Ninja Prop


This is where Medium Awareness meets Chekhov's Gun.

There are certain things we're used to seeing in certain media: speech bubbles and captions in comics, wires that make people "fly" in shows, and stage hands that move props and sets around in theater. This last one is where the trope gets its name. The classic outfit associated with Ninja (black, tight suit and a mask with a slit for the eyes) actually comes from stage hands in Japanese theater. They wore black so that the audience knew to ignore them. Imagine the shock of the audience, then, when the non-entity setting the castle walls in place for scene 4 suddenly pulls out a dagger and kills one of the characters.

And thus is named the Ninja Prop. You didn't see it coming, because you were actively ignoring it as just a necessary part of the medium.

Compare Chekhov's Gun. Sometimes invokes Medium Awareness. Perception Filter may be an in-universe related trope. See also Metafictional Device. In videogames, Interface Screw may qualify as a Ninja Prop, especially when the game simulates effects from external sources/other programs. In Comics, Frame Break is the most common form of this trope. A Harsh Word Impact may also be this.

Not to be confused with the variety of stagehand in live performing arts who handle props and setpieces on, off, and around the stage, colloquially referred to as "stage ninjas" due to their all-black clothing and stealthy profession (they have to be quite sneaky and unobtrusive to avoid being noticed by the audience).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In one episode of Slayers, Lina sweatdrops, then grabs the sweatdrop and hits Gourry over the head with it.
  • The sun and moon from Soul Eater being oddly shaped and having faces initially seems like stylization, but in the manga, the characters go to the moon, which is actually shaped like that (it even has nostril caves!) and turns out to be much smaller than the real-world moon and located in the upper atmosphere (assuming this world even has an atmosphere). This was actually shown earlier a couple times, but in an incredibly off-hand manner: the first time we see Maka's father trying to spend time with her he mentions how the sun setting looks tired, then realizes it's a stupid thing to have a conversation about. Crona also comments on the sun sleeping in their Mental World.
  • Every character in Kill la Kill gets an introductory subtitle in massive, red block capital text. Nui ends up leaning against hers upon her introduction, and then stroking Satsuki's hair through a split-screen divider.
  • In one chapter of Dr. Slump, Akane yells at a passing idiot crow making fun of her, then uses the giant exclamation point produced by her shouting to swat the bird away.
  • In one episode of Axis Powers Hetalia, England is giving Russia a Death Glare, complete with several arrows. The next time the camera pans back to Russia, Russia is eating the arrows.

    Comic Books 
  • Used with some frequency in Suske en Wiske: the characters aren't above using panel lines and speech bubbles to improvise an attack strategy.
  • The characters in Astérix sometimes use the comic's panel dividers to support themselves. Also, there are two albums featuring a similar gag, where the bard is sweeping musical notes with a broom as if they were dust.
  • Occasionally happened during John Byrne's run on She-Hulk. Perhaps the most surreal example is Jennifer foiling a villain's attempt to leave her and some civilians trapped in TV land by remembering that she's really in a comic book, ripping a (notional) hole into the page, and escaping alongside her charges across a two-page ad spread back to their "real" world.
  • In an Italian Donald Duck comic, the scholars of ancient Babylon create a machine which amplifies a person's ability to think. This reaches a point where lightbulbs physically manifest above their heads when they have an idea. And then fall down to the ground.

    Comic Strips 
  • A The Wizard of Id strip has a guard in a tower with a Z over his head. The invaders report that the guard is asleep, and go to attack. Cut to the tower, where the guard is holding up a fake speech bubble with a Z on it.
  • Peanuts:
    • A cartoon in Here Comes Snoopy has Snoopy sleeping in a sitting position, complete with Z balloon. As his head started slumping, the Z balloon got tilted on its side.
    • In a cartoon from We Love You, Snoopy, after Schroeder finishes playing the piano and walks off, Snoopy decides to play it himself. Instead of musical notes, the staff overhead is filled with paw prints.
    • There's also several strips (especially during the Nineties) involving Schroeder playing his piano and the music notes being treated as physical objects for various gags.
    • Snoopy once tosses and turns on his doghouse as the alphabet runs by, until he reaches "Z" and is asleep.
  • Given that Medium Awareness and constant violation of the fourth wall make up a good chunk of the strip's humor, it should be no surprise that Pearls Before Swine does this regularly.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Loaded Weapon 1, during the climax, Colt sneaks into the villain warehouse and two German, Nazi-esque guards exchange small talk, complete with subtitles. However, after they leave the scene, the subtitles remain, and Colt trips on them like they're part of the scenery.
  • Spaceballs:
    • After having performed an Indy Hat Roll, the heroes find themselves surrounded by Spaceball guards. Then an officer comes to gloat, but he realizes with dismay that the guards have instead captured their stunt doubles.
    • During the fight between Lone Star and Dark Helmet, Helmet swings his Schwartz back and hits a member of the movie crew.
  • While the comic it was adapted from depicted it as a genuine plot device from the start, in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scott appears at first to have picked up the 1-Up life as a throw-away joke before talking to Ramona. But after being killed by Gideon, he uses it as a real extra life to come back to life. Lampshaded by his sister on the phone to their parents, discussing it in a bored and entirely mundane way like it was a gallon of milk.
  • In Goldmember, when Austin Powers and Foxy Cleopatra meet with Mr. Roboto, Austin keeps misinterpreting what he's saying because his white subtitles keep getting partially obscured by white objects on his desk.
  • In the 2009 live-action Lucky Luke movie with Jean Dujardin, Luke is seen standing at the gate of a gorgeous colonial house (his friend Cooper's home) which is obviously a matte painting. Then a black servant invites Luke to follow him, and as he steps away we find out that he was already inside the house and that the painting is an in-universe artwork.
  • As an obvious Shout-Out to the Spaceballs example above, being done by the same director: in the climactic duel of Robin Hood: Men in Tights between Robin and the Sheriff, at one point Robin misses a thrust and goes through a "tower window", which accidentally skewers a stage-hand's hotdog. He awkwardly apologizes and returns it, and the fight continues as if nothing happened.
  • A mild example in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. A very short way into the factory's tour, the group finds themselves at the end of a long hallway. Forced Perspective is a common Hollywood trick to make something appear larger than it is, and one would expect that to be in play here. It; the hallway is surprisingly short, and by the end of it Mr. Wonka has to crouch down to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling.
  • In There's Nothing Out There a character swings to safety on a microphone boom appearing on screen "by mistake".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    • Episode 14 has a scene where a woman is being interviewed about a gangster. Of course, like in many Monty Python skits the woman is played by a man in drag. So the audience would just think of this as the case here... right up until he says "... and what's more, he knew how to treat a female impersonator."
    • Raymond Luxury-Yacht (pronounced "Throatwobbler Mangrove") appears in two Python sketches, played by Graham Chapman wearing a very large false nose. In both sketches, Raymond treats it as his real nose, only for the other character to pull it off and point out how ridiculous it is.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "200", there is a segment re-imagining the pilot as a marionette show, in the style of Team America: World Police. Everything is going fine until the team go through the Stargate for the first time... at which point the wormhole closing severs their marionette strings, and they fall in a heap on the other side. It should be noted that the strings originally weren't too noticeable on screen, and had to be digitally enhanced to be more visible, in order for this gag to work.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place: Justin is sitting with his girlfriend in front of fake French scenery. Because this is what one would expect as French scenery in a low-budget show such as this, this seems completely natural... until it is revealed that this actually is a fake French scenery in-story that Justin set up in the sub shop.
  • Also, in one episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot, the first scene is of a man in full winter garb wandering over a noticeably cloth-like snow floor with a white background and fake snow falling. It was distractingly fake, but since international flights to Antarctica would be expensive for a film crew, the audience ignores it. Until the camera pulls back to show it is merely a film set, with fake snow being blown with a large fan. The episode is about the actors from this badly-made movie.
  • Similar to the Tex Avery example below, during one of the obligatory episode-ending Chase Scenes of The Benny Hill Show, a stray hair is seen trembling on the left side of the screen. That is, until Benny Hill suddenly calls for a stop to the chase, and then grasps said hair before tossing it away.
  • In Arrested Development, George Michael is asked by his father how "Fakeblock", a program that can supposedly prevent piracy and take images of yourself off the internet, works. George Michael gives a string of technological-sounding gibberish. Turns out it's also gibberish in-character; a program doing that is impossible and George Michael was just making his explanation up.

    Puppet Shows 
  • In one of the Swedish Chef sketches on The Muppet Show, the Chef is trying to get his chicken to lay an egg. After it looks like she has, he angrily declares that the object is not an egg but a ping-pong ball. The humor is, of course, that the audience would expect the ball to double for an egg in the sketch, making it surprising when the Chef refers to what it really is.

  • The narrator in Into the Woods. Counts as a prop because he's forcibly pulled out of his narrator role and used as a prop, that is, the characters sacrifice him to an enraged giant.
  • In The Pirates of Penzance, there is a part where the Pirate King engages in a sword fight with the baton-wielding conductor of the orchestra. This was originally improvised by John Clark, the actor who originated the role on Broadway. Sullivan, who personally conducted the orchestra during the opening performance, so enjoyed hamming it up a little that he convinced Gilbert to rewrite the script to include it.
  • The Mystery of Irma Vep does this with its use of Loads and Loads of Roles, as two actors portray a total of seven characters in the play. There are only five characters. Two of them are other characters in disguise.
  • The one-act play The Problem by A. R. Gurney has an actress enter with what is clearly a balloon under her shirt and start talking about her pregnancy. The reaction of her husband substantiates the fact that she really is pregnant, and the next 10 minutes are all about figuring out if he's the father. It isn't until the end that it's revealed that it actually is just a balloon, and the entire play was just foreplay between the two.

    Video Games 
  • Infamously used in I Wanna Be the Guy when obvious parts of the background, such as the Moon and a fake Windows error message, directly attack the Kid. As does a save point.
  • Similarly, Final Fantasy VIII has a horribly surreal moment after the characters leave reality: the first thing you see when you get back to your feet is a save point, which multiplies as you step on it. Doesn't do anything else, it's just Mind Screw.
  • Chrono Trigger:
    • One of the enemies you can face in Magus's castle are fake save points.
    • At one point in the Bad Future, you can try to sneak past a couple of monsters as long as you don't make any noise. The chime from touching the save point will wake them up.
  • The original Battletoads had Space Invader expies who wouldn't attack your toad directly, but instead fly up to the HUD and literally steal blocks from their life meter.
  • One of the first things revealed about Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was that Deadpool has a special attack where he grabs his life bar and pummels his opponent with it. That's his level 3 Hyper Combo and he wields his Hyper Combo meter as well.
  • Also appears in Syonbon Action. The clouds come to life and kill you if you happen to jump into them.
  • In M.U.G.E.N, Light Yagami reads his opponent's life bar to see what their name is so he can write it in his Death Note.
  • Metal Gear Solid: During the fight with Psycho Mantis, he uses the controller against the player. You've got to switch it to the second controller slot on the PSX.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum features a vicious Interface Screw where the Scarecrow's Fear Gas causes the game to apparently crash and restart, complete with graphics glitches that make the player worry the game's burned out their graphics card.
  • The Humbug series has this as a major element of gameplay, along with cheating. Examples include standing on the "You Have Died" message boxes, manipulating background scenery, and taking things from posters.
  • An astoundingly creepy Ninja Prop can be found in the P.T. teaser for Silent Hills. At the game's start You Wake Up in a Room that's mostly dark and hear strange vaguely-philosophical rambling, and you're left to assume it was the Player Character's internal narration. Once you get a flashlight and go back to the room, shining a light on the darkened corner shows it was actually coming from an in-world source—specifically, a bloody paper bag.
  • Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number features one of these during The Son's hallucinogenic rampage at the end of the game, where his portrait suddenly opens wide and inhales his own overhead sprite to take him to the next part of the level.
  • Xenogears: The save points are actually surveillance devices that the Solaris authorities use to watch over ground population. Because you keep saving your game, The Empire and The Big Bad can keep tabs on you and know everything about you.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ever17: You don't see face of the main character, you don't hear his voice. It's okay, many Visual Novels are like that... Then comes The Reveal.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner has a Strong Bad Email entitled "Virus", in which a virus infects the entire website, resulting in Reality Warping. At one point Strong Bad is able to run right out of the flash video file, and into the black webpage background beyond (and the entire video moves when he tries to jump back in). Homestar also manages to pick up the text links beneath the video. In fact, both the background and links are part of the video (and in the case of the links, perfectly functional), and the video itself is larger than usual, to encompass the added area. But since these elements look exactly as they normally do, the effect is quite surprising.
  • The original Animator Vs Animation appealed by using this trope in spades on the interface of Adobe Flash, before Medium Awareness became the expected norm for the rest of the series.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick loves this trope.
    • The best example would probably be the diamond from the cast page, which Haley Starshine stole from herself in order to pay for a spell in the main comic.
    • In one strip, a mute Haley holds a mental argument with herself while on the road, drowning out Elan's Blah Blah Blah dialogue. In the final panel, it's revealed that he's literally been saying "blah blah blah" the entire time, hoping to set a new world record in consecutive use of the word.
    • In the comic book compendium of this webcomic, the party uses the narrator to distract the monster guarding the entrance to the dungeon.
    • Lien knew that Qarr was up to no good from his sinister-looking Speech Bubbles (red text on a black background).
    • It's possible to feign death by drawing X marks over one's eyes and lying very still.
  • MS Paint Adventures has had a lot of fun with this, especially in Problem Sleuth. Ace Dick beating an NPC to death with part of the user interface and Problem Sleuth attacking the final boss' healthbars directly both come to mind.
  • To a lesser degree, it also happens in Homestuck.
    • Every character has a different strange Inventory Management Puzzle called a sylladex; many shenanigans are had early on by people trying to get things out of their sylladex that they accidentally buried. But then we get to Gamzee, who, rather than bothering with doing things the hard way, reaches up into the corner of the screen where the sylladex cards are displayed and just grabs it.
    • Caliborn also annoyed everyone (readers included) when he began beating the MSPA website with a crowbar, causing it to fall apart. For bonus meta points, this particular crowbar had been much earlier identified in-story as an artifact which cancelled out temporal shenanigans, which the webcomic makes heavy use of.
    • The "Prospit" and "Derse" text introducing those planets in act 6 are shot in two angles: one like the original front on angle that was used for the Beta Kids and Trolls; and another from the side that gives the letters depth, as if they are actually hovering next to their respective planet.
  • Nemen Yi from Keychain of Creation uses the page dividers (gutters) as a throwing weapon.
  • Cyanide and Happiness uses this frequently.
  • One of the competitors in the Coliseum Original Character Battle Tournament had this as his gimmick; he could hop between panels to make quick escapes, and use speech bubbles as shields or weapons. Unfortunately, none of his opponents were Medium Aware enough to twig to what he was actually doing or take him on using his own tricks.
  • A Loonatic's Tale: Flint is somewhat medium-aware and likes to panel-hop in order to get an edge, especially when hunting; in metanarratives outside the comic proper Flint is full-on medium-aware, genre-savvy, and wash-and-wax.
  • At the beginning of Trigger Star, a jumping mook gets (gruesomely) impaled on his own speed-lines.
  • Sinfest:
    • Squigley's Mushroom Samba-inspired WOW turns into a dove.
    • When Percy sleeps on the back of the chair, with Zs — he rolls off and onto Pooch, and the falling Z turns to an N.
  • The Daily Derp: Derpy using the chapter number to fuel a bonfire.
  • Happens occasionally in Roommates:
    • Like when James noticed that the icon in his speechbubble was out of date and climbed up a panel (using the panel border for support) to fix it.
    • But the best example to date is the vine border that appeared first around panels that were dreams/flashbacks until one page it just broke a panel and attacked somebody. Later they were revealed to be the tendrils of the Shadow Child, so the kid is so to speak a prop ninja.
  • A Running Gag in the Fringe strips of The Hero of Three Faces is that Walter invented those floating-letter signs you get everywhere.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons. Homer is looking at a family portrait where Bart holds up an "I Stink" dialogue balloon behind him:
    Homer: I don't remember saying that.
  • In the Tex Avery MGM cartoon Magical Maestro, a stray hair is seen shaking around at the bottom of the screen — a common problem with films at the time. That is, until the on-screen cartoon singer actually plucks the annoying hair out.
  • Over the Garden Wall seems to take place in a fantasy-laced version of the 19th century, but since the series is both a family cartoon and has many comedic elements already, anachronistic phrases said by the main characters (e.g. references to telephones and highschool) can go over the audience's head. As it turns out, the reason those two sound relatively modern is because they are. The penultimate episode reveals they're from a fairly realistic depiction of the 1980s at the earliest, and although they didn't realize it at the time, they've been Trapped in Another World since just before the first episode began.