Some creatures are not exactly a thing, because they partake of the natures of two different things. The term for this is "liminality", from the Latin limen
or threshold, and beings who remain perpetually on this threshold are mysterious, uncanny, eerie beings — if the artist uses them for their full potential. They can also appear just for the Rule of Cool
(but beware the dangers of Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot
). This makes this a Super Trope
of many, many, many tropes.
Shapeshifting or other changes into and out of determinate states is still liminal if the transition keeps happening, or if the time in the other state confers a permanent change in the character.
Transitioning out of being a liminal being is difficult if even possible. See the Liminal Time YKTTW
for when transition is normal.
Tropes of liminal beings
Liminal beings that fall between the tropes
Anime & Manga
- Schrodinger in Hellsing, a catboy who, due to being a result of a Nazi experiment, has a loose grasp of causality; he both exists and does not exist.
- Tiresias, when Odysseus consults him in the underworld, manages to hit a trifecta of liminality:
- A ghost, both alive and dead
- A blind seer, both less and more than human in his abilities, and
- Having been transformed into woman and back while alive, both male and female.
- Tobias from Animorphs, with his human and hawk dual natures, plus his Andalite heritage.
- The "scramble suits" worn by drug enforcement agents in A Scanner Darkly were thin membranes projecting constantly-shifting images of different physical and facial features over the bodies of the wearers, to provide anonymity.
- Torchwood had Owen, who died and Came Back Wrong. He wasn't really alive or dead, so he couldn't be killed, couldn't heal from injuries, eat, etc etc
- In one of Aesop's Fables, a bat tries to ally with both beasts and birds, trading on its similarity to both and disavowing the other traits according to whom it's addressing, but after the war, they unify in rejecting it from both groups.
- Ciel from Tsukihime is stuck between life and death, due to not having died after the Big Bad possessed and left her body, like all his previous victims did.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, when Annie and Kat ask Jones whether Zimmy is human, Jones says, not that she is or she isn't, but that she is for all practical purposes. She is in many respects more uncanny and creepy than many of the overtly non-human people about.
- Balto has it verbalized by Boris about the title character. "Not a dog, not a wolf...all he knows is what he is not."