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Anime and Manga
- In one episode of Cowboy Bebop, a bioterrorist organization holds an entire planet ransom under threat of a de-evolutionary retrovirus that turns humans into apes, unless they agreed to stop harvesting the Ganymede Sea-Rat.
- An inversion happens in Space Dandy. The plant people were only given intelligence in the first place by a meteor that landed at the north pole. Once Dandy removed the device at the request of the plant people, only THEN did they learn that it is what kept them alive, and they devolved back to their original state along with the rest of the planet.
- One of the first-generation Pokémon trading cards was Devolution Spray, used to devolve a Pokemon to its previous state, removing all status effects in the process. Mew's first card also had an ability called "Devolution Beam", which did exactly the same thing. It should be noted though that "evolution" in Pokemon is nothing like real evolution anyway, so this isn't quite this trope.
- There was a devolution pool used in a Teen Titans story in 1982: most of the ones hit with it turned into apes but Starfire devolved into something more feline looking.
- Also in 1982 (and after the aforemented Titans story) Marvel Fanfare #4 had the X-Men subjected to a similar treatment; in this case Nightcrawler was the one who became something different from the usual ape.
- The De-Evolutionaries in Zot! have these. Back to the trees! The Church of De-Evolution, a gang of ranting nutcases armed with Transformation Ray Guns that turn whoever they shoot into chimpanzees. It's played almost entirely for laughs. McCloud says this is because they represented what he considered the least plausible outcome of our relationship with technology. (The other end of the scale is 9-Jack-9, if you're interested.)
- The Devolutionizing Machine in this page◊ from a Wonder Woman comic. It changes a crocodile into a Tyrannosaurus Rex and elephants into mastodons.
- During Marvel's Kree-Skrull War, Ronan the Accuser busted out the old monkey-making de-evolutionary ray as part of his plan against Earth.
- One comic book crossover, JLApe, used this as Gorilla Grodd's plan, although it was careful not to mention (d)evolution. Derivative plans were used by Grodd in other works.
- One episode of Justice League Unlimited had Gorilla Grodd construct a "devolution" ray (his own words) that turned humans into humanoid gorillas... including Superman, who is not human at all. After his plan failed even Lex Luthor complained how stupid the whole thing sounded and used it as the pretext to take over the Legion sooner than he planned.
- DC Universe Online has Grodd using a similar plan.
- In the story "The Evolution-Devolution Man", in issue #93 of Tales of the Unexpected, this scientist invented a doodad that looked like a giant telephone handset, one end of which shot out a ray that could make creatures evolve while the opposite end devolved them. It malfunctioned and shot both beams at him, causing his body to devolve into that of an ape, then a monkey, then a lemur and finally a lizard, while his head evolved to the point where he could fix the device telekinetically despite his lack of hands.
- An issue of Tigra note had a scientist of the Cat People developing a ray to turn the heroine back to her human form. An renegade CP got ahold of it and used it as a devolving ray. note
- Disney Duck comics:
- In one of Disney Ducks comics, Gyro develops an "evolutionary ray". After a Beagle Boy gets accidentally hit in the head, he uses his newly heightened intelligence to develop a flawless bank robbery plan. Amazed with the results, the other Boys decide to give him a second and third dose... only then to discover that he had reached the Crystal Spires and Togas level of intellectual development, gave all their money to charity, and went on to the UN to give a lecture on the elimination of crime and poverty. They manage to reverse the effect, but the switch gets stuck.
- Another story has Magicka de Spell create a potion which devolves all lifeforms and (especially) objects it splashes against—apart from turning her raven familiar into a pterodactyl-like creature, it can transform artillery into catapults, turn a jet plane into first an old biplane and then Da Vinci's flying machine, etc.
- The Marvel Universe has a recurring villain called the High Evolutionary, a Mad Scientist whose intelligence has been compared to that of the godlike Cosmic Entity characters. One of his many abilities is to "evolve" characters into super-genius Ultimate Lifeforms or "devolve" them into savage beasts, or to any point in between.
- A storyline in The Avengers revealed that The Inhumans had one of these, based on Kree technology, and had deposed their former king and made him an Un-Person when he tried to hide it from them since it was specifically designed to be a weapon to turn humans into a Servant Race. It was demonstrated to have no effect on non-humans, such as the Nonhuman Humanoid Hybrid Hulking of the Young Avengers
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Super Mario Bros.: King Koopa has one of these, he uses it to make the closest thing to a Goomba in the film. The most extreme use of it comes when it's used to de-evolve Koopa, turning him first into a T-Rex and then eventually sludge.
- Jessup from Altered States achieved this effect on himself, using a combination of weird South American hallucinogenic herbage and a sensory-deprivation tank.
- "Wilding" a short science fiction story by Jane Yolen features teenagers going to Wilding parks, where radiation de-evolves them into primitive simian ancestral forms for the purpose of recreation. It's a Does This Remind You of Anything? of recreational drug use, except it's perfectly legal.
- The serum version was used in a Sherlock Holmes story. An old university professor has been taking extract of black-faced langur to make himself younger and more appealing to his twenty-year old crush, and this leads him to walk on his knuckles and swing from the University ivy. Enter Holmes. Yup.
- The climax of H. Rider Haggard's She has the title character take another bath in the life-giving flame, which takes away her youth. Her dying form is described as being like a monkey. Darwin's theories had only recently entered the public consciousness when the book was written and the whole story is about the fear of "devolving" since people were scared that it might work backwards at the time.
- In Robert E. Howard's "The Hyborian Age", the Back Story to Conan the Barbarian, the fall of the Atlantis produced devolution:
Among the forest-covered hills of the northwest exist wandering bands of ape-men, without human speech, or the knowledge of fire or the use of implements. They are the descendants of the Atlanteans, sunk back into the squalling chaos of jungle-bestiality from which ages ago their ancestors so laboriously crawled. To the southwest dwell scattered clans of degraded, cave-dwelling savages, whose speech is of the most primitive form, yet who still retain the name of Picts, which has come to mean merely a term designating men — themselves, to distinguish them from the true beasts with which they contend for life and food. It is their only link with their former stage.
- There is also a short story by Philip K. Dick, called Strange Eden, that successfully makes every mistake about evolution mentioned here. It's about an astronaut that finds an attractive and immortal female Goddess-like alien on a far-away world. Immediately he wants to sleep with her, but she warns him that in doing so he will magically begin to rapidly evolve. Thinking that this will lead him to become a superior being like her (and for the obvious reason), the astronaut accepts the offer. However, it turns out that humanity's set evolutionary path is that we will evolve into bestial cat-creatures — exactly why is never stated — and so the astronaut is stuck as the alien woman's pet forever.
- One of the story ideas by H.P. Lovecraft, listed in his Commonplace Book: "Individual, by some strange process, retraces the path of evolution and becomes amphibious."
- 3rd Rock from the Sun: "Liam Neesan" (a character, not the actor or even played by the actor) had a ray gun that turned people into monkeys. He planned to use it on the human race, but Dick Solomon stopped him by turning him into a monkey. This leads to the Solomons' mission to Earth getting aborted due to Dick devolving a fellow member of his race, ending the series.
- The Outer Limits (1995): In the episode "Descent", a meek bio-anthropologist developed one in serum form and then used it on himself, turning him into an aggressive quasi-caveman.
- Star Trek several examples:
- "Genesis", an episode of The Next Generation where the crew began "devolving" into various lower animals with no rhyme or reason. They tried to justify the stock "devolution" story with Techno Babble about "activating the introns in the genetic code". At the time, the idea of introns as "fossil" or "junk" DNA left over from a species' ancestors was still in vogue. (There actually is "junk" DNA, but most of it seems to be deactivated viral code or parasitic "jumping genes" instead of fragments of formerly-useful genes. Occasionally transcription errors happen to make some of this into something useful to the organism; it's believed that the mutation that prevented the mammalian immune system from rejecting the placenta of a fetus might have come from such viral junk, for example.)
- Star Trek: Voyager took considerable fire for "Threshold", in which a flight test at Ludicrous Speeds caused a character to "evolve" rapidly (just enough technobabble was applied to work around the fact that individuals do not themselves evolve; technically, he "experienced mutations consistent with the pattern of human evolution"), whose end-state was to turn him into a giant salamander with a Fu Manchu mustache. The fact that so many fans complained that "That's not evolving; it's devolving!" shows that TV has corrupted our understanding of evolution — there's no such thing as "devolving": evolution does not lead inevitably toward bigger, smarter creatures who would necessarily seem "more advanced" by human standards. Brannon Braga says this was the idea he tried to get across, but admits he failed spectacularly.
- In the Farscape episode "My Three Crichtons", an alien probe produced both "de-evolved" and "super-evolved" versions of Crichton. The crew also assumed the "de-evolved" caveman was hostile and savage, while the "super-evolved" Crichton turned out to be the self-serving and dangerous one.
- Deconstructed when the probe explains that the two extra Crichtons are just two of the millions of alternate versions of humanity that the probe was simulating and cataloging. They just happen to be a caveman and big-brained superhuman. And just to nail the point home, D'argo comforts a worried Crichton that the "super-evolved genius" form is just a possible evolution.
- Doctor Who:
- In the story "Ghost Light", a clergyman is turned into a monkey by a Sufficiently Advanced Alien; it is justified, however, by suggesting that this is not "de-evolution" as such, because the alien could have turned him into anything and only chose the monkey form to mock the clergyman's anti-Darwinist beliefs. (Another character, for instance, is transformed into stone instead.)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The episode "Beer Bad", where enchanted beer turned a bunch of college guys and Buffy into cave-people.
- Parodied in Garth Marenghis Darkplace, where a mad scientist invents a serum that causes people to devolve back into apes. Half the hospital accidentally drinks it, despite the fact it turns water bright green, and is transferred in urine.
- In the Eureka episode "What About Bob?", a serum prepared by his rival in a Love Triangle causes the eponymous Bob to "devolve" into a snake. Dr. Stark claims that the serum is reactivating the introns in Bob's DNA. Nobody mentions the fact that humans are not actually descended from snakes.
- Ghostbusters International adventure Hot Rods of the Gods. After Meera undergoes his magical power-up he uses the tablet to fire a red devolvo ray at the Ghostbusters. When hit by this ray a person becomes hairy, has their arms grow to knee-length, their jaw juts out like a stereotypical "ape man" and their intelligence decreases somewhat. The effect wears off in about 30 minutes.
- Many superhero Role-Playing Games — like Mutants & Masterminds and the original Marvel Superheroes Role-Playing Game — include, among the list of powers available to players, some sort of "Hyper-Evolution" power that lets a hero shift up and down along their "evolutionary path," generally affording them the ability to "devolve" into cave-man form (temporarily lower their intelligence to raise their strength). In Mayfair Games' DC Heroes RPG this was covered by the Mutation power.
- Mutant Futrue. The Ancestral Form mutation can reverse a creature to a previous stage in its evolution, such as changing a human being into a Homo Erectus.
- Midkemia Press' Heart of the Sunken Lands. The Hairy Ones are human beings who were warped by the magical backlash from the Great Upheaval. It caused them to regress backwards along the evolutionary line and become more hairy and ape-like. Their minds were even more affected than their bodies, resulting in weird random behavior.
- The Commodore 64 game Dino Eggs had as a hazard the possibility of getting bit by a spider and suffering "devolution" into a spider due to genetic contamination. Seriously.
- Congo from Congo's Caper devolves back into a monkey from a boy when he takes damage.
- The Dinaurians in Fossil Fighters have ray-guns that de-evolve humans into "theriodontia", rat-like ancestral mammals.
- In Metal Slug 4, the scientist enemies fire chemical darts that turn the player into a monkey if they hit. For some reason or other it also turns the transformed player's basic weapon from a pistol into an Uzi.
- The Pithovirus in Plague Inc, if evolved correctly (ironically), can act as a biological version of these, causing a Non Standard Game Over, in which the plague doesn't kill everyone, but causes all of humanity to devolve into Neanderthals.
- There was a weapon in Dinosaucers, able to turn the pro- and antagonists, who are anthropomorphic sentient dinosaurs, into non-anthropomorphic, apparently non-sentient, and much bigger dinosaurs.
- Mighty Max:
- In one episode, a mad scientist named Dr. Zygote develops a ray that devolves anything to their prehistoric state. A bunch of human tourists become apes, Max's pet lizard becomes a dinosaur, and Virgil (a lemurian who is supposed to be the next step in human evolution) gets turned into a pterodactyl (?!) Later it's used by Dr. Zygote to turn a bunch of devolved mutated monsters into primordial ooze. He surmises that the ray "reversed their evolutionary path to the final quagmire, an evolutionary dead-end"—which really makes no sense at all.
- Then in another episode, Dr. Zygote uses the ray again to further evolve himself into a more advanced form, from a big brained alien, to a lemurian, to a floating giant brain, and finally into a flash of light. At the end, he "evolved beyond good and evil" and left. There was a subversion along the way, as he became a
chickenfowl-like humanoid similar to Max's Obi-Wan Virgil, who mentioned humanity will find the form enjoyable, much to Max's surprise.
- The Saturday Morning Mega Man cartoon managed to take the concept of devolution to the next stage, when Dr. Wily made a chemical that caused robots to "devolve" into more primitive robots. This meant they went from robots designed to look like humans to robots designed to look like cavemen, getting stupider in the process.
- An episode of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command had a gas which did this (Buzz was turned into an apeman, Mira turned into a blue puddle of slime, Booster turns into a giant dinosaur-like creature and some highly intelligent aliens turn into red chimps).
- Phineas and Ferb: "Phineas and Ferb's Hawaiian Vacation" — Dr. Doofenschmirtz had one, and it worked. It devolved Doof into an ape in a labcoat, and Perry into something that was more birdlike than anything else. But it was physical devolution only. Higher brain function remained intact. Doof could still speak even when he'd accidentally devolved himself into an amoeba.
- In the Looney Tunes short "Mad as a Mars Hare", Marvin the Martian plans to use his evolution ray to advance Bugs Bunny into a "harmless but useful slave to me". Only he had it set to reverse, turning Bugs into a huge Neanderthal rabbit who easily pummels Marvin.
- One episode of Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures had Team Quest discover alien technology which let whoever used it evolve or devolve species at will. Surd gets a hold of it and uses it on Race and Dr. Quest in Questworld. This causes them to mentally devolve and act in ape-like manners, even though their bodies stay the same.
- The two-part Evil Con Carne episode"Devolution", where Ghastly accidentally hits Skarr with a devolution ray, causing him to turn into a giant ape.
- The Anachronoticon from an episode of Sidekick, which could transform people and objects into older things (a cellphone became a phonebooth, then a Tin-Can Telephone, for example).
- In the Ben 10: Ultimate Alien "The Eggman Cometh", Doctor Animo uses a ray to transform chicken eggs into dinosaur eggs. Reversing the polarity of the ray turns the dinosaurs into chickens.
- One episode of KaBlam! had a Prometheus and Bob short in which Prometheus attempts to teach Bob how to operate an evolution machine. Among other shenanigans, a puppy is de-evolved into a wolf and Prometheus himself is de-evolved into a purple version of Bob. Given that it also evolves a club into an aluminum bat, Rule of Funny is clearly in play.
- Darkwing Duck:
- Dr. Fossil, one Villain of the Week from the episode "Jurassic Jumble" uses these to turn anthropomorphic ducks (including himself) into prehistoric animals - himself into a pterosaur, his minion Stegmutt into a Stegosaurus, and Darkwing into a Godzilla-like giant theropod.
- In "U Foe" when Darkwing insults a highly advance alien race, they punish him by de-evolving him into a Neanderthal. Launchpad convinces them to change him back.
- In an episode of Earthworm Jim Bob the Killer Goldfish creates a device called the Darwinator that allows him to climb up the evolution ladder by stealing them from other targets, making them devolve. Jim and Peter become cavemen (or a cave worm and dog, anyway) while Princess Whats-Her-Name is reduced to a ladybug.