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Never thought it would end this way... Killed by something I can't even punch...
— The Hulk
, referring to the sun
from the Acts of Vengeance
Sometimes your inner demons are all the conflict you need...
Since all fiction essentially narrows down to conflict
between two or more opposing forces, it is typical to represent these forces in the story's characters, with one faction called the protagonists or main characters—usually (but not always
) being the "good guys" (from the perspective of the work, at least
)—and another in opposition to the protagonists called the antagonists, who are usually (but not always
) the "bad guys" (again, from the perspective of the work, at least
Some stories, however, are cut from a different thread. Rather than representing the conflict as the "good guys" against the "bad guys", the central conflict is caused by other forces and does not feature characters in direct opposition to the protagonists. Instead, the forces at work are more intangible and not bound to a set of characters.
This obviously doesn't mean that there is no conflict or tension. It simply means that the central conflict of the work has no characters that are the source of friction. This could mean that the conflict comes from an internal struggle
, such as with addiction, or it could mean that the conflict arises from some sort of natural/scientific disaster
, or from simply trying to survive in a hostile environment
. As long as there are no "bad guys" directly opposing the main characters, this trope applies.
It's possible that one of the characters will be the Hate Sink
: not actually a villain, but someone who makes the characters' lives more difficult to give the audience an outlet for the bad-guy hating.
For example, if Bob is seriously addicted to heroin and the work focuses around his battling of his addiction, then a drug dealer that constantly supplies Bob would not count as the antagonist, even though he is certainly not nice, unless there is conflict generated between Bob and the dealer. In the case where it is not, the work would have No Antagonist.
The trope does, however, require an actual conflict taking place within the story— works with no real conflict, such as sandbox games
, would not apply. Most Slice of Life
works have No Antagonist, due to the conflict being life itself,
but that doesn't apply to all series where the antagonist can easily be someone damaging the life of the protagonist. This trope is also common in Lit Fic
Compare Good Versus Good
, Villainy-Free Villain
. Contrast Big Bad
Note: "No Antagonist" means just that. If one or more sentient beings get in the way of the protagonists, however well-intentioned they are and however justified their actions, it's not an example.
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- Stellvia of the Universe: Has no antagonists whatsoever, as it is about united humanity trying to prevent a cosmic cataclysm that is about to hit Earth.
- A lot of Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki, especially the Slice of Life, films are like this. Some of them have characters who at first seem to be antagonists, but are really not.
- My Neighbor Totoro: The story centers around the characters' exploration of the rural life they are thrust into and its magical title character. The chief dramatic tension comes when a five-year-old girl goes missing, not from any antagonist.
- Kiki's Delivery Service, where the main conflict is Kiki's struggle to forge a satisfying life for herself in the big city.
- Ponyo: The main conflict is the massive storm and flood, and while Fujimoto at first appears to be an antagonist, he's really just an Overprotective Dad.
- Most Slice of Life anime shows follow this trope, such as:
- Lucky Star The only character who could even remotely qualify is Akira from "Lucky Channel", and even then she's more of a jerk than a full-on villain, and never actually opposes the main characters.
- Haibane Renmei fits this. The most common interpretation is that it's a story about a group of angels in purgatory.
- Digimon Tamers follows this trope for the first 13 episodes. It's an unusual example in that the protagonists initial struggle is in how to deal with the fact that Digimon are real, this may have been one of the reasons why the start is widely considered to be slow.
- Welcome to the NHK is about an hikikomori and his friends trying to overcome their psychological problems.
- The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has no opposing force besides Makoto's numerous errors, and most of the plot involves her and Chiaki trying to fix said errors.
- The most central characters in Colorful are flawed, but basically decent people, none of whom could be called an antagonist for the main character. His own worst enemy in the story would be himself.
- In the classic graphic novel The Death Of Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell's mortal enemies the Skrulls did show up, but not as antagonists - they were there to mourn him, along with all the other heroes by his side. He died after losing a fight to the one foe he simply couldn't defeat - cancer.
- Quick and Flupke: There's no real antagonist, unless you consider the policeman who just does his job, or, Quick and Flupke, who are just playing pranks.
- Pierre Tombal: A Gag Series about a grave digger, with no villains.
- Gaston Lagaffe: A Gag Series about an employee in a publishing company. Though he often accidentally creates mayhem it would be a stretch to name him a villain.
Film - Animated
- Bolt: Meddlesome TV executives and dog catchers cause problems for the main heroes, and Bolt initially blames "Dr. Calico" for everything, but in reality there is no central villain.
- A Goofy Movie: Max's principal Mazur and Pete are sort of jerks, but they never really do anything villainous. The main conflict of the movie comes from Max trying to make it to a concert instead of going to the lake with his dad.
- Hotel Transylvania: While a few outside factors interfere with the plot, there's no major threat or villains here, all of the conflict comes from Dracula just trying to keep his daughter safe.
- Arthur Christmas: You might assume that Arthur's brother Steve would become the villain, but he doesn't have any real animosity for Arthur, and really just hates how his father has such unreasonably high expectations of him.
- Brother Bear: Kenai blames a bear for the death of one of his brothers and kills her in revenge, but his own experience as a bear helps him realize that the bear was just a mother trying to get food and that killing her was a prime case of Revenge Before Reason. Denahi, Kenai's own brother, keeps on trying to kill Kenai for most of the film, but that's because he doesn't know the bear he saw next to Kenai's empty clothes was Kenai and instead jumped to the logical conclusion that the bear must have killed his one remaining brother. The plot's major conflicts are essentially the product of multiple misunderstandings.
- The Croods has no real antagonist; the main threat to the eponymous clan of cave-people is the series of earthquakes caused by "The End of the World" that force them to keep moving onward in order to find safe haven.
Film - Live Action
- Groundhog Day: A flawed man is trapped in a time loop, and goes through the same day all over again indefinitely, until he learns to become a better person. The film has no villain, since Phil is at worst a Jerkass Anti-Hero, and the time loop is simply an unexplained event.
- Black Swan: ...Maybe. Nina certainly sees Lily as an antagonist who's trying to usurp the lead role in the ballet, but the film refuses to commit one way or the other.
- Fairly common in any Disaster Movie that doesn't add an extra adversary (many times, a Villainy-Free Villain, Hate Sink, or Designated Villain) for the protagonists to face during the tragedy.
- Armageddon: One whacking great rock to destroy, but it's not malign in its effect. The moment when the military decide to detonate the bomb early is almost the only antagonism not related to the "destroy the asteroid before it destroys us".
- The Core: All the story's conflict revolves around the Earth's core going haywire, and no antagonists are involved. You could point a finger at the people behind the experimental earthquake-generator weapon that caused the problem in the first place, but they a) didn't do it on purpose and b) never appear onscreen.
- Deep Impact: The main conflict is an asteroid about to hit the Earth and there are no antagonists to this end.
- Poseidon: The bad events are caused by a rogue wave capsizing the boat, and there are no human antagonists.
- The Towering Inferno. The conflict revolves around trying to save people from a burning skyscraper.
- Into The Wild: The main theme of the story is the main character's escape from society and there are no antagonists.
- Juno: A classic example shown in a coming-of-age drama.
- Requiem for a Dream: The story is centered around several characters' drug addiction, so no antagonist is present.
- Forrest Gump: With the possible exception of the Viet Cong, no antagonists. Forrest meets quite a few jerks, but none are ever harmful to him in any lasting way. A few of them even inadvertently help him in his life's journey to accidental greatness.
- Teen Witch: The protagonist and eponymous witch, Louise Miller, has no opponents throughout the movie. The main conflict is that she has the ability to make anything she wants come to pass. note So all she has to do is wish to be the most popular girl (which she does) and that gets the attention of the most popular boy.
- Parenthood: Nope, no antagonists; the conflict stems from the various problems the Buckman family have to deal with. To name an example, Gil and Karen are worried about their eldest son and are uncertain if they could take care of another baby. To name another example, Susan and Nathan are in trouble because Susan wants another baby, but Nathan refuses because he's busy educating their 3-year-old daughter Patty to comedic extremes.
- Up in the Air: Grey and Gray Morality story about George Clooney teaching Anna Kendrick how to lay people off, among other events.
- My Dinner With Andre. Two main characters, one or two minor ones, and no conflict beyond argument. The whole thing is about two people sitting down and talking over dinner.
- Apollo 13. Fighting to survive aboard a badly damaged spacecraft.
- Lost Signal. Drugged teenagers wander around the forest during a blizzard.
- The Starfighters was really an advertisement for a series of fighter planes shot as a movie. The movie has almost no conflict whatsoever. The closest the film has to an antagonist is the Congressman, whose son is a part of the Starfighter project against his wishes, but he never does anything other than call his son or the CO to try to talk them into reassigning him.
- Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The Thompsons are obnoxious neighbors, but their kids can be alright and the whole family reconciles with the Szalinskis at the end. The scorpion is portrayed as evil, even though nothing it does goes outside basic animal instincts. Otherwise, nobody is ever intentionally causing trouble for anybody, they just happen to become an obstacle for the tiny children through accidents.
- Zero Hour and Airplane! deal with the passengers of the plane (pilot included) succumbing to a virus, as well as one of the few passengers on board who didn't catch the virus having to land the plane on his own, despite not having flown one for years as well as previously flying a different model.
- Mary Poppins has no villain, unless you count Dawes Sr. who is at worst a grumpy old banker and fires George Banks for the chaos Michael unintentionally caused in the bank. George is a bit neglectful and severe as a father, but not villainous.
- Early in the Sylvester Stallone racing movie Driven, Til Schweiger's character initially comes across as the arrogant antagonist you'd expect in every sports movie, but quickly demonstrates that he's actually a good man and Worthy Opponent, voluntarily leaving a race and risking his life to safe a fellow racer after a crash.
- A fair few Romantic Comedies (and non-comedy romance films) have no antagonist and all the conflict is born out of the two leads either not getting along, a love triangle where nobody is villainous or a series of misunderstandings.
- Crazy Stupid Love: Every character is sympathetic on some level. Surprisingly, that even includes David, the man who Emily had an affair with.
- Gravity: Two astronauts fight for their lives after they're stranded in space. Space debris is the main opposing force, but it isn't a character.
- All Is Lost: A sailor fights for his life after he's lost at sea.
- Her is about a man who falls in love with an operating system. The man doesn't have a great relationship with his ex-wife, but she's not an antagonist.
- Rush: two Formula 1 drivers with opposing worldviews are pitted against each other - and both protagonists of the story. The closest thing qualifying as an antagonist is the weather.
- The movie Bicentennial Man is about the robot Andrew's 200-year journey towards becoming human and finding love. The closest people to any sort of antagonist in the story are Andrew's stubborn manufacturer, Amanda's obnoxious son Lloyd, and the contrarian first President of the World Congress, each of whom appear in 1 or 2 scenes each and are rather incidental to the plot.
- The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure: the titular Oogieloves lost their balloons for their pillow's birthday party. There is no villain or anything of substance for that matter.
- In A Woman of Paris, the source of conflict is Marie's inability to choose between her rich sugar daddy and her poor former boyfriend. The sugar daddy really doesn't care and is perfectly willing to get another girlfriend if she wants to break up.
- In The Straight Story, every character who appears in the film is a good person in some sense of the word. The closest we ever get is the fact that there are some people who try to talk Alvin out of the journey, and even then they're just concerned for his safety.
- The rom-com/sci-fi movie About Time avoids the usual Love Triangle plot. Instead it has the protagonist battle his own life decisions via Reset Button.
- The third Warrior Cats series, rather than having a main villain to be defeated, features the protagonists struggling with the meaning of a prophecy about them.
- Seeker Bears, another Erin Hunter series has no main villain (and no villains after book two) and instead features the bear protagonists as they fight global warming.
- A lot of H.P. Lovecraft stories as well. It's easy to overlook or forget that very few of them actually have villains as opposed to horrific sights, beings, or facts with a Blue and Orange Morality to them if there is any moral dimension going on at all.
- Isaac Asimov often has no antagonist. Partly this is because he dislikes writing Villains. He once said that he feels that no one see themselves as a villain, so he tried to write his stories to reflect that. He still has a some sympathetic antagonists, such as The Mule. Mostly he seems to find impersonal problems like social collapse more interesting than problems caused by a character.
- Three of the books in the original Circle of Magic quartet have no villains. The kids fight some bullies in a couple scenes of Sandry's Book as well, but it's a side issue, not the main conflict. Instead, the kids face an earthquake, ill-managed wildfires, and a plague.
- Arthur C. Clarke quite often had stories like this, and never had a true villain; in any case where there was someone who seemed to be a villain, they'd turn out to be misunderstood more often than not. Averted by Hammer of God, which has religious fanatics trying to sabotage a project to save the Earth from an asteroid.
- The Frontier Magic series has no sapient antagonist. Monsters do show up, but they're all just wild animals from the unexplored frontier.
- Ultimately if the characters in Palimpsest are struggling with anything, it's their own psychology. The creatures they encounter in Palimpsest actually want them to come and make it as easy as possible.
- Zahrah in Zahrah the Windseeker goes off on quite the splendid adventure, but if she has an opponent it's a combination of the jungle and her people's ignorance.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has no characters who are directly working against other characters. What it does have are the four bratty kids, who are so obnoxious and selfish that they serve as Hate Sinks. Even in adaptations that make the kids genuinely mean/cruel to others, they remain too self-absorbed to directly oppose them — protagonist Charlie Bucket least of all. As they journey through the titular factory-cum-wonderland, the brats manage to take themselves out of the running of a Secret Test by disregarding Willy Wonka's warnings in favor of going after things they want, not realizing how dangerous those things can be. Mr. Wonka has No Sympathy for the brats when they get their comeuppances and it is suspicious that he's showing off so many things that play right into their vices, but on the other hand he tries to get them back to normal where possible. (At worst, he's an Anti-Hero, which is how the 2013 stage musical portrays him.) The book is often criticized for lacking real drama and/or Charlie becoming a Useless Protagonist owing to this process-of-elimination structure, so adaptations tend to tweak the plot to make him more proactive in his fate.
Live Action TV
- Pink Floyd's The Wall is about Pink's inner struggle with the demons his life has brought down on him. There is no one you can point to and say that they're responsible for all of his issues... except himself.
- Quadrophenia by The Who is about Jimmy's struggle to both fit in and figure out who he is (and who he should be). Although the Rocker-Mod riots are an important plot point, and Jimmy's relationship with the Mods underscores and enhances his conflict, it by no means causes it. This is quite a contrast to Tommy where the antagonist is seemingly everyone else.
- Peer Gynt has no defined antagonist, unless you count the main character, who screws up splendidly and is his own worst enemy. Even the trolls, although sadistically cruel, spout some wisdom, and the Mountain King shows himself as fairly decent, even trying to get Peer back on track in the end. Even his daughter the green-clad woman states that Peer brought his problems on himself: "don`t blame me for this!"
- Unsurprisingly, many Pinball games run on this trope; justified for older pre-solid state games, which often relied on No Plot? No Problem! gameplay. And while modern pins can have adversarial themes and stories, antagonist-free themes like DC or Pin*Bot often appear.
- Many of the examples in No Plot? No Problem!. Puzzle and Rhythm games are the most common.
- Wide Open Sandbox style simulation games in general.
- Animal Crossing. The conflict is simply "you're living on your own and have to pay for your house." The worst folks you have to deal with are the occasional mean neighbor or sly salesman.
- The Atari 2600 game Pressure Cooker. You're working at a fast food restaurant and the conflict is in keeping up with the flow of burgers before they all fall off the chute and not get the orders wrong. There aren't even any other visible characters besides yourself.
- Zoo Tycoon, though at times you could make an argument for the guests.
- Unless you count the indeferrent plague and human frailty as a Big Bad, Pathologic plays this pretty straight.
- Uru involves the player character exploring the history of the fallen D'ni culture, so unlike the rest of the Myst games, there is no opposition here.
- Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar: The goal of the game is to become the eponymous Avatar. While a fair part of that quest involves the traditional Dungeon Crawler, there is no villain and most of the work involved in completing the quest involves simply acting virtuously.
- Fez. The main conflict of the game is collecting cubes and saving reality from being torn apart.
- Journey: You are a traveler in the desert walking towards the distant mountain. You meet fellow travelers who help you and dangerous creatures that hinder you locally, but there is no overarching opposing force that prevents you from going on.
- Gone Home: Although it seems that you are exploring a haunted house, it turns out to be a love story and a Coming-Out Story about your sister and her girlfriend.
- Sky Odyssey has no villains or bad guys to fight. Hostile Weather, mechanical breakdowns, and rough terrain challenge the player, but none are obviously characters.
- Antichamber: There's something that can be interpreted as an antagonist, but doesn't really do anything visibly bad.
- While King's Quest I and II have random foes for Graham to defeat, there's no central antagonist behind the whole thing. The AGD Fan Remake of II fixes this somewhat by promoting the witch Hagatha to a more prominent role, giving her more involvement in Valanice's kidnapping, and introducing The Father as Hagatha's Man Behind The Man.
- Kerbal Space Program: The only obstacles to your progress are your own design or piloting mistakes.
- Much of the entries in the Atelier series don't have an antagonist, as the plot usually revolves around proving one's self or reaching goals.
- The Infinity series in general.
- Never7 is mostly about the protagonist trying to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, but all of the deaths he tries to prevent were the results of accidents, and where the main cause of everything is what was supposed to be a harmless science experiment Gone Horribly Wrong AND Right at the same time.
- Ever17 has no real antagonist. There are some bad people alluded to, but the cast does not really come into conflict with them. The story is directly about trying to escape the the park before it is crushed by water pressure and indirectly about figuring out what is actually going on.
- Kokoro's route in Remember11. Mayuzumi is a jerk and Hotori alledgedly has a homicidal split personality, but ultimately any deaths are from natural causes, people freaking out in the bad endings, or caused by the twins, who, being infants, have no idea what they're doing. Satoru's route is a whole different story.
- Most of the paths in Katawa Shoujo lack an antagonist. Shizune's father acts as one in hers, Lilly's parents put her and Hisao's relationship in jeopardy by having her move to Scotland, and the art teacher does inadvertently cause Rin's breakdown, but otherwise the characters deal with regular teen problems.
- Most routes of Little Busters!: Haruka's has her family and Kud's sorta has the islanders at the end, but the conflict in Komari's is all about her brother's tragic death to disease, Mio's presents Midori as the villain but the conflict is actually getting Mio to feel good enough about herself to want to live, and Kurugaya's is about the dream world breaking down. More than that, the main plot of the game itself follows this: while Kyousuke appears to be the villain for a while, he's merely reacting to the real issue, which is the bus crash that almost killed everyone except Riki and Rin, and the weakness of the latter two and their lack of ability to move on or take care of themselves afterwards.
- The Bug Pond: Being a character driven slice-of-life webcomic, it has no central villain. The closest it ever gets is the occasional predator who's not given any motivation or real personality outside being a temporary menace.
- Dissonance: Two researchers deal with a new life form which challenges what they thought they knew about evolution, and their own Angst. Even the life form - a catlike creature that can walk on two legs - is friendly and completely non hostile.
- Dumbing of Age. Possibly to the frustration of fans, most of the conflict is derived from interpersonal relationships and inner demons. When an actual antagonist designed purely to be hated shows up, however...
- Gunnerkrigg Court. The comic presents many opportunities for villains to cause mayhem, but they either never act out on it or are revealed to be misunderstood good guys.
- Questionable Content is a Romantic Comedy at heart. There are no antagonistic characters present, with the conflicts mainly coming from relationship troubles.
- Wapsi Square has a complex save-the-world plot without any antagonistic characters. Instead, the conflict comes from the difficulty in figuring out how to save the world, as well as difficulties in carrying the required plans out. Certain people can't be told certain elements of certain plans, but those people are still working towards saving the world. It's all very confusing.
- Unlike other Story Arcs on the site that have the reviewers fighting bad guys like Mechakara or Dark Nella, most of the drama that The Nostalgia Critic deals with comes from his own issues.
- While the participants of the First Anniversary Brawl are divided into teams (critics vs gamers), none of them are shown as more heroic or villainous than the others. In fact, none of them have much motivation beyond "beat the other guys up as much as possible."
- Arthur plays this trope straight, preferring to focus on life issues.
- Franklin also plays this trope straight- like Arthur, to focus on life issues.
- ReBoot: Subverted in episode "My Two Bobs". It was originally set up to lack a villain, as both Bobs were initially portrayed as "good" and the conflict was whether Dot would choose to be with Glitch-Bob or Normal-Bob. But this style of conflict was thrown out the window when Normal-Bob is revealed to be Megabyte.
- Most Postman Pat episodes are like this, with inclement weather, lost kites, special events (such as fetes and birthdays) and too-small suits of armour amongst others typically being the things that drive the plot, rather than a conflict between characters.
- Fireman Sam as well, which deals only with fires started by either bad luck or carelessness.
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, as well as most Pooh media in general. Usually, the conflict instead comes from characters trying to solve simple problems and/or misunderstandings.
- Rescue Heroes has the conflict being between the Global Response Team and the natural disaster of the week.
- While G1 had an antagonist almost every episode, and occasionally G4 has one, other series in the My Little Pony line (notably, Tales and G3) didn't.
- Transformers Rescue Bots: With no Decepticons, the real conflicts are against natural disasters, malfunctioning machinery, and interpersonal issues between the Autobots and their human allies.
- A few episodes have human antagonists, but they're the exception rather than the rule.
- Strawberry Shortcake, In particular, the 2003 series, to the point it causes a Broken Base when actual antagonists appear. In the 2009 reboot, it's this trope played straight. The 80s specials avert this with the Pieman as the recurring antagonist.
- Pinky and the Brain usually avoided having any character knowingly and deliberately work against the Brain's world domination plots, probably because having a character play the traditional "hero" role against Brain's "villain" would run the risk of making the Brain seem too unsympathetic. The only real antagonist in the series is Brain's archnemesis Snowball, who's just like the Brain only worse (he only wants to stop Brain from conquering the world so that he can have it for himself)
- Typical for animation works targeted at pre-schoolers or younger. This is because the age range is when children start to experience vivid dreams, and shows with antagonists more than often causes nightmares to the target audience, which greatly annoys the parents (no one likes waking up to their kid crying at 3 in the morning and having to drag themselves out of bed to console the kid).
- The Koala Brothers. The closest thing it has to antagonism is whenever one of the characters acts in an insensitive way.