to collapse, forcing everyone to engage in nonlethal Danmaku duels to settle disputes, because otherwise she could abuse her privileged status. A final kicker is that a lot of the resident youkai and deities are used to ruling their own kingdoms and domains, but are now rubbing shoulders in an isolated valley, leading to Gambit Pileups and other friction.
- And some supplementary materials don't exactly dispel the notion of Gensokyou being a Crapsaccharine World with the most blatant example being Dolls in Pseudo Paradise with one character repeatedly referring to it as a paradise all while running in fear from whatever is killing her comrades.
- Tropico: Want your beautiful tropical island to be a tourist hotspot? No problem! Just build loads of bars, nightclubs, attractions and hotels for your affluent guests. Just keep them well away from the dirty industry and the cripplingly poor, miserable and uneducated citizens.
- Dreaming Mary is about an adorable little girl's dream and the games she plays with the Talking Animal inhabitants of her sugary-pink dream world who just want her to be happy and have fun. The first big hint that something might be a little off is the book in the library that tells the tale of "Sleeping Beauty"...or more specifically, the version where she gets raped in her sleep by the king. Then you get to the part where Mary enters a nightmarish parallel to her dream world where a hulking shadow figure wants to get her...
- Flight Rising:
- A cute, harmless game in which you breed colorful dragons... who are constantly at war with each other over limited land and resources, and the more adorable something is the more likely it is to be a food item. A lot of the darker elements of the game aren't immediately apparent.
- This is taken Up to Eleven with the Arcane Flight, whose element colour is pink and whose themes include crystals, dreams and stars, and who also happen to be accidentally warping the world around them. Arcane-themed things tend to be both pretty and/or cute and rather foreboding, if not downright creepy, such as the many-eyed bird familiars or Irradiated Astronomers, or the world map flavor text for the Starfall Isles, all of which have a distinctly Lovecraftian writing style. If you gather items from Arcane you have an equal chance of turning up tooth-rottingly sweet foods (like Sugary Prickleleaves and Nebula Floaters) and unsettling or grotesque things that you could also find in Plague or Shadow (like the see-through Glass Minnows or weird-sound-making Dark Creepers).
- The Colossus resort in 2025 is a large floating paradise for the wealthy in Call of Duty: Black Ops II. But from the facial recognition ads to the crass, excessive consumerism on display, you can't help but feel at least a bit unnerved. No wonder then that Menendez was able to get many followers, as the whole place is pretty much the poster child for everything Cordis Die is fighting against. This is also where Salazar makes some peculiar comments hinting at his status as The Mole to Menendez later on.
- Most of the entries in the Tales Series are animated in a very cutesy way, and the worlds themselves seem to be flawed, but generally good places to live (at least, one side of the world when there's two worlds). What do the games feature? Traitors galore, Family-Unfriendly Death, Fantastic Racism, Human Resources, Powered by a Forsaken Child, Parental Abandonment or flat out Abusive Parents, villains who are almost always bent on carrying out a Final Solution, and often Eldritch Abominations.
- Although it's not quite perfect, the world presented in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is mostly under the watchful eye of the Atlas Corporation, who provides a non-governmental solution for military combat, global security, and relief aid for war-torn regions. Their widespread influence and success rate (which by the time of the game can be said to be better than even government-fielded armies) has catapulted them into global recognition, to the point that CEO Jonathan Irons is able to take a seat at the UN Security Council. The dark reality is that they are in fact working to build a future where Irons and Atlas Corporation become the sole global superpower and Irons is able to enact his doctrine around the world without challenge.
- Monster Bag is about a living monster bag that wants to return to its owner, sneaking past cute, colourful people in the process. Along the way, various people die as a result of your actions, leading to an apocalyptic scenario.
- Quel'thalas, homeland of the Blood Elves, is very much this in World of Warcraft, particularly its capital of Silvermoon. At first glance it's a scenic, calming area, filled with wonderful magic - slightly marred by the massive scar of undead blight through the centre, but beautiful all the same - but exploring in more depth quickly reveals unsettling details such as drunks passed out in the street, an anti-establishment rally quashed by mind control, and a hidden sweatshop under the tailoring trainer's building.
- The entire continent of Pandaria is this. Sure it's inhabited by the jolly Panderan, but it has plenty of dangers in the form of the Mogu and the Mantid. The fact that there's a dead Old God underneath the continent that literally feeds on negative emotions doesn't help. Things don't get much better when the Zandalari trolls resurrect the long-dead Mogu leader Lei Shen or when Garrosh Hellscream absorbs the power of the Old God Y'Sharaaj.
- Mortal Kombat: Seido, or the Orderrealm. At first, it looks like a place of absolute beauty; a peaceful floating city with architecture, like something out of an Utopian society, connected by an intricate network of bridges, rivers that flow out no where, a well organized police force patrolling the streets, and gems and gold so common, the friendly people will hand them to you for free. But then, you start hearing things like:
Guard: "No officer is allowed to assault a civilian, ''unless'' ordered by their superior."Or Citizen: "My brother was sentenced to 10 years in prison, for disobeying a curfew."And the most chilling Citizen: "Oh, I don't need that gift anymore. My daughter just joined the resistance, so I had to disown her. Haha"
- It's eventually revealed that Seido is a Police State that values their own philosophy above the lives of its people. All Crimes Are Equal, and you can be kept in holding for DECADES before you are given a trial. They are also in brutal war with their Chaos Realm counterparts (Who are Not So Different.) and a civil war with the equally ruthless La Résistance, whose tactics include, inciting riots and framing guards for murder, so they'll be forced to change sides. The citizens are so thoroughly brainwashed with propaganda, they've become stepford smilers that can casually talk about disowning their own children if they join the resistance, and don't seem to care about life and death. Oh and finally, the elite warriors patrolling the streets will side with anyone, regardless of whether they're good or evil, as long as they are Lawful Good or Lawful Evil.
- There is Paradiso, the shining gold and marble Heaven-Expy. In fact, in the mythos of Bayonetta its even referred to as the 'World of Light' (as opposed to the Hell-expy Inferno as the 'World of Darkness', and the human world known as the 'World of Chaos') but Light is Not Good is in full effect here. The angels are actually monstrosities that look more like Eldritch Abominations just under their gold and pearly shells, and outright despise humanity wanting nothing more than to wage a war on the Trinity of Realities so that they can wipe out both the Infernal Demons and all of humanity, so that only Paradiso remains.
- In the first game there's Vigrid, a well-protected and secretive old world European city financed and owned by the Ithavoll Group, which is stationed on a tiny metropolitan man-made island called the Isla Del Sol. Just a few minutes in the city and Bayonetta already notices the guards in Vigrid are carrying assault rifles, and its later discovered that the CEO of the Ithavoll Group is Father Balder, last of the Lumen Sages who plans on resurrecting the Creator-God Jubileus in order to unmake the world to recreate it as something "better". The artbook goes into further detail, where it turns out all the poor and homeless of Vigrid used to be middle or upper class, but found out about the corruption or Balder's plan and protested against it.
- Wonder Project J2 is this combined with Art-Style Dissonance. The game's two islands seem like quiet, idyllic places, and the gorgeous, Studio Ghibli-esque pixel art emphasizes this. But when you start exploring them, the first thing you'll notice is that there are soldiers. Lots and lots of soldiers, armed with submachine guns, patrolling almost every part of the game world. Many places are actually locked out at the beginning of the game by soldiers who aggressively get you to leave. There's even one cutscene that occurs when you visit a certain place for the first time which shows some revolutionaries getting executed via firing squad. Worst of all, the scene is shown from the perspective of the revolutionaries! Pretty dark for a game where your main objective is raising a cute robot girl. Oh, and the girl gets to see the aftermath of the aforementioned execution, though thankfully the player doesn't since the soldiers block the view. It only gets worse from there.
- The game Yandere Simulator takes place in an Animesque setting that wouldn't look too out of place in a Dating Sim, and happily indulges in the tropes associated with the Harem Genre. However, you play as a murderous stalker who will do anything, up to and including murder, to make sure that her object of affection is single. The game's backstory also features delightful things like the protagonist's mother also being a Yandere who murdered, manipulated, and kidnapped for love, and some of the characters having a Dark and Troubled Past you can exploit. Word of God says the game's design is meant to resemble a Yandere in appearance; while it looks like an innocent, pleasant game at first glance, its nature as a horror game becomes apparent once you get into the gameplay. This is further emphasized by the "School Atmosphere" mechanic, in which the game and its NPCs start looking gloomy if people start to realize there's a Serial Killer at their school.
- The world of Overwatch is a wondrous technological utopia... that has a devastating Robot War in its backstory, lingering Fantastic Racism due to said war, a Mega Corp. that isn't above blowing up business rivals (which was apparently the standard, no thanks to a problem inherent in the legal system: people who encourages manipulating the honest workers and corporations), a mysterious Humongous Mecha that repeatedly attacks a country for no apparent reason, and crime and terrorism are still serious problems, to the point that one continent is rendered a nuclear wasteland. It's becoming increasingly clear that the disbanded Overwatch is still very much needed.
- End Roll is set in Russell's Happy Dream, a bright, cheerful place filled with smiling faces who welcome him into their community... but not only is it a literal Dream World, it's part of an experimental rehabilitation project. A world tailored to try and induce guilt and remorse, and the effectiveness of its facade holding up depends upon his mental state.
- In Pony Island, the options menu includes one item titled "Cheerful Facade." You have to play through the first half of the game without it, and the facade has a tendency to slip even after it gets implemented.
The Fallout series, being post-apocalyptic, generally leans towards either a Crapsack World or a World Half Full. So (almost) anything that looks bright and cheery on the surface usually turns out to be as bad as, if not worse than, the mutant-infested wasteland. Specific examples:
- The Tranquillity Lane simulation in Fallout 3. At first glance it's an overly sweet mimic of black-and-white 50s sitcoms a la Leave It to Beaver, but soon you discover that it's being run by a sadistic scientist disguised as a Creepy Child who has been using the people in the simulation to slowly break each other down (reading the designer's journal reveals he'd done the same thing placed in a tropical island paradise prior to Tranquillity Lane). In order to save your father, he sends you on increasingly heinous deeds, like murdering a mistress of a man and framing his wife. In the end, you have to choose between allowing the people in the simulation to remain trapped forever, or run a program that sends AI to kill everyone inside, freeing them from their prison but ending their lives in the process. On the plus side, killing them is releasing them from torment, and leaves the villain alive. Alone. Forever.
- The town of Andale. It's nice and peaceful (by Fallout standards, at least) and doesn't seem to be bothered by raiders. The townsfolk are cheerful and friendly, and proudly claim that theirs' is the best town in the US of A (as if the War had never happened). But it turns out that they're all inbred cannibals. With basements and sheds full of bodies and fridges full of 'strange meat'.
- The Vaults in general may count, as they are portrayed as the ultimate safe havens in the post-apocalypse world, protecting its population not only from the radioactive fallout but from the raiders, mutants and constant war outside (The war that never changes). As you explore the vaults, you discover that the populations have either willingly escaped the safety of their idyllic homes (rather violently in some cases) or died/gone mad in obscure ways. It soon becomes clear that whatever took place within the Vaults was way more fucked than the war and mayhem outside. Take for example Vault 106, in which a hallucinogen gas drove most of them insane, spurring sane survivors to seal themselves off in a small cave in the lower part of the vault and safely dig their way out instead of going through the insane ones to the vault entrance; they didn't get far. How about Vault 11, where the residents were told to have annual human sacrifice or they would all die, only to reveal that it was bluff and a pre-recorded message congratulates the '''five''' remaining survivors, for choosing to stick by their virtues instead of sending their own to die. Or how about the musician-populated Vault 92, where an experimental mind-controlling "white noise" was emitted through dormitory loudspeakers to the citizens, causing them to obey every order - even killing each other. A third of the population ended up permanently damaged by the white noise, and soon went out of control; cue total silence for X years. Hell, there's even a series of diary entries in a computer written by a young girl aspiring to be a musician which starts out good and dandy, but which end with her remarking how she is feeling more sick as time passes, evident in her entries as a degrading ability to type properly. The last entry is the result of her mashing the keyboard, desperately asking for help to "get the voices out of her head". So much for utopia, Vault-Tec Corp.
- All the vaults were really a massive experiment by the US Government to understand how people acclimated to enormously reduced space and occasional issues popping up, preparing them for their actual plan for surviving the War - escaping Earth on spaceships. For example, Vault 12 had the door intentionally sabotaged so that small amounts of radiation would seep in overtime, to study the effects of long-term exposure. The result was a city full of ghouls. Other vaults were set up and tampered with to study the (often failed) adaptation of societies under certain conditions. To quote Penny Arcade, "The Vaults were never intended to save anyone..."
- The entire Pre-War USA of the Fallout series is like this. The entire world is known, not only feared, to be on the fast track to destruction, and society is more dog-eat-dog than ever before. There are hints that the average attitude in the pre-war world is more cynical and self serving than even our own. On the surface, however, the nation presents itself to be a patriotic heaven filled with wholesome families and optimistic cheerful people. Some hints include that in Washington, D.C.'s alternate Mall, they had a War Museum where we have part of the Smithsonian, and that they willingly allowed the addictive, radioactive Nuka-Cola Quantum to be produced.
- This only gets worse with hints present in the 3D games (Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4) that paint a picture of just how awful America was before the bombs dropped. Reverence of capitalism was such that unions were illegal and worker rights were non-existent, health and safety was a joke to the point that promos for Nuka-World, the In-Universe equivalent to Disneyworld, proudly boast about meeting "minimal safety requirements", lackluster quality control could get you killed by everything from the food you eat to the robot workers or defense turrets in your office, and the government was essentially an all-controlling totalitarian bunch of psychoes who'd do things like support Vault-Tec in its experiments and use gatling laser-bearing Powered Armor troops to put down peaceful protests.
- The dog-eat-dog aspect also extended to America's foreign policy. For example, in 2051, the country accused Mexico's pollution and political instability as a threat. They placed sanctions on Mexico, causing it to destabilize completely. This was followed by an American military intervention to protect business interests and keep the oil supply flowing across the border, while leaving the rest of Mexico to fend for themselves. And then there was their bullying Canada into allow American troops onto their land and planes to fly over their airspace in order to better reach Alaska. As the Sino-American war dragged on, they also began drawing upon Canadian resources, destroying whole swaths of timberland and stretching others to the breaking point. When Canadian protesters tried to break the pipeline in 2072, it was the perfect excuse America needed to begin forcibly annexing the whole country, gunning down any resistance in their path.
- Fallout: New Vegas has the titular city, which is built up as an oasis in the Mojave untouched by nuclear war, where fortunes can be made, good times are had by all, and it's full of neon lights that can be seen for miles away. In truth, only the central area really survived and only The Strip itself is so grandiose. Unless you have at least a thousand caps to blow at the card tables, you're stuck in the crime filled slums surrounding The Strip, that are only protected from outside raiders because of a wall of discarded neon signs that surrounds them and the nearby NCR troops. Anyone who tries to enter The Strip without the proper amount of money, will be unceremoniously gunned down by Mr. House's Securitrons, the closes thing to law in these parts are local militias and your Neighbourhood-Friendly Gangsters, none of which are interested in helping the NCR immigrants, who are often targets of violent crimes due to the locals, blaming the NCR's attempts of annexing the region for the current state of things. If you're lucky enough to actually get into The Strip proper, you'll find that it is patrolled by Mr. House's personal army of Securitrons whose faces/monitors and personalities scream Uncanny Valley, all the flashy lights hide the fact that things are barely any cleaner than other areas in the wasteland, the three main casinos are run by self-serving "reformed" tribals, and Mr. House, the self proclaimed ruler of New Vegas is a manipulative, self-righteous, egotistical Social Darwinist, who is only concerned with keeping his little kingdom safe and is content to leave everyone else to fend for themselves. He is also only "cooperating" with the NCR, for the added protection and so his casinos can drain caps from off-duty troops, while he plans on pushing them out, as soon as his plan to upgrade his robot army makes their protection unnecessary.
- Of the three casinos, the Ultra Luxe is the one that most prides itself on elegance, refinement, and class. Its owners, The White Glove Society, enjoy putting up a high society atmosphere, making sure their casino/HQ is the most beautiful and fancy looking of the three casinos, and dressing in fine clothing and fairly unsettling masks. But, other than the creepy masks and the somewhat self entitled attitude of the residence, it seems like fairly pleasant place to stay the night and grab a bite in possibly the only high end restaurant in the entire wasteland. Then a visiting cattle baron loses track of his son, while discussing business with the society, and asks you to investigate. Then you learn The White Glove Society used to be a tribe of cannibals, before Mr. House's efforts to reform the local tribe and although they have more or less abandoned this tradition, one sub-faction wants to return to their old cannibalistic ways and their leader plans on making the Cattle Baron's son the main course of their next dinner.
- Fallout 4 has the Institute: a beautiful scientific haven where some of America's best and brightest work on technological wonders that could help restore humanity to its former glory. Too bad they also kidnap innocent wastelanders and replace them with robotic clones, experiment on them with the Forced Evolutionary Virus (creating the Super Mutants), enslave and mind-wipe free thinking synths, consider anyone not part of the Institute to be ignorant savages at best and vermin at worst, and enforce their will through violence and oppression. They also plan to destroy an enormous Brotherhood of Steel airship filled with hundreds of men, women and children, as well as kill everyone in the Railroad.
- There's also Covenant, a small, peaceful settlement that can only be entered after taking a short and easy test. It has excellent security from the dangers of the wasteland, pristine houses, cheerful residents and even a robot giving away free lemonade! The player character can remark that it looks almost Pre-War, and every resident will gladly tell you how great a town it is to live in. It turns out the settlement is nothing more than a front designed to lure in wastelanders and determine whether they are synths or not. ‘Failing’ the entrance test will result in you being branded a synth, kidnapped and dragged away to a nearby facility for interrogation and brutal torture.
- The DLCs give us Nuka-World, the branded theme park for Nuka-Cola. While the post-apocalyptic version is abandoned to the local wildlife or occupied by raiders, its pre-bomb counterpart invokes the trope fully. The park's cheery exterior masked several government projects; beverage developers also worked on making nuclear weapons, the animal park housed a top-secret animal cloning facility, and Vault-Tec got a sponsored exhibit which it used to test psychotropic drugs on visitors and employees. And this on top of the Nuka-Cola Corporation's fairly blatant disregard for visitor safety. Fun for the whole family!
- Hope's Peak Academy in Dangan Ronpa was officially a government-funded private school whose goal was to raise hope for Japan's future, where students lived in harmony and were guaranteed success in life. However, the school's small pool of Ultimate students wasn't enough to keep the academy afloat, so they opened their doors to the public and began actively defrauding reserve course students out of their parents' money with massive tuitions. Said students were also often bullied by the Ultimates and one was manipulated into undergoing a surgical augmentation procedure by the school intended to make him a transhuman genius, which eradicated his old personality. The third game reveals that the school's staff may have even been actively abusive toward their own students, including the elementary branch. And this is all before The Tragedy even begins.
- Beyond Coast in Policenauts.
- Parodied in this Copper comic. (Former Trope Image)
- Kevin & Kell. A cute, quirky world of Funny Animal characters... where fangs are more powerful than ideals and savage instinct triumphs over reason and empathy. By the world's local ethos (its ok to kill as long as you eat it) ethnic cleansing could just be another name for a BBQ. Perhaps even worse, a Ripped from the Headlines storyline reveals that there is an organization dedicated to opposing this - WikiBeaks, which publishes confidential data that has the potential to cause the predators some serious harm: They post which species are targeted, confidential hunting areas, that sort of thing. Sounds nice? Too bad they are being directly persecuted by the government. That's right, if you're a prey species, there's nothing out there to protect you, and the only effective organization that even tries is acting illegally.
- 4U City in the recent Sluggy Freelance dimension-hopping arc TRIES to be this... It's referred to as a 'Utopia', and everybody is mandatorily happy - any sign of unhappiness results in being immediately pumped full of 'Happy drugs', while any serious departure from the accepted happiness-standard gets you thrown down the 'Judgement Chute', never to be seen again. However, despite this, it fails MISERABLY at looking like a utopia at first glance, because it's always raining.
- Also, the "Dimension of Lame," whose inhabitants are so pacifist that they embrace the invading demons and readily offer to sacrifice the one person who has any chance of saving them, all in the name of preventing more bloodshed.
- Fabuland Housewives is a Stepford Suburbia with extremly cute Lego Funny Animals.
- Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures , like Kevin & Kell, remains lighthearted and happy only because everyone's used to the utter savagery of their world. Here rather than the normal food chain, the majority of sentient creatures of all species, "Beings," are hunted for food and sport by stronger races, protected only by vigilantes (including the eponymous Dan) who themselves are nearly all guilty of Van Helsing Hate Crimes against those of those races (a category that also includes the eponymous Dan) who don't take this attitude. Meanwhile, the whimsical, godlike fae (like the eponymous Mab), while not aggressive in the same way, treat everyone else as playthings, with all that entails. Although the ramifications are treated more seriously than Kevin & Kell, a little bit of Moral Myopia in this world goes a long way.
- Girl Genius, as pointed out in its YMMV page. Yes, the world is full of cool Steam Punk tech, which is almost Magitek in its sheer scope (for example, genetically engineered lifeforms created via alchemy), there's a noble, chivalric attitude, and the people seem to be genuinely content. On the other hand, actual scientific process has ground to a halt. For similar reasons, at least the entirety of Europe is trapped in a functionally Victorian cultural level, albeit with some more "modern" attitudes like women's rights and anti-racism. The aristocracy is exclusively reserved for Mad Emperor Scientists who can cause incredible harm and destruction by virtue of the fact that the Spark genuinely drives them mad, and who will pick enormously destructive fights with their neighbors if there's no strong hand preventing it. The world is crawling with all manner of highly dangerous monsters, diseases and rogue devices that want to kill everything in sight, courtesy of the abundance of Mad Scientists who tend to lose control over their own creations more often than not. There's a reason one minor character in an official side-story points out that Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer, and his belief that world peace requires the annihilation of all Sparks, is a valid case of Villain Has a Point.
- The Order of the Stick: While the the Empire of Blood is Obviously Evil and Elan is just too happy to be with his father to notice, this trope is played straight within small sections of the empire. For example, Elan plays in a child's ball pit, only for the comic's wide angled shot shows that there are several skeletons at the bottom.
- Homestuck: Beforus, if one reads between the lines of Kankri's Holier Than Thou babbling, falls under this heading. Instead of being killed, lowbloods and the defective are placed under the care of highbloods, which sounds very nice until one realises this is mandatory, and they are never permitted to do anything useful or fend for themselves. It's mentioned that Latula, who lacks a sense of smell but is otherwise healthy, would have had this happen, and would probably have preferred death.
- Mokepon is based on the idea of deconstructing the basic setting of Pokémon, resulting in a world that is shiny and happy on the surface, but violent and depressing underneath.
- Snarlbear: "If you happen to like lurid hell holes, this place is a magical wonderland"
- The world of Night Terror is one, big time. As Father Time's neverending visions of the future show, the Dreamscape is extremely dangerous, with characters dying at obscene rates (albeit those deaths being their alternate timeline selves). It gets worse when Night Terror 2 reveals that the Boogeyman can break in seemingly whenever he wants, killing and maiming whoever's unfortunate enough to be nearby when it happens.
- In Sparklecare, despite all the bright colors and friendly characters in Sparklecare Hospital, it's a really messed-up place with some sick minds on the staff, as well as disturbing diseases and treatments.
- This Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal:
Talking Bean: "I think Mayor Fluffypotamus is a doodoo-butt!"Happyland Gazette headline: "Snugglebean executed for sedition! On page 2: Bunnies."
- The Nostalgia Chick's BFF Nella's My Little Pony story thing crosses very quickly into this, involving loveless marriages and a Hooker with a Heart of Gold pony.
- Inverted by Mortasheen. The setting is a sprawling continent-sized toxic urban wasteland of twisted science and sorcery that is home to degenerate humans and hundreds of species of horrific bloodthirsty monsters (many created by the humans as living tools or weapons) where life is either nasty, brutish and short or agonizingly drawn out for far too long... and yet most sentient beings who live there cheerfully take it all in stride, and behave like you'd expect if this was a standard happy-go-lucky Pokémon-like world instead of a hell-world that could otherwise give Warhammer 40,000 a run for its money. However, all the horrible monsters are still nice to their trainers, including the Devilbirds, the Unknowns and the Wormbrains
- Natsumi Step! is a cute, relaxing flash video about a girl on an adventure in a magical place, where she meets cute animals has a lot of fun. She seems to have suffered some heartbreak and depression in the past, but that's all better now, and she gets a happy ending! But there's something... off about it. She kills her boyfriend, possibly with a crowbar, then kills herself. She's in purgatory, and is on her way to Hell at the end of the video. "Natsumi Step!" is meant as "Natsumi stepping" down a train station platform and killing herself.
- Facebook, given how many people treat it as Serious Business. Parents and grandparents watch your every move, and companies are sure to go straight to facebook to see if you are worthy of hiring.
- Heaven in The Salvation War. The Eternal City is filled with temples, covered with jewels from a thousand worlds, and all designed to praise the almighty God, made to wonder the angels with it's beauty. The humans, however, get to live in slums as serfs, constantly living in fear of offending the insane God who is to blind to see that humanity is on the brink of destroying them. The city itself, as noted by several characters, has many cracks and structural problems below the jewels and artificial beauty.
- Combined with Fridge Horror, here is a Cracked list of 6 Classic Kids Shows Secretly Set in Nightmarish Universes
- nana825763 is a master of this on YouTube. When she isn't producing just straight up Nightmare Fuel, she's hiding it underneath sickeningly sweet content that's like a mix of Tastes Like Diabetes meets Silent Hill. Even her relatively benign videos about an ant farm has her throwing in random shots of creepy, bloodstained dolls. And that's when she's not inverting the trope to mess with people, like the video with one of the aforementioned bloodstained dolls and utter Mind Screw...that's about cooking.
- Welcome to Night Vale is about a small town in an Eldritch Location suffering all sorts of oddities as a simple fact of life and part of the daily grind. In The Sandstorm we meet Night Vale's rival town, Desert Bluffs, and its radio announcer Kevin, who seems much nicer and more cheerful than Cecil, Night Vale's announcer. Then the creepiness starts to set in as Kevin describes the mysterious Strex Corp. that controls Desert Bluffs — despite having no clear purpose, business plan, or mission, beyond being a sinister Mega Corp. with tendrils in every aspect of Desert Bluffs — and how they manipulate everything. It still seems like a slightly better place to live than Night Vale though — there seems to be a lot less random death and sinister supernatural forces. Until Cecil shows up and sees what's actually going on...
- Gets both barrels in Episode 47, where Desert Bluffs finally takes over all of Night Vale. The episode is hosted by Kevin and a representative of StrexCorp, who are both happy, cheerful, and friendly, and want to celebrate the recent decision by awarding everyone with a big company picnic! Even those who don't work for StrexCorp, because now everyone works for StrexCorp! And when you get there, you must make sure to check in with the Picnic Overseers - y'know, the friendly chaps with the gas masks and night sticks - and take care not to touch the electrified "volleyball nets" that keep you in there. And everyone's going to stay at the picnic now, "until the work is complete."
- When you get right down to it, Neopia's a pretty depressing place to live, what with the countless wars, attempted genocides, and multiple fates worse than death. The only reason none of the inhabitants have lost hope is that they have enough badass Knights In Shining Armor/Lovable Rogues/Noble Demons to deal with them.
- Rotten.com: The site shows the world as a frightening and, well, rotten place. Several articles in the Rotten Library talk about cruel rulers and conquerors, corrupt politicians and religious leaders, execution methods, torture devices, massacres, natural disasters, diseases, weapons, racist ideologies, yet they also have fun with it, by keeping an ironic style. Apart from the worst atrocities in mankind's history the Rotten Library also offers articles about more amusing and less nihilistic topics.
- Void Of The Stars seems to be normal aside from the fact that the Equestrians seem to be a Mary Suetopia, but the backstory has an entire universe destroyed and all galaxies aside from the Milky Way devoured by invaders. The Triarian Collective routinely wipes the memories of their citizens, there are two species that want nothing more than to consume everything, and one species that is literally from hell. Even the Equestrian Empire has dystopian elements.
- AsteroidQuest has one: the farm Penn visits in part 6. There are far more kids than adults, and everyone is exceptionally hospitable and accommodating... except for some visiting neumono, who are extremely aggressive and even abusive towards their own hivemates. Penn discovers that some scientists are using Mind Control to forcefully rewrite every neumono's personality to suit their needs, usually making them extremely subservient to the crime bosses and visiting hivemates. This includes forcing them to feel happy even if their aggressive hivemates decide to abuse them.
- Don't Hug Me I'm Scared plays in a beautiful and vivacious world of felt, covering the cruelty and evil of some of the world's inhabitants.
- The Simpsons has three in-universe examples:
- The Treehouse Of Horror segment "The Bart Zone" a parody of the aforementioned The Twilight Zone episode.
Jasper: Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts. Boy, I'm getting mighty sick of this. (pop! Jasper is transformed into a dog with his head on it) Woof! Woof!
- Also, in the "Treehouse of Horror V" story "Time And Punishment", when Homer returns from the past to find that Flanders is ruler of the world. And people who aren't happy under his rule are at risk of a full frontal lobotomy.
- Parodied during the same story, when Homer creates a world where The Simpsons are rich, Patty and Selma are dead, Bart and Lisa are well-behaved, but no one knows what a doughnut is, making Homer conclude it's this. Subverted in that they're called "rain", but Homer ran off before he could find that out.
- Subverted also in "Hungry Are the Damned", part of the very first Treehouse of Horror. The family is abducted by Rigelian aliens (Kang and Kodos in their first appearance) who want them to be happy all the time, cooking them gourmet foods and providing them with free entertainment. Lisa suspects that this might be Bread and Circuses and uncovers evidence that the Rigelians are actually making the Simpsons fat so that they will be delicious to eat - but it all turns out to be a misunderstanding. And the Rigelians are so offended at Lisa's prejudice and ingratitude that they return the family to Earth and tell them that they missed their chance at paradise.
- The Treehouse Of Horror segment "The Bart Zone" a parody of the aforementioned The Twilight Zone episode.
- South Park was like this until season 5 came along, and at that point it just became a textbook example of a Crapsack World.
Nathan:"What is PC but a verbal form of gentrification? Spruce everything up, get rid of all the ugliness and create a false sense of paradise."
- In season 19, the town, in a PC frenzy, decided to gentrify Kenny's neighborhood, turning it into SoDoSoPa, with fancy lofts and restaurants and a slick ad campaign. The town however becomes an overpriced cesspool of PC excess. PC frat boys bully everybody for any random Felony Misdemeanor, and homeless people are abused by the police, while the residents ignore it while claiming to be "enlightened". Of course it later turns out that living ads are pushing PC and gentrification in a bid to price humanity out of existence.
- The characters on Kaeloo live on a planet named Smileyland. It's a beautiful setting where everything seems nice, you can have almost anything you want, and there are flowers everywhere. The trouble is, Smileyland is inhabited by the cast, who are all insane in some way or the other (Mr. Cat is Ax-Crazy, and Kaeloo is implied to be schizophrenic, for example.) Episode 94 showed the true cynicism of Smileyland.
- Moral Orel: a seemingly nice suburban town full of depressed, miserable, and extremely disturbed souls trying their damnedest to appear wholesome and normal. Seasons 1 and 2 played it for laughs. Season 3... not so much.
- On The Fairly OddParents!, the planet of the Giggle Pies, the cute things that come in Invader-Os cereal already mentioned in Sugar Apocalypse.
- Futurama, the world of the future looks exactly as we envisioned; flying cars, jetpacks, lasers and a cure to everything. Except that everybody's too poor to afford anything, war is fought on a bigger scale than ever, and everything everywhere is run by idiots. As the creators put it, it's present day Earth with a thousand years of technological advancement.
- From Justice League:
- One episode has several of the characters end up in an Alternate Universe which was almost exactly like the Silver Age Superhero comics the Green Lantern used to read as a child. On first glance, the world looked like a stereotypical wholesome and child-friendly '50s superhero setting. Upon closer inspection, the world turned out to be a post-nuclear war landscape whose survivors were forced to live in a psychic Masquerade generated by the mutated Kid Sidekick of the original heroes of that world.
- There are other hints of the slightly crappy nature coming through as well, in the form of Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: Hawkgirl doesn't take too kindly to having the only other female superhero suggest they make cookies for the menfolk, and Green Lantern doesn't know how to take a white superhero calling him "a credit to [his] people."
- At a cursory glance, the world the Justice Lords created might look like this. All the super villains are caught, Gotham City is actually clean, and crime has been so thoroughly eradicated that police are reduced to settling disputes over restaurant bills. The saccharine side of things is really paper-thin, as it's no secret that the reason for all of this was because the League went Knight Templar on the world and took to ruling it with an iron fist as the Justice Lords.
- One episode has several of the characters end up in an Alternate Universe which was almost exactly like the Silver Age Superhero comics the Green Lantern used to read as a child. On first glance, the world looked like a stereotypical wholesome and child-friendly '50s superhero setting. Upon closer inspection, the world turned out to be a post-nuclear war landscape whose survivors were forced to live in a psychic Masquerade generated by the mutated Kid Sidekick of the original heroes of that world.
- Adventure Time started off like this, with the cheery adventures of A Boy and His Dog, and a literal Sugar Bowl in the Candy Kingdom, hiding that it was an After the End setting filled with dangerous threats and brutal monsters. Then it started delving deeply into various horrible backstories and the Dysfunction Junction of the cast, ultimately showing that while there are plenty of nasty things out there The Land of Ooo is still overall a pleasant place to live.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Ba Sing Se. A giant, bustling city that is efficient and pleasant to live in (at least for the middle and upper classes), but the world war with the Fire Nation is kept secret (even from the Earth King) and those who try to reveal the truth find themselves spirited away and brainwashed by the Dai Li (their Secret Police).
- Things have hardly improved by The Legend of Korra since many people in the Outer Ring still live in poverty. One could say things are worse since they are the result of the oppressive, kleptocratic Earth Queen who conscripts airbenders into her army in secrecy. And then said Earth Queen dies, and the city's centuries of inequality cause it to devolve into an anarchic hellhole. Thankfully, the situation seems to be improved at the end of the series, after the Earth Kingdom is dissolved into several republics.
- In ThunderCats (2011) this is quite deliberately employed as the premiere's opening minutes treat the viewer to a gorgeous aerial Epic Tracking Shot of a Shining City, the Catfolk kingdom of Thundera, while a soothing narrator tells of the kingdom's "peace and prosperity" and its ruler's "just heart." Less than a minute after the narrator finishes speaking, the camera tilts downward from a bright, painterly city vista to dark, miserable slums where "Alley Cats" are violently beating a hapless Dog.
- In The Powerpuff Girls, the city of Townsville. It's frequently shown to be a friendly big city with people that are willing to help, but it's always attacked by monsters and is inhabited by all sorts of criminals and villains. The Movie Prequel reveals that Townsville was actually MUCH WORSE then it is now, a straight-up crime-ridden Crapsack World until the Professor created the girls and they became its resident superheroes.
- In Motorcity, Detroit Deluxe is a state-of-the-art, clean, efficient, and nearly-crime free metropolis ran by Corrupt Corporate Executive Abraham Kane. The price of admission to live in Detroit Deluxe is the revocation of one's personal liberties. Old Detroit is the exact opposite, with many Motorcitizens, including the Burners, being defectors to Kane's regime.
- The Disney universe, in Family Guy. It's a happy, musical, funny land of enchantment, but... well, it turns out it was created (and is apparently enforced) by the Walt Disney of popular legend, so as soon as a Jewish character shows up, he is promptly ripped to shreds by everyone else present.
- Bacchus' paradise in The Smurfs episode "Paradise Smurfed" is an example of this. A globe from an Atlas statue breaks through a wall and reveals a dark castle in which a chef is given a menu for preparing "souffle a la Smurf". Fortunately, this ends up being All Just a Dream.
- Invader Zim: The Skool Facility that Zim attends is just like the metropolis he also lives in, modern, technological, and fair on the exterior, but cruel, mean, evil, fascist and totalitarian from within.
- Men in Black: In "The Worm-Guy Guy Syndrome", the planet Kalifadik is an extremely Lawful Stupid society where all crimes, no matter how minor, are punishable by life imprisonment in their gulags. When Agent J asks why aliens would still travel there, Agent K and a captured Kalifadik enforcer answer "The beaches".
- The Amazing World of Gumball: On the one hand, Elmore is a colorful world filled with cartoon characters animated in different styles where the impossible is possible. On the other hand, because Everything Talks, all food is sentient. If Gumball's lunch in "The World" is anything to go by, people do not care whether or not their foods wants to be eaten. Likewise, anthropomorphic non-humans eating each other, while clearly considered equivalent to cannibalism, comes up surprisingly often. Also, society and the world itself seems constantly on the edge of disaster. A lot of the students at Elmore Junior High basically have superpowers that they tend to cause all sorts of destruction with when angered, including a giant who will destroy the whole town if he gets mad (Hector), a shapeshifting doe who turns into monsters whenever she's distressed or feels bad about how she looks (Penny after breaking from her shell), and a cloud that causes storms whenever she gets jealous (Masami). "The Pizza" reveals that one person (Larry the rock-headed clerk) is in charge of working almost every job in Elmore and, without him, the town's economy plunges and Elmore turns into a post-apocalyptic warzone. In "The Job", it turns out one person doing something very unexpected of him (namely, Richard getting a job and actually doing it well) can destroy the entire universe. "The Butterfly" shows that even something simple as a butterfly can cause havoc and destruction in Elmore. In "The Genius", the government is willing and able to take children who are especially smart away from their families for testing, and no one else seems to care. "The Gripes" and "The Finale" show that Elmore's residents can be callous and quick to violent anger, especially if the Wattersons (Gumball's family) do anything to upset them. In "The Boss", it turns out at least one major corporation is run by demons who own their employees' souls and keep them working 24/7 for the entire lives. "The Void" shows that the universe itself is sentient and can get rid of anything and anyone it considers a "mistake," from embarrassing fads (jorts, the mullet, and disco) to historical disasters (the sinking of the R.M.S. Titantic and the Hindenberg) to background characters (Molly the sauropod and Rob the cyclops).
- Rick and Morty: The fantasy type world in the adventure that Morty makes seems at first glance to be a stereotypical medieval fantasy / fairy-tale world. Until Morty gets nearly raped by a friendly Jellybean, who turns out to be the King
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil: As a Deconstructive Parody of the Magical Girl genre, it has a few commonly-seen tropes that get twisted and lead to this. Star is a Magical Girl Princess who's been given too much power and freedom at too young an age and more than once terrorized her own people by accident. Her family rules over a beautiful, pastel-color-schemed Crapsack World styled after Medieval Europe, in that all of the people outside of nobility and the Royal family live in total squalor. To top it off, her family's history isn't exactly clean either.
- Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot has this trope in spades. The main cloud the bears live on is spick and span. However, Rainshine Meadows was dilapidated until the bears got to it, and let's not get started on Grizzle's cloud.
- Though My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic proper isn't as dark as some fanworks make it out to be, theirs is still a capitalist society sporting crime, significant class differences, racism and an abundance of both capital E evils and raw selfishness that clearly do not add up to the kind of utopia initially presented.