A character who, though holding an important position within the world of the story, holds, at best, a minor role and more usually a few lines of dialogue in a single scene. May turn out to be Chekhov's Gunman
or become an Ascended Extra
in other works. Bigger Bads
usually qualify, as do most members of the Omniscient Council of Vagueness
and some occurrences of the Special Guest
. Even the Big Bad
and Big Good
can qualify in some works.
Compare Hufflepuff House
— which is to groups what this trope is to individual characters.
To an extent, this is Truth in Television
. How many of us personally know any world leaders, Fortune 500 CEOs, power brokers or other members of the top echelons of business, government and military?
Unluckily, if one happens to be one of these characters, one may be the target of being Board to Death
. You may also lose out on Nominal Importance
A minor character having a major impact in the story is covered by Small Role, Big Impact
. Contrast with Deuteragonist
, who is the story's second main plot significant character.
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Anime & Manga
- The SEELE Committee from Neon Genesis Evangelion. They seem to basically run the world, but we only see a few of their faces, and only one even has a name.
- The three Admirals of the Time-Space Administration Bureau in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Very important in the setting, but not important enough to even have names or more than one line of dialogue.
- In Naruto you could count the Tailed Beasts and their hosts who aren't the One-, Eight-, and Nine-Tails and their specific hosts. They're a major part of the setting and the goal of main antagonist organization Akatsuki is to capture all of them, yet the Two-Tails and its host are killed in just a couple chapters, the Three-Tails was beaten off-screen and its host was already dead by then (though he turned out to be a semi-important Posthumous Character), and the Four-Tailed host was shown once after being beaten entirely off-screen with the Four-Tails itself never shown, while the Five-, Six-, and Seven-Tails and their deceased hosts were initially relegated to supplementary materials (though the Six-Tailed host got an anime-only filler arc). Eventually, all the dead hosts and their beasts finally appear in the series proper...as super-powered zombies, and though they give the heroes a tough fight, hand Naruto some important plot details and life lessons, and help him achieve his next power-up, the Four-Tails is the only one of them who gets a decent amount of characterization.
- Bleach provides an especially strange example. While the shinigami squad captains (the Soul Society's military) are characterized with enormous detail, the actual government they serve is given a single scene in which all of them are shown to have been secretly murdered by The Mole, and nothing was seen or spoken of it (except some flashbacks of Urahara's backstory and some of the second Non-Serial Movie) until the end of the arc several years later in real-time, reconstituted and passing judgement on that same Big Bad Mole.
- The Soul King qualifies as well. Apparently, Soul Society wouldn't even exist without him, and Big Bad Aizen spends most of the series trying to usurp his position, and only now, in the very last arc of the series, does the reader get to see what he even looks like.
- Parodied in the Excel Saga anime, where ACROSS is secretly run by: That Man, That Man Over There, That Man Over Here, This Man, This Man Over Here, and This Man Over There.
- And other than That Man, they all appear once, for less than a minute, before getting killed by Nabeshin.
- The Five Elder Stars in One Piece are a council of five men who sit at the very top of the government. They appear whenever there is a huge change in the world, such as Luffy defeating Crocodile and the death of Whitebeard, but they aren't shown physically doing much or even been named and yet they decide almost anything related to the Marines, the World Government and the Seven Warlords of the Sea.
- By the same token there is Commander-in-Chief Kong. He has power over the entire military of the World Government, which includes the Marines, the Seven Warlords of the Sea, and all the branches of Cipher Pol. He has had two appearance so far, one of which was canon but not part of the manga proper.
- Prince Eugene of Bokura no Kiseki. His presence pervades the story, as he was the husband of Veronica (who the main character is the reincarnation of) and possibly one of the only people in the castle who knew why Moswick was attacking its ally Zerestria, yet readers know almost nothing about him beyond that he was the Third Prince of Moswick.
- Pretty much the entire membership of the Marvel Comics group named They Who Sit Above in Shadow.
- Also from Marvel are the minor members of Clan Akkaba, in both the 19th Century◊ and the present◊. The Slade and Starsmore families have names (as does a random Giant Mook called Kabar Brashir for some reason), but the others, despite unique designs and ties to one of the biggest villains in the setting, have virtually nothing known about them, not even being named in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.
Films — Live-Action
- Star Wars provides plenty of examples, among them being:
- The Separatist Council's cinematically minor members, namely Wat Tambor, San Hill, Shu Mai,Passel Argente, Po Nudo, Tikkes, Rogwa Wodrata and Miraj Scintel.
- The cinematically minor characters present at the Death Star conference room, namely Cassio Tagge, Antonio Motti, Moradmin Bast, Wullf Yularen, Cass, Tajis Durmin and Nova Stihl, as well as two other unidentified attendees. Expanded on in the novel Death Star.
- Several of the senior members of Quantum spotted at the opera house in Lake Constance, Austria, by James Bond during Quantum of Solace, namely Guy Haines, Gregor Karikoff and Moishe Saroff.
- The unnamed executives of SPECTRE, in the film version of Thunder Ball, one of which gets electrocuted by Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
- General Chang in Tomorrow Never Dies is Elliot Carver's inside man in the Chinese government and is referred to throughout the film as plotting with Carver to become President of China via eliminating everyone ahead of him in a nuclear strike on Beijing; in exchange for supplying said nuke, Carver would gain exclusive control of China's media once Chang took over. Their relationship is suggested to be a Big Bad Duumvirate... except Chang is only in one scene, where he meets Carver to finalize the plot. This may be down to Chang being a villain of another story; Bond meets his Love Interest, Chinese Intelligence agent Wai Lin, as he works Carver's case and she works Chang's, and they team up upon discovering they're Working the Same Case.
- Some of the members of Scorpia in Alex Rider, namely Mikato and Levi Kroll.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the unnamed Prime Minister of England gets one scene to himself, but no mention afterwards. Also, after the end of the series, Kingsley Shacklebolt, a minor but positive character, becomes Minister of Magic.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events gives us Count Olaf's superiors in the arsonists' side of VFD, identified only as The Man With A Beard But No Hair and The Woman With Hair But No Beard. They do get a bit of development later on, when it's revealed that they're the other two judges on the kindly Justice Strauss's High Court but shortly after this revelation they themselves are left to die in a burning building, leaving Olaf as the sole Big Bad in the finale.
- Naturally this happens a lot in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The New Republic's Chief Of State, almost always Leia Organa Solo, will be known, and Borsk Fey'lya and Admiral Ackbar might show up, and if the author is savvier than most Mon Mothma could come into play, but that's almost inevitably it, and the New Republic is always luckier in that regard than the Empire is. Unless the writer is Timothy Zahn, of course. Stackpole's X-Wing Series, having Council meetings as part of the narrative, also subverts this to a small extent. And in Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, the ranking members of Luke's strike team get an unusual level of attention. Those are the exceptions.
- Sort of lampshaded in Wraith Squadron. A pilot would like to be at least somewhat known. Who remembers the name of the head gunner on Ackbar's flagship, Home One? Wedge Antilles says he does. And lampshaded even before that in Rogue Squadron, when a freighter captain complains to Wedge about how everyone works but all the fame and glory stays on a few figures - from who gets remembered, you'd think that the Clone Wars were won by a handful of Jedi and a dozen pilots.
- From Animorphs there's The One. As the leader of the Yeerk remnants and the new Big Bad, he ought to be important, but he shows up for a grand total of four pages and feels tacked on to the story as an afterthought.
- Visser Two is another example. He doesn't show up until the near the end of the series, despite being the second highest ranking Yeerk general. Instead Vissers Three and One take charge of the conquest of Earth.
- There's also the Council of Thirteen, and among them the Yeerk Emperor, who are the actual leaders of Yeerk society and the ones who perpetuate the war and give orders to the Vissers. They are mentioned only briefly, and their only actual appearance is in books told from a Visser's point of view.
- Another K. A. Applegate example is Ka Anor of Everworld. Every other god in Everworld fears him, his Hetwan minions are everywhere, but ol' Ka himself only shows up in one book, and then, only for one chapter.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Westeros is a huge country, and only part of an even huger world. All of this world is shaped by the various ambitions of the rich and powerful seeking greater wealth and greater power, for many, many, many MANY reasons. Plenty of these people are long dead, and plenty more would rather wait at a distance, feign harmlessness or both. Basically, for every supposed power-figure in the realm, you can usually assume there's at least one other, far-less-obvious character who had (and often has) a vital role in their lives or which said figure may or may not be aware.
- 24 provides two examples, both of The Omniscient Council of Vagueness variety;
- In season 5, Graem Bauer's associates seem to be influencial personalities, powerful enough even to scare President Evil Charles Logan, yet never show up again.
- In season 7, pretty much every single member of Alan Wilson's cabal save Wilson himself qualifies. Though, it's possible they may appear in more major roles in season 8.
- Jesse in Supernatural. You mean he's The Anti Christ and super powerful? Wow, he's got to be important. Wait, what do you mean he's only in one episode that doesn't affect the rest of the series?
- Dracula in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. All the vampires look up to him. Buffy readies herself for an epic confrontation...and after that episode, he's never seen or spoken of again.
- The councils that head the Alliance of Twelve and Prophet Five on Alias. Between them, they're the Big Bads of half the series, but most are never named and the heroes' main foes are "middle management" like Arvin Sloane, who ends up taking out both groups anyway.
- In part due to its nature as an adaptation requiring a lot of characters to be Demoted to Extra, this is rather common in Game of Thrones.
- Ser Kevan Lannister, younger brother to the wealthiest and most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms, has a rather minor role. He is even Adapted Out in season 3, when his sons are killed.
- Various lords and ladies of significant importance. For example, Northern families like the Glovers, the Umbers, the Mormonts still in Bear Island, the Cerwyns, and the Manderlys are Adapted Out or Demoted to Extra.
- Aside from Selmy, Jaime Lannister, and Meryn Trant, the Kingsguard as a whole.
- Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe. The House of Peers is the male chorus. The joke is they know they're minor characters — in British government.
- The unnammed Glukkons in the Rupture Farms boardroom in the beginning and climax of Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee.
- Also the unnamed Mudokons that go with you to save Necrum Mines(and you have to save afterwards from a Soulstorm Brew overdose) in Abe's Exoddus.
- The Philosophers and the Wiseman's Committee in Metal Gear - neither are important as anything other than motivation for the more plot-important characters, and the last lot were dead for a hundred years (if they existed at all). Also, Parker and Gardner, or "Anonymous", from Metal Gear: Ghost Babel, who never actually appear in person but drive the events of the whole plot.
- Arpeggio of Sly 2: Band Of Thieves. His initial appearance is a non-speaking role at the party in Rajan's "ancestral palace", his second consists of hearing his voice while Jean Bison talks to him over a speakerphone, while his third and final appearance is a scene near the end of the game, where he reveals his master plan to hypnotize Paris using hypnotic lights devised by the Contessa and powered by Jean Bison's Northern Lights battery to send a Paris addled by spice sold by Dimitri, delivered by Jean Bison and produced by Rajan into a hate frenzy, in order to make himself immortal and able to fly using the Clockwerk frame. However, he is betrayed by Neyla, and (apparently) dies soon afterwards.
- Bang Sishigami from BlazBlue, up till Continuum Shift he was just a funny background guy who just didn't seem to fit in the major scope of things, ridiculed by many, ignored by others, respected by just a few; to the more perceptive however, Bang was being built up with strong connections to grand events since Calamity Trigger, starting with Rachel noticing he had an unnactive Nox Nyctores, just an easy to miss mention of what would be brought up in story with much greater importance at the climax of Bang's story in CS, as of CS's end Bang is now directly and undirectly connected to many plot threads leading to Chrono Phantasma and even to what may happen in the future.
- Video game example: in Tron 2.0, fCon's CEO is never named (for some reason, he even signs his e-mails as "CEO"), is never shown (his underlings interact with him via a camera with a loudspeaker mounted on the ceiling), and only has two or three scenes despite being the person behind the whole evil plot. His three lackeys (Seth Crown, Esmond Baza and Eva Popoff) have much more screen time and can be considered the de facto antagonists of the game.
- Note: while the CEO remains unnamed, one of his e-mails not too subtly hints that he is actually Ed Dillinger.
- Despite being a powerful CO and the possible leader of Orange Star, Nell doesn't really do much in Advance Wars. She hasn't had a single on screen battle, and stays at home in Dual Strike. This maybe because her luck ability makes it hard to design missions around her.
- The Council in the first Mass Effect. You report to them at the end of your mission, and that's it. The player can even invoke this by cutting them off.
- Provided they survive the first game, they get a total of one scene in the sequel.
- They finally get to have a much bigger role in the third game, but even then, it's mainly the non-Council leaders who are taking the lead in the war against the Reapers.
- Before getting his own spinoff game, Zack Fair was very much this to Final Fantasy VII. Zack only appears in two scenes in the 40+ hour game both as part of main characters backstory. It's eventually revealed that after losing his memories, Cloud adapted Zack's past and character as his new identity and assumed it to be the truth.
- Dead or Alive: Hayate is the Muugen Tenshin Clan's leader, a close friend of Ryu Hayabusa, and a pivotal character in each of the DOATEC tournaments. At least, that's what the canon says. But...
- Street Fighter II: The same can be said of Ken, who's only significance to the plot is being Ryu's best friend and sparring partner. Aside from that, his role in the series is inconsequential.
- By contrast, Ryu is at the center of every major plot relevant event and has either fought, defeated, or targeted by every major villain. Sagat strives to reclaim his former glory by defeating him, Bison wants to enslave him, Akuma is determined to make Ryu subcumb to the Satsui no Hado, and (in SF III) Oro takes a shine to him and decides to make Ryu his student. Meanwhile, Ken gets stuck dealing with joke characters like Sean and Rufus.
- It's a telling sign when even characters such as Chun Li, Guile, and Cammy, who each debuted as secondary characters, have all risen to prominence in the series canon. They're always directly involved in investigating Shadowloo and are frequent targets of M. Bison, whereas Ken isn't even a blip on Bison's radar.
- Advanced Variable Geo: As with the preceding examples, Satomi's only significance to V.G.'s plot lies in being Yuka's best friend and sparring partner. The game's events chiefly revolve around Yuka, Tamao, and Reimi, as they try to put an end to Miranda's schemes. Whereas Satomi's story has her simply trying to win the tournament's prize money to pay for her kid brother's medical treatment.
- The Headmaster from Gunnerkrigg Court. He's shown up in two chapters, and his last name was only revealed (indirectly, at that) ten chapters after the first appearance. His first name wasn't revealed until ch. 40.
- In Dominic Deegan, Baaleth the Demon of Greed. He serves to empower some Infernomancers who play a more driving role in the plot, shows up at the end of the arc to declare victory in the war, and then gets killed when Karnak blows him up with the very thing he was after.
- In Noob, Charles-Antoine Donteuil, the creator of the fictional MMORPG in which the story is set, is one of the seldom seen characters.
- The Transformers' Physical God Primus, when he appears at all, is usually a minor character, despite being responsible for keeping the universe in balance and all of that jazz. He usually doesn't intervene directly, but through objects like the Matrix of Leadership. Unicron, his Evil Counterpart, generally takes a more active role by comparison.
- Clone High has the Board of Shadowy Figures, the powerful group of men secretly in charge of the school's cloning program, and who constantly have to keep Principal Scudworth in line.
- Princess Luna of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic in the first season. She was the Big Bad of the pilot episode as Nightmare Moon and after being defeated returned to her position of co-ruler of Equestria with her older sister Princess Celestia. As Luna she got two lines and wasn't even mentioned again until the next season. She did get a focus episode in Season 2 and small parts after Season 1. She also got a rather large part in a Season 3 episode.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- The past avatars, with only four of their names being revealed.
- Many important military officers have been shown, but are rarely given lines let alone names. The most prime example is during the flashback of Zuko speaking out in a war meeting which consisted of about ten high-ranking Fire Nation officers planning a battle, none of them are named nor are they seen again.