Took a Level in Cynic

"In every cynical person there is a disappointed idealist."

The character gave the world their love, their care, their trust, and, in return, was somehow back-stabbed, deceived, taken advantage of, used. Some of their old optimism breaks, and they take it to heart that they should not trust others so easily. There is, however, a readjustment in expectations on how the world works towards the pessimistic, not an outright surrender, and not necessarily a change in methods either (an incorruptible character may choose to be a Doomed Moral Victor rather than adjust their methods) or even a change in attitude (The Pollyanna is perfectly aware of living in a Crapsack World, yet refuses to let it bring them down), let alone a Face–Heel Turn, as any Anti-Hero can attest.

A Broken Pedestal can result in this; in a meta sense, the character percieves all of humanity to have failed to live up to his expectations, and revises them accordingly. The cause of the event is the Cynicism Catalyst. The result is usually the acquisition of Jade Coloured Glasses. Can result in a Broken Bird, or, worse yet, a Despair Event Horizon. See also Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!. See also Innocence Lost.

Contrast The Anti-Nihilist, Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers! and Took a Level in Idealism.


Anime and Manga
  • In Code Geass, Lelouch acquires this at age eight, when his mother is murdered in what may be a court intrigue, about which his father the Emperor does nothing. When Lelouch calls him out on this, his response is to send the kid over to an enemy country as a hostage and bargaining chip. Not long after, he invades the country that is hosting his own child, in a very bloody war. No wonder the kid ends up the way he does.
  • Flashbacks reveal that Homura from Puella Magi Madoka Magica started the series as cheerful, klutzy, and a Wide-Eyed Idealist. Repeated failures to save Madoka in timeline after timeline caused her to slowly withdraw her faith in the world, turning into The Stoic character she is today.
  • In Naruto, Sasuke Uchiha ends up taking several of these, falling all the way down to omnicidal insanity and looping back into being an Anti-Hero and wishing to become the ruler/protector of the village, deciding that he will do better than his callous, brutal predecessors.
    • He's got nothing on Obito, who went from being a carefree, happy-go-lucky kid to wanting to force the entire world into a dream world because he saw hope and peace as laughable concepts.
  • All three of the main cast in Cowboy Bebop had such an event horizon long before the plot starts; they were all betrayed by a close friend or a romantic partner, and as a result have closed themselves up to the world. It takes them a long time to learn to care about each other, but, in the end, that's not enough to save them.
  • Ciel Phantomhive from Black Butler was a Cheerful Child when younger, but after his parents died and became enslaved for a year, he became grim and brooding just like in the present day. He's basically Bruce Wayne if Alfred were a demon and the Waynes were a Black Ops. dynasty.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion's entire cast have had theirs before the plot even starts (well, almost; one of them gets it over the course of the series, and the resulting change in loyalties is crucial to the ending of the story). Some of the relevant moments were revealed in-story, others in supplementary materials.
  • Kaze no Stigma: Following the Death of his love interest as a sacrifice for a demon, Kazuma Yagami went from being a Nice Guy to being a cold and brutal Anti-Hero who wouldn't allow anyone to get close to him emotionally, even his own younger brother.
  • In The Vanishing of Nagato Yuki-chan, a few days of interacting with Haruhi Suzumiya is enough to wear Kyon down.
  • Mikeala of Seraph of the End used to be an incredibly optomistic and cheerful kid... at least until his plan to save his "family" gets them all killed and he's forced into becoming a vampire and being separated from his best friend for years. Oh, and he also learns that humans may not be a whole lot better than the vampires. Suffice to say that his current self is a very jaded and self loathing pessimist who trusts no one.
  • Occurred to Ryuuken Ishida in the backstory of Bleach , when the dark secrets of the Quincy that he was idealistic about the future of hit him all at once, killing both his wife and past love interest/cousin.

  • In Runaways This happens to just about everyone (except Gert who was a horrible cynic from day one).
    • Nico goes from being naive and trusting of just about everyone to very closed off, cautious, and suspicious. She also becomes progressively more snarky as the series goes on.
    • While Chase always had some issues to begin with, he still managed to come across as an irrelevant Jerk Jock and when paired with his cynical girlfriend, came out looking like the positive one. His world view becomes less bright when grieving Gert and in Avengers Undercover goes back on his promise not talk about the events of Avengers Arena because everyone knows what happened anyways and from where he was standing that meant Arcade already won.
    • While present! Molly is mostly her hyperactive, happy to face the universe self, future! Molly from Battle of the Atom hits the Despair Event Horizon after President Dazzler is killed and becomes evil, abandoning her childhood belief that she could be a hero and save everyone despite who her parents were.
      • The trope is later Enforced and then Subverted by the reveal that Molly and the other future Brotherhood members are the mind-controlled pawns of Future!Xavier and have had their personalities altered by him.
    • Karolina is mostly unchanged, but more willing to acknowledge anyone is capable of evil or having bad things happen to them and is, like her teammates, much less naive and trusting than at the beginning of the series.
  • Batman made it his life-long mission to personally fight crime because of his parents' murder, which he witnessed as a child. Depending on continuity, this causes Child!Wayne to "grow up in a big hurry" into different degrees of cynicism:
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Ratchet, who was originally shown with a bad case of Chronic Hero Syndrome, has become this, what with the events of the last several years, and the fact that his hands are beginning to seize up. He's become much grouchier and snarkier as a result.

  • Though overworked and underpaid as a waitress, Sarah Connor still harbored hopes for a brighter future in Terminator. Then Kyle Reese spelled out a horrid, brink-of-doom future with the Terminator as proof. Sarah develops enough cynicism to stockpile weapons and munitions galore in caches dotting the Western seaboard for her son John to use against Cyberdyne's machines.
  • 12 Years a Slave's protagonist, Solomon, takes one level after another, often one with every unfair, brutal beating. Most of his fellow slaves are already over the Despair Event Horizon. But he keeps a sliver of hope, and it pays off, as the people who knew him and cared about him went to great lengths to rescue him. Nevertheless, the fact that he never obtains reparation for the horrible suffering he's been dealt, cannot possibly have helped his view of this world.
  • In the first trilogy of the Transformers Film Series, Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, was a firm believer in humanity's potential for good, and held a strict Thou Shalt Not Kill policy towards them, even if they antagonized him and his team. By Transformers: Age of Extinction, years of his kind being hunted down by humans has caused Optimus to lose much of his faith in them, to the point where he will not hesitate to kill humans in self-defense.
  • In Tomorrowland, Frank undergoes this, changing from an optimistic child who builds a jetpack because he thinks it will inspire people to do great things to being a bitter recluse who has his house filled with traps and laughs at Casey for being so naive as to think seeking out Tomorrowland would be a good idea. The change seems to have been caused by learning Athena - who he was very strongly attached to - is actually a Ridiculously Human Robot, inventing a machine that basically shows when the end of the world is coming, and then being kicked out of Tomorrowland for it. His time with Casey does seem to help him, though.

  • Just about all of the Animorphs, except for Marco who was always somewhat of a cynic. Initially, they all had firm limits, lines that they absolutely would not cross, but as the war progressed, they made increasingly hard and morally grey decisions, believing that they were doing what was necessary.
  • Arya and Sansa Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire starts the series as naive and idealistic, but their father's beheading only kickstarts chains of events that will result in disappointment after disappointment for both of them. By the fourth book they've both acquired Jade-Colored Glasses. The result? Having both given up on their initial idealism, Sansa is now learning to manipulate people in order to come out on top, while Arya is graduating to Professional Killer levels.
  • In Discworld, this trope probably happened to every character in their earliest childhood, except maybe for Captain Carrot, and some nice characters who are too dumb to know better; everyone takes an extremely cynical view of the people around them, and the ways to prosper in this world, and the straight heroes usually range from Good Is Not Nice to Knight in Sour Armor to Dirty Coward-Cowardly Lion to outright Pragmatic Villainy, which in a world of Stupid Evil comes off as actually benevolent. This is interesting because the stories themselves are very idealistic, with few if any Karma Houdini, and fair retribution to all good and evil deeds.
  • In Harry Potter, Harry has horrible stuff happen to him every year, but in his first few years at Hogwarts, he still bounces back and has a tendency to believe that everything can turn out alright and trust the teachers for help. As the series goes on though, people he's close to actually start to die, things aren't nicely fixed by the end of each book, and the adults he previously trusted are either corrupt or well-meaning but unable to do much. Of note is how the later books, particularly the last one, show his crumbling trust in Dumbledore. A younger Harry sees Dumbledore as an impressive authority figure who can solve any problem. When he gets older, Harry is forced to accept that not only is Dumbledore not always in control and always know what's going on, but had a history that was about as far from noble and heroic as one could get.

Live-Action TV

Video Games
  • Alice: Madness Returns:
    • Alice has become a Broken Bird after her insanity returns and ruins her life. She almost got over the loss of her family, but her therapist,Dr. Bumby believes that she requires more psychiatric help and forces her to undergo more therapy with him. She eventually realizes that her therapist is the Big Bad and kills him, resolving her main issues. However, she hasn't fully recovered just yet.
    • To a lesser extent, the Mock Turtle as well. He goes from the lovable ally in the first game to a depressed resistance fighter after he loses his job as conductor and fights for the safety of Wonderland.
  • Villainous example, in Batman: Arkham Knight the Scarecrow has gone from an Ax-Crazy Giggling Villain in the original game to a stoic Soft-Spoken Sadist who doesn't laugh at least once. He's very likely darker because of his near death experience from his encounter with Killer Croc and humiliating defeat from Batman prior to that. However, because of his new cynical viewpoint, he's become Dangerously Genre Savvy in his attempts to kill Batman.
  • Devil May Cry: The death of their mother had a very polarizing effect on the Sons of Sparda. While Dante eventually becomes more of a Knight in Sour Armor, Vergil plays this trope straight adopting the belief that "Might controls everything. And without strength, you cannot protect anything. Let alone yourself."
  • This is kind of a game mechanic in Dragon Age: Origins: at different points of the plot, you can choose to "harden" your two token idealistic companions, Alistair and Leliana, via dialogue, which makes them much more tolerant towards more amoral actions you can take later on (and incidentally, makes Alistair a better king). In both cases, the catalyst is a betrayal, by family and by a mentor, respectively. Of course, you can just as well reaffirm their inherent idealism instead.

  • Looking for Group: Cale is very idealistic, innocent, and naive at the beginning of the comic, but he starts to become more cynical after he's forced to kill a child in the past to maintain a Stable Time Loop. Similar events that come afterward only serve to make him become more and more on the cynical side on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism as the comic continues.

Web Original

Western Animation
  • This was the backstory of Billy from Adventure Time: he came to believe that heroism is a sucker's game, as fighting off evil would always result in a new evil taking its place. It takes Finn and Jake learning a personal aesop to break him out of that shell of cynicism.
  • The Boondocks' protagonist Huey Freeman starts off very cynical, but also proactive and hopeful in improving things for the better. By the third season, though, it's clear that he's given up hope, and he's resigned himself to let the rest live on in blissful ignorance.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Katara spends the first two seasons giving inspirational speeches about hope and love. After Prince Zuko royals betrays them by claiming to be a better person only to let Azula hit Aang with what should have been a fatal shot of lightning, betray his uncle, and rejoin Fire Nation nobility, she is the last to trust him when he claims to have made a Heel–Face Turn for real this time and almost kills the man that killed her mother in cold blood.
  • The Simpsons: When Reverend Lovejoy first showed up in Springfield he was a go-getting down to earth pastor who wanted to "rap" with his parishioners. Then Ned Flanders started bugging him all the time, wearing him down until he just stopped caring about anybody. "Luckily, by then it was The '80s, so no one noticed."
  • Batman Beyond: Batman becomes a grouchy, depressed old man with no hope in the world after realizing that his actions as Batman has done nothing to change Gotham for the better. Luckily, Terry takes on his mantle and the series begins.

Real Life
  • Real Life: This trope might as well be called "Loss Of Innocence"; there's a concerted effort to create a protected environment around children where the adults at least appear to be trustworthy. Then puberty and adulthood hit, and things are not so simple any longer. It can be quite a struggle, to keep one's spark bright through all that.

Alternative Title(s): Took A Level In Cynicism