Navigators of drug-induced psychedelic experiences will report that the events that they are perceiving are overly colorful, delightfully bizarre, or laugh-out-loud hilarious, but might eventually notice that their entire notion of reality is being undermined, or worse.
How Hieronymous 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.
In Attack on Titan, a century of peace made humanity complacent and oblivious to their true dire predicament. The Colossal Titan breaking down Wall Maria was a harsh reminder that humanity lived in fear of the Titans. Even prior to that the Government Conspiracy and cult in the city prove that Titans aren't the only problem humanity faces. The world outside the walls is also pristine and beautiful, since the Titans only prey on humans.
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 the way they are created.
Chirin No Suzu has a great example of this trope. The first half of the story starts out with a world where everything is great and everyone is happy. However, events in the second half reveal that the world has a dark side to it, and that the world presented in the first half was probably not that great to begin with.
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.
The melodrama of Elfen Lied takes places in a nice little coastal city and a very pretty inn. Which hides a huge case of Humans Are the Real Monsters taking place in a certain science facility...
Hunter × Hunter takes place in a world full of fantastic creatures and character designs on the cuter side of Shounen. It's also a world where people can be thrown away, collecting human body parts is considered only a slightly esoteric hobby for the super-wealthy, ecosystems are built around humans as a primary food source, a family of assassins with a small army of Battle Butlers is able to live so openly their front gate is a tourist attraction by sheer dint of the fact no-one is powerful enough to dislodge them, and the two biggest apparent world powers are the eponymous organisation of super-powered Badasses with more perks and privileges than God (and the ONLY effective requirements to join said organisation are badassery and intelligence), and the Mafia at least, before the Mafia's leadership was taken out by that family of assassins and a roving band of Übermensch bandits from that landfill-city where anything and anyone can be thrown away. Oh, and The known world map? Has been revealed to be only a small portion of a much larger world, the rest of which is so much more mindbogglingly dangerous than what has been shown so far that humanity's governments formed a treaty forbidding anyone from even going out there, because of how horrifically every previous attempt at an expedition there failed.
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.
Kaiba: Takes place in a hypothetical universe where people have created a kind of immortality by downloading their memories into chips which they can put into a new body when they die. The downside to this is that human bodies are now a commodity. The poor are manipulated into selling their bodies and family members bodies to the rich to get by. And because bodies are replaceable a common punishment for crimes is to just vaporize people with lasers. If you haven't converted to the chips you're pretty much a goner if you upset the police. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to tell. The art style, and setting are incredibly cute and bubbly in a way very similar to Disney and Astroboy styles of animation.
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.
"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.
Gundam AGE also qualifies, as it turns out to be a False Utopia again 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 alot), which is just as well because no one whose job it is to get rid of rogue ninjas is capable of defeating 14 year old children, much less city destroying badasses. Finally, before the start of the series, said ninja villages were constantly embroiled in various wars against eachother (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 wants to mind rape everyone on the planet because he got friend-zoned by the girl he was in love with while the Bigger Bad just wants people to treat him like the god he thinks he is.
The Koalawallaland of The Noozles, where the punishment for a human caught coming into their land is to have their soul trapped forever in a crystal. The ruler enforces his dictates with a police force of koalas whose uniforms are disturbingly similar to Nazis. Admittedly, the law-abiding inhabitants seem genuinely happy with their world. This is a children's show.
Despite the artstyle of One Piece, it's world is mostly one since on the off chance the World Government isn't oppressing you, the Pirates are.
One Piece is this to the core. You know that cheerful world with happy inhabitants and colourful pirates going on adventure to find some great treasure? The entire world is ruled by a dictatorical goverment, who uses the marines and hired pirates to enforce their rule. The marine soldiers are usually good guys, but their leaders are very often sociopathic and corrupt assholes, being tyrants of their home islands or taking bribes from pirates. The World Government's base is in the Holy Land of Mariejois, in which we find the World Nobles, who are immune to all kinds of justice and do as they damn well please - including taking slaves right off the streets and shooting those daring to talk to them. The Government is also highly discriminating towards fishmen and merfolk, who despite being at least as intelligent as humans, are seen as having the brains of fish. Perhaps worst of all is the slave projects they are working on, like Tequila Wolf - a gigantic bridge, having been in construction for over 700 years, built by slaves who are either criminals or people from countries who refused to join the organization.
Skypea and Dressrosa are good examples of crapsaccharine countries. Gorgeous cities, lush landscapes, people seemingly happy with their lives, loved/respected monarchs. But under the vernish you find slave labour, and if you ever displease the authority your very existence will be erased.
Then there are the pirates. Despite their colourful appearance, the majority of them are of the Rape Pillage Burn variant who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, often sacrificing their own crew members and killing tons of civilians. Many of these also have Devil Fruit powers, giving them amazing superpowers they use to fight each other and the marines. After the Whitebeard War, it is noted that piracy has risen in the world, heralding a new age, with the Government losing more and more control - and this can be seen as a bad thing, because even if they are a dictatorical tyrant organization, they at least try to keep the peace. Dragon the Revloutionary are currently leading a rebellion against them, but so far it is unknown what his actual goals are beyond bringing down the Government and nobles - even though so far, he seem to be a good guy, his second in command being a good personal friend of Luffy.
To look at how crappy the world is, all you really have to do is to look at the backstories of the Straw Hats. Zoro and Usopp's stories are very sad, but pretty believable, and not a direct result of the crappy world. All of the others, however, have been seriously screwed over by either the government or pirates.
With twoexceptions 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 Twenty 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 108Magical 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.
So Ra No Wo To 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/Battle Angel Alita. 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.
And that's just the beginning. 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). And the punchline? 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.
Squirrel And Hedgehog, a North Korean children's cartoon. CuteFunny Animals alternate between frolicking in the idyllic paradise of Furry North Korea and waging war on American Wolves, Japanese Weasels, and South Korean Mice. Even without characters getting shot and killed on-screen, the blatant militarization of Furry North Korea is pretty disturbing.
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.
Themyscira aka "Paradise Island" is the birthplace of Wonder Woman and homeland of the Amazons. It's a lush setting full of beautiful women and magical creatures. Magical creatures such as hydras and giant bees. The beautiful women are the immortal reincarnations of women wronged by men and are all (mostly) misandric note man-hating, as opposed to misogynistic which is woman-hating and violent as a result. The island has been invaded by outside forces several times, nearly wiped out by a nuke, and has gone through at least one civil war. Oh, and there's a portal to hell hidden on the island.
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.
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 story featuring Princess Luna is either WAFF (such as Progress) or a Dark Fic that presents some rather nasty aspects existing behind the scenes of Equestria, with even the more morally ambiguous stories (Eternal, Merely a Mare, etcetera) depicting things as less pleasant than the series. They mostly dried up after her epicallyhammy portrayal in "Luna Eclipsed", but they still exist.
The Conversion Bureau. The ponies are willing parties to the genocide of humanity...and it's considered a good thing.
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 yourselfenslaved.
“What the hell is going on with this country? It all looked so sugary and nice up until an hour or so ago.”
The Wreck-It Ralph story Life In 16 Flavors, Vanellope begins to learn that she wasn't the only one who suffered after Turbo hacked into the game.
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.
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.
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.)
Toon Town in Who Framed Roger Rabbit is initially oppressively cheery, with the entire landscape singing in unison to Eddie Valiant — then he gets in a fender-bender and he's suddenly at the receiving end of more anarchic cartoon hijinks. Eventually he's reduced to skulking noir-like through dark alleys with Judge Doom. Though that may be justified as it conforms to Toon standards, not human ones. A Toon can shake off being dropped from a ten story building or having a piano dropped on his head, a human can't. And Eddie admitted that he and his brother used to visit Toon Town for the fun of it, finding it "a lot of laughs." As long as the human visitor is Genre Savvy enough to navigate Toon physics, Toon Town does have its attractive side.
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 and the population reprogrammed to treat her like that.
Films — Live-Action
In Running Scared, the home of the torturing, murdering pedo couple, decked out like a kindergarten playroom. Video
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.
Typically of low budget children's films, the Mexican Santa Claus movie has an unintentional example of this.
Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels. Although the films mostly show the glittering, affluent urban paradise of the top level, the Revenge of the Sithnovelization 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.
Serenity shows a failed version to attempt one of these, the Alliance's professed vision of the civilization they want to create and the means that they are willing to employ to reach it, because Utopia Justifies the Means. Only the aftermath of the creation of this "perfect world" is seen, and all that remains is abandoned buildings, corpses, and 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.
The first film of the saga reveals that the League of Shadows are partly responsible for the current state of Gotham, having tried to destroy the city, which they perceived as a Wretched Hive, using economic means. Which mostly just make it more wretched.
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 ofAlice in Wonderland 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.
"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."
Lumberton - the white-picket-fence, small-town setting for Blue Velvet. Despite its picturesque look and feel, it houses a gruesome criminal underworld of weird brothels, horrifying turf war tactics, corrupt cops, and at least one completely psychotic drug lord.
The house in the Korean film Hansel and Gretel; it's beautiful and straight out of a fairy tale, just don't think on leaving anytime soon.
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, world is ruled by scientists and civil servants instead of politicians - and under the surface everything is horribly wrong.
The Purge: The USA in this film is portrayed as this, because everything is all well and good...except for the 12 hours of The Purge.
The Italian film Im 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.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley could well be the Trope Namer. It 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.
Oh, you realize it is a Crapsack World under the surface and you want to get away? Sorry, it is a World State. There are reservations for indigenous peoples, which are not neat places. The Reservations are free communities of emotion, but they are also dirty, disease-ridden tribal wastelands where the weak are ostracized and pain equals redemption.
You still want to get away? There are islands. Would you like the Falklands? I'm sure you'd get to love the Novaya Zemlya, Kerguelen or South Georgia.
In Catching Fire, we learn about the year that Haymitch won (the 2nd Quarter Quell). The arena was the ultimate version of this trope - cute little carnivorous squirrels, beautiful but poisonous butterflies and flowers, a snow-capped mountain that turned out to be a volvano...
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 differ from the average, in which case you get to meet the Handicapper General, who is not the Mr. Nice Guy and cripples you with a hammer.
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.
Lois Lowry's The Giver is set in a Community which, while not perfect, 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 Released to Elsewhere means, he realizes the Community has even traded away basic human dignity and respect.
"I have been to the Land of Happy/ What a Bore." So comments Shel Silvertstein in his poem, "The Land of Happy".
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, due to the juxtaposition of the awe and wonder of magic and the heroics of the main characters with the prominent amounts of intolerance, corruption, megalomania, and inbreeding displayed by so many wizards. These faults are, however, acknowledged by the heroes who strive to correct them (particularly Hermione). The series itself makes it clear that the wizarding world has severe flaws in it, and these flaws are what Voldemort exploits to rise to power.
One of the themes of Harry Potter is 11-year-old Harry starting out as seeing the wizarding world as a wondrous, perfect place where he can escape from his miserable life living with muggles, but realising as he grows up that the this world has the same, if not more problems than the muggle world.
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 to see through them.
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.
Redwall could be said to take place in one of these. Sure, it's nice inside Redwall, but elsewhere, it's a rather brutal life at the mercy of predatory birds, roaming gangs and stuff of that nature. And all the inhabitants are cute fuzzy animals. Even the ones that are trying to kill you.
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.
Kafka's On the Gallery.
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."
The main thread of Diablo is a straight-up Crapsack World, but the tie-in novels show what it's like when it's not assaulted by Demonic Invaders. 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.
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.
At first, Matched seems like a utopia. Modern society has too many choices, but this future society does that for you. But then you realize that nobody can choose anything, not their job, or their spouse. They don't even choose what food they eat (it is chosen by statistics) or when they die (everybody dies at age 80).
At first glance, the title world in the Dragonriders of Pern series appears idyllic, a place of bucolic beauty, populated with friendly dragons and playful firelizards. However, it is not all that pleasant. The planet is regularly showered with deadly spores, called Thread, that devour any living thing in their path. There are also frequent outbreaks of plague and the society is highly classist: women are sometimes discriminated against and the mentally disabled are often used as slave labor. That said, this is by no means the worst example on this page; Threadfall is a serious threat, but it occurs infrequently and fairly predictably and the Dragon Riders have centuries of practice at damage control. Plagues, class prejudice and ill-treatment of the mentally handicapped are still major issues, but they're par for the course in anyLow Fantasy setting. (And in many Real Life settings for that matter.)
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.
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. It was a superficially beautiful place and not all that bad to live in- but still a sugar-coated theocratic dictatorship.
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. Of course, they weren't to the death and you could eventually earn your freedom, but every now and then, you might find yourself killing or being killed if your master had pissed off someone in a high position.
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 noveau rich delinquents like Gatsby himself, and his only defence is being JerkAsses themselves against people like Gatsby. 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. He gained his fortune through criminal means, none of his regular guests give a damn about him to the point that only one person other than Nick shows up at his funeral, and he's 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%.
The very short story, The Old Man and His Dog: The two thirsty travelers first encounter a wall of fine marble, with a pure gold road leading up to the pearly gates. The gatekeeper claims this to be heaven, but the Old Man decides not to enternote for a good reason, and is later informed that the place is really Hell.
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.
Christmasland in NOS4A2, where it's Christmas everyday and happiness 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
There are also groups that try to educate the public on altenate means of controling population growth, such as contraceptives. Apparently, condoms are evil but suicide is good.
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 Founders are cruel tyrants who want to stamp out freedom in the Alpha Quadrant?
The Prisoner. Ohhhh boy. To put the setting simply, it's a panoptic prison disguised as a seaside resort.
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. 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.
Plus, the fact that Jasmine eats people.
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.
Desperate Housewives. Wisteria Lane, as Brenda Strong will remind you every week, appears to be a placid suburban street in a Day-Glo world. That suicide ten years ago was just unfortunate really. Could have happened anywhere. But did we mention the hit-and-run across the street? That was around the same time. And the recent rash of stranglings? Also, that freak electrocution. And the time half the block was leveled by a tornado. And the plane that crash-landed right into the middle of the holiday block party. There was also some business with a child molester in the neighborhood, but not to worry, he left after we inadvertently caused the death of his sister. We've had a few arsons here, some hostage situations there. A woman may have been beaten to death with a blender in the house where that nice young gay couple lives, but the details on that are still murky, and a child died of neglect two doors down, but that was like, fifteen years ago. Oh, and the woman who used to live just to the right of where the hit-and-run happened was later discovered to be keeping a mentally handicapped murder suspect chained in her basement. Other than that, wonderful place to live; property values have remained high.
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.
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 "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.
Twin Peaks is a borderline example. There are many very good people in this sweet little lumber town, but there's also an ugly of corruption, abuse, and demons. At Laura Palmer's funeral, her distraught boyfriend Bobby accuses the entire town of her murder, since everyone could see she was in trouble and they did nothing.
The city of Miami in Burn Notice is a sunlight drenched beach paradise filled with bikini babes, fantastic ocean views and a thriving night life. Its also crawling with gangs of every nationality and almost every club is prowling with gangsters, drug dealers and con men. Corrupt cops and city officials are not uncommon.
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
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.
Once the music is in motion, "Party Rock Anthem" by LMFAO plays like any decent dance tune. Prior to this, we are introduced to members Redfoo and Sky Blue, who learn that — after recovering from a coma — they made the song that destroyed society.
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.
In the Old World of Darkness, the Changeling: The Dreaming gameline exemplifies this trope to a T. One of the running themes of Dreaming was that your fae self has woken up and become exposed to a magical world of dreams, imagination, and human potential, which is slowly dying. Disbelief, lack of imagination and the death of potential are toxic to changelings; spend enough time around them, and your fae self goes dormant until the next incarnation. Most changelings fall back into dormancy by their 30s, and that's not counting the ones who are slain by cold iron — who are dead forever. Anyone who embraces their fae self looks and acts like a schizophrenic and is likely to wind up in an asylum. Oh, and then there's the threat of Winter, the time when all Glamour fades from the world and human potential has almost entirely withered and died — Ragnarok for the fae. So if you want to keep the world of make-believe, you've got to fight for it. Hard.
And that's not even counting the fact that one half of changeling society is stuck in the Middle Ages, with the other half taking the whole Darker and Edgier bit seriously; or the fact that closing yourself off from the world where potential dies almost guarantees insanity; or that there are creatures made from nightmares (or from insanity itself) that have motivations that can really only be described as pure evil...
Paranoia. "Happiness is mandatory, Citizen. Are you happy?"
Bretonnia in Warhammer. A bucolic feudal kingdom ruled by knights in shining armor - where peasants are bound to turf with 90% taxation rate and knights may kill their serfs for merely laying a gaze on the knight's pegasus.
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 1984 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 outside it is in constant progress through dazzling inventions, full of people locked in the prime of their life and has a completely negligible crime rate. The downside of it all? The entire operation is led by people whose faith in the GodofHope drives them to fuel their welfare with thousands of damned souls. That is in fact the currency on the planet. Souls. Is there no other alternative? There is, Q'sal uses only a bare minimum of its gathered souls to actually drive its various enterprises. Rather, the Q'sallians gather souls to torture for their sheer amusement. ...Taking THIS into account, Q'sal sounds like one of the best places to live in the 41st Millenium
Zendikar might also count. Yeah, it's full of wonderful, fascinating, exotic landscapes. Unfortunately, it's also where the Eldrazi were imprisoned. And they're getting out.
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, change your identity, kill you and generally screw you over. Even the "good" people. And you don't get any rest after death.
Chapter 2 of The Walking Dead opens to the group, hungry and desperate, hunting for food in the forest. They make a trade with some nearby dairy farmers: in return for some gasoline, they can have all they can eat. Their prayers seem to be answered...until it's revealed Mark is being served for dinner, and they'll become a main course themselves unless they get out.
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.
The bright, sunny, 1950's America of Destroy All Humans!. Looks all hunky dory on the surface, until you start reading people's minds.
Tales of the Abyss is built on this. The world is revealed about a third of the way through the game to be a large Floating Continent atop of a Death World full of toxic gases and bottomless pits of mud. The global religion is almost completely dead set on fulfilling the prophecy set out for them, even though it is a warning and depicts a slow painful death for everybody in the world. They don't even bother to hide what will happen to the world - and the events of the game are somehow even Darker and Edgier than Symphonia. And that's saying a lot. It does get better - showcasing the world as so Crapsaccharine only to be improved is a surprisingly effective way to give the player hope that, no matter how bad things seem, there's always hope.
Pikmin is a very subtle but clever one. The story stars you leading a group of adorable walking carrot people off to find treasures and ship parts to help you get back home to see your adorable, Ugly Cute family. Until, that is, you realize that you're enslaving a race of natives so that they can behave more like you and forcing them to do your bidding at the risk of being horribly eaten. AiNoUta explains this in painstaking detail, for those who hadn't already noticed. This isn't even the worst part. Early in the games you'll notice the planet you crash on looks quite a bit like a Earth...and that one of the first items you find is a Geiger Counter witha wildly moving needle.
Dear God, the MOTHERtrilogy, 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 world of Eversion starts out bright and cheerful, but becomes gradually less so as you evert to higher levels, and it's not long before the game reveals its truecolors.
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.
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 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. 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.
There are also hints of corporations abusing their employees, such as a Vault Tec terminal that reveals bathroom breaks have been reduced from 2.37 minutes to 2.25 minutes
Also, the new version of the USA that the Enclave is attempting to create. Until you first run into them, thanks to the radio channel they have that broadcasts their intentions of remaking the Wasteland into a new America, one of peace, freedom, etc. etc. you get the impression that they're actually on to something, that they might actually be able to make everything nice and peachy. Then, when you actually run into them and actually learn a bit more about their future plans, you learn that, in order to make the Capital Wasteland safe, they plan to kill EVERY SINGLE MUTANT by poisoning the area's water supply. Thing is, because of the amount of radiation in the area, that counts as everyone in the Capital Wasteland.
The Enclave's plan during their first appearance in Fallout 2 was nearly identical: release a variant of FEV into the atmosphere and let the jet stream carry it worldwide, to wipe out all "mutant" life - which, by this point, is EVERYTHING and everyone other than the Enclave. When you confront the President about this plan, he tells you to your face that you aren't really human, and would understand if you were.
Chrono Trigger brings us the Magical Kingdom from 12,000 B.C. — warning sign number one right there. 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'salldownhill from there. Oh, and the "idyllic" floating sky-castles? Those are off-limits to the humans who can't use magic. They are confined to dirty caves on the surface, which is locked in an ice age.
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 1 is not an example - far from it - but in the sequel, 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. Unfortunately, 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. Worse still, Columbia is currently ground zero for a full-blown civil war between two factions: the Founders, the xenophoic hyper-conservative plutocrats who rule the city, and the Vox Populi, a well-intentioned resistance movement that's gradually devolved into a mob of Bomb-Throwing Anarchists.
The illusion is quickly shattered after the player first arrives in Columbia. After enjoying all the festivities they win a raffle-where the prize is throwing the first stone at an interracial couple.
To the average civilian living in the expanded universe of Halo, 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 undoes centuries of progress in space humanity ever made by systematically destroying human worlds until only Earth is left. The average civilian does not know about how badly the war is going because of government censorship in the attempt to prevent widespread panic.
In Psychonauts, Gloria's Theater has two different settings, which can be shifted by changing the lighting. The first is a Tastes Like Diabetessugarbowl, 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.
Especially with the City of Lighthanzel, it has 3 layers of this. At first 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. Other places also have their flavors
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has bright, cartoony graphics. It isn't afraid to throw humor into the plot, and it initially seems to have a much lighter plot than the others. You're not out to save the world, but to rescue your sister. Then you find out that Ganon's still out there, and you've been playing in a post-apocalyptic wasteland the entire time. Granted, aside from Ganon's presence (which is kind of a staple of the series anyway) the world isn't too bad to live in in itself. It just becomes a hell of a lot more depressing when you look at it in the context of its backstory.
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.
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.
Dark Dawn includes a lot of this in the backstory. The world of Weyard is more vibrant and colorful than ever before... but the decision to release Alchemy back into the world is indicated to have had violent repercussions on the geography, both physical and cultural. Isaac (who opposed this) is hailed as a hero while Felix (who pursued it) is written off as a villain, if mentioned at all. Gimmicky mayors from the first two games have become conquering kings and emperors, and several areas you explore are in the middle or aftermath of terrible wars. Your friends in Champa are still being driven to piracy for a living.
And then there's 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.
The city is also closed off from the rest of the country by a thick wall. Apparently, there are other sister-cities in the States, who have decided to follow Hill Valley's example.
Short indie platforming game Appy 1000mg. To say more would be to spoil it.
In Camoran's Paradise, you get to live forever. The downside of that? It means that Camoran can torture you forever.
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.
In the City of Heroes expansion Going Rogue. levels 1-20 are played in an alternate dimension from Primal Earth called Praetoria, a gleaming silver and gold utopian empire where everyone is satisfied and Emperor Cole is a nice man. Expect he's actually the Big Badwith good publicity. Some of Cole's servants can read your MIND to an extent - they detect hostility or dislike toward Cole. The PPD (Praetorian Police Department, not to be confused with PARAGON Police Department) will prosecute anyone Cole or his laws tell them to, and sometimes independently use their power just to punish those they dislike. Nearly everyone with a position of power in Cole's empire only seeks to become more powerful, instead of helping the people. These are ones who chose the Power path. There are those who do work for the people, the ones who choose the Responsibility path, but they're unfortunately rare. There is a Resistance you can side with, and you get two kinds of people there - Crusaders, who will do ANYTHING to bring down Cole, and Wardens, who prefer to do it covertly. The story reveals that Cole is a huge Jerkass who will attempt to silence anyone who opposes him and his empire.
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.
Some of the worlds in Fire Emblem come off as this way. The Game Boy Advance entries mostly being this due to the artstyle being bright and colourful as a result of the SP model not being standardized for most of the runs. (Not so much in 8) Some of the Darker and Edgier entries likewise have a darker artstyle, especially "New Mystery" and "Awakening".
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...
On the minus side: The syndicate has their finger in quite a lot, and it's difficult to remove their control when they're so ingrained. On the plus side: When somebody ELSE tries to invade, they're very brutal in response, meaning at least the land has pretty good security from outsiders.
The original Mega Man series: You live in a world where cutesy, googly-eyed robots of all shapes and sizes are used to help in any job you can think of, with the benevolent, Santa Claus-looking Dr. Light as the authority of this technology. One crazy oldman, motivated by pride and a college rivalry with Dr. Light, makes these robots run amok so he can rule the world. Any of these robots can now kill you with either a built-in weapon, or something that can used as a weapon, with anything else being the latter. Some game openings show massive explosions ripping across the city. When Wily is finally caught, he's imprisoned in the middle of the city, and quickly broken out when his back-up robots activate. Given the plots of 9 and 10, you see that while Dr. Wily is a problem, he's just part of the larger problem. Humanity in this series has lately come across as so uncaring that they dispose of still activated (alive) robots after a certain age without a pause, so dependent on them that they can't make headway on recovering from a global robot virus on their own and dumb enough to actually let Dr. Wily stay alive long enough to be broken out, even though he'd pulled his shtick six times by that point. It's honestly no wonder that once Dr. Cain finds a super-sweet robot buried underground, the world gets fucked up HARD.
It's also no wonder that by the time Mega Man Zero 4 rolls around, humans are starting to get fed up with these damn robots always wrecking everything.
The Pyro in Team Fortress 2 turns out she/he 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, the world where Sweet Mountain Zone takes place is made out of gigantic cakes, gingerbread men, peppermint candies, and tree-like lollipops, but Dr. Eggman has taken over the entire planet and has converted it into a munitions factory. He tries to disguise his sites by keeping much of it also sweets-themed (such as jelly bean missiles, doughnut holding tanks, and toxic waste that looks like syrup), though the first sign something is wrong (besides the heavily distorted music) is that there are some conspicuously non-dessert items present, like hamburgers. These are all placed there by Eggman.
Next we have the Mogu, a race of Imperial China/Mongols expies with a natural affinity for magic and to enslave races whom they see as weaker to them. Thousand of years before the game's events they had enslaved the other races in the continent(including the Pandaren, tough they reveled and took over their empire later on) via military conquest and kept them in control by means of torture and fear powered magic, and created the Saurok to police their empire for them, needless to say that didn't endwell, so for their next attempt to create loyal sapient weapons they used a process to create living statues, by removing the soul of their slave races and sealing them inside the statue giving it life. Also they created the Great Wall expy (using slave labor), cause they realized they would never subjugate the neighboring empire of the Mantid, speaking of which...
Last but not least, we have the Mantid, a race of humanoid insects who run on an extreme form of Proud Warrior Race Guy with some Blue and Orange Morality thrown in for good measure. Their social system implies sending their young to Zerg Rush the aforementioned Great Wall expy every 100 years or so, and kill as many defenders(first Mogu, then Pandaren after they took over) as they can, and those who survive can return to their tree cities and be given their social status in accordance to their kills/deeds/conquests. These practices assures that the mantid who survive into adulthood are adept warriors in whatever areatheychoosetospecializein. However, they did this before being corrupted by the Sha of Fear, now their motivation for zerg rushing Pandaria is another trope completely.]]
Zanarkand 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.
For all the bright colours and abundant amounts of humour, Wild Star can get extremely dark and horrifying.
In the [adult swim] game series Candy Mountain Massacre, a virus has turned the inhabitants of a Sugar Bowl setting into triggerhappy psychos with guns and bombs. The second game turns things in this direction, with the Cake Queen having turned her land into one of dread for both the Cupcakes (the only inhabitants unaffected by the virus), but also humans unfortunate enough to set foot in the place — and one level has you blasting your way through what is in all intents and purposes a torture chamber. Yikes!
The setting in Naughty Bear. Even before the main character goes on his killing spree, the whole place is populated by tremendous Jerkasses.
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 Warhammer 40,000, 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.
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.
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 reservered for MadEmperor Scientists who can cause incredible harm and destruction by virtue of the fact that the Spark genuinely drives them mad. 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.
While the the Empire of Blood is Obviously Evil and Elan is just to stupid 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 their are several skeletons at the bottom.
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.
Same goes for Friendship is Witchcraft, where Fluttershy is an evil cult leader, Rarity is plagued by PTSD, Pinkie is an orphan accused of witchcraft, and Sweetie-Belle is secretly a robot who just wants to be loved.
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
Charlie The Unicorn was established as being here once. Charlie's kidney was stolen at the end of first film.
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.
The movie about Facebook's creation, The Social Network, also shows signs of this. All of the main characters become rich & successful for creating the site... while screwing each other, and having severe emotional problems due to decisions made.
Facebook is especially so given how many people treat it as Serious Business. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandparents watch your every move, and companies are sure to go straight to facebook to see if you are worthy of hiring.
Brian Bull's Day Of The Barney Trilogy has Barney and Baby Bop take over the world via a worldwide concert in which Barney encourages the children to kill any adult they can manage to with great success. The adults are driven into hiding and Barney and Baby Bop take the children under their wing as their Special Friends. The kids are well-fed, adequately supplied with Barney toys, and Barney and Baby Bop are always happy to play games and sing songs with them. And when they turn thirteen, the kids get a Special Gift that turns out to be immediate butchering with a machete if you are a boy or Medical Rape and Impregnate if you are a girl. The girls do end up dying as the Loved Ones burst out of their chests, but much later on than the boys...
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.
The world of the SCP Foundation is our world except with constant threat of the end of the world coming from everything of insane rogue stars, a church trying to reconstruct their Dark God, a little girl who has to be [[DATA EXPUNGED]] just to keep what ever is inside her from coming out, and so much more. The only thing keeping the world from falling into oblivion are two organizations who are willing use extremely amoral means to keep the world safe, who are also constantly fighting each other. Yet the vast majority of people never know what dangers the world is filled with.
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, and how they manipulate everything. It still seems like a slightly better place to live than Night Vale though. Until Cecil shows up and sees what's actually going on...
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 "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 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. Subverted in that they're called "rain", but Homer ran off before he could find that out.
South Park was like this until season 5 came along, and at that point it just became a textbook example of a Crapsack World.
The entire premise of Happy Tree Friends. Although, most of the "crapsack" part of it comes not from anyone being particularly horrible (except Flippy's evilside), but simply from most of the inhabitants being incredibly clumsy...
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 somuch.
Futurama, the world of the future looks exactly as we envisioned; flying cars, jetpacks, lazers 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.
One episode has several of the characters end up in an Alternate Universe which was almost exactly like the Silver AgeSuperhero 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.
Adventure Time takes place in the Land Of Ooo, a Fantasy Kitchen Sink filled with brightness, colour, and a literalSugar Bowl in the Candy Kingdom. Except that background elements imply (and Word of God states) that Ooo is actually After the End, the "Mushroom War" devastating the planet and turning the survivors into the vast array of creatures shown. In addition to hordes of Always Chaotic Evil monsters at every turn and especially horrifying things like Marceline's Dad and The Lich lurking around, Ooo isn't exactly a pleasant place to live. The characters seem geuninely happy about their world (except Ice King, but that's mostly due to him being The Sociopath who can't connect to anyone), but few of them are particularly intelligent, Finn included.
Jonny Quest, if one considers the Venture Brothers as an extended canon (which it is, according to the Word of God). While Jonny as a boy was happy and content traveling the world and solving mysteries, the grown up Jonny in the Ventureverse is initially shown as highly neurotic due to the years as a boy adventurer, implying this to be the fate of all 10 year-old mystery solvers.
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).
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 MoviePrequel reveals that Townsville was actually MUCH WORSE then it is now. It was 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.
The universe of Ben 10 even with its bright and humorous atmosphere, Earth is constantly visited by hundreds of aliens whose only interest is to destroy it for their own ends, and the destruction of other planets is considered so easy that it's treated like a hobby.
Scaredy Squirrel. It's a universe of fun talking animals! Except every single person except Scaredy is a lazy, amoral scumbag.
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.