Noah: So what are you gonna do? You're just gonna lock your doors and crawl back into your shell? You're one of the good guys, Matt. You have a responsibility. You're not a coward. Matt: You know, some days... maybe you just can't save the whole world. Some days you're better off just getting your own house in order.
The defining characteristic of the Heroic Neutral is simple. They want to be left alone. This extends to close family and Love Interest. Occasionally it may even extend to people in their general vicinity, but past that gets into dangerous "meddling." They are determined and skilled to the teeth, but they just want to live out their lives in peace. Out there, the Forces of Good and Evil may be fighting to the death, but they don't care. He'll turn down Heroes R Us just like he turned down Villains R Us.
It is the job of the plot to make them care. Heroic Neutral tends to be called "Good" mostly because Evil is more likely to mess with them: kidnap their loved ones, threaten their home village, etc. And these types will do whatever it takes to return things to the way they were. Evil starts it, the Heroic Neutral finishes it. And they'll go right back to being left alone until some idiot again tries to mess with them.
Now, the biggest irony is that Evil can't seem to get it into its head that these people don't have to be a threat. Especially if said Neutral has shown more than enough power to kick their asses, this seems to indicate to Evil that they need to recruit or destroy them even more, because surely such power will oppose them eventually. So they preemptively strike, thus causing the very thing they were trying to prevent, because yes, now the Neutral will destroy them.
It can be Justified if the Neutral has already spent most of his life fighting the forces of evil, and now feels they've earned a respite. Needless to say, from the Neutral's perspective it can be rather irritating if the much younger heroes come running to you and expect you to solve all their problems for them. In this case, the Neutral's role may be to provide indirect assistance through some sort of Plot Coupon, a MacGuffin, serving as Mr. Exposition, etc. The protagonists still have to do the dirty work to save the day, but the Neutral has given them the things they need to do so.
Frequently a Retired Badass.
See Badass Bystander, I Just Want to Be Normal, True Neutral, Awakening the Sleeping Giant, and Villains Act, Heroes React. Might carry out a Passive Rescue.
Karmic Tricksters are often Heroic Neutral. May also be a Knight in Sour Armor. If this happens not just once or twice but continually, chances are they're a Weirdness Magnet. See Neutral No Longer for when they finally lose the neutrality.
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Anime and Manga
Genkai of YuYu Hakusho is largely this or at least claims to be. Known throughout the Demon World as the more or less their boogeyman despite only being human, Genkai is implied to have an extensive body count and known as a killer of demons. In her fight against Shishiwakamaru during the Dark Tournament he loudly claims her to be some hero of justice and when she thoroughly beat his ass to the floor she informs him that her techniques were meant as a means to an end and a way for her to get what she wanted and unfortunately a large number of the people that stood in her way happened to be Demons. This is also largely hinted at in her introduction to the series when during her tournament she claims that she'll teach her techniques to whoever happens to win regardless of their moral standings. As she puts it "[she's] a Psychic not a Saint".
Kino, of Kino's Journey, is the episodic version. Kino doesn't care about fairness, or innocence, or revenge, or war, or any of that. The only rule : never to stay in one land more than three days. The plot and various Bus Full of Innocents then work to provide reasons to get Kino's attention anyway. Averted in some episodes where the plot fails and Offscreen Inertia or Inferred Holocaust get involved.
The on-screen side of good in the Tournament ArcZoids: New Century Zero, especially Bit Cloud. We're told that there are people policing Zoid Battles and trying to shut down the Backdraft Organization, but we don't see them until very late in the series. It's only because Backdraft steals or attempts to steal their robots that the Blitz team gets involved, and it's not like the Blitz team are out saving lives or trying to help people in episodes Backdraft doesn't appear.
The main character of Darker Than Black only does his job because his superiors would have him hunted down and killed if he tried anything else. By the end of the series, it's pretty clear he'd much rather live as his Secret Identity than as the badassassassin he is. It takes the Syndicate turning on him anyway and the discovery that they're plotting genocide to get him to act on his own.
Played with in To Aru Majutsu no Index. You'd never know it to look at him now, but Accelerator used to be like this before the story started. Long before he joined the Level 6 Esper project, Accelerator was a frequent target of assassinations and unscrupulous researchers because of his tremendous psychic powers, and was forced to kill to protect himself. This simple desire to be left the hell alone eventually led him to join the Level 6 experiment, under the reasoning that since his powers won't go away the only way the get people to leave him be is to become so powerful that the idea of fighting him is an absurdity. After Touma beats the snot out of him, he becomes a slightly more traditional example, being mainly concerned with Last Order and a small group of his closest associates.
Simon from Gurren Lagann is initially a Heroic Neutral character. Simon is labeled a coward earlier on because he would rather avoid conflict and fighting against oppression unlike Kamina and the others. Kamina later coaxes him out of this mindset.
Kenichi really would just like to get closer to Miu, and maybe complete his training. It's just that the bad guys keep trying to beat him up.
This is a major part of Toru's philosophy in Iris Zero. Due to being an Un-Sorcerer, he was bullied when he was younger, and now prefers to maintain "minimal exposure". Were it not for his Chronic Hero Syndrome, it might actually work; the combination of the two has made him quite the budding Chessmaster out of necessity.
Bleach: Ryuuken Ishida is a quincy of exceptional power who utterly refuses to use his power and wants his clan to be declared extinct with his (deceased) father's generation. He will not support any of the factions that are the movers and shakers of the story and only picks up his bow on one occasion, to restore his son's power when it's destroyed by a Super Mode technique. Why he now just wants to be normal despite his comparative idealism in his youth is all part of his only partially explained Mysterious Past.
One Piece: The Straw Hats. Despite being the protagonists, many of their heroic exploits are a result of someone harming one of their own or someone they consider an ally (aka, a friend). Otherwise they wouldn't have fought at least half the antagonists in the entire series. This is supported by the fact that in spite of their kindness, they're pirates, and are fully aware of it. Luffy himself has stated that while he likes heroes, he doesn't want to be one.
The X-Men are quickly becoming this to the rest of the Marvel Universe, most noticeably during the events of the Civil War. Of course, a community on the verge of extinction isn't likely to get very proactive about concerns outside their own community. However, the team is largely still composed of decent people, so if things really hit the fan, they'll pitch in regardless.
Every Sin City protagonist with the exception of Hartigan is a loner who would rather be left alone. Unfortunately, they always find themselves entangled in a murder mystery or have to help a friend in need.
Spider-Man's entire origin story is about this. All he wanted to do with his newfound powers was have fun and make some money. The murder of Uncle Ben was his Neutral No Longer moment.
Lone Wolf and Cub: Leave the guy and his kid ALONE, already! First 100 assassins sent, died messily. Second 100 assassins sent, died messily. You'd think this MIGHT give the villains a clue; but no; they decided to "compromise" by telling him they'd leave him alone if they just killed his son.
In the films where Godzilla is portrayed as heroic, this is usually his motivation.
Rick Blaine from Casablanca, since he represents America at the beginning of World War II (see Real Life example below). His idealistic younger self fought alongside those resisting fascism, but the expansion of Axis authority and being suddenly abandoned by the love of his life made him cynical and apathetic. He doesn't take sides with the Vichy authorities, the Nazis or the resistance, until the plot of the film awakens the hero within. The German major, equipped with a full dossier on Rick, is Genre Savvy enough to be aware of this trope that he doesn't attempt to convert Rick, just keep him neutral. It doesn't work.
Sergeant Gerry Boyle from The Guard is this till the drug-smuggling ring starts messing around in his town with his people.
The Ents in Lord of the Rings. "We are on nobody's side, because no-one is on our side."
Bleach fanfic, A Protector's Pride, makes Ichigo a textbook case after dealing with the Big Bad of the first arc. Unfortunately it does not last, as separate machinations of three factions bring in the next crisis he is personally interested in resolving.
Valkron from Warriors of the World is hardly willing to help in the search for whatever is threatening the kingdom, not even when offered a reward, and even plans to go into hiding until it blows over. He only becomes Neutral No Longer when he realises his little ragtag party is the last chance the kingdom has left.
In his heyday, the wizard Nicodemus fought bravely against the forces of evil and thwarted their plans many times. Eventually he became tired of the struggle, and retired to Port Blacksand, where almost no one bothered him. Nowadays, Nicodemus hates being bothered by adventurers, especially if they expect him to solve all their problems for them, although he will provide indirect assistance if the threat is serious enough.
You'd think various spy networks and counter-intelligence agencies would figure out that Jason Bourne should be on their "Do Not Call" list by now.
The Ents in Lord of the Rings. Almost aggressively neutral, it's not until Saruman's orcs start pillaging their forest that they even consider intervening in the War of the Ring. Even when they do, it's limited to neutralizing Saruman.
The Eagles are an even better example: they make it clear to Gandalf in The Hobbit that although opposed to evil in general, they are seldom willing to cooperate with Men (as they feed on flocks of sheep tended by Men and Men have attacked them for it). Which of course illustrates how ridiculous the common objection to The Lord of the Rings by casual viewers (why they didn't just get the Eagles to fly them in) is—as Tolkien himself put it, they are not Middle-earth's taxi service.
Waylander, one of the most popular characters created by David Gemmell.
Isana in the Codex Alera series doesn't really give a damn about the country or the government. But if you mess with her family, she will crush you. However, her opportunities to be neutral are restricted more and more as the series goes on and Tavi gets himself involved in bigger and bigger conflicts and she starts having to consider political repercussions.
Ciaphas Cain basically just wants to have a peaceful retirement on a quiet out-of-the-way planet, but the Imperium seemingly needs him all the time and of course his 'reputation' makes them call on him all the more often, a reputation that only grows every time they do. Of course when he's seemingly found his peace, the baddies always seem to come across the galaxy to find him.
Talon Karrde doesn't much care for all this politicking; he just wants to run his shipping business/smuggling ring in peace. When The Empire keeps threatening his crews, breaking business deals, and eventually tries to turn the other members of his smugglers' coalition against him, he takes it kind of hard.
A defining characteristic of Mat Cauthon in The Wheel of Time, if you hate battles, nobles and heroism, you're stuck with them. Eventually escalating to him being the prince of the biggest empire in the world... which they are all trying to fight off.
His childhood friend Perrin Aybara also fits into this, though he seems to be more at terms with being lord of his home valley in the latter parts of the series.
Many of the protagonists in novels by L.E. Modesitt Jr. are basically this; they almost never start trouble, but they always end up being the one to end it. If the bad guys would have just left them alone in the first place, then they wouldn't have had to hunt them down and kill them.
Somewhat subverted in the Recluse novels, as white and black magic aren't so much good and evil as matter and antimatter, so the protagonists' very presence in white mage territory is immensely dangerous to the innocents around them.
This is a subversion because the black council on Recluse knows damned well that releasing exiles is an overt act of terrorism and does it intentionally to power up their own half of the magical spectrum by creating chaos and death far away from their island.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss totally didn't mean to become the symbolic figurehead of a national rebellion...
Live Action TV
Deadwood: Seth Bullock from is an interesting Inverted Trope. He's drawn into heroism not by his desire to be left alone, but by his inability to leave other people alone. You see it right from his first scene. Maybe his alignment is Meddling Neutral?
Firefly: Captain Malcolm Reynolds is a classic example. "There's a lot of fine ways to die. I ain't waiting for the Alliance to choose mine."
Once Upon a Time: Emma was perfectly willing to pack up and leave Storybrooke, leaving her biological son with his adopted mother, but Regina and her chronic case of Villain Ball mixed with her inability to keep her mouth shut pushed Emma enough to stay put, if only to be a pain in the ass and look out for Henry.
The Prisoner: No. 6 is this. All the events of the series are triggered by his resignation from a British Intelligence service. Of course doesn't even last until the end of the opening credits as he is gassed and kidnapped to "The Village" a dystopian prison.
Revolution: The Mathesons just wanted to be left alone. Then in the pilot episode, Monroe Republic came for Ben Matheson, resulting in his death and Danny Matheson being taken. As a result, Aaron is given Ben's pendant and he is told to find Grace Beaumont. Also, Charlie Matheson is told to go enlist Miles Matheson for help in rescuing Danny. It started out as a simple rescue mission, but by episode 11, Team Matheson ends up having to take a stand against the Monroe Republic.
There's a lot of this going on in Dragon Age: Origins. Many of the origins have the Player Character as this (though obviously you can RP them any way you like) - The City Elf Warden just wants her family and herself to not get raped and murdered, the Dalish Elf Warden wants to not die of Darkspawn blood poisoning, and most of the others are sentenced to death or otherwise really just don't have a choice about joining the Grey Wardens. The other trainee Grey Wardens you'll meet are sentenced to death, or interested mainly in protecting family. Of the party members you can get, only Wynne, Leliana and maybe Alistair seem to be genuinely motivated by a pure desire to save the world.
In Dragon Age II, Snarky!Hawke's final rousing speech essentially equates to "Wake up. Save the World. Go to the Pub." Its actually the last bit that bothers them the most, as since The Hanged Man was wrecked, they will have to find another pub first!
Hawke's father, Malcolm, was a mage who fled the Circle and risked a life on the run from the Templars...so he could have a family with the woman he loved. Word of God basically describes him as this - while he believed in mage freedom, he just wanted a quiet life with his wife and kids. The Legacy DLC reveals he was once blackmailed by Grey Wardens into helping them reinforce the prison of a powerful darkspawn through murky means. They had to threaten Leandra's life to make him give in. He retaliated by extorting both safe passage and as much cash from them as he could.
Fenris of the same game is rarely concerned with anything that isn't either a direct threat or connected to his personal hatred of magic and/or slavery. He complains about Hawke constantly risking their life by getting into adventures regardless of cause (moreso if it involves helping mages), advocating Hawke keeping his/her head down and just guarding what they have. Conversation with Varric and Aveline reveal that he barely interacts with anyone outside the party over the seven years of plot.
In Mass Effect 2, it's learned that this is the true alignment of the Geth. The True Geth, that is (the ones you fought are the Heretics who split off from the main faction). Their war with the Quarians only came about due to the Quarians attacking them first after gaining full sentience and according to Legion as long as they're left alone Organics have nothing to fear from them. Which is good, because up until now you've only been fighting 5% of the population which are considered a serious threat in their own right.
Cloud, Vincent, Cid, Yuffie and Red XIII all start as this in Final Fantasy VII. It's actually fairly common for Final Fantasy games to have their character start as this. Hell, only Tifa and Barrett start with good intentions, and even then Barrett's a Good Is Not NiceAnti-Hero.
Shiki in Tsukihime, which is only really a plot point in Arcueid's route. When all is said and done, it turns out he doesn't even really care that much that the vampire is eating townspeople. At least, not enough to risk his own life. He just wants to help Arcueid. And in the 'official' ending and timeline, apparently whatever happened to Satsuki (It's rather vague) majorly pissed him off towards the Dead Apostle Ancestors.
Kylier from Yggdra Union. Because of her background and the way she grew up staring at the aftereffects of mass war, she finds the very idea of it abhorrent and really would rather not have anything to do with the war or the Royal Army. Except for the fact that Milanor, her Love Interest, is one of its members, and she just so happens to be extremely protective of him.
John Marston from Red Dead Redemption. A reformed outlaw who desperately wants to put his past behind him and live a quiet life on a ranch with his family. Needless to say, it ain't that easy for him.
Shinjiro Aragaki of Persona 3. He makes it clear to both sides that fighting Shadows and the conflict between SEES and Strega have nothing to do with him, until Ken Amada is involved. That gives him a reason to fight again.
inFAMOUS has elements of this, particularly at the beginning. Cole just wants to be left alone and to protect his friends. His villainous path actually starts with him deciding to screw over others so he can provide those closest to him with a reliable source of food.
The Boomers of Fallout: New Vegas have no desire to interact with the "savages" of the wasteland and anyone coming close to Nellis Air Base will have to deal with artillery shellings. However if The Courier gets them on his/her side, then they will at least be willing to participate in the final battle specifically for the Courier's sake as well as a chance to take their brand-new B-28 Bomber out for a spin.
Inverted in Portal 2, by the end of the single player campaign, GLaDOS gives up on killing Chell and decides she simply wants to be left in peace. the song ''Want You Gone'' is all about what it is to be Villainous Neutral.
You want your freedom? Take it./That's what I'm counting on.
I used to want you dead but now/ I only want you gone.
Bun-bun from Sluggy Freelance is this all over. While he likes to kill and maim occasionally, just for kicks, mostly he just seems to stay at home and watch TV. However, time after time he'll rise up to fight the forces of evil, not because he wants to, but because the forces of evil manage to annoy him in some small way, like stealing the remote control to the TV or being in any way affiliated with telemarketing. Heck, a lot of the time the bad guys don't even actually do anything to Bun-bun; the other characters make up some sort of minor slight to get Bun-Bun into the fray, or take the more direct approach of offering him persuasive compensation (like briefcases full of money) if he helps. And God help us all when he does...
Torg in "That Which Redeems" is an interesting example in that he becomes this after attempting to lead La Résistance against the Demonic Invaders. It turns out the locals are such Perfect Pacifist People there is no chance leading them in resistance, causing Torg to decide to just to hide out living relatively happily with his new girlfriend and pet rabbit as long as they can survive.
Ronson From The Gods Of Arr Kelaan, he's the god of Apathy and Beer and he doesn't care what most people do, but when people start to mess with his followers and/or friends, they quickly figure out one of the big reasons why the God of Apathy and Beer is the leader of the pantheon.
There are two things Hank Jacobsen of Indefensible Positions is likely to be doing at any given moment: talking about and/or having sex with animals, or telling other people to get off his land. He fights one antagonist faction when it invades that land, and fights the other antagonist faction when it attempts to kill his sister, but he never really joins the heroes, and he doesn't even participate in the final battle.
Arthur of Apple Valley frequently displays signs of this; after triggering a doomsday prophecy back in late 1999, he goes on a heroic adventure... briefly... then returns home and essentially ignores the entire prophecy for nearly another decade as reality falls apart around him. It's only after an army of furries from the dimension next door invade his home town and disrupt his television watching that his brother and girlfriend manage to coax him into even trying to set things right, and even then only just barely.
Shrek just wants to live in his swamp; and later settle down with this Princess turned Ogre. The plot views it differently.
The Runaways of Young Justice. They can't trust anyone, and those they trust would only be put in harm's way if they went to them, so they tend to stay on the sidelines. They did pay their debt to the Team when they rescued them in "The Hunt", and they also helped stop the Reach apocalpyse in the finale, but ultimately they aren't interested in playing heroes as much as getting their own lives in order. Virgil counts as Neutral No Longer when he joins the team after the Reach apocalypse, deciding that he likes being a hero.
Technically, the USA remained neutral through the Second Sino-Japanese and World Wars until the Japanese Empire's simultaneous invasion of the US of American Phillipines and surprise attack upon the US Navy's fleet at Pearl Harbor. For many US of American citizens the attack seemed to come, as it were, out of nowhere. Hindsight tells us otherwise.
A good number of the Allied nations started off this way at the outset of WWII, including neutral countries (such as the Netherlands) which were invaded by Nazi Germany. Even France, Britain (and its commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.). The people of Poland and France didn't really want war with anybody, disillusioned as they were at the outcome of the the ''last'' big war.
This is a rather peculiar incident where FDRJumped at the Call, but Congress (The USA's equivalent of Parliament) and the general population didn't really care to get involved. The first two and a half or so years of World War II, FDR ran all kinds of Batman Gambits to provoke one of the Axis powers (first Germany, then Japan) into attacking the United States; Lend-Lease was originally one of these gambits, but Hitler was apparently too Genre Savvy to declare war (even when the US started destroying U-Boats in the Atlantic). The gambit that worked was an embargo on shipping oil to Japan (Japan relied on the United States for some 70% of its oil supplies); this made the (Imperial) Navy's 'southern offensive' look a whole lot more attractive, as the fleet would soon be quite literally grounded by fuel shortages. Thus the invasion of Malaya and the East Indies, and by extension the Phillipines and the attack on Pearl Harbour to dissuade the USA
Also remember that most Americans of the time viewed Lend-Lease as the best possible way to stay out of it, believing that if Britain and later the Soviet Union were defeated it would only be a matter of time before Germany turned its attentions elsewhere. What's more, re-armament was a way to get the economy going after the devastating domestic effects of the Great Depression.
Arguably, America in the early years of World War II is famous for subverting the hell out of this trope for everything it was worth (such as the Atlantic Fleet's "Neutrality Patrols" against the German U-Boats, or the American Volunteer Group, a supposed group of Private Military Contractors who were given access to top-of-the-line American military equipment to fight for the Nationalist Chinese against the Japanese), and it only worked as far as it went because neither Japan nor Germany had anything to gain by adding an additional full-blown enemy. Once the Japanese launched their attacks on Hawaii and the Philippine Islands (in response to the oil embargo that threatened to stop them cold in Asia), the Godzilla Threshold was crossed and it was no longer worth it to anyone involved to keep up the pretense. America declared war on Japan on 8 December, and Germany declared war on the US in turn on 11 December, allowing the U-Boats to finally retaliate in earnest against the Americans without additional repercussions.
Iran during the 1991 Gulf War. At that time, they just recently earned their peace after they cornered Iraq to bankruptcy during Iran Iraq War, and was not interested in joining the NATO-dominated coalition (it does not help that members of that coalition were supporting Iraq during the Iran Iraq War). For Saddam's part, he knew better than to provoke his long time nemesis.
Kevin Smith has said that while he considered a sequel to Dogma satirizing Islam, he decided against it for fear of his family's safety.