"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.
open/close all folders
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.
- 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:
- The Dark Knight Returns being one of the more extreme versions where not a day passes that his Eidetic Memory doesn't show him his mother's pearl collar shattering.
- In All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, he attempts to induce this on Dick Grayson, with the purpose of hardening him, as a part of "drafting" him into his "war" after his parents' death.
- 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 The Terminator. Then Kyle Reese spelled out a horrid, brink-of-doom future with the Terminator as proof. By the sequel, Sarah has developed 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
- Sherlock and his brother Mycroft appear to have had such a moment very early in their childhoods, where they interiorized that "caring is not an advantage", to the point that they both think of themselves as sociopaths (which they aren't). It takes Sherlock a lot of time, and being given a lot of love, to learn to allow himself to care about others again.
- In Breaking Bad, this is all part of Jesse Pinkman's Trauma Conga Line, on one hand, and Walter White's increasing acquisition of badass credentials, although his Start of Darkness was much earlier than that.
- In Torchwood Gwen is recruited in part because she's The Heart and spends her first few episodes calling her teammates out because they really don't seem to care about the human aspect of their cases and ignorantly believing Everybody Lives is a possibility. By Torchwood: Children of Earth a good portion of the team is dead, she's pretty quick to catch on that Humans Are Bastards, and she believes the Doctor won't show up to save them because sometimes he must look at Earth and turn away in shame.
- Subverted in The Sarah Jane Adventures. When we first catch back up with Sarah Jane on Doctor Who she's still a bit bitter about the Doctor leaving her behind and is no longer the wide eyed, impressionable young women she was in the classic series. This manifest in the first episode of SJA as her being really cold to her new neighbors and coming across a straight up Distaff Counterpart to the Doctor. At the end of the episode she softens, noticeably regaining her humanity by adopting Luke and accepting her neighbor Maria's help. She stays Older and Wiser, but becomes a bit more open with people and shares a very idealistic view of the wonders of the universe and the creatures that inhabit it.
- In Doctor Who, the nicer and more benevolent The Nth Doctor is, the more the universe tends to test him with Break the Cutie Trauma Conga Lines: the Fifth and Eighth doctors are especially egregious examples. The Time War, however, may have been the most traumatic event for him, but it's not clear whether the trope is played straight or subverted: he becomes more jaded, but also feels a stronger obligation to help others and do the right thing. There's also the matter of the Timey-Wimey Ball involving some changes in how things were experienced. And, well, he's the Doctor; an enigmatic Mood-Swinger, it's often frankly hard to tell how he feels about stuff.
- In both the Comics and Television adaptation, the main group of survivors in The Walking Dead gradually become more and more dehumanized as the apocalyptic crisis becomes the new norm and find that the greatest threat to their survival are other Humans rather than the undead.
- Person of Interest: John Reese wasn't exactly an optimist in the first place, but he still believed in the work he was doing and found life-affirming purpose in saving others... Until a dear friend of his was killed, and he went from that to thinking all his efforts were just delaying the inevitable.
- In Poets of the Fall's "Nothing Stays the Same," the singer describes facing disillusionment after conversing with supposedly respectable people.
I've talked to the men of high regard
In rooms ever white and my soul grew dark by their words
Softly sweet as kissing lips
A kaleidoscope of no consolation at all
- 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 very cunning 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 vs. Cynicism as the comic continues.
- After years of being a bouncy Wide-Eyed Idealist, Chester from Bum Reviews seemed to give up and hit the cynicism pretty hard after The Nostalgia Critic died.
- In her Fallout: New Vegas Let's Plays, Rainbow/Queen Latifah, became more willing to solve problems with violence and stealing supplies, after Veronica and Rex died.
- Jamie in Twig is kind and gentle up until he suffers a Loss of Identity, forcing him to go on without many of his memories. After reading his journals from before, he decides to be more wary of the world than he used to be, not wanting to make the same mistakes. This sets him up to become a Defrosting Ice King to his friends.
- In Noob, Arhtéon started out with a backstory where he used Real Money Trade because of a Can't Catch Up situation with a guild that eventually went on to become the best of the game. After the incident, he ended up being the Reluctant Ruler of the game's worse guild and spent years being the optimistic one regarding their progress. However, a couple of bad events happen close to each other around the end of Season 4: his first love pulling a virtual ruanaway bride on him and his guild proving to be unable to function smoothly in his absence. These, combined with lingering resentment against his former guildmates, give him a much grimer outlook on his life and the people he had been hanging around with. Unfortunately, this does not combine quite well with the one positive piece of karma he got by the time of Noob: Le Conseil des Trois Factions: he's basically in charge of finding a way to end the divine conflict that causes a big part of the game's story and destroying the planet that serves as the setting is one of the possible means to do this.
- 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: In the episode "In Marge We Trust", it's revealed that 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: Bruce Wayne 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: 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.
- Service industry jobs, especially customer service or retail jobs, tend to make some people that work in such places incredibly become cynical due to them being exposed to the public/community and seeing the worst things about them and/or dealing with incompetent managers. After dealing with so many customers day after day (including those that make outrageous demands or get verbally nasty with the employees), it's not surprising to see someone's mood on the job be in a constant sour state and it's a lot more noticeable if an employee who had an idealistic or positive outlook about their job become cynical after working there for a while. It is also quite common to have long time employees in service based jobs jokingly tell newcomers something to the effect of "Welcome to Hell."