Bob writes a film and gives it what he thinks is the most wonderful, uplifting Happy Ending imaginable. Surely everyone will enjoy it as much as he— why is the audience cringing? Why are the critics hammering the hell out of it? Why does it already have several TV Tropes mentions under Nightmare Fuel?
Well, it turns out the vast majority of the viewers disagree with Bob about what makes a happy ending. Fridge Logic, Fridge Horror, Glurge, Family-Unfriendly Aesop, Unfortunate Implications, and Inferred Holocaust are all common causes of this. Values Dissonance may be another source; changing values may make a formerly happy ending seem bittersweet or worse today.
At the same time, there can certainly be disagreements about what particular endings properly classify as such, or at least to what specific extent they do, but the constant is that some of the viewers don't buy the perceived happiness of the finale.
See Growing Up Sucks if the writer doesn't clarify things well. Compare Inferred Holocaust and Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending. Not to be confused with a Bittersweet Ending, in which the darker or less pleasant elements are acknowledged, although it can also frequently be caused when those same darker elements out-weight the pleasant ones in the minds of some viewers.
As an Ending Trope there will be unmarked spoilers!
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Any work that preaches that Ludd Was Right, since usually this also means that humans shouldn't do the one thing that actually sets them apart from other animalsnote it is not actually true that only Humans Kill Wantonly: use reason to solve problems.
Similarly, any work that preaches that Democracy Is Bad (with a possible exception made for post-apocalyptic settings). Just compare the standard of living in democratic as opposed to non-democratic countries, and then try to say that with a straight face.
Anime and Manga
The anime of Elfen Lied ends rather positively, because it adds a new ending before the manga crosses the Despair Event Horizon. If you know the background information that is revealed later in the manga, the anime ending isn't happy at all.
For that matter, the manga's ending is iffy - the Diclonii will be completely eliminated within a generation. Their powers are arguably too dangerous to allow them to continue to exist, but they're not all bad people, and their extermination is at best a necessary evil.
Subverted in Birdy the Mighty. At the end of season 1, the Roppongi area of Tokyo gets completely trashed by a combination of the ryunka and the sanctum sanctorum Killsat used to attack it. However, season 2 is mostly about how these events affected people, including the survivors.
Blue Gender. A few humans have survived Gaia's Vengeance, and they can all live in harmony with mother nature, free at last of technology! Then the Fridge Logic sets in - the only survivors will be physically strong people. If you're a person who is crippled, blind, deaf, has a curable terminal disease, etc. then you're hosed. Mother Nature hates you and you have no right to live.
Code Geass ends with an uplifting ending showing all the surviving characters smiling, despite the bittersweet nature of the preceding events and Lelouch's death, which is enough to make certain fans consider the whole thing a tragedy. The ending also leaves open what will happen to the world during the subsequent reconstruction phase. It is possible for viewers to speculate about how all the resulting death and destruction would have affected the social and economic structures of Japan, which may paint a rather pessimistic picture of this fictional world's future when all is said and done.
The main culprit of this seems to be Okouchi and Taniguchi letting some of the staff throw out suggestions which caused a few of the visuals to be a little too happy, with one specific scene being borderline Tastes Like Diabetes (the wedding photo) while the narration points out how there is still a lot of rebuilding to be done which we never actually see.
Another aspect that is open to debate is how Lelouch first had to reach the Despair Event Horizon following the Black Knights' mutiny and Nunnally's supposed demise. For Want of a Nail, Lelouch may well have gone with a less destructive and suicidal method. In addition, a few of the Britannian survivors had committed murderous acts in the series while the two specific peopleresponsible for aforementioned hasty betrayal also got a Happy Ending. Lelouch himself admittedly saw beyond such concerns and recognized that everyone had to move toward the future together regardless of the past, but some viewers found the methods and results at least partially self-contradicting.
Space Runaway Ideon has this with Be Invoked. Yep, the universe is destroyed, but the spirits of the dead are preparing to celebrate its rebirth again as the Messiah takes the souls to a new planet. It took Super Robot Wars to create a proper Downer Ending as Keisar Ephes corrupts the Messiah, allowing him to take control of the universe properly this time around.
As another work that features reality warping and a "face reality" Aesop, Princess Tutu encounters the same issues as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Sure, everyone's free of Drosselmeyer's control, and Mytho's tragedy will no longer repeat, but Duck and Fakir are no longer the same species, and romance is now impossible between them. Then again, Fakir still has Drosselmeyer's power, so this may not be a permanent problem if you reject the story's Aesop (which many, manyfanfic writers have done.)
The anime of Kare Kano. Hinting that the official couple will break up sooner or later, and that it's OK, is a "happy ending" for Hideki Anno. Thankfully averted in the manga.
After School Nightmare. The entire series was taking place in the minds of the unborn babies in a maternity ward. The babies are all born safely, but they grow up knowing nothing about anything that occurred in the series. A scene at the very end shows Mashiro and Sou running into each other and having no idea who the other is, pointlessly teasing readers about possibilities that will never be.
Bokurano. The Earth survives the ordeal in one piece and humanity is relatively safe, which when compared to what happened in Narutaru is a positive cause for celebration. All the main characters died, thousands of Japanese died, some 33 thousand other universes and Earths were destroyed, and the game goes on with a new set of victims players as if nothing has happened... Yay?
One example of the backlash was the anime's director. The Gecko Ending went on to brighten things slightly: While most of the above still happens, one of the main characters survives and the last pilot breaks the game and makes sure it cannot be repeated elsewhere. Some fans think this change was a welcome improvement over the manga, while others disagree.
Macross Frontier (and major ending spoilers abound) mostly ends on a happy note. The Big Bad is defeated, Everyone Lives (barring a bazillion Redshirts), and they definitely Earned Their Happy Ending, so what makes it so esoteric? Though the action and overall plot all concluded neatly, the Love Triangle that composed the greater part of the series was left unresolved to avoid upsetting the fans of either girl, which just upset bothShipping factions. Some though preferred it this way. Nevertheless, the debates wage on.
Returns with the movies (Yay, more massive spoilers) with the ending being a Tear Jerker. It leaves off with Alto apparently dead and Sheryl in a coma right after Alto confessed to Sheryl. The fandom's going theory was that this was how they ended up, and that Sheryl's earrings, which being made of fold quartz ignores the normal laws of time and space, kept their hearts together, for at the end one was worn by Sheryl and one was worn by Alto, making it a very Bittersweet Ending a la Together in Death. Among other theories. An interview with Kawamori later had him wondering how anyone got this idea and Jossed it by declaring that Alto survived and Sheryl woke up.
The End Of Evangelion is definitely meant to be horrifying, but has a spark of optimism at the very end. It sees every human put through a death of the ego and their bodies dissolved, but Shinji gives them the chance to live again if they have the will. On a world wrecked by at least two disasters on a planetary scale. Ultimately, Shinji learns to accept himself and search for happiness, yet understanding that suffering is unavoidable in life; while some find this reassurance of hope even in the face of the apocalypse uplifting, others inevitably find it difficult to accept.
Now and Then, Here and There. Even setting aside the whole Good Girls Avoid Abortion thing, the script seems to entirely forget that Sara's parents are now never going to see her again and she's very likely going to be killed by the Earth's still supernova-ing sun. Shu's optimism seems just a little misplaced.
The ending of Angel Beats! is about as esoteric as they come. Everyone except Otonashi eventually moves on and leaves the afterlife, which seems like a vaguely happy Bittersweet Ending, but only if you share the characters' faith that they'll be reincarnated and meet again in the next life. If you think passing on means Cessation of Existence, or that (as some characters theorized) they'll be reincarnated as water fleas or some other lower life form, the ending becomes super depressing. Even worse, in the last scene Kanade and Otonashi finally confess their love for each other, which makes Kanade disappear, causing Otonashi to understandably flip out. But that extreme Downer Ending is maybe undone by The Stinger, in which they appear to find each other again in some future life...but many people think this last scene is a dream. In short: plot resolved with ambiguous Fridge Horror, last scene is happy but may not be real, so...who knows?
There was the short ova Another Epilogue that definitely showed that Otonashi stayed and became the Student Council President, and that he's waiting to be reunited with Kanade. This is obviously setting up a new season, so we can only wait to find out how it will turn out.
At the end of the Area 88 manga, Soria, Rishar, and King Zak are left to transition Asran from a monarchy to a modern republic. While Asran's civil war is over and the people are jubilant, Asran's future is far from secure. First, the country's infrastructure and finances have been devastated by years of war. Second, the civil war has probably left Asran's people with deep resentment toward each other. Finally, the whole mess has been inherited by a conservative monarch, a Wide-Eyed Idealist, and an amnesiac who spent the previous two decades in cryogenic suspension. Suddenly, Asran's future doesn't look so bright ...
Also at the end of the manga, Ryoko reunites with Shin. Shin suffers from amnesia due to head trauma and does not remember his time at Area 88. On the surface, this appears to be a happy romantic reunion, until you realize that Ryoko will need to explain to Shin why he's in Asran and why years of his memory are missing. To boot, Shin will undoubtedly suffer from unconscious war trauma, even if he can't remember Area 88. Finally, Shin broke Ryoko's heart several times throughout the manga, suggesting that he has cold tendencies. In short, Ryoko has chosen to marry a traumatized, amnesiac jerk, raising questions about what their life together will be life.
In Guardian Fairy Michel, the Black Hammers lost all the fairies they captured and the Tree of Life is saved...but Michel dies in order to rejuvenate the tree, and Kim leaves the island. While Michel will be reborn later, the bad guys still have the floating castle, and without Michel or Kim around to protect them, the fairies could easily get captured again.
An in-universe example with Yakitate!! Japan during the Yakitate 25 arc, where Azuma starts declaring every victory for Pantasia a happy ending, apparently ignoring the fact that their opponents (who most of the time aren't particularly bad people) have been transformed by Pantasia's bread with no sign of changing back any time soon, or the two occasions where the match ended with Ken becoming a Yakuza leader against his will or Kuroyanagi suffering from serious internal bleeding. Kawachi is usually quick to point this out.
Death Note appears to end with the villain (and his fanboy successor) dying and the world returning to normal. Until that final scene revealing that a happy-go-lucky shinigami was the sponsor for the fake Kira three years later, he liked the experiment, and he has an arsenal of death notes just waiting for new owners. How did he get them? He bought them from the king, who has no problem with selling each death note for 7 apples, and has not made any laws against this tourist trend. Which now means that Ryuk and hundreds of shinigami will be sponsoring hundreds of nonviolent sniping killers, each with their own ideals and agendas, all of whom will inevitably duel and war with each other unless something goes horribly wrong. This is considered a fitting end to this dark series.
Though its also mentioned that Light was an unusual case and most humans simply cannot in good consience kill other people nonchalantly. Most will either go crazy, or simply get rid of the note after only one kill. Even the fake Kira killed himself in horror after only a few killings.
Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle ends with a happy note as while Syaoran is cursed to travel endlessly across dimensions he believes he will see his love Sakura again. However, the fact that time flows differently in other worlds means that if it takes him a year to return to Clow Country, Sakura could already be dead when he returns. Furthermore, the villain who cursed Syaoran, Fei Wang Reed, was revealed to an artificial being before his death. Despite dying, it has been stated that artificial beings can be reconstructed so it is possible that he will be back.
Done deliberately with Saikano, which sees the main character and his girlfriend as the last living beings from Earth, drifting through space, said girlfriend now completely inhuman with no hope of ever turning back. This is played as being as happy as they can wish for given the situation. The author's notes at the end of the manga even admit that all hope is gone, "but there are memories, and maybe a future".
Happens very often with Jack Chick tracts. There are too many examples to list specific ones, but they tend to fall into a few distinct categories.
The main character converts to Christianity, dies an untimely (and usually also cruel or painful) death and goes to heaven. For example, in "The Little Princess," while Heidi gets herself and her family saved before dying, one has to wonder what it's like for her parents and brother to lose her.
The main characters, following the death of someone close to them, convert to Christianity. The unsaved loved ones are promptly forgotten about, and the saved people will never see them again. This is especially jarring in "Happy Halloween," in which the boy killed in the traffic accident is forgotten about.
The main characters convert to Christianity after suffering terrible traumas with no indication of any long-term problems, and with those responsible being Easily Forgiven or becoming outright Karma Houdinis. For example, in "Lisa", the girl may have gotten saved and may no longer be suffering abuse, but she also has herpes now and no shortage of trauma associated with this.
Truly despicable people do terrible things all their lives, convert after one minute of Easy Evangelism, and go to Heaven, facing no consequences for their actions ever, while people who did nothing wrong except not instantly choose to devote their lives to God, needing more than simply having John 3:16 read to them once in order to believe, have freak accidents kill them the next day and go to Hell.
The ultimate fate of Earth. God will triumph over the Devil, but not before ages of suffering for the people of Earth followed by the majority of humankind being sent to Hell.
JLA: Act of God has the story attempting to tell us that a new generation of heroes is about, the problems with this are that there were likely millions of innocents killed due to people losing their powers, few Superheroes getting over their problems, and Kyle Rayner, ultimately, ends up killed due to psychotic obsession. This isn't getting into the fact that many tech-based supervillains keep their powers and abilities, and one new, superpowered being doesn't make the world better.
Joe Quesada has stated that when looking back at One More Day, he sees Aunt May saved through the Parkers' Heroic Sacrifice of their marriage. Most fans see the Official Couple being forced apart and the villain getting what he wants. Many fans also have a problem that the solution to the arc was the HERO making a deal with the devil without ever being held accountable, thus making deals with the devil without consequences and a valid mean to happy endings.
Asterix and Son ends with Brutus getting punished, the Gaulish village he destroyed getting rebuilt, Caesar hosting a banquet for the Gauls and he and Cleopatra reunited with their adorable baby son, Caesarion. The narration notes that Caesarion will become the last pharaoh. Those who know anything about classics (most of the readership...) will realise that all of this will end up in a horrible, murderous disaster. Caesarion certainly would have had a happier and longer life if he'd continued with Asterix and Obelix as his guardians, terrible parents as they are.
Asterix and the Secret Weapon ends with both the village's men and women compromising in a way that could be read as a call for a focus on understanding and collaboration to solve social injustice, or just being outrageously sexist, depending on interpretation. Either way, it's very difficult to side with the story after it specifies that women are allowed at the final feast (as they do not attend feasts usually), but they remain absent from all feasts afterwards.
This is common in the darker side of fanfiction (Especially in Fetish fics). A good example of this can be found here. For those who don't want to read that, here's the cliff notes version: Guy picks up a plushie that is alive. Turns out the plushie is a Yandere. It asks him nicely if he wants to turn into a plushie too. He refuses; it violently and painfully kills him and then rebirths him as a plushie. Now they'll be together forever - and it's treated as a good thing.
Funnily enough, this is exactly what happens in an episode of Growing Up Creepie. It turns out that not everyone agrees with Creepie that "everyone gets turned into giant mutant moths" (or, more generally, bugs) is a happy ending.
The Rose Potter series is an interesting example. Because the author slavishly copies as much of the Harry Potter canon as he can, each story ends on a happy note if and when the canon books do. Because the author tries to make things Darker and Edgier however, it just opens up a whole mess of Fridge Logic, plot holes, and generally makes the Ministry's arguments that Rose is psychotic look rational. One fine example would be Rose discovering the "Golden Patronus", which essentially lets her destroy the hundreds of Dementors in the third story. This is treated as a beautiful thing, with the "released souls" thanking her as they return to their bodies. Thing is, Dementors were used to carry out the wizarding equivalent of the death sentence, which means that Rose also released the souls of a number of dangerous criminals.
Frequently discussed in the Fanficrants community on Live Journal. Apparently far too many fic writers do not understand how sexual consent and/or absence thereof works, and balk when informed that what they've written is effectively rape fic and really should be labeled as such.
One particular Pirates of the Caribbean fanfiction had a Mary Sue protagonist determined to save the seas and bring back freedom to the pirates. She accomplishes this by killing Calypso. Who, in the movie, was one of the few mystical beings remaining in the sea, especially after the Kraken was destroyed by Beckett, and one of the few things left keeping the world from "getting smaller". Oops... Everyone treats her as a hero for this. Also, you know, making the world a better place for pirates is making it a worse place for everyone who likes to keep their belongings and not get raped.
Gets worse in the Expanded Universe stories. All of humanity being forcibly converted into ponies with no resemblance to who they once were, or if they refuse, murdered outright? Authors other than the original love to present this as being the best thing that could possibly happen to the world. There's a reason this setting has a massiveHatedom.
In The Stalking Zuko Series, the author and Zuko see the ending to the tale of Oma and Shu as this. Oma ends a war and establishes a city, but loses her lover in the process, which is why those in the Fire Nation see it as a tragedy. Zuko, in particular, having seen his cousin Lu Ten's girlfriend take his death quite badly, understands how painful it can be to lose a lover.
Since the aliens only saved a handful of prepubescent children and refused to rescue even one of the most highly-educated adults on the planet, their concern is clearly preserving human DNA, not human culture or civilization. Why? Are they breeding slaves?Cattle?
Time Bandits. The boy's house is a smoking ruin and his parents are dead... but his parents were neglectful bastards to start with, and Agamemnon is now a firefighter, implying that he has a good future ahead of him. According to director Terry Gilliam (on the Criterion DVD commentary), parents in the test audiences were upset with this ending, but their children liked it!
This may or may not be the point of Let the Right One In. There are two possible outcomes of the ending: one is that Oskar takes on the role of The Renfield for Eli and procures blood for her for the rest of his life, the other (endorsed by Word of God) is that she turns him into a vampire.
The Incredible Shrinking Man: While Scott may have come to terms with the fact of what's happening to him as he shrinks to nothing (he states in the voiceover that "To God there is no zero"), this is at best bittersweet. He faces almost certain death; plus, his wife and his brother are convinced that he died a horrible death: being torn apart and eaten by THE CAREYS' OWN CAT.
The indie drama Sleepwalking tries to make its ending seem like a happy and uplifting one: The mother finally returns realizing that she does love her daughter and her brother has realized how he is not enjoying life and decides to take charge, ending with the optimistic line "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." Well OK except for the fact that the mother is still unemployed, now homeless along with her daughter, and is probably going to get charged with abandonment and not be allowed to keep custody of her daughter who'll be forced back to her hated foster care and probably won't end up well. Meanwhile her brother will have to spend the rest of his life as a fugitive for the murder of his father. Not all that uplifting after all.
Seven Pounds which tries to make Tim's obsessive self-flagellation and ultimate suicide a morally uplifting Heroic Sacrifice. Also, his preferred method of suicide is box jellyfish. Which has a natural neurotoxin and will render the organs he wants to donate useless.
Star Trek: Insurrection ends with theBak'u welcoming the Son'a(who are banished Bak'u) into their society and allowing them to keep their planet and its fountain-of-youth powers. Except that it was pointed out that it will take ten years for the planet's rejuvenating effects to really affect the Son'a, and many will not make it that long. Plus, the Bak'u will maintain a monopoly on rejuvenating powers which would certainly benefit billions across the galaxy.
Rocky V. Rocky kicks Tommy's ass in a street fight, but he's still broke, and Tommy is still the champion. No wonder Stallone declared it Canon Discontinuity.
Source Code: Colter finally creates an Alternate Universe where the train disaster is averted and he gets to live Happily Ever After with his new girlfriend... in the body of her old boyfriend Sean, who is now essentially dead since his consciousness has been overwritten. Colter will now have to adjust to living a life that is not his, with a family and career which are utterly unknown to him. He also has to try and very carefully pick the right time to tell his new girlfriend that he met her that day and has almost no idea who she is. Oh, and this reality also has a version of his brain in a box, so it's not like his suffering has actually ended at all. And apparently there's one alternate reality where Sean's friend remembers his last actions as irrationally attacking a random guy because he looks Middle Eastern, before falling onto a railroad track.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) ends with Klaatu agreeing to spare the Earth and humanity, but only after he generates an EMP so powerful that it stops all technology on Earth. Assuming that it really is an EMP, and that the technology that is currently in existence is affected, then millions will die initially and then we will swiftly reconstruct the technology we had already designed. We will likely achieve world peace, which was his aim in the original, but we only be at peace with each other in order to better prepare to wreak vengeance on the aliens that caused this cataclysm. We may become more concerned with the environment, or simply not care about it anymore, in our rush to achieve sustainable civilisation outside of Earth's atmosphere. But at least Jacob finally called Helen "Mom", right?
According to Word of God, the idea for Brazil came from the director wondering whether or not an ending where the main character goes insane could be happy.
Word of God describes Oldboy as having a happy ending that's sad or a sad ending that's happy. Either way, the implication is that the protagonist continues to carry on an incestful relationship with his own unwitting daughter, and that he may or may not know himself.
Death Proof ends with the second group of girls getting vigilante justice on Stuntman Mike...by straight up murdering him on the road, in broad daylight, with possible witnesses to the act and a body to dispose of. Hope life imprisonment was worth killing the guy instead of just letting the cops haul him off, ladies! Also, Mary Elizabeth Winstead was left as "collateral" for a car that is now totaled, in the hands of an implied sexual predator. She'd better *hope* that the police arrest her friends fast!
The Lassie film, The Painted Hills: Shep (Lassie) managed to avenge the death of her owner by driving his killer, Taylor, off a cliff. And rather than simply give up and die, she decides to live on with Tommy, the son of Johnathan's late partner. But Taylor had killed Johnathan in order to steal their gold claim for himself. The site of Johnathan's claim died with the two of them, and Taylor had hid the gold dust he and Johnathan had already gathered. A fortune lost to Tommy and his mother.
The ending of Juno takes on a disturbing light once you realize that Vanessa is still reeling from her painful split with Mark, and is uncertain about her motherhood skills. Let's not even get started about the stress of her well-paying job...
The Cabin in the Woods: The protagonists allow Eldritch Abominations to wipe out mankind due to them refusing to continue the ritual regular sacrifice of humans meant to keep them at bay. Word of God confirms this is meant to be uplifting since "Humans are more important than Humanity".
Elysium: Yes, all the people on Earth are now considered to be "citizens" and now they have free healthcare. It still doesn't solve the original problem that led to this situation in the first place (overpopulation) and there might not be enough medpods for everyone.
At the end of Edge of Tomorrow, thanks to the final action of the "Groundhog Day" Loop energy, the Omega is destroyedback when the movie started, with Cage being the only one who remembers any of it. Thanks to their prior experience, Sgt. Rita Vrataski and Dr. Carter know that the time-loop effect is real, but no-one else will ever believe Cage's recollections of the Suicide Mission during which they and J Squad defeated the invasion. As far as everyone else is concerned, Cage is just a PR hack (and probably a coward, although not a deserter), Dr. Carter is a former-scientist-turned-crank, J Squad is a load of misfits, and the Mimics just ... randomly died.
Both versions of the The Butterfly Effect end with Evan managing to avert all the repercussions of his time-traveling shenanigans by changing the past so that he never meets the love of his life, accepting that any kind of relationship with her (romantic or otherwise) is doomed to end in tragedy. This is treated as a magic fix-all...even though it doesn't change the fact that Kayleigh's father is still an abusive pedophile, and her older brother is still a sadistic psychopath. The Director's Cut version is even wore: Evan uses his powers to commit suicide in his mother's womb, accepting that he's the sole cause of all of his friends' misery, and that the world would genuinely be a better place if he'd never been born.
Harlan Ellison claims that the ending of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is intended to be happy. Sure, the narrator ends by saying the title line in utter despair, after mercy-killing every other remaining human in the world but he's so unreliable he hasn't realized that his actions represent the final triumph of the human spirit. The game makes it into more a Bittersweet Ending, with the humans finally taking down AM and settling into the duty of being a watchdog for the AIs as they await the reawakening of the humans on the moon.
Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" (not the Disney version). The little mermaid is turned into "daughter of air" with the prospect of eventually entering Heaven, very probably a result of revision by Andersen. Initially this was the selected ending, even put in the working title, but there was a happily reworked version in which the mermaid apparently just dissolved into foam in the end.
Even the happier version has the Fridge Horror of knowing that the dissolving into foam fate is eventually going to befall the Little Mermaid's sisters and family if they don't act as she did. But as long as SHE is saved, everything is all right... right?
It's also explored in Witches Abroad where Lilith gives what is usually considered to be a happy ending to people whether they want it or not, including convincing a wolf it's human so that it nearly starves to death and goes insane, since it can't live as either human or wolf now, so that it would eat a grandmother.
By all accounts, Andersen was a very depressed man. Out of all his fairy tales, there are only a few with unambiguously happy endings.
Robert Silverberg's stories fall into this occasionally because his personal philosophy is so different from how most people (or at least most modern Western readers) view life and humanity. A particularly jarring example is The Face Upon The Waters—the main character spends most of the story trying to maintain his cultural identity after the destruction of Earth and the scattering of its people, but ultimately concludes that people should adapt to whatever culture they live amongst... and joins up with The Corruption/Instrumentality, which has a stated goal of assimilating everyone it can and killing everyone it can't.
A Girl Called Blue is about girls growing up in a strict home for children in 1960s Ireland (run by Sadist Nuns). The book ends with Blue rejoicing that she's finally found a family of her own. Except the "family" is two people she's met twice and they're not allowed to adopt her so she has to wait three years before she's old enough to leave the school with them only allowed to visit her twice a year. Also three of her best friends have now left, one being drowned, another going back to live with her father and the last being sent to another school and she has been forced to sleep alone in a cramped room, and will likely still have to endure plenty more abuse from the nuns for the next three years. Oh and she never finds out who her real mother is either and the nuns will keep abusing children for many years in Ireland.
The ending of C. S. Lewis's final Narnia book, The Last Battle, qualified as this for many young readers. Narnia ends, and everyone except Susan dies. Some minor characters are tormented and destroyed by a horrific many-armed God of Evil, while others who are judged unworthy and vanish forever into Aslan's shadow. But the important people don't care about that because they all go to the "real" Narnia (a stand-in for heaven) as the Christian subtext becomes text. It can be uplifting or inspire nightmares, depending on which scenes stick with you. (Neil Gaiman brilliantly deconstructed this in his short story "The Problem of Susan," in which he shows what happened to Susan after her siblings died in a train crash and she had to identify their corpses.)
Roald Dahl's The Witches. The protagonist learns that he's stuck as a mouse and that mice don't live very long, but he's happy because he'll probably die near the same time as his elderly grandmother and doesn't care about living if he's not with her. The two also ponder Bruno's fate. One states that his mouse-hating mother probably drowned him in a bucket, but nobody seems very disturbed by this possibility. The movie has an unabashed happy ending where the last witch, who had undergone a Heel-Face Turn, undoes the mouse spell on the protagonist and is implied to do the same to Bruno. While many were appreciative of this happier ending, Roald Dahl was infamously not.
Coupled with Values Dissonance for A Little Princess. The book ends with Sara being restored to her wealth while Becky becomes her personal attendant. Oh and Miss Minchin gets away with treating them like prisoners. However if one takes into context the period the story is set in (Victorian London) then Becky going from little better than a street urchin to a powerful position in the household (with a kind and generous mistress too) where she would get a roof over her head and financial security, it's a happy ending for Becky indeed. Oh and Sara is now a child with both her parents gone so YMMV on how much of a happy ending this is for her. We should also take into consideration that although Miss Minchin keeps the school, Sara will be living next door from now on. Which means that Minchin will likely be living in fear that Sara could ruin her with one word to Carisford.
This is most likely why the Alfonso Cuaron adaptation changed it to Sara's father turning up alive, implying that he's adopted Becky and Miss Minchin loses the school and is reduced to working as a chimney sweep.
At the end of Atlas Shrugged, Galt's Gulch is the only non-Crapsack place left in the whole world. Which is great, because all of the looters and moochers are gone and the good people can rebuild the world, right? Then you remember the millions of innocent children who were left to starve... (Then again, by the book's morality, this is the looters' and moochers' fault rather than anything to blame on the protagonists . . .)
Very much a case of Values Dissonance. Ayn Rand makes very clear her belief that leaving the weak to die rather is the moral choice. Moreover, she spends several pages earlier in the book arguing that everyone other than her heroes were either the causes of society's collapse or complicit because they did nothing to stop it (including children, apparently).
Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Shu, Wei and Wu are united into one at last and peace throughout the entire country of China can finally begin. Unfortunately the victors are a splinter group of Wei who usurped the throne, conquered Wu and Shu who at the time were being ruled by Liu Shan (a truly incompetent ruler who defiles everything Shu originally stood for) and Sun Hao (a tyrant almost as bad as Dong Zhuo). The kicker? When these two surrendered they were given lucrative positions and the readers were told they lived out their remaining lives in luxury. To be fair though this novel closely follows the real life events in history and not a lot could be changed.
Back when The Iron Giant was a book instead of a movie, it ended with an encounter with a dragon-like alien that sang in a hypnotic manner. It sang loud enough that the entire world heard it, and everyone in the world spent the rest of their lives alternately taking care of necessities and listening to the song. It's specified that all war was completely eliminated, and the implication would be that art and culture vanished too. If the wording is to be taken literally, people didn't even converse with each other. Now, does this sound Utopian, or more like a nightmare?
The final book of the Twilight series gave Jacob, who had been suffering from unrequited love for Bella, his own happy romantic ending by having him imprint on Bella's newly born daughter Nessie. Oh, don't worry; Nessie grows really fast, so she'll be 17 years old in 7 years and ready to start a relationship with her "Uncle Jacob" then! Also, there's apparently no good way to get rid of the Volturi or vampires like them. Given that the Volturi are growing more and more afraid of human technology, and more and more inclined to lash out at humanity, this is a very bad thing.
Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov ends with the protagonist arrested by his nation's totalitarian government, and his young son horrifically killed by a crowd of mental patients—on film!—due to a clerical error. But then Nabokov reaches through the layers of reality and gives his main character the gift of insanity to make him forget all his pain. So...yay?
It's even worse. The novel ends with Adam Krug, as a result of his insanity, rushing the dictator and being shot to death. Nabokov, however, refuses to write this conclusion (after implying its inevitability) and instead describes his room and decides to go mothing. It's a strange case of being incapable of giving Krug a happy ending (even the insanity so benevolently bestowed upon him results directly in his being killed), and so at least giving him the consolation prize of not writing it at all, and therefore not allowing it to happen. It's about as esoteric as a 'happy ending' can get.
Left Behind gets this a lot for its ending where not only are all non-Christians sent to Fire and Brimstone Hell, but the paradise where all the protagonists end up is depicted as a faintly creepy commune where you can no longer eat meat or form relationships with anyone you want, and nobody experiences any strong emotions other than love of God. The writers treat this as a utopia.
Nearly all of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books have one of these.
Save the Green-Sky Trilogy, and only because she realized she made a big goof, and authorized a sequel in the form of a video game, possibly the first video game to be acknowledged as Canon for something written in another medium.
H.P. Lovecraft's short story "Celephais," which ends with the main character finally returning to the wondrous dream-city that he created in his youth where he is appointed the chief god of all of the regions of Dream; and all he had to do was fall off a cliff and let the tides cast his corpse upon the rocks.
Lovecraft lampshades this later in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" when that story's protagonist meets this exact character who's since come to regret his decision but obviously can never go back.
Mindswap by Robert Sheckley. The protagonist is in the corrupted world but believes he has succeeded in his mission and has returned home.
Hush, Hush has a great happy ending, if you ignore the fact that part of Nora's house was burned down, there's a Clingy Jealous Girl of a fallen angel after her, and that she is blissfully dating the guy who spent the book stalking her, sexually harassing her, and outright attempting to murder her.
At the end of The Goddess Test, we learn that Kate's beloved mother is actually the goddess Demeter, so she and her mother can be together for eternity. Sounds great, huh? Except if you think back to the prologue, where we hear Demeter outright telling Hades that she's going to have her second daughter to take the goddess test and be his wife, even though eleven girls have already died in the attempt and Hades says he wants to just give up rather than see anyone else die for him. There's also the fact that the last girl who was manipulated into an arranged marriage with Hades later begged for death.
Throughout the story there is a lot of emphasis on the fact that being there is Kate's choice. However the reason she made the deal with Henry in the first place was to save Ava and then the reason she kept the deal was so that he could keep her mother alive and she could spend time with her before she died. Except you find out that both Ava and Diana are Goddesses and were never in any real danger. So that means that while it was technically Kate's choice, her entire choice was based on a lie.
Plus the ending reveals that Diana put her daughter through four years of emotional turmoil by making her think that her mother was on the verge of death for years and forcing Kate to take care of her for no reason other than to set her up for the test.
The "Susannah in New York" epilogue of The Dark Tower series has Susannah going into an alternate reality version of New York where Eddie and Jake are still alive and in fact are brothers. She appears in Central Park at Christmas time, alternate-Eddie greets her with a cup of hot chocolate, and it's clearly supposed to be her happy ending... Except many readers feel that Susannah abandoned the quest and is now trapped in a world that isn't her own with a couple of Replacement Goldfish who aren't really the people she loved.
The end of The Dark Is Rising sequence is unsatisfying in several ways. The forces of the Dark have been beaten back; all the main characters are OK and have forged a close bond; Bran has grown up normal, decided to stay with his foster-father, and has realised he's attracted to Jane. But not only do five of the Six have to forget that magic exists and never see their beloved Merriman again, the lovely magic of the Light is going to withdraw from the world altogether. And poor John Rowland is going to believe that his wife has suddenly died (which is presented as better than knowing she was an agent of the Dark). Will gets to remember everything because he's an Old One, but he'll have nobody to talk to about it for most of the time.
Chris Adrian's The Childrens Hospital ends with every single adult left on Earth dying, as the global flooding secedes and the children leave the eponymous hospital to inherit their new Earth. The final image is the main character screaming as her newborn child is taken away and she dissolves into ash. But, uh, at least the kids got their paradise?
Lampshaded throughout the book by the narrator who, as an angel who was once human, is supposed to wholeheartedly accept the end of the world as righteous, but can't quite do so.
Whatever Evelyn Waugh may say about God's love and the power for redemption in Brideshead Revisited, the facts remain as such: Sebastian's a hopeless alcoholic, Julia and Charles, having gone through with their respective divorces, decide never to see each other again, and the entire world is going to be inherited by the likes of Mottram and Hooper.
The Soldier Son. After almost three books of stressing how bad it is for Nevare's soul to be split, he is finally reunited with Soldier's Boy and absorbed by an ancestor tree, together with his beloved Lisana. Is the end? No, he is split again. Admittedly, that half gets back together with Amzil, marries her and inherits the Nevare estate, but wasn't it bad to have one's personality split? Other issues concern the discovery of gold that draw the Gernians away from the Speck lands: how long before they'll return? And finally, Nevare completely destroys the source of the Plainspeople's magic in the process, sealing their fate. This is given almost no attention.
Some of the "good" endings in the Choose Your Own Adventure books merely consists in the main character surviving, stopping the Big Bad temporarily, or implying that perhaps you will have success in the future, leaving many plot points unsolved.
The final book of The Demon's Lexicon has the surviving magicians pulling a mass Heel-Face Turn and joining the Goblin Market. Except we're given no reason to believe that it's genuine with all or even any of them, and they're probably just planning to destroy the Market from within.
Inverted with Edmond Hamilton’s 1932 short story “The Man Who Evolved”, which is traditionally interpreted as having the soul-crushingly nihilistic ending of learning that the human race is doomed to devolve into primordial ooze, and there is nothing that anybody, not even a Sufficiently Advanced super-intelligence, can do to prevent it. However, Fridge Logic shows that there are two ways in which the ending can be interpreted more optimistically: either Pollard continues down the path of Hollywood Evolution, Ascending to a Higher Plane of Existence and becoming an Energy Being, while leaving his body behind as protoplasm, or the story can be interpreted as set in the same universe as Hamilton’s later short story, “Devolution”, in which microbes are the most advanced forms of life, which developed an interstellar civilization and only got stuck on Earth after they de-evolved into all other forms of life (in which case Pollard could conceivably have retained his augmented intelligence). Note that neither of these interpretations alleviate the horror of Pollard’s steady Loss of Identity as he travels through the Evolutionary Levels, however.
In The Worm Ouroboros, the 'good guy' princes have lots of battles and perform heroic deeds to overcome the 'bad guys'. Having done so, they're bored. So the kindly gods recreate the bad guys so that the good guys can have fun beating them again. And so the world is condemned to an eternity of warfare because otherwise the princes would get bored. This was because the book is specifically inspired by Nordic myth and legend, retaining the originalsource morality.
In Babylon 5, Marcus Cole sacrifices his life to save that of his beloved Susan Ivanova, using an alien machine that transfers Life Energy. His body was placed in cold storage, however, and there was a strong implication that he was Only Mostly Dead until they could work out a way to replace his Life Energy without killing someone else. J. Michael Straczynski then wrote a prose spin-off short story "Time, Death and the Incurable Romantic", in which Marcus does get resurrected, three hundred years after Susan's death. He then steals Susan's DNA from her tomb, has a duplicate of her created, implants it with Susan's memories up to shortly before the incident that led to her life-threatening injury, and maroons them both on an uninhabited planet, deceiving the duplicate into believing that she's the original Susan and it's still 2261. This was apparently considered to be a happy ending for both of them, but it absolutely horrified many fans who saw it as a grotesque, abusive violation of the duplicate's right to self-determination.
Battlestar Galactica's finale is both very religious and very Ludd Was Right, pissing off most of the sci-fi fans who'd watched it (if only because without modern technology, most of the survivors would have greatly shortened life expectancies and greatly reduced quality of life). The fans were even more irritated over that this development came completely out of the blue, without foreshadowing or any anti-technology message in previous episodes. Word of God is that no anvilicious message was intended, but that it was just a last-minute fix to explain the lack of remains of the Fleet.
Kamen Rider Decade does this in a couple of arcs due to forgetting What Happened to the Mouse?. Yaaay, the Grongi are defeated, and all the millions of people who have been turned into Grongi have ceased to exist when the main villain was destroyed! Aweso- wait, what? Using the secret weapon that's the last hope of the few surviving humans on the world where monsters and dark Riders rule, the Riders defeat a few enforcers before leaving forever, taking said device with them! New toy, yay— wait, what?
Seinfeld is an example for an esoteric nonplussing ending. Larry David likely only intended to write an episode that is absurdist Up to Eleven, and a setting to have a large number of characters Back for the Finale, and when talking about the finale, had never hinted at any intentions. However, the four main characters being sent to prison resulted in fans being unhappy, or stipulating that the show was intended to be about jerkasses.
How I Met Your Mother: Good god, How I Met Your Mother. Barney and Robin divorce and the Mother dies all so that Robin and Ted can get back together 20 years in the future. By the reaction of the kids - literally "Mom's been dead for 6 years, yay go bang Aunt Robin Dad!" - this is meant to be the ultimate happy ending of two long-lost lovers. You wonder if the writers realize that the blue french horn Ted holds up for Robin at the end, has become an object of derision and tragedy in the fanbase. There's also no real reason to believe Ted and Robin are actually going to work out this time, since the show had previously spent quite a bit of time deconstructing their relationship and ultimately showing them as incompatible. Most of the issues that caused them to break up in the past haven't been resolved, nor have they ever managed to overcome them in their numerous attempts to get together in the past.
The finale of LOST could certainly be seen this way. Everybody from the Island remains friends in the afterlife, except for the ones you don't see for some reason. Okay, fine. But why does Sayid have to be with Shannon and lose Nadia? Why can't Locke stay with Helen? Christian Shepherd seems to have dictatorial powers over the lives of people he didn't even really know. Plus, it's implied that several of the characters who outlived Jack led long lives, yet apparently none of them formed any meaningful relationships during the intervening years—so Kate, Sawyer, and Claire all potentially spent decades mourning their respective love interests and never loving anyone else, while Aaron and Ji-Yeon apparently had such empty lives that they entered the afterlife as babies whose only bonds are with their parents. And Miles just gets abandoned and forgotten in limbo, despite his apparent devotion to Sawyer.
At the end of "Blink," we see that Sally has a photo of a Weeping Angel, but in season 5, we find out that Weeping Angels can project themselves through images, meaning that that photo is probably going to turn into another Angel. Plus, the only thing keeping the original Angels immobilized is one bare lightbulb, which could burn out at any moment, and which the Angels managed to turn off earlier in the episode. There's also the strong implication (confirmed in later episodes) that there are still more Angels out there, disguised as normal statues (that is, if there's such a thing as a normal statue that's not an Angel). On a less dire note, the "happy" ending features Sally and Larry making a living by running a video store...which probably is going to end up failing, since the episode took place in 2007, right before video stores started becoming obsolete.
"Last of the Time Lords." So the Doctor defeats the Master, hits the Reset Button, and the entire Year of Hell has been undone. This is easily the happiest season ending of any in the RTD era. It wouldn't even be all that esoteric except for a few "little" things. Martha Jones and her family still remember this horrific, PTSD-inducing year. America still lost its President (who, despite being an unflattering Expy of George W. Bush, seemed like a good man who didn't deserve to die). Britain lost its best political minds when the Master gassed them all, and also lost a courageous woman whom the Toclafane tortured to death for resisting the Master. And speaking of the Toclafane, the final, definitive fate for humanity is that in the last generation, all of the humans (even the best of them) will within that generation degenerate into monstrous, childish thrill-killers, making everything on the show that has anything to do with humanity feel completely pointless.
The TV movie Ice Angel is about a male hockey player (Matt) who dies and is brought back to life in the body of female figure skater (Sarah) so he can win an Olympic gold medal on the ice. He is suprised and unhappy at his unasked for Gender Bender but adjusts to his new life and learns to let go of his old girlfriend and friends who have moved on. As he (now she) is in the middle of winning the gold medal the two angels who have been watching over Matt mention that as soon as the performance is over 'Sarah' will forget all about being Matt. This is presented as a happy ending but comes across more like Matt - who has already his Aesop and seems content to continue life as Sarah - gets his identity erased for no good reason.
This is true to the source of the story Here Comes Mr. Jordan where the soul and habits of the deceased do live on in the new body but they will forget all else about their adventures and time in Heaven and the Afterlife Bureaucracy. It is meant to help the soul and person go back to living a normal life.
Gossip Girl ends with the reveal that Dan Humphrey is Gossip Girl, the blogger who stalked and terrorized the other main characters for years. That wouldn't be so bad if the main heroine and the object of his obsession, Serena, didn't consider the reveal to be the hottest thing ever since he did it all to get her. Everyone else seems fine with it too. In fact, his plan gains him the respect of all the other characters and he finally becomes one of them.
Star Trek: Enterprise: In "Dear Doctor", Archer and Phlox decide not to give the Valakians and Menk a cure to their illness, likely dooming both races to extinction, and this decision helps Phlox gain new respect for Archer? This can be blamed on Executive Meddling, since the story was supposed to end with Archer and Phlox at odds with each other (Archer wanting the cure, Phlox opposing it), but executives didn't want any disagreements between them.
Not only that, but as conductor Michael Tilson Thomas notes, he slips in a few zingers into the final "rejoicing" flourishes. When the music reaches major chords played by the brass, Shostakovich signals a conventional ending — but, we find out a moment later that, instead of keeping put in that resting chord, Shostakovich keeps pushing the brass section higher and higher into minor registers, before lurching heavily into a tacked on ending.
"Judy's Turn to Cry" — the sequel to "It's My Party And I'll Cry if I Want To" by Lesley Gore has the singer pull off Operation Jealousy to get Johnny's attention back (after he came to her party with another girl). It works: Johnny decks the poor sap and ditches Judy to come back to our heroine, who now... gets the guy who abandoned her for nothing and hits people for little provocation. Great?
Glengarry Glen Ross ends with Levene arrested for stealing the best leads from the office, but Roma is out six thousand dollars after Williamson lies about Lingk's cashed check (admittedly, Lingk was a total sucker, but it was still a fair deal), and it's likely everyone in the office is going to end up bankrupt due to slowing sales. While the play was all about the cutthroat world of business, most of the men in the office come across as fairly decent (if down on their luck) salesmen, even Levene, who the play frequently points out has a daughter he's trying to support.
The end of Grease, in which Sandy remakes herself as less of a Sandra Dee innocent in order to win the attraction of Danny, has both its defenders and detractors. Depending on how well each individual show portrays it, either an uptight girl learns to loosen up a little in order to get the guy she's attracted to, who himself has been attempting to do the same, or else a perfectly fine woman changes herself for the worse in order to be conform with people who have acted like jerks for the past two acts.
It's worth noting that in the film adaptation's Movie Bonus Song "You're the One That I Want", the major theme of the song is "You better shape up" - in short, whether or not Sandy has changed for the worse, she's not going to put up with Danny's douchebaggery, and she makes it clear from the word go. So this trope may not apply to the film.
It's even worse if you consider the epilogue, which often is not included. You see, there's a framing device in the play where a drunk is taken off of the street, dressed up like royalty, and shown the production of the play, all for the amusement of a nobleman. The epilogue shows that the drunk passes out, is put back in his own clothes, and left on the streets again. When he wakes up, he decides that it was all a dream and decides to use the tale of Kate and Petruchio as a lesson on how to deal with his own shrewish wife. Yeah...
Also, the concurrent definition of "comedy" was "a play ending with a wedding," so it's not necessarily funny.
The Merchant of Venice. Okay, this one might just be Values Dissonance, since a Jew being forcibly converted to Christianity was considered a good thing at the time. All the same...the play is very dark for a Shakespearean comedy, prejudice seems to be a theme running through the whole story, and Shylock does get that "if you prick us, do we not bleed" speech. And, frankly, while Shylock's a terrible person, all the Christian characters in the play are greedy, unlikeable bastards. Are we really supposed to be glad they won?
Antonio's okay except that he's apparently abused Shylock in the street for being a usurer and a Jew for years. Bassanio is a Gold Digger and the drama is set up by his taking advantage of the fact that Antonio will always give him whatever he asks for, even if it means asking for a loan off that Jew he so despises. Although interestingly, the dialogue leans toward Shylock asking the security of a useless 'pound of flesh' should Antonio default, to prove he doesn't actually want people he does business with to ruin themselves, rather than toward his hoping to get a chance to kill Antonio. Then his daughter steals everything she can lay hands on and elopes with a friend of Antonio's, and he flips out.
Alls Well That Ends Well ends with the sweet, lovely and clever Helena having succeeded in forcing the young nobleman Bertram — a snobby, childish Jerkass who hated her guts for no good reason — to marry her. And this is clearly not just Values Dissonance, because other characters point out that Bertram is clearly not good enough for her. But the play seems like a comedy, so...yay?
Measure for Measure has the just, lawful Duke put back in power, the wicked chancellor Angelo punished and made to marry his forgotten sweetheart, and the virtuous Isabella gets to marry the Duke. Great! Except... the Duke is kind of an amoral fellow who sits back and watches his own city fall apart, any woman getting married to Angelo should not consider that a happy ending, and Isabella is a nun-in-training who Does Not Like Men, loathes the thought of sex, and she and the Duke have practically no interaction before he says they'll get married.
The ending does make it ambiguous as to whether or not Isabella actually accepts the proposal, mind.
In the case of Angelo's sweetheart, the Duke initially offered to marry her to Angelo and then execute him, thus letting the woman inherit his considerable amount of money and become a very wealthy widow (a position which apparently was very good for women, in that time period). For God-knows-what-reason, she insists on marrying Angelo and keeping him alive.
Wicked, though that case might be intentional. Sure, Elphaba and Fiyero survive, but they can never come back to Oz, and Glinda is stuck as a Stepford Smiler, believing everyone she loved to be dead.
Love Never Dies tries for a Bittersweet Ending: Meg accidentally kills Christine, but she dies in the Phantom's arms, affirming her love for him, and their son Gustave is willing to accept him as his father. But nothing suggests that the Phantom is fit to be a father to the boy — after all, he's a mentally deranged murderer. Meanwhile, Raoul (who, alcoholic and gambler though he may be, did raise the boy for ten years) is presumably returning to France alone without even the money he needs to pay his debts, and while Meg's fate is never revealed, it's likely that at best she'll be sent to prison for what she did. And according to the original prologue of the London version, the beautiful Phantasma amusement park subsequently burns down and its freaks, shunned by the "ordinary" world, live in its remains! Where did the owner and his son go?
It doesn't help that the Phantom pulls a bit of a Karma Houdini in all this; he manipulates and destroys everyone around him and gets the woman he loves killed, and in return he gets...a loving hug from his son. Yay?
Steambot Chronicles can end in one of two different ways: either the villain and his right hand are killed and his plan to obliterate society thwarted, or the player can descend into cackling supervillainy and carry out the villain's plan himself. The former is infinitely more depressing than the latter, as it involves the revelation that the society you fought so hard to save is in reality a corrupt, decadent sham of a civilization whose overeliance on technology was slowly killing the planet. The Big Bad and his dragon just wanted to rebuild society and get justice for the Big Bad's brother's death, and the game ends with the Globetrotters permanently disbanding, their members becoming broken, bitter shells of who they once were.
Crusader of Centy: In a game which not only breaks its aesop, but jumps on the pieces a lot of time has been spent setting up that monsters aren't evil, and just want peace, except when you have to fight them, which you spend the entire game doing (again, really Broken Aesop), with scenes with them begging you to find way for humans and monsters to live in peace... You go back to before humans existed and send all the monsters off to their own world, because Humans Are Bastards, and will never, ever accept them. This is meant as a happy ending, evidently. Though one could argue that the alternatives are worse...
Like a lot of works that feature both reality warping and a "face reality" Aesop, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance ends with the characters returning to the real world and facing all the problems they'd previously tried to escape from. This makes a certain degree of sense in the Japanese version, but the English translation puts less emphasis on how many people are suffering in Mewt's world, and more emphasis on the idea that perhaps said world is just as real as their own, making the whole thing somewhat pointless. What's more, Doned is still crippled.
Aribeth's story in Neverwinter Nights ends with her spirit earning its way into heaven by helping the wounded in the aftermath of Mephistopheles' attack in the second expansion pack, but it's pretty ambiguously 'happy' given the degree of crap she had to go through and the magnitude of the fight she put up to remain a good person that apparently didn't matter to whatever authority consigned her to hell based on actions taken under mental influence in the first place. Not to mention that the leadership of Neverwinter doesn't answer for unjustly executing two staunch champions of the city as scapegoats, which means none of the wrongs anyone ever did Aribeth were addressed.
In the sequel, there are hints that the Hero of Neverwinter had a severe falling out with Lord Nasher and walked away from the city. If you accept that the Hero of Neverwinter is also the same person as the protagonist of last expansion pack, then its likely he walked away due to the fact that the city was demonizing his two good friends, Fentwick and Aribeth, who he knows are generally innocent of the crimes laid against them.
Sonic Adventure: Sonic and friends sit in the middle of Station Square, congratulating themselves on beating Chaos and stopping Eggman's evil plan...but the city has been completely destroyed, and there may be thousands, if not millions of people dead. And Eggman gets away!
When you think about it, this is particularly hard on Tails, whose character storyline ends with him saving Station Square from Eggman's "if I can't have it, no-one will!" revenge plan to nuke the place. Then again, it might be easier to rebuild from a flood than a nuke...
The good ending of Eversion plays this for laughs—the princess turns into a monster, but the hero becomes a monster as well, and the two live happily ever after.
God of War III: After killing anyone and everyone who has ever even vaguely pissed him off until there is nothing left of the world but a charred, storm-swept wasteland, Kratos discovers that he has accidentally become the physical repository of the concept of hope, released from Pandora's Box. Instead of giving it to the ghost of Athena to rebuild mankind on her terms, he commits suicide to release it to all of mankind... The currently busy with drowning, being riddled with plagues and locust swarms, tormented by the dead returning from the graves and having no afterlife, having to escape fire falling from the sky, ravaged by constant lightning strikes and uncontrollable storms and living in a world without sunlight, order or gods of mankind. Literally, the only thing they have left is hope. The only brightside is that without the tyranny of the Olympians, the world can finally heal and start over.
According to IGN, the whole thing is supposed to play out as a Twisted "Comedic" Tragedy, where the main character makes all the wrong decisions; fighting the gods, killing the gods, feeding innocent people (more than one in this game) to death traps, and leaving the power vacuum without a successor. It's heavily implied that this is not any kind of happy or downer ending; Kratos WON... and that's a bad thing.
There's also the knowledge that even though Link went back in time and created a new timeline where Hyrule wasn't burned and conquered by Ganondorf, the original timeline is still going on, one where the people are finally free, but a lot of them are dead, the castle is completely destroyed in a lake of lava, and the Hero of Time has vanished and thus can't help them anymore, leading to the flooding of Hyrule when Ganondorf resurfaces.
Even then, the new timeline still has to face the ravages of Ganon at least twomore times.
Skyward Sword ends with Link and Zelda settling down at the temple where the Triforce is stored, storing away his sword and the ability to travel to any area other than the temple grounds, saying farewell permanently not only to those who sacrificed their lives for their cause, but also the entire population of Skyloft (including her father) and their soul mate birds, essentially giving up every single aspect of their lives in favor of being together. Also, Demise's spirit lives on and he will attack many more times, but at least that's a story for prior games.
The next shot after Zelda suggests remaining on the surface is their Loftwings (and by the distinctive colors, they're definitely theirs) taking off and returning to the sky without them. Loftwings are never seen again in "later" installments.
Since the entire reason Skyloft was created was as a refuge for the Hylians from Demise's forces, it can be assumed that the rest of the populace followed them, leading to the founding of Hyrule - this is chronologically the first game in the series, after all. Likewise, the Loftwings are said to be born of Hylia's divine protection, so their role is over once the surface becomes safe for the Hylians again.
The Hero has beaten the Big Bad in Fragile Dreams and is set to journey with the heroine to find other survivors in the empty world. What makes this an example is the ending dialogue features a voiceover of the aged hero, with many implications he's at the end of his life, his female companion has died and he's back to square one of being alone again. The game ends following his monologue; needless to say, players weren't exactly pleased with this outcome and the hero's statement.
In the 1st Degree has several endings, and the best ending is to convict Tobin of first-degree murder and grand theft. It sure sounds like a happy ending. Well, until you start wondering what will happen to Ruby, Simon and Yvonne as a result of all this. The art gallery is shut down, Simon is back to his old job, Yvonne's career and reputation are probably sunk, and Ruby now has no boyfriend and it is uncertain what she is going to do now. Then again, the game is a simulation of a murder trial and it was likely trying to show that you can get the defendent punished to the full extent of the law, but the people involved in it will still be left to pick up the pieces.
At the end of Portal 2, Chell is finally set free by an emotionally exhausted GLaDOS and dropped off in the middle of a wheat field, the Companion Cube from the first game by her side. Good for her!... Except the Portal games take place in the same universe as Half-Life, meaning that Chell is likely now living in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by tyrannical aliens from another dimension, overrun by monsters and zombies, with no weapons or knowledge of how to handle herself in a Combine-run society. Given, there is some timeline confusion between Portal and Half-Life, but the fact that the Borealis is missing from its loading dock in Portal 2 confirms the Combine Invasion has already happened in Portal's timeline.
Hey, now, we may not have seen much of himfor a little while, but have a little faith in Gordon Freeman. Seriously, the wheat field she's in looks too even and cultivated to be wrecked by the Combine or anything from Xen, and at the end of the Art Therapy DLC you can hear a man's voice yelling outside—humanity's made it. It's a Bittersweet Ending, but a hopeful one.
Then there's Gla DOS: After a game and a half of being a murderous rogue AI, we find out she has a soft side, the recorded personality of Caroline, Cave Johnson's trusty assistant. As soon as she gets the chance, Gla DOS deletes Caroline from her mind. From her point of view this frees her from emotion and allows her to devote all of her attention to testing, but from our point of view she's just destroyed the only good thing about her.
Various lines from 'Want You Gone' (the song in the credits) imply Gla DOS didn't really erase Caroline.
And what about Wheatley? Sure, he may have tried to kill Chell all through the second half of the game, but it is made very clear that he isn't evil, just incredibly stupid. He is also arguably one of the most charming and lovable video game characters of all time. At the end of the game he is left to drift through space forever, wishing that he just had the chance to genuinely apologize to Chell. Oh, and his only companion is a corrupt personality core whose only coherent thoughts are "Gotta go to space!" and "I'm in space!" Sure it was fun defeating Wheatley, but at what cost?
Final Fantasy VIII ends on an upbeat note, with Squall having made substantial progress in overcoming his emotional issues, Ultimecia defeated, and Time Compression thus prevented. Unfortunately, the Stable Time Loop means that Ultimecia's rise in the future, and her subsequent reign of terror up until her death at the hands of the protagonists, are inevitable.
Depends a little bit on your interpertation of the epilogue in Tales of the Abyss. If you think/support Luke coming home, and Tears' tears being from joy, then you win. If you support Asch coming home, and Tears' tears being from the realization that she'll never again see the man she loved, then this fits it pretty well. Either way, though, Natalia has lost someone close to her. You canTake a Third Option and choose to believe the person who came back was a Split Personality Merge of Luke and Asch, either of which leaves the ending happy but complicated.
In Max Payne 2 The Fall Of Max Payne, Max lays in the destroyed Inner Circle manor and mentions a dream about his dead wife, who is dead but "that was alright". But the closest thing he had to a living spouse/girlfriend/what have you is dead, anyone who can explain anything is dead including the extremely powerful Alfred Woden, who had connections to senators. His death, and the death of Detective Winterson are going to be in all likelyhood put squarely on Max's shoulders. So not only is he going to be a scapegoat for the death of these powerful people, but also justly prosecuted for the death of a detective with a blind son, who is now an orphan. An Ex-Cop is going to be sent to jail, and we all know how well they go over there. This was probably intentional given the narrative, but it's something of a miracle that a sequel was produced at all that did not involve Max getting shanked to death in the first thirty minutes.
If you finish the game on the hardest difficulty, the final Noir cutscene ends with Mona waking up, implying that this could be an Earn Your Happy Ending.
The third game runs with the "Mona is dead" ending as canon and goes out of its way to point out how unhappy Max was, with or without her. Enforced Trope?
Max did later find a recording proving Winterson to be corrupt and working with the Big Bad, which would serve as evidence that his killing of her was justified. Of course, he found this after he killed her, meaning that such a claim of justification is dishonest. This is arguably the point, though; Max himself states that learning of his vindication only made him feel worse.
MOTHER 3 ends with the corrupted world being destroyed by a benevolent Eldritch Abomination, and then cuts to total blackness. However, you can still walk around in it, and you soon discover that everyone made it out alive. You can talk to the other characters, who are apparently right there with you, and most of them seem relieved that they no longer have to live in that Crapsack of a world. However, given the fact that you're all in a black void, and the world was just destroyed, you all may very well be floating through space. Plus, nothing can change the fact that Lucas's Mother and Brother are dead.
All the cheeriness from the ending of Pikmin 3 fizzles away when you realize that even though Olimar makes it off the planet alive, he still failed his mission, left his partners to die, and ultimately screwed over his employer. In short, it's a happy ending for Koppai, but not for Hocotate.
The first ending to the original Kingdom Hearts mildly fits this trope, as the ending was intended to be bittersweet either way. The final cut-scene shows Sora and Mickey sealing the door to (then referred to as) Kingdom Hearts with Riku's help, and Sora has a sort of spiritual talk with love-interest Kairi, desperately getting out that he will indeed find his way back to her somehow, before they are symbolically and spiritually separated as the fragments of worlds realign to their original places, and Sora has saved the universe! Fridge Horror sets in when one realizes that a defenseless best friend Riku and King Mickey have been trapped permanently in a dimension populated entirely by an army of Heartless monsters, and that Sora and the party are either in some zero-space between worlds (since they were not restored to their "proper homes" as the end montage shows for everyone else, even making a point of showing Kairi alone on the island), or at worst, since their final showdown was on a patchwork planet made up of what was left of the worlds devoured by Heartless, they may have been left in cold, dark space to die without a planetary body to sit on, and their spaceship, made up of the old barriers between worlds? Yeah, that barrier has been restored, presumably with their spaceship.
This ending disturbed the American representatives at Disney so much, that in the American release, a game-footage Coda was tacked onto the end of the stunning FMV ending, signaling that Sora and co. may not be home, but they're at least alive and "looking for Riku and the King" implying they too survived.
At the time, Kingdom Hearts was a stand alone Square game never intended to become the multi-part, multi-platform series it's known as today. When that decision was made, Square released a THIRD version, Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix, which attempted to lay out explanations and Chekov's Guns for establishing why everyone didn't die after the final battle, which are still (mostly) considered canon.
Xenogears. Sure, you rescue Elly and reunite with all of your friends, but in the end Krelian ends up with exactly what he wanted too, and nearly the entire population of the world is either dead or turned into painful mutants and absorbed into Deus.
Mass Effect 3's original ending caused more than a little backlash among fans for various reasons, but sticking to just this trope:
The Mass Relay network is destroyed. This method of faster-than-light travel is absolutely essential to galactic civilization. There's no indication that the technology or knowledge exists to repair or replace relays, and it's treated as something of a surprise earlier in the trilogy that a since-extinct race was able to build their own relay. Without them, galactic civilization as the player has experienced it for three games is essentially destroyed.
A DLC for the second game shows that when a Mass Relay is destroyed (by crashing a giant asteroid into one), it releases energy comparable to a supernova, and also destroys the star system it occupies. The method used to destroy the entire network in Mass Effect 3 gives no indication that it avoids this side effect, so on top of destroying civilization, it also looks like trillions of people die.
The player's companions seemingly survive the initial event, but wind up stranded on an apparently uninhabited planet. In addition, only three (seemingly randomly chosen) characters are definitively shown to survive.
One of the three endings, Destroy, kills every robotic character in the galaxy, on top of destroying the Relay network and maybe destroying star systems with relays.
The "best" of the three possible endings, Synthesis, does a poor job of explaining why it should be considered the best. note The clearest indication to this effect is the rather meta fact that it is simply the most difficult to unlock. Supposedly somehow fusing organic and inorganic life into one greater whole, the only actual effect it is shown to have is to cover organisms in a glowing green circuitry pattern and make their eyes (if they have them) glow green.
To BioWare's credit, the free Extended Cut DLC, which extends the ending cinemas, addresses at least these issues, by retconning it so the Relay system is only damaged, not destroyed, definitively showing it can be repaired, and including scenes showing civilization rebuilding after the war. However "Destroy" is confirmed to wipe out the Geth and kill Edi (who is added to the montage of fallen comrades). Futhermore synthesis is apparently shown granting husks sentience. The horrific implications of Cannibals, Banshees and worse abominations being made self-aware didn't escape fans.
The best ending in Puella Magi Madoka Magica Portable has Madoka successfully avoid a contract while the other four girls defeat Walpurgisnacht. The story then ends with the girls having a Ship Tease-laden tea party, happily smiling and joking at each other. However, since Madoka didn't make a contract, millions of girls are still dying of despair, humankind is still plagued by witches, and the five main characters are probably going to all die in a few years after their Grief Seeds start to run dry.
To the Moon ends with Johnny fulfilling his wish of going to the Moon with the love of his life, River. But... it's all a Dying Dream, Johnny's twin brother, Joey, remained dead in the real world for most of Johnny's life, the real Johnny dies without knowing what his wife, River, was trying to tell him, while the real River died knowing Johnny never remembered his first meeting with her, something she was desperately trying him to do so for most of her life. The whole uplifting ending never happened in reality.
Transistor ends with Red finally stopping the Process, but not before all of Cloudbank and its citizens have been processed. At this point, she has the power to remake the city however she wants, but instead chooses to return to the man in the Transistor's body and kill herself with it. But then the credits sequence starts getting surprisingly upbeat until it's revealed that Red killing herself with the Transistor resulted in her getting processed as well, and she can spend the rest of her life with the man in the Transistor in the Country.
Bastion's Restoration ending, which hits the Reset Button on the entire plot and goes back to before the Calamity happened. However, it's heavily implied (especially in the New Game+, where Rucks starts having moments of deja vu during his narration) that history will simply repeat itself and the Calamity will just be triggered again, trapping everyone in a "Groundhog Day" Loop until the Kid chooses not to reset everything.
In Silver Chaos, Adonis and Might have to die in order to be together, then reincarnate and lose the memory of each other. A small déja vu will be left, though.
In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors the upbeat "love conquers all" vibe becomes Fridge Horror when you realise Word of God has outright stated that Junpei not only will never, ever find Akane again, but he'll also never give up and her, and spends the rest of his life futilely trying to be with her again.
And guess what sequel game Virtue's Last Reward confirms? That Junpei does destroy his own life trying to find Akane again, that he endangers his adopted son doing so, and that after he finally reunites with her he realises that the innocent Akane he knew is gone.
The True End of Kara no Shoujo seems to have been shooting for the bittersweet feeling that most True Ends have, but fridge logic kind of shoots it down. First of all, about half the cast is dead. Second, Reiji's sort of girlfriend Toko is among them. Third, he's still alone. All he has that he didn't have before is closure over his dead fiancee.
Red String ends with Makoto and Miharu getting engaged. The author would have you believe that this is the best outcome for all parties, but anyone with more than five brain cells can easily point out the problems with this. Makoto has just thrown away his very good and stable job to be with her, which he totally didn't need to do because he is marrying into the family anyway. He has savings, but those things aren't limitless and he will eventually run out, which has lead many fans to believe that he will sponge off of his very wealthy parents and avoid getting a job so he can be with Miharu all the time. Miharu, meanwhile, has no stable goal in life (besides shopping, eating and dating) and no job skills besides a waitress, which is a mediocre pay at best. Neither of them show any real chemistry with one another besides heavy petting and sexting, and they avoid actual, meaningful communication like the plague. They are co-dependent to a fault and almost consciously refuse to see the consequences of their actions towards one another and others. It tallies up to two selfish, petty and immature individuals who won't make it past the honeymoon stage and will eventually become broke and destitute due to their own stupidity.
Most issues of Sonichu (at least from Issue #5 and onwards) end with the author's Self Insert character pummeling anyone he feels has wronged him, even if they didn't or had good intentions, and calls it a job well done. However, the entirety of "Director Amenities" consists of him engaging in a bloody massacre of his perceived enemies (and brainwashing a few into compete loyalty), ending with him as a dictator with godlike powers. This is also considered a happy ending, and the story to come after this one is a Christmas Episode.
Guy in Green Chair: "Happy end"? What the hell is "happy end"?
The ending of Starship features Bug accepting his bug form and getting his true love February, Tootsie and Mega-Girl getting married and everyone saving the bug world from the G.L.E.E. Happy right? Well, what happens when the G.L.E.E. comes back and investigates? Where do the Rangers go from here, are they stuck on the planet? Mega-Girl is still a robot. So what happens when Tootsie ages and dies while she stays the same? And Bug is still a bug so he and February have, at most, probably a week together.
Funny Business ends with the main character Jeanette brought down to normal and erasing any memory of what she could do before. Perhaps her way of avoiding potentially Jumping Off the Slippery Slope rather than simply resetting it just enough to erase the world's memories of finding out what she could do. She could have gone back to the playground after either way. As it is, she took away her inner conflict by effectively crippling herself within her little world.
Actually, The Ren & Stimpy Show is stacked with these. The banned "Man's Best Friend" ends with Ren beating his owner George Liquor to a bloody pulp with an oar... after which he commends Ren for being such a good guard dog and the cartoon closes with them dancing along with Stimpy to upbeat Raymond Scott music.
In "Rubber Nipple Salesmen", the two finally manage to sell some rubber nipples after many failed attempts. The surburbanite couple that purchased them kicks Ren and Stimpy out the door and on the backs of a couple of crazed bulls who then ride off into the distance.
Homer: Well, saying I'm sorry won't bring him back.
Marge: The fortune-teller said it would.
Homer: She's not the boss of me!
Home Movies has an in-show example in Kafka: The Musical: "Hello Franz Kafka! My name is God! I think you are going to like it here!"
The ending for the Adventure Time episode "Tree Trunks" ends with the eponymous character of the episode, an elderly, grandmotherly elephant, finally eating the crystal apple she traveled alongside Finn and Jake, who kept putting their lives on the line to prevent any of the many monsters in the Evil Forest from harming her. As soon as Finn asks her how it tastes, she suddenly explodes. However, after a few seconds of Finn and Jake staring blankly, it soon cuts to Tree Trunks merrily dancing along inside the crystal. Later subverted in "Crystals Have Power" when we learn what really happened to her.
The infamous Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon "There's Good Boos Tonight" has Casper befriending a cute little fox, only for the fox to be killed by hunters... but it's okay, the fox comes back as a ghost so they can be together forever. To some this makes it suck because it effectively renders the pathos over the fox's death meaningless. To others this makes it suck because he's still dead (in the way "The Little Match Girl" is far from a happy ending.) But Casper's technically "dead" too, so it's anyone's call.
Ben 10: Omniverse: the Inkursian invasion Story Arc is concluded in Frogs of War, where it turns out all that happened was a Batman Gambit by PrincessAttea all along to overthrow her father Emperor Milleus. By the end of the episode, she agrees to leave Earth with the Inkursian Empire in exchange for the Plumbers keeping her daddy in custody, which is presented as an acceptable, if not entirely happy, ending. The thing is, in previous episodes, it had been clearly established that Attea was much worse than her father, being an Axe CrazyPsychotic Manchild motivated by Rape, Pillage, and Burn whereas her father was a more pragmaticGalactic Conqueror. In fact, she almost blew up Earth For the Evulz in her introduction episode. Now, granted, she is sort of in a Dating Catwoman situation with Ben, so she will most likely avoid attacking Earth again, but that's little consolation to the rest of the galaxy.
The VeggieTales episode entitled "Madame Blueberry" is surprisingly shocking and rather brutal, considering how light-hearted the series was at this point. The episode details of how the titular character goes around buying things in hoping that it won't make her feel sad anymore. However by the time she learns that she just needs to be thankful for what she has already, her own house gets destroyed, all of her possessions become worthless, and she herself becomes homeless.
Used most egregiously in the season one finale "Megattack", which ends with the heroes using Heel-Face Brainwashing on almost the entire Urpney army.
Ben 10: Alien Force: The episode Simple had a girl call Ben to her planet to stop two factions fighting a Forever War. Ben managed to settle the war by accidentally destroying one of their most valued statues, pitting them against him, and ending the war for good. The episode ends with the girl comically telling Ben that she and the rest of the planet hates him, and that her life is even worse now as her work hours are longer, however she finds a pile of treasure that Kevin and Argit left behind as part of their war profits and the episode closes with her celebrating. While the war has stopped, it doesn't solve anything. Ben's discussions with the military leaders showed them to be incessantly corrupt Generals who refused to see reason, and even admitted to using the war as a convenient excuse to blame their social and economic problems on. The girl and other civilians had to work long hours producing weapons and had a hard time finding homes. While she get's to keep the money from Kevin and Argit's war-mongering, there are still countless other civilians who're still suffering from poverty because of the pointless draining war.