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Downer Beginning
"And so the tale begins...
As a tragedy."

Most stories that involve disasters, genocide, rape, murder or whatever horror imaginable wait a little bit before things turn totally awful. Let the plot develop for a while and show some signs that things are about to turn nasty. Some works, however, prefer to kickstart the action by letting whatever unspeakable horror the story is about take place in the very first scene.

Alternatively, the beginning can make the work look very dark and depressing — but it gets better pretty quick and it turns out that the story is not at all as dark as the beginning would have us believe.

Likely to lead to Back from the Brink... But if the story is truly depressing or takes place in a true Crapsack World, the Downer Beginning will lead to a Downer Ending, as all hope of solving the problem has been crushed (or going From Bad to Worse).

Backstory counts only if it is shown rather then merely mentioned, and only if it's at the beginning of the actual story.

Compare Start to Corpse, which in itself is not a subtrope of this, because in many cases neither the characters nor the audience get any chance to develop a sympathy for the victim. Also compare You Can't Thwart Stage One, which can be jumpstarted by this trope.

Warning: Unmarked spoilers ahead - some spoilers are marked, but having a work on this list can be a spoiler in itself.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Multiple Media 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 starts with the earthquake honoring its name.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion begins with a brief scene of the Second Impact.
  • At the beginning of AKIRA, Tokyo is destroyed by a nuclear explosion, setting off World War III. It turns out the explosion was created by Akira, a young boy with psionic powers.
  • Uchuu Senkan Yamato begins with the Earth getting hit by planet bombs.
  • The first episode of Keroro Gunsou opens with Fuyuki having a nightmare about a full-scale Keronian invasion of Earth - and Sarge himself actually kills Natsumi!
  • Cross Game: Wakaba's death in the first episode.
  • Kamichama Karin, the series begins with the character, Karin Hanazono, grieving that she's all alone due to the death of her parents, and just now even her beloved cat. The series itself has quite a few jumps from light and happy to darker.
  • YuYu Hakusho begins with the main character's death. OK, Death Is Cheap here, but nobody attending his funeral knew that...
  • Fullmetal Alchemist opens with a flashback of when Ed and Al attempted human transmutation to bring back their dead mother (The result looked like some poor dude that had an encounter with a flamethrower or an acid pit.), which led to Al's body and Ed's arm and leg being lost to the Gate. While the manga didn't cover it in detail for a few chapters, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood flashes back to the event in the second episode.
  • The first episode of Kimba the White Lion has the title character's parents killed off.
  • Gundam 00 starts with a child soldier named Soran Ibrahim running away from the hellhole of the war zone in his own homeland, murmuring in anger, "There is no God in this world!" After a mysterious Gundam saved him from the attack by a hostile mobile suit, he later becomes Setsuna F. Seiei after the Time Skip, dedicating himself in preventing the same tragedy from happening to other innocent lives again.
    • As a homage to this scenario, Gundam AGE brings us to a war-torn scenario where Flit Asuno's mother dies in the relentless attack by the Unknown Enemies. Shortly before her demise, she gave Flit the key to activate Gundam, giving him the determination to save humanity from the alleged monsters from out of nowhere.
    • Gundam Unicorn begins by telling the audience about Laplace Incident that took place in UC 0001 and set the tone for the rest of the Universal Century.
    • And the series that started it all, Mobile Suit Gundam, where we learn about the One Year War.
    • Gundam SEED Destiny opens with Shinn Asuka's family being killed by a crossfire between the Calamity and the Freedom, and him seeing their mutilated corpses.
    • Gundam X has the worst Downer Beginning in the entire franchise, consisting of a space war that ends in MULTIPLE space colonies being dropped onto the earth, killing almost 99% of humanity!
  • You'd think that HeartCatch Pretty Cure!, being a Magical Girl show that runs on The Power of Friendship, would start in a light and fluffy way, introducing the main characters as soon as possible. But no: it starts with Lady of War Yuri/Cure Moonlight on the receiving end of a Curb-Stomp Battle against her Evil Counterpart Dark Pretty Cure, ending with her Heart Seed shattered in two, the larger half of which is taken by said Evil Counterpart. Yuri gets better, her fairy partner Cologne, not so much...
    • DokiDoki! Precure isn't much better. The first scene involves Cure Sword fighting a losing battle with the villains' forces, who succeed in destroying her home kingdom.
  • Genesis Climber Mospeada (Invid part of Robotech) begins with pictures of Invid subjugating Earth (skimmed but still shown), followed by the fleet sent to liberate Earth being wiped out by the Invid in the first 5 minutes of the series.
  • At the beginning of Code Geass, the young Lelouch and Suzaku are shown sitting together in pain in a war-torn Japan, now Area 11 under The Empire. Lelouch is shown promising Suzaku that he will destroy The Empire.
  • Arashino Yoru Ni begins with Mei's mother being ripped apart by a pack of wolves (she even bites off one of the alpha wolf's ears!) and telling her son to run away as she does so in what appears to be a very bleak beginning for an otherwise lighthearted tale about the friendship between a sheep and a wolf.
  • The first episode of Texhnolyze concludes with the main character getting his right arm and his left leg cut off.
  • Hellsing begins with a whole village of innocents and Seras' police partners getting killed. In the TV series, Seras is part of a special ops team that gets wiped out. Seras is killed as well, but she gets better.
  • Amakusa 1637 begins with two of the main characters, Natsuki and Masaki, barely surviving to the Great Hanshin Earthquake that destroyed Kobe. Natsuki is very emotionally scarred since not only Masaki is injured while trying to protect her, but she's a first-hand witness to the destruction it caused to their hometown.
  • Getter Robo loves these.
    • Getter Robo G starts from where the original left off.
    • Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo starts with Musashi's Heroic Sacrifice and the destruction of New York.
    • Getter Robo G vs. Great Mazinger starts with a monster attack that kills Musashi. Seeing a pattern here?
  • Deadman Wonderland opens up with Ganta's high school classmates getting killed by a mysterious figure with him in the room. Ganta miraculously survives, but is unfortunately pegged for the murders via a fabricated confessional tape, and then gets transported to Deadman Wonderland, a maximum security prison, without question. Things only get shittier from there.
  • At the end of the fifth Bokurano chapter one of the children dies. The series only goes downhill from there.
  • Within the first minute of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei we see the titular character in the middle of a suicide attempt. However, this is played for Black Comedy.
  • Berserk, which is told In Medias Res, starts like this, with Guts being in the biggest and darkest pit of despair in his life. Now a ruthless Demon Slayer, Guts was at the brink of losing his humanity at this point - and we aren't even sure if we should be rooting for him or not.
  • Grave of the Fireflies, With a combination of How We Got Here, "September 21, 1945. That's was the night I died.". That is the opening line, and it only gets worse from there.
  • Street Fighter Alpha Generations begins with the Duel to the Death between a young Akuma and his master Goutetsu, which finishes with the latter's death and the first losing himself to the Satsui no Hado grom then on. It's made worse because Akuma's brother Gouken and girlfriend Sayaka attempt to stop them and fail to reach the place in time.
  • To quote the writeup at Break the Cutie regarding Kotoura-san:
The first ten minutes and twelve seconds of the first episode of Kotoura-san does nothing but systematically destroy the titular heroine's life.
  • The cheeriness of Tohru Honda is somewhat offset by the quick reveal that her mother has recently died, leaving her an orphan, and that she's currently more or less homeless living in a tent in some woods. Not long after, it's revealed that the rest of her family (save for her grandfather) dislike her because of something her mother did years back, and thus Tohru has very little by way of friends or family and has to almost entirely care for herself.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The OP Sequence's bright colors and cheerful music make it easy to ignore how the main character is running through the city, lost and in tears, or huddled in bed. There's also the horrifying scene of eldritch destruction in the first few minutes when it immediately cuts to lighthearted scenes with Madoka's family straight out of a standard Slice of Life Magical Girl anime. In hindsight, the third episode shouldn't have been nearly as much a surprise.
  • Following the novel a lot closer, the 2012 anime adaptation of Ai no Kusabi starts with an anonymous slave being sexually tortured by his also anonymous master for having slept with another slave behind the master's back. It just gets more twisted and depressing from there after the the characters are identified.
  • Saki Shinohayu Dawn Of Age begins with Shino coming home to dinner and a game of mahjong with her mother and uncle. The next morning, Shino's mother mysteriously disappears, and Shino's goal is to get her to come back by competing in a mahjong tournament.
  • Sakura Wars TV, being Darker and Edgier than the video games, has the first episode end with Sakura getting kicked out of the Imperial Flower Division for making everybody, especially Sumire, upset (through ruining a stage production, a press interview session, and wrecking the Kobu). Sakura, rejected and sad, is shown crying and preparing to leave the capital and never return.
  • The X/1999 TV series starts with a short OVA known as The Omen, which is from the POV of Kakyou Kuzuki. And what we see through his eyes is how his life has sucked, specially when he can't stop the girl he loves, Hokuto Sumeragi from dying at the hands of Seishirou.

     Comic Books 
  • The first issue of the Power of the Atom series began with the Morlaidhan tribe Ray Palmer was living with throughout the Sword of the Atom storyline killed by government agents posing as loggers. Ray escaped, but ended up trapped at three feet tall for a time.
  • Kick-Ass starts off like this (though it's In Media Res), with Kick-Ass getting his testes electrocuted. The Film version has another Downer Beginning.
  • Midnight Nation starts out with the hero getting killed. And then it goes downhill from there, as he discovers that the devil has taken his soul and that his guardian angel REALLY hates her job.
  • Every Sin City story starts out rather bleak but the best example is probably in the very first story in which a love interest is killed after the second page and the protagonist is soon attacked by cops who are attempting to frame him for the murder.
  • The story of All Fall Down begins with heroes and villains dropping out of the sky to their deaths.
  • Identity Crisis begins with Sue Dibny dying in the hands of Jean Loring, the latter which gave Captain Boomerang a mission to kill Jack Drake, the father of Tim Drake.
  • Transformers: All Hail Megatron starts in New York during a nice day. Then the Constructicons show up and explain how their here to spread peace and happiness, having apparently turned over a new leaf.... Then Scrapper and Hook laugh evilly before promptly starting a massive all out Decepticon attack on New York. The first two issues is pretty much made up of the Decepticons slaughtering their way through the hundreds of civilians and U.S. soldiers trying to survive or maybe fight back.
  • Star Wars Legacy, begins with the Sith allying the with the Fel Empire and successfully overthrowing the Alliance and the Jedi are sent into hiding, after wards the Sith betrayed the new Empire, resulting in a three way war in the galaxy.
  • Irredeemable begins with the Plutonian going on an unstoppable murderous rampage.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Harry Potter And The Nightmares Of Futures Past begins as most of the shit already hit the fan and Harry gets to see the Crapsack World he has to continue to live in.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Death Fic Bittersweet beings with the show's Sweet Tooth being diagnosed with diabetes, then killing herself with one last sweet binge. True to the title, however, both the original ending and Alternate Ending end on a bittersweet note.
  • The imfamous Alone On The Water starts with Sherlock learning he has a tumor in his head.
  • The first chapter of Ace Combat The Equestrian War shows the Wonderbolts being beaten and incapacitated by the main antagonists, leaving the skies of Equestria almost completely defenseless against the griffin invasion.
  • Winter War: Aizen won the war, and Ichigo and the others never made it back from Hueco Mundo. The story starts a few months later, and deals mostly with La Résistance trying to undermine, or preferably kill Aizen despite the huge losses they've suffered already. Oh, and the lack of actual shinigami doing their job as psychopomps- because they're all either working for the villains or busy fighting those villains- means that the balance of souls between the living world and Soul Society is failing, which will lead to both of their destruction if left unchecked.
  • The Katawa Shoujo fanfic Reconciliation, being a Continuation Fic from Hanako's bad ending, is naturally this, as the first scene is the ending in question from Hanako's perspective. It gets worse, as the first major plot event is Hanako finding out about Hisao's death.
  • The Immortal Game opens with Celestia and Luna's sadistic, sociopathic parents Titan and Terra taking over Equestria, seemingly killing Celestia, and transforming Twilight into their brutal servant Nihilus. Things only get worse from there, for quite some time.
  • The first chapter of Human Curiosity opens with a letter and a diary entry. The letter is written by "I.B." (Ivan Brasinski, otherwise known as Russia), telling how he and an untold number of other people have just attempted to escape imprisonment in the North pole, how he doesn't know how many made it out, how he is scheduled for execution, and how he has lost so many of his memories that he can't even recall his own name. The diary entry is written by America, and it tells how almost every Nation in the world has gone missing, no one has any idea if they're even still alive, and all leads to find them have come up dry.
  • Two Step begins with a couple that was spared of the Infection running ashore and meeting Nick, who fell from the boat he and his posse were taken to when they were rescued from New Orleans and has one less eye to work with. Unfortunately for them, they're not immune and Nick is a carrier, and before five thousand words roll, the man turns and attacks Nick, who kills him; the wife is left behind by him to become a Witch after she tries to kill Nick out of retaliation.
  • The author known as chaotic9 seems fond of this:
    • Kage: By the end of the first chapter, Jade's been cursed by Drago to be banished from her home dimension and forcibly transformed back into a Shadowkhan.
    • A Frog In Arkham Asylum opens with a mutated Jade locked up in Arkham, falsely accused of having killed her whole family.
  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, Episode 11 starts as this with many heroic characters in pain or worse, and Wily looking victorious.

    Film – Animated 
  • Pixar has done this more than once.
    • Finding Nemo: The movie begins with the death of Marlin's wife and all but one of their eggs.
    • Up. It starts with the main character Carl as a child, and shows him and the love of his life meeting, getting married, and growing old together. Since they were children, they had dreamed of going to Venezuela together to follow in the footsteps of their idol, but they kept having to postpone the trip. Carl finally buys two plane tickets, and his wife falls ill and dies before they can go.
      • They also wanted to have kids, but at least one of them was infertile (or there was a miscarriage). We see Elie in tears at the doctor's office when she is informed of the situation.
    • WALL•E, with its opening-scene depiction of Earth as an apocalyptic wasteland populated by roaches and a single still-functioning robot, is one of the most depressing openings ever.
    • The Incredibles starts with the incident that caused the superheroes' fall from grace, and then describes the Super Registration Act through a montage. Next we see several scenes showing just how depressed they are, pretending to be normal.
    • Ratatouille starts with the main character losing his home and family
    • Toy Story 3 opens with a sequence of Andy with his toys in their heyday, then timeskips to the stark contrast of them having been sitting in a chest, not having been played with for for years.
    • It seems to be Pixar's MO to start the opening sequence with a few minutes of optimism, for added effect when it then turns sour. This applies to all of the above.
  • An American Tail opens with the Mousekewitz family's village being burned by Cossacks.
  • Even the cheerful film Rio is not exempt from this, showing the child Blu falling from a failed attempt to learn to fly and getting captured by a group of humans along with all the other birds - and shipped from Rio de Janeiro to the United States of America against his will.
  • Tarzan begins — during an upbeat opening song no less — with Tarzan's future ape family losing their son to a vicious predator. Then Tarzan's human parents are killed, by the same predator.
    • Well, the song did slow down and become more melancholic during and right after the death of Kala and Kerchak's son.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 opens with the story of how Lord Shen tried to avert a prophecy by exterminating the Giant Pandas.
  • Tangled zig-zags through this. The opening sentence is Flynn Rider saying "This is the story about how I died", however he goes on to assure the audience that things get better. It then goes on to show how the queen is dying of something, only to show her recover through a miraculous cure that is found. But then, it goes on to show the newly-born princess being kidnapped by Mother Gothel.
  • The Powerpuff Girls Movie opens rather dimly, with a dark background and crime rampant. Even the narrator's heart isn't in it.
  • The prologue of Disney's Frozen started with Anna and Elsa as little kids who joyfully played with each other until Elsa nearly killed her little sister by accident, continued with the two of them growing up isolated from each other as Elsa lived in fear of her own powers, and ended with them as teenagers mourning the death of their parents. As co-director Chris Buck also co-directed Disney's Tarzan, Simon Brew of Den of Geek jokingly pointed out in an interview that he seemed to be Disney's go-to-guy for killing off parents at the beginning.
  • In The Snow Queen (2012), the story starts with Gerda and Kai's parents being frozen into ice, killing them.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Inglourious Basterds starts with Shoshanna's (one of the protagonists') parents and siblings being exterminated by Nazis, while she miraculously escapes the massacre.
  • The Dirty Dozen starts with a hanging scene. An American GI is being hanged in a British military prison for robbery and murder.
  • Memento: You see Leonard kill Teddy despite his protests, and then you have to spend the rest of the movie watching the poor guy interact with Leonard.
  • Irreversible is in the same vein due to its Back to Front nature. The gruesome No-Holds-Barred Beatdown that concludes the story is put at the beginning, while the idyllic shots of an unharmed Monica Bellucci are the last thing we see. Let's talk about bittersweet.
  • Sinister opens with an extremely graphic super 8 video of a family (mother and children included) being hanged. Many viewers reported that when the film started, the audiences they saw it with became deathly silent, as if every person in the audience was thinking "This isn't just some dumb gore-flick I can poke fun at later on... What have I got myself into?"
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day films starts with Judgment Day, the nuclear war that ended human civilization, and continues with the killer machines fighting humans. Also, The Terminator starts with the Robot War itself, and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, by showing both flashes of the Robot War and how wrecked John Connor has become.
  • X-Men:
    • X-Men starts in a concentration camp.
    • So does X-Men: First Class
    • X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a lesser case: Jimmy's father dies, leading the boy to kill the assassin, Logan... and discover he is his real father. So Jimmy is forced to run away along with Logan's other son, Victor.
  • Kick-Ass starts off with a Black Humor downer, as a guy dressed as a superhero takes a swan dive off a building. (The comic version has another Downer Beginning.)
  • The first and third of the Jurassic Park films start with someone getting attacked by a dinosaur. Though misremembered as otherwise, the little girl attacked in the second film survives.
  • The film Godzilla vs. Destoroyah begins with an island being destroyed, Godzilla Junior presumed missing (or possibly dead (He shows up later in the film.), and Godzilla attacking Hong Kong with parts of his flesh literally burning orange as he is slowly dying of nuclear overload.
  • Slumdog Millionaire. First, a scene from near the end with Jamal being tortured. Then, Jamal and friends are chased by angry cops. And the flashbacks that follow are far from happy.
  • The Russian film The City of Craftsmen begins with scary looking invaders conquering the title city, killing many inhabitants (including an old painter) in the process.
  • A German film Stahlnetz: PSI begins with a kidnapping.
  • Super 8 opens with the funeral of the protagonist's mother.
  • Fly Away Home begins with the heroine's mother dying in a car accident. The heroine survives with injuries.
  • Sucker Punch opens with Babydoll's mother dying, younger sister being killed by her stepfather, and finally being dropped off for a lobotomy at the local sanitarium.
  • The Wing Commander film starts with the Kilrathi wiping out a key Confederate outpost and learning the Solar System jump coordinates. Admiral Tolwyn makes calculations and realizes that the Kilrathi fleet will arrive to Earth two hours before his fleet. That's two hours more than they need to nuke everything on the surface.
  • In The Ledge, Hollis finding out that he is sterile, that he is not the real father of his children, and that he must now try to talk Gavin out of suicide.
  • The Dark Knight Rises begins eight years after the last movie with Bruce emotionally stunted, Wayne Enterprises in financial trouble and cracks starting to show in Gotham's peace time.
  • The first words of Happy Accidents are "Murder? Sam, Murder?" as Ruby confronts him tearfully.

    Literature 
  • Remnants, by K.A. Applegate, starts with the end of the world.
  • One of the sequels to Gorky Park, Havana Bay, starts out with our hero going to Cuba to investigate the mysterious death of an old friend of his. He is shown to already be planning to commit suicide, because of the accidental death of his wife, due to a lazy nurse not reading her medical chart to find she was allergic to penicillin. Of course, just as he's about to kill himself, he's interrupted by a hitman sent to kill him, who he instinctively uses his suicide weapon to kill in self defense. Poor bastard can't even off himself without some mishap getting in his way.
  • In the first book of The Night Angel Trilogy, before any of the action has even started, 12-year-old Azoth's guild leader dies, making the Rat the new leader. Rat then threatens Azoth with homelessness, kidnaps and rapes his best friend, Jarl, and mutilates Doll Girl.
  • Gone starts the instant after all the adults disappear.
  • The Graveyard Book begins with the murder of Bod's family.
  • The book Julie's Ghosts begins with Julie's family being involved in a car crash, killing both her parents and giving the heroine a concussion.
  • The Land of Oblivion begins with heroine's brother dying in a freak accident.
  • Off Armageddon Reef opens with the last human fleet preparing for a battle they know they will lose against a foe that has exterminated all human colonies and they know will do the same to Earth itself.
  • The first book in the Demonata series has the protagonist find his family horribly murdered in the second chapter. The third has him in an asylum dealing with both the grief of the mentioned tragedy and with the knowledge that demons exist.
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's opening chapter.
    • The first three chapters of the first book, which begins by detailing the past eleven years of Harry's life with his abusive relatives, the Dursleys, years after the murder of his parents.
    • The death of an anti-Death Eater teacher in the beginning of Deathly Hallows is not encouraging, even if she was a Red Shirt. The next chapter involves Harry mourning Dumbledore and learning that Rita Skeeter is publishing an unflattering book about him.
  • Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen series starts with the Second Battle of the Java Sea, where the remaining Allied warships near Java are being curb-stomped by the heavily-armed Japanese fleet. Then two of the American destroyers suddenly find themselves in a parallel world, where evolution took a completely different course. Humans never evolved on this world. Instead, a race of peaceful (some of them, at least) descendants of giant lemurs from Madagascar prowl the seas of the East Indies on giant wooden ships. The Lemurians reveal that they are being hunted to extinction by a race of velociraptor-descended Lizard Folk called the Grik, who sail in three-masted ships remarkably similar to British East Indiamen and hail from Africa. The Americans agree to help the Lemurians, and the outdated destroyers, which are cannon fodder in their own world, become the most powerful warships in this one. Then things get worse, especially when it's discovered that the Grik have an armada of hundreds of ships, and they are being aided by a Japanese battlecruiser. In fact, most novels in the series start on this note.
  • Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel Rosemary And Rue opens with the heroine being turned into a fish for fourteen years, and as a consequence losing both her fiance and child, and turning into an almost complete basket case.
  • The first chapter of the third Noob novel reveals that the player presneted as The Ace in the two previous got his avatar earased and all his accomplishments taken off record. Due to said avatar being illegally enhanced without him knwoing about it.
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant start with the protagonist somehow catching leprosy. Doctors show him the horrible fate that awaits him, another man with the same disease seriously advise him to commit suicice, his wife and daughter leave, his friends and family reject him, his neighbours avoid him, and nobody wants to have anything to do with him. Then he is abducted by a powerful evil deity from another universe who intends to use him to fulfil his agenda. Thomas is, quite understandably, a bit crazy, paranoid and hopeless after all of that, and it takes him a long time (during which he commits some really despicable acts of his own) to start recovering.
  • By the second chapter of Reckless , Will is already turning into living stone. What happened in the twelve years since chapter one? You can catch up on that later.
  • Doctor Zhivago begins with the funeral of Marya Nikolayevna Zhivago, the mother of Yuri Zhivago, which leaves the ten-year-old living with his Uncle Kolya. The opening chapter also has his deadbeat father Driven to Suicide without any of the main characters finding out until much later.

    Live Action TV 
  • 24: Begins with terrorista Mandy bombing a passenger plane.
  • Babylon 5: Starts with humanity almost being destroyed by aliens. Things get really bad after that.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Classic) and Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined): Both versions of this show begin with the Cylons nuking the Twelve Colonies and killing nearly 50 billion people.
  • Blake's 7: The first episode starts with the massacre of an Earth resistance group and ends with the murder of Blake's lawyer and the man's girlfriend, while Blake himself is tried under false evidence and exiled to the penal colony Cygnus Alpha. Now begins a four-year caper which leads...nowhere. Except perhaps down.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Several episodes start with someone dying. "The Green Death", "The Daemons", and "The Unicorn and the Wasp" are just three of these.
    • The Doctor "dies" at the beginning of "The Impossible Astronaut". This also happened when Sylvester McCoy replaced Colin Baker as the Doctor and at the beginning of the TV movie in the 90s.
  • Falling Skies: The pilot has a child recall the Alien Invasion (and the death of his mother in the attack), illustrating it with a series of drawings. The actual show takes place six months after the invasion and the resulting devastation.
  • Firefly: Opens with the Independents losing a major battle in the civil war, and the Despair Event Horizon for the main character.
  • JAG: Most of the openings starts with an accident occurring or a crime being committed.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The episodes tend to start with a really gruesome intro where some random citizen stumbles over someone who just got traumatized or murdered. This is also the case of the mother series, Law & Order,and it is true of the whole Law & Order franchise as well.
  • Power Rangers RPM: Starts off with 99% of humanity dead from nuclear Robot War, and only one city left.
  • Red Dwarf: Starts off with everybody dying from a radiation leak in what is surely the bleakest beginning any sitcom has ever had.
  • Revolution: The pilot episode begins with the blackout occurring worldwide, acting as an unusual form of the apocalypse.
  • Supernatural: The pilot kicks off with Sam and Dean's mother, Mary Winchester, dying a gruesome, nightmarish death- stabbed, pinned to the ceiling, and consumed by flames. The same episode ends with Sam's girlfriend Jessica dying the same way. Between that, Sam is ripped from his happy, normal life when Dean tells him they have to save their missing father.
  • Twin Peaks: Begins with Laura Palmer's body being discovered and nearly the entire town grieving for her death.
  • Veronica Mars: At the beginning of this show, Veronica's dad has been voted out of office, her alcoholic mom has abandoned them, and none of her former friends are speaking to her...and those are just the things that are actually shown in the first episode. If we count things that are talked about and then shown later, we also get Rape as Backstory and a murdered best friend.

    Manhwa 
  • Kiss Wood starts with explaining how nature is slowly being weeded out of the world and how Sul, an ex-gardener, has the only garden left in the entire city. Nobody else in the city likes this and have demanded numerous times for him to remove it; his niece, who lives with him, leaves as she feels he pays all of his attention to the garden and none to her. Then Sul's garden and house is set on fire, during which he is blinded and is sent to the hospital. End of Chapter One. He then gets trapped in a dangerous world from which he needs to escape, fast.

    Music 

    Video Games 
  • In Golden Sun, your hometown is almost completely destroyed by a rockslide and Felix barely makes it alive out of the river he falls into.
  • In several Fire Emblem games, the start of the game involves a formerly friendly nation invading the main character's country, taking their capital and killing most of their retainers as well as family members, forcing them into exile until they can reclaim their land, while in the meantime the invaders will rule like tyrants.
  • In Xenogears, your hometown is completely destroyed by gears.
  • Paper Mario: What better way to open than being defeated by Bowser as you are trying to do the usual thing?
  • The intro to Super Mario Galaxy: As Mario tries to reach Peach's Castle after it was lifted in space, Mario gets blown away by Kamek.
  • Final Fantasy II begins with a world domination plot by the Palamecian Empire (shown in full during the opening FMV of Final Fantasy Origins). After escaping the kingdom of Fynn (which is burned to the ground by said army), the party is ambushed by a pursuing group of black knights and a Hopeless Boss Fight ensues. It gets better from here on.
  • Final Fantasy X begins with the destruction of a massive city. Things get worse.
  • Final Fantasy XII begins with an Action Prologue, describing an ongoing war between two empires, with our protagonists' nation caught in the middle. We are then treated to the death of Rasler, the (supposed) suicide of Princess Ashe soon after, then we get thrown into action with a young soldier named Reks. And five minutes later, he's dead too, and then Dalmasca is promptly conquered. The game proper starts two years later with Reks' brother Vaan, and it is very quickly made clear that the Dalmascan people have become second-class citizens in their own land, a large chunk of kids (including a third of our playable party) were orphaned by the war and (for bonus points) there was a plague at some point too! And we're just some kid caught in the middle of it all.
  • Final Fantasy XIII: The game opens with a whole city's worth of 'undesirables' being loaded onto trains by the military and taken to Pulse (read: Hell), and although things become hopeful when they start fighting back, the rest of the introduction sets up a Damsel in Distress and an Action Mom, who both die right in front of us (the former becomes a semi-conscious crystal, but still), Reality Ensues when most of the refugees are indeed killed by the military, and the party are all transformed into the very enemies they once reviled by a Jerkass God.
  • Viewtiful Joe 2, right off the heels of the first game's ending, begins with GEDOW taking over MovieLand and remodeling it into MovieWorld. Captain Blue is transformed into one of the seven Rainbow Oscars (artifacts containing the essence of a movie's happy ending) that the Black Emperor is trying to collect. Joe and Silvia briefly lose their Henshin powers and are deposited in a prehistoric jungle. Joe, despite being Genre Savvy, takes this all in stride.
  • Mega Man Zero: It starts with La Résistance being oppressed by the Neo Arcadian forces as they run away. Several of the Red Shirts get cut in half by the Golems. As Zero is unsealed, only Ciel was alive.
  • Iji begins with the Alpha Strike.
  • Mass Effect 2 opens with the Normandy being destroyed, unable to put up a fight. Worse, Shepard dies making sure Joker gets off the ship.
    • Mass Effect 3 begins with the Reapers, whose arrival Shepard spent the first two games delaying, finally appearing en masse and invading Earth (having already blown through both batarian space and most of the human Alliance's defenses). Shepard has no choice but to get the hell out of dodge and start rallying their allies.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, all of the eponymous origin stories end with the player character being forced to leave their old life behind to join the Grey Wardens. Oftentimes, there is no more old life to return to. This is followed by a catastrophic battle at Ostagar which results in the death of all but two of the Grey Wardens in Ferelden. Since the Wardens are the only ones capable of defeating the Blight, by the time the sandbox opens, Ferelden is considered to be on the verge of destruction.
  • Dragon Age II in spades. The Framing Device has main character Hawke missing and possibly dead and being blamed for starting the Mage-Templar war. The actual beginning of Hawke's story isn't much better. Doomed Hometown, dead sister or brother, Deal with the Devil, and being forced to eke out a living with mercenaries/smugglers in the slums of a Wretched Hive while trying to hide either Bethany's magic (if she survives) or Hawke's magic. And that's the prologue.
  • The Legend of Dragoon starts off with a cinematic of Seles, the main character Dart's hometown, being burned to the ground. To make matters worse, Fruegel, the head of Hellena Prison, decides to utterly destroy the village for the heck of it. Soon after he returns, Dart learns that his childhood friend Shana has been taken to Hellena, a literal Hell to those who defy Emperor Doel.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask begins with Skull Kid turning Link into a Deku Scrub and stealing his horse and the Ocarina of Time. As Link chases him, he reaches the land of Termina, where it's revealed that the Moon will fall in three days.
  • Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne Within thirty minutes of booting up the game, the world ends and you summarily get a demon bug shoved down your throat.
  • Kill Zone 3 begins this way as it picks up after Kill Zone 2's Downer Ending and frankly it's not getting much better for the ISA.
  • In Banjo-Tooie, the first two things Grunty does after being freed by her sisters is to kill Bottles and leave some monsters overrun Spiral Mountain. Not too long ago, Klungo challenges the main characters to a fight, and King Jinjaling is zombified by the witches' life force sucker. This is a darker prologue than that of Banjo-Kazooie, which merely starts with Tooty's capture.
  • Saints Row 2 starts off on a positive note, with the main character of the previous game turning out to be alive. Then you find out they've been in a coma for 5 years in a high-security prison's medical wing. Things only get worse from there, as you discover that the plan to destroy the Row in the name of urban renewal and gentrification that was seemingly thwarted at the end of the last game was instead pulled off by Ultor, and the Saints have collapsed — and in their absence, three gangs even worse than the original set have sprung up to the take their place. Finally, it becomes quickly obvious in this game that Ultor is the same one from Red Faction — they're just getting started, and they're already easily worse than all the gangs from both games combined. So... yeah. The game really doesn't start off cheerfully.
    • Didn't think it get much worse? At the beginning of Saints Row: The Third, Johnny Gat (the only remaining member of the original Saints besides you) is killed ensuring your escape from the Syndicate. You land in an unfamiliar town with little weapons, little money, surrounded by a hostile crime syndicate and only a single safe haven. You know the place is supposed to be bad when Shaundi describes it as 'Bangkok's abusive father'. Bizarrely, this is quickly inverted; most of Act 1 is spent getting a very strong foothold in the city, and you get an extensive armoury by the end of the second mission.
  • Crops up in Metal Gear occasionally:
    • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater starts with Naked Snake going on a mission to extract a scientist named Sokolov. Heading back to the chopper, Snake's own mentor, The Boss, appears and reveals she's defecting from the US to Russia, before pummeling Snake and almost killing him. As The Boss leaves, Volgin then fires a mini-nuke, causing major diplomatic damage to the US and USSR relations.
    • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance starts with Raiden helping an African Prime Minister in the rebuilding a nation from a civil war... only to be attacked by a group of terrorists, who murder the Prime Minister and almost kill Raiden.
    • Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is this by premise — a prologue to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the game is set right before Big Boss ends up in a nine year coma, waking to find his left arm missing and his army disbandoned. As an added downer, the player gets to see Militaires Sans Frontieres destroyed before Paz, who wasn't really dead, dies in a bomb blast.
  • Mortal Kombat 9 picks up where Armageddon left off. Everyone is dead with few exceptions; Taven ascended to godhood (as seen in his Arcade Ladder and Konquest Mode endings), the Shinnok seen in battle was a clone sent by the real Shinnok, Liu Kang's spirit is somewhere, and Raiden and Shao Kahn are seen dueling on top of Argus' Pyramid in a battle where Kahn clearly has the advantage. With Shao Kahn poised to rule all the realms and his allies dead, Raiden sends a telepathic message to his younger self from the first game in the hopes that Armageddon can be prevented.
  • NieR. The prologue takes place in the snowy ruins of an abandoned city. Nier is forced to make a Deal with the Devil to protect his sister/daughter Yonah from the Shades that are hunting them. Only after driving them off does Nier realize that Yonah also tried to make the deal to help him — but in her case it failed and she is now slowly dying. The prologue ends with Nier desperately screaming for someone, anyone, to help.
  • Halo: Combat Evolved opens with your starship, on the run from the Covenant fleet which has just obliterated the last major human colony standing between them and Earth, getting shot down by said fleet.
    • Halo 2 appears to start on a high note, only to quickly spiral into a downer, when Earth is found and attacked by the Covenant, something humans have worked hard to avoid.
    • Halo 3 opens with the Covenant launching a full-scale assault on Earth. (All we had in 2 was the personal fleet of one of the Prophets.)
    • Halo 4: After being left drifting in unknown space for four years, your AI companion is forced to awaken you from your long cryo-nap after a Covenant splinter sect boards your ship, with no fellow humans in sight. It becomes quickly apparent that said AI, who accompanied you for the entirety of the original trilogy, is on the verge of going rampant and can barely hold it together.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The first case opens with the players seeing Cindy Stone being killed by the Thinker statue. And right at the beginning of the second chapter, his mentor Mia is murdered and he has to take the stand alone. And he has to defend Mia's sister Maya, mistakenly accused of being the culprit.
  • Phantom Brave opens with Ash, Haze and Jasmine being brutally murdered by a monster. Only Ash manages to come back as a Phantom, and looks after their daughter, Marona. She was five when they died. Due to her powers, she's subjected to constant All of the Other Reindeer treatment, even from the Ungrateful Bastards hiring her to do jobs for them, with the implication they hire her just to stiff her on the payments!
  • Project Zomboid starts off the tutorial with your things getting stolen, no food, a wife with a broken leg, and zombies everywhere.
  • Katawa Shoujo opens with a Love Confession. Normally a happy event, especially as both parts want a relationship. Except this time it's directly responsible for the main character suffering a heart attack, which leads to extended hospitalisation and eventually forcing him to enter the high school the majority of game takes place at.
  • Resistance 2 begins with the destruction of an U.S. Army base in Iceland, only to get worse by each level. Resistance 3 also begins with your hometown getting wiped out.
  • Mother 3: The game starts off by introducing you to the protagonist and his family (Sans father, who's still at home), who are enjoying a peaceful day at their grandpa's house. By the end of the first chapter, his mother is dead and his brother has gone missing.
  • The BioShock games:
    • BioShock starts with Jack's plane exploding, leaving him a castaway swimming to a mysterious lighthouse.
    • BioShock 2 starts with your main character, Subject Delta, being beaten, getting his Little Sister taken, and forced to commit suicide.
  • Demons Souls: The real part of the game starts with one death: yours. And it's not like the world was a bright cheery place before you die.
    • Dark Souls: The game starts with you being tossed into what's essentially a waste pit, because you just contracted a zombie virus.
  • Every game in the Fallout series starts off with a brief recount of the global thermonuclear conflict that left the world in the desperate state you find it in. Typically more bad stuff happens before you get to start playing, and more still after you do - it takes a while for things to start going in any sort of positive direction.
    • Fallout 1 has your vault's water chip, the device which regulates the vault's water purification systems, malfunction with no way of repairing it, forcing you to go out into the wasteland to find a replacement.
    • Fallout 2 has a colony of humans who, after decades of underground segregation, prepare to leave the vault after radiation levels have somewhat subsided to start civilization anew. They're ruthlessly cut down by minigun-toting soldiers before they even step out of the door.
    • Fallout 3: Your mother dies during your birth, your father flees the vault as a criminal for unknown reasons, and you are cast out of the only home you have ever known into an irradiated wasteland.
    • Fallout: New Vegas: You get shot in the head and buried alive.
  • X-Universe:
  • Warriors Orochi 3 starts with every main character on the side of humanity dead with the exception of the three you start with, and things are not looking good for them.
  • Ni No Kuni starts with the main character's mother having a heart attack and dying after saving him from drowning.
  • Ghost Trick opens with Sissel realizing that he's dead and that a woman is going to be killed in front of him. He then tries to use his ghost powers to save her, only for it to be in vain and her to get shot anyway (though he does find another way to save her). Then he finds out that he's lost all of his memories, and then he learns that he'll vanish when morning comes.
  • StarCraft I: Brood Wars picks up where the first left off, the Overmind is dead but the Zerg are running rampant across Aiur forcing the remaining Protoss to escape their Homeworld.
  • Half-Life 2 kicks off with earth in even more dire straits than it was at the end of the first game. A mysterious alien force known as the Combine have invaded earth and conquered it, killing off most of its inhabitants and forcing the rest to either live like zoo animals ruled over by cyborg slaves or submit to be turned into cyborg slaves themselves.
  • Like most modern Zombie Apocalypse media, Left 4 Dead starts off with the zombie plague already well underway, and the four protagonists among the few that remain alive and well. And about a million zombies to worry about if they want to stay that way. Each successive campaign starts with them once again abandoned in the middle of nowhere, often for reasons that go unexplained.
  • Eternal Sonata begins with a cute young teenage girl talking herself into letting herself fall off a cliff. Then, a scene culminating in the conversation that probably lead her to do that. Next, a man in a coma, with the doctor saying that he might not live through it. And, if you want to count the beginning as going all the way to the preliminary credits, you see this girl being feared because she can use magic, even if it's used to heal, and a pair of boys who steal bread for children who have found homes in the sewers, from whom we learn that the cost of living is high due to taxes, and that the girl from the beginning wouldn't have long to live, anyway.
  • The Last of Us opens with the beginning of the Zombie Apocalypse, with the main character losing his daughter during the first hour of the game (daughter who was the playable character until her tragic death). Cue Time Skip.
  • The Bureau: XCOM Declassified starts with a full-scale attack by the Outsiders on the Groom Range base. At the end of the level, the base is completely destroyed, including the Elerium mine under it, with only 6 survivors.
    • The tutorial for XCOM: Enemy Unknown has 3/4 of your squad wiped out. There's nothing you can do about it; the events are scripted. Of course, if you skip the tutorial, then the result of the mission is entirely up to you.
  • The Elder Scrolls series seems to be particularly fond of this trope, and plays it Darker and Edgier with each episode:
    • In Daggerfall, you are supposed to be an agent of the Emperor sent on an official mission, but your ship wrecks in a storm and you start the game lost in a cave.
    • In Morrowing, you are a prisoner but you are supposed to be just pardoned, though you are more or less deported to the island of Vvardenfell.
    • In Oblivion, you are a prisoner again, and this time there is no mention of you being pardoned. It just happens that the Emperor is fleeing from an assassination attempt using a secret escape route, and your cell is on the way.
    • In Skyrim, you are a prisoner again, and when the game starts you are sentenced to death and on your way to be executed. You arrive to an imperial fort and some of your fellow prisoners are actually beheaded, but a dragon appears from nowhere, kills the guards and utterly destroys the whole place just before it is your turn.
  • Path of Exile: You are a prisoner who has been exiled to a prison continent called Wraeclast (An Expy for Australia's prison continent history.)
  • Almost every FPS from the 90s (Doom, Quake, Unreal, System Shock 2, Duke Nukem 3D etc.) put you in the skin of the sole survivor of a crashed spaceship, a Space Marine strike force decimated by aliens, a derelict space station, an invasion of creatures from another dimension, etc. This is not very noticeable since those games don't focus on the scenario, but it still means that everybody else is dead (whoever "everybody else" was) and you are suddenly alone with angry monsters.
  • Assassin's Creed I starts with an introductory mission where the Player Character, the master assassin Altair, is sent to slay the grand master of the Knights Templar and retrieve a powerful artifact. Because of his excessive pride and negligence, he fails miserably, barely escapes alive and leaves his teammate for dead. Then he confesses his failure to his master and explains that there was no way he could have succeeded... when his former teammate arrives, seriously wounded, with the artifact, and accuses him to be a traitor and a coward. His master then condemns him to death and stabs him with a knife. It turns out his master does not really killed him, but he is still stripped of all his weapons, ranks and privileges and has to start again as a new Assassin initiate as a punishment for his failure and incompetence.
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts begins with the Federation hijacking the US ODIN satellite and firing its weapons on its cities. They player character and his brother are now running away from the attack, and can do little as their home gets destroyed.

    Web Comics 
  • Boxdog begins with the introduction of the titular character as homeless. From there on, it only continues with exploring the hardships of her life.

    Western Animation 
  • The Flash Gordon animated movie begins with fire falling from the sky and chaos in the city.
  • Thundarr the Barbarian: "The year: 1994. From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man's civilization is cast in ruin!"
  • Titan A.E. begins with another race destroying planet Earth.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender . The opening narration basically tells us that the world has been at war for a hundred years, an entire nation of Air Benders (core to the very balance of the world itself) have been wiped out entirely and that the forces of good have been losing the entire time. Even worse, the Avatar, who is supposed to bring balance to the world (due to the unique ability to master all four elements, among other abilities) has been missing since the beginning of the war. The next scene is the reawakening of the Avatar (a 12 year old boy, and the Last of His Kind). Back from the Brink indeed.
  • Galaxy Rangers: The Crown stages a sudden, brutal attack on Kirwin, capturing dozens of humans and (is implied to be) killing the Kiwi residents. The Hero is captured by SpacePirates, brutally gunned down and paralyzed, requiring an Emergency Transformation to save his life. His wife makes a Heroic Sacrifice to save their kids, but is marched off to a Fate Worse than Death. (In the original demo reel, the kids also didn't make it). Now humanity is embroiled in a nasty interstellar war with an Evil Overlord who wants to mash them down for Life Energy.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "A Canterlot Wedding Part 2", has Twilight Sparkle, already disgraced by her unproven (but ultimately correct, after a fashion) accusations about Cadance, abducted into an abandoned mine by her, and merciless taunted by the villain about how she is going to be there forever, helpless to stop the plot. However, the villain makes one fatal mistake that allows Twilight to discover the truth, and true friendship, that enables them to save the day.
  • In the beginning of Transformers G1 the Decepticons have dominated Cybertron, run it low on energon, and the Autobots are struggling to survive by building the Ark to escape the planet.
  • "Blue Cat Blues" (1956), an abnormally depressing Tom and Jerry cartoon. It begins with a depressed Tom sitting on a railway track, Spurned Into Suicide. Jerry internally narrates his sad story; the dame he loves has left him for his more affluent rival, Butch. Tom tries everything he can to win her back, but to no avail. Broken, he takes to drinking, and has to be saved from his first suicide attempt by Jerry. Close narration, Jerry sees that the mouse he loves has also left him for a wealthier mouse; dejected, he sits next to Tom on the track, and together they wait for the train to come so they can pass into the next world. As you can imagine, there is little to nothing funny about it in the slightest.
  • Batman Beyond, which begins with a prologue of an older Bruce Wayne having to retire as Batman after developing a heart condition that nearly gets him killed in a battle and forces him to use a gun during the fight. When the setting then fast forwards to the contemporary era, the show's other protagonist Terry McGinnis promptly suffers a tragedy of his own when his father is murdered. Things do gradually get better for both characters over the remainder of the series.


Sugar ApocalypseBeginning TropesEarly-Bird Cameo
Don't You Dare Pity Me!Sadness TropesDowner Ending

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