troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Unintentionally Sympathetic
A case of Misaimed Fandom... possibly with justification. A character who is supposed to be a villain draws our natural sympathies over the so-called hero.

Possible reasons include:

Compare with Strawman Has a Point, where you don't so much gain sympathy for the antagonists as lose it for the protagonists.

This can sometimes cause a bit of realism to come into it because, after all, different people have different standards.

Note: The "un" part of the title is important here. Characters only belong on these lists if they were intended for the audience not to like them. Sometimes the writer(s) intend for the villain to be sympathetic; this would entail Cry for the Devil.

The opposite of this trope is Unintentionally Unsympathetic. When a character is written that way, those who are meant to be viewed unfavorably for opposing them tend to be Unintentionally Sympathetic.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • The Trix Rabbit. Seriously, is there a person alive who doesn't want to see him get his bowl of cereal? Case in Point: In both 1976 and 1990, Trix held a vote where kids could cut a ballot out of the box, write whether or not they wanted the rabbit to get some Trix, and send it in. The results? Overwhelmingly "yes" in both cases, with over 80% saying yes in 1990. Of course, the cereal was quickly snatched away again after a single bite.
    • At one point, The Trix rabbit freakin buys some!. The kids immediately steal it, simply saying that it's for kids. It's hard not to side with him afterwards.
    • And of course, the infamous "Got Milk?" commercial, where he's just about to finally eat some... only to have no milk.
    • And a commercial where he won an ice skating contest and tried to celebrate with Trix, only for the kids to pop up from out of nowhere and take away not just his Trix, but his trophy that he earned fair and square.
  • The "ditch the old broom" commercials by Swiffer, which were filmed in such a way to make the "dumped" the broom/mop/wiping implement seem morbidly depressed and their human "ex" seem callous. Almost all the new commercials in the campaign feature the dismissed broom meeting a new house-hold implement partner.
  • Lucky from the Lucky Charms commercials. Given how constantly he keeps being harassed by the kids.
  • The Mac vs PC ads invoked this since the PC guy comes off as a lovable loser woobie, while Mac comes off as very smug, which ironically ties directly into certain stereotypes of Mac users. Mac is basically a particularly arrogant hipster, while the PC is a put-upon everyman, at worst he's a bit of a Ted Baxter in response to Mac talking about his own popularity. This ultimately meant that the ads backfired on Apple to the level that Microsoft started releasing "I'm a PC" ads. Only the hardcore Mac devotees would be aware that "PC" John Hodgman is actually a Mac user.
  • There's a commercial for Frosted Mini-Wheats depicting a boxing match between a Mini-Wheat and a Honey Nut Cheerio. The Cheerio is half the size of the Mini-Wheat, showing it lacks fiber. As the match begins, the Cheerio faints before a punch is thrown. The problems? One: not just the boxer, but the announcers, the referee, the press, and every single member of the audience is also a Mini-Wheat, so the odds of the Cheerio getting a fair treatment come across as nil; if it somehow won, the riotous crowd would probably kill it. Two: this is a boxing match, but the Cheerio has no arms or hands. Three: upon proclaiming his "victory," the Mini-Wheat tries to act modest but just comes across as smugly falsely modest. It's not hard to feel that the Cheerio either fainted from terror at being stuck in a match it can't win surrounded by a huge horde of enemies, or that it threw the fight to get out of there alive. Then again, it doesn't even have eyes or a mouth. It could have just fallen over because it was a regular, non-anthropomorphic Cheerio. Who the hell booked that match, anyway?
  • A line of commercials for Comcast's "Xfinity" cable TV/home internet/digital phone service features a tired, tangled, grumpy bundle of phone lines (representing ATT's competing "U-verse" service) who repeatedly advises a family complaining about his slow speeds to get a new, better service (i.e., Xfinity). Though we're meant to feel sorry for the family, they come off as incredibly Ungrateful Bastards who refuse to even acknowledge all the years and years of service he's given, whining because he can't instantly download movies and other petty complaints. In one ad, he wistfully talks about the good old days, and tries to tell the eye-rolling teenage son to enjoy his youth... only to turn around and find the impatient Jerkass walked out.
  • There's a cars.com ad with a grey car crying because it got a bad review while a red car with a good review was being a complete Jerk Ass. It makes you just want to go out and buy that poor grey car.
  • An ad for yogurt shows two women on an airplane. One is on a laptop doing work, the other is eating yogurt, saying that it's almost bikini season. The woman on the laptop tells her that with all the work they're doing, they're not likely to ever even go to the beach (nevermind that they're both Hollywood Pudgy anyway.) In the next scene, the plane has crashed, and as both women are sitting there looking shocked, a handsome, muscular man invites one of them to help get fresh water; the yogurt-eating woman jumps up, takes off her shirt, and smugly volunteers, leaving her friend to cope with surviving a plane crash on a desert island by herself while she goes off with some guy and "gets wet". It's hard not to feel bad for the woman who is apparently supposed to feel inadequate and embarrassed for not slacking off and sucking down yogurt.
  • An old ad for car insurance featured a number of people standing in front of a judge, trying to explain why they decided to do something incredibly stupid while driving. For the most part, they all acted foolishly,until we get to a middle-aged man who simply explained that there had been a hot cigarette lighter on his pants. The judge's expression and the ad's narration make it clear that we're supposed to see him as just an idiot, but considering that we never hear how serious or minor whatever he did was and how easily having a hot object like that could cause him to lose his concentration, it's not hard to take the side of the man or at least think he doesn't deserve a harsh penalty.
  • An advertisement from Carl's Jr. sandwiches features a robot coming home to an apartment, feeding its pet goldfish, sitting down at a table, and attempting to eat a sandwich. The problem with this being that the robot can't eat anything because it has no mouth. After getting frustrated, its pet goldfish swallows a bubble, which the robot evidently takes to be mocking it. It attempts to shoot the goldfish with lasers from its eyes, only for the lasers to bounce off its tank and destroy most of the apartment, with the commercial ending with the dejected robot's arm falling out of its socket where it was cut. The slogan? "Machines can't eat sandwiches, so they shouldn't make them, that's just the way it is". Even with the attempted goldfish murder, it isn't that hard to feel sorry for the poor robot and find the slogan more than a bit condescending (or even racist) given the context.
  • The Axe's astronaut commercials, where a guy risks his life to save a girl— only for her to run to the astronaut.
  • An Xfinity commercial depicts a man calling his friends and asking them to help him move, with them badly lying to get out of it (a woman shopping, but pretending to be sick; a man on the beach, but pretending to be swamped at work). The concept ignores that he is calling them last minute, expecting them to drop everything with no notice to come do intensive work for him.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Katsuhiko Jinnai from El-Hazard: The Magnificent World is either this or intentionally sympathetic, given his status as The Resenter, tendency to wobble between impressive and ineffectual (often purely based on unforseeable chance events like the heroes deciding to climb a cliff instead of taking the path he expected because one of them is a crazy mountain climber), and the fact that his bug-like allies are more funny than threatening. It's really the fact he tends to lie and cheat that causes one to wonder if this sympathy was not meant to happen. Admittedly, for some viewers, the fact that Jinnai is leading an invasion and unleashed an ancient Weapon Of Mass Destruction first undercuts the sympathy somewhat.
  • Yuzuha in Tenchi Muyo!: Daughter of Darkness; you could spend days drawing up alternate character interpretations due to the disappointingly short runtime of the movie, which allows for quite a bit of freedom since so much is raised and so little actually touched upon, and 70% of them would either result in Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds or an angry petulant demon child without the proper understanding of emotion.
  • Ursula from the Pokémon anime. She does get a fair bit of Draco in Leather Pants, but even many of those who won't deny that she's a Jerk Ass think she would have been an interesting character, and would have liked her to get more development. Plus, some disgruntled fans don't understand why they're supposed to boo and hiss at the girl (who is at least shown to love and respect her Pokémon) and, at the same time, to admire Paul, who is a much worse person than she is.
  • Seita, the main character from Grave of the Fireflies, is not supposed to be likable in the slightest, according to the author. You're supposed to blame him for everything that goes wrong, as a result of his shirking his duties and retreating from society. Partly due to Values Dissonance, many audiences see him as a kid who's in over his head and trying the best he can to deal with a horrific situation.
  • The Computer Club from Haruhi Suzumiya. When they first appear, Haruhi steals a computer from them using false blackmail. In a later episode, they challenged them to a game in order to get it back, but attempted to cheat in doing so. Tanigawa wants you to see them as bastards for cheating, but it becomes a Broken Aesop when the computer was taken from them because Haruhi did some cheating of her own.
  • Nami from Sora O Kakeru Shoujo was clearly intended to be seen as a whiny, spoiled brat who turns evil when she doesn't get her way. This doesn't work so well though, considering how her sisters treat her callously, ignoring her obvious depression and pleas for help and attention, which causes Nami to slide more and more into into despair. A lot of the mess could have been avoided if someone would have bothered to listen to Nami for once.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Fiction 
  • How I Became Yours does this to Mai. She was supposed to be the bitchy Woman Scorned standing in between Zuko and Katara's Super True Love, but she did have a good point as a reason for keeping the news that Katara was pregnant with Zuko's kid (namely, that the Fire Nation would collapse if news of the Fire Lord having an illegitimate child with a Waterbender got out, and Zuko was cheating on her when that poor kid was conceived), and there's still no discussion on how Mai didn't deserve to be bloodbended to death by a badly Out of Character and God-Mode Sue-ed Katara, when she could've easily restrained her with said technique so she could be sent to trial.
  • Britney in My Immortal. After all, her only "crime" was liking Hilary Duff and not shopping at Hot Topic.
  • Ash Ketchum in Cori Falls's fanfiction. We're supposed to believe he's a self-centered psychopath with the social skills of a drunken ape, but the more the "heroes" take such smug pleasure in beating and humiliating him, the easier it is to feel sorry for him. Especially if you read closely enough to realize that this version of Ash has a legitimate mental illness that's basically wrecked his entire life... and it's being Played for Laughs!
  • In The End Of Ends, the other Teen Titans and Terra are seen as this, especially in relation to Beast Boy. The narration indicates that they are to blame for everything that happened to Beast Boy (the latter for wanting to move on and live a normal life without him, and the former for not being supportive of him). However, since Beast Boy ends up essentially stalking Terra, steals a book from Raven's room, and ultimately becomes the villain known as Count Logan, who destroys entire worlds, including Tamaran for the purpose of spiting Starfire and Robin for being a couple, one has to suspect that they're right and that Beast Boy really should move on.
  • In Princess of the Blacks, Lily Potter was initially intended to be a Jerkass who couldn't except that her daughter wanted nothing to do with Lily or James. Instead she became The Woobie who was willing to stay away from Jennifer in the hopes she'd one day be willing to reconnect. Word of God states that Lily is the equivalent of a kicked puppy whereas James has become the Jerkass.

    Films — Animation 
  • Auto from WALL•E. Not only was he following his directive, but he was doing his best to keep all of humanity alive. After all, it would be a massive gamble to return to a potentially uninhabitable Earth under the premise that you found one plant growing on its surface.
  • Soto, the first Big Bad from Ice Age, as he lost his entire pack/family because of the human hunters and may have been an amicable guy before... and because fans tend to ignore his bitter desire for vengeance against the humans.
  • Why were the hyenas villains in The Lion King? Because they were starving to death. Why were they starving? Because the lions didn't want them eating their food. Small wonder that they're not exactly kind to Simba when he stumbles into the only place that is actually theirs.
    • Particularly heinous in what Mufasa made very clear about the circle of life — that everyone had their place and so one didn't have to feel guilty about what one ate as they would effectively one day eat you... apparently hyenas aren't part of this food chain.
    • Scar also has a host of fan-fics painting him as sympathetic, mostly due to the one Lion King Adventures book that implied he's always been seen as inferior to his brother.
  • Reeka and Draggle, the two antagonist daughters of Hydia in the My Little Pony movie. Sure they're evil, but they have a seriously abusive mother, have genuinely sympathetic qualities, and have far more developed personalities than the really boring titular ponies. The Nostalgia Chick felt more towards them than the ponies, and even considered them to be the main characters because of how much of the film's focus is on them.
  • Vincent from Over the Hedge. He's spent the entire summer hoarding food to get him through the winter, only for all of it to be destroyed when RJ the raccoon tries to steal it (who, given his size, surely didn't need to take all of it). The two come to an agreement: RJ has to replace everything that he lost, or else he'll be eaten. Vincent is portrayed as the bad guy simply because he's trying to survive — just like every other animal in the movie. Bears Are Bad News, but the fact that Vincent ends up in a Hannibal Lector gurney and mask feels like overkill for an animal that was just trying to reclaim what was rightfully his in the first place.
    • The filmmakers seem to have realized this late in the production and gave Vincent an out-of-the blue monologue about how he got where he is by selling out, betraying, murdering, etc. all of his former friends. This (and Vincent's praise of RJ for being just like him) is of course the the catalyst that starts RJ on the path to redemption, but remove those two lines and you've got no villain.
  • Pocahontas: Percy the pug. He's supposed to be a spoiled and unpleasant purebred dog. The film does this so badly that the only thing that really counts against him is one growl in agreement with Ratcliffe, his loving (to him) master. One growl. The rest of the time he's just enjoying the luxuries that come with being a governor's pet and getting justifiably angry at a raccoon stealing his food.
  • At test screenings for Toy Story 3, the filmmakers were surprised how many people sympathized with Lotso and wanted to see him have a Heel-Face Turn. They responded by going back and adding in some things that increased his cruelty to show that, while he had a sympathetic backstory, the way he reacted to it was no excuse, and he got what he deserved in the end.
  • Tai Lung, the Big Bad of the first Kung Fu Panda. He is raised up for most of his life believing that he is destined to receive the legendary Dragon Scroll, a belief that his master Shifu actively fed and encouraged. When he is denied that right and Shifu says nothing in his defense, he unsurprisingly goes completely ballistic, attacking Shifu and then rampaging through the village. Interestingly, in the original script Tai Lung's only crimes were a) trying to take the Dragon Scroll and b) attacking his master and father. While this latter crime, filial impiety, was extremely serious in ancient China (and to some extent still is), Values Dissonance caused test audiences to sympathize greatly with Tai Lung since he hadn't hurt anyone else and was only taking out his anger on the one who, arguably, had failed him by not teaching him proper humility while at the same time raising his hopes too high. So the rampage was added in precisely to make him less sympathetic. And since we don't know for sure whether or not he actually killed or hurt anyone, twenty years of imprisonment locked in a restraining device and unable to move just for damaging some property still seems like Disproportionate Retribution.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The monster from the movie Cloverfield. It was big, it was scary, and it went on a rampage in New York City. But for some, the entire movie takes on a whole new perspective when they find out that the monster is a terrified, newborn baby looking for its mother. For others, that knowledge causes precisely the opposite reaction.
  • Iris, the kaiju from Gamera 3 Awakening Of Irys, is actually pretty sympathetic because its motives aren't really explored. Sure, it's stated from the beginning that it would probably destroy the world, but the old lady who said that was quoting a legend with plenty of room for error, as far as we know. It does indeed suck the life juices out of people, but that's just how it eats, as it doesn't have a mouth. It tried to merge a schoolgirl with itself to become more powerful.
  • Kids' movies tend to have these, particularly the cheesetastic ones. The Lizzie McGuire Movie, for example, had an "evil" teacher who was the only relatable character in the movie.
  • Godzilla in the film Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack! was intended by director Shusuke Kaneko to be pure evil (hence, why his eyes are a pure soulless white). Of course, considering that this is Godzilla we're talking about, the fandom ended up rooting for him more than they did for the heroic monsters (IE: Baragon, Mothra, and, ironically enough, King Ghidorah).
  • Rotti Largo from Repo! The Genetic Opera. He's terminally ill, was betrayed by the love of his life, and has had to deal with Luigi, Pavi, and Amber for years, on top of the stress caused by being the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation. One could also argue this for his children — growing up with Rotti as a father couldn't have been easy, and their reactions when he disowns them are pretty sad.
  • Imhotep in The Mummy remake comes off as far more sympathetic than an Omnicidal Maniac who wants to Take Over the World has any right to be, considering he did it all for love. Likewise, his Love Interest is also rather sympathetic considering she's the unwilling sex-toy of the Pharaoh and dies (the first time) shouting: "My body is no longer his temple!"
  • A very minor example can be found in Return of the Jedi, when Luke kills Jabba the Hutt's rancor. Its keeper Malakili comes out and mourns for his dead pet, and has to led away in tears. The bloodthirsty, deadly pet used only for eating prisoners for Jabba's amusement. His four seconds of screen-time crying got an unintentionally large amount of the audience to sympathize with him, to the point that the man's story is further fleshed out in the tie-in novel Tales from Jabba's Palace, in a very A Boy and His X way. You won't be able to watch that scene without a sniffle again. In other EU material, rancors are characterized as being rather like pit bulls, in that they're very sweet-natured creatures when well cared for (the specific rancor at Jabba's palace was deliberately starved and equipped so that it'd provide a good show when people got thrown into the pit, as well suffering other abuses from Jabba). It doesn't hurt that Malakili was days away from smuggling the rancor away to a peaceful life when Luke showed up.
    • From The Empire Strikes Back, we have Captain Needa in Darth Vader's fleet, who, after hearing that his crew made no progress in finding the Millennium Falcon, states that he will take full responsibility for apologizing to Vader, and is summarily killed the next time we see him. While not anybody of note, the fact that the officer was taking for responsibility for his ship while working under Vader with the apparent intent of keeping anybody on his ship from suffering any punishment got a lot of fans to sympathize with him.
  • As noted on the Mean Character, Nice Actor page, although Michael Palin's character in A Fish Called Wanda spends much of the film trying to assassinate a mean old lady, audiences invariably saw him as The Woobie. This is probably a combination of Palin being a nice guy, the fact his character is an an animal lover, and that he is more likable than the film's antagonist, Otto, who consistently torments him.
  • Dr. Noah Faulkner in Bio-Dome was probably meant to come off as the bad guy, but no matter which way you look at it, Bud and Doyle are ridiculously obnoxious, stupid beyond belief, and they might as well have been actively sabotaging the experiment. It's no wonder he went psychotic in the end.
  • White Goodman from Dodgeball is a chauvinistic Jerkass who takes his fitness regime and business to extremes, but his backstory is that he was a morbidly obese man who decided to get his act together and used the means by which he lost weight as the basis of his business. His antagonism towards Peter is mostly because he slept with several of White's trainers, and sent a male stripper to the one-year anniversary of his gym.
  • Ray Finkle, the deranged kidnapper and murderer of Ace Ventura. Anyone would turn out at least a little screwed up after what he'd been through. Seeing as he was the only professional athlete to come out of his small town, you'd think he'd be a beloved folk hero. Instead, he misses a field goal at the biggest football game of the year... and the townsfolk never, ever let him live it down. They even vandalize his parents' home, driving his mother to irreversible insanity and making his father so paranoid that he has to get his shotgun every time he answers the door! It's no wonder that Ray's room is covered with hateful graffiti and has Ray's traumatic blunder playing on an old movie projector at all hours of the day - or that Ray was eventually committed to a mental institution and suffered one hell of a gender-identity crisis.
  • The Orcs in The Lord of the Rings are bad guys, sure, but even Tolkien himself was a little disturbed looking back on how one-sided the story's view of them is. Just because they look ugly and fight the heroes doesn't mean they're all completely vile, especially considering they're victims of supernatural genetic manipulation by Morgoth.
  • The villains in Star Trek: Insurrection can be divided into two camps: corrupt Federation officials who want to make the Fountain of Youth qualities of the Ba'ku planet generally available to the galaxy at large and former residents of the planet who were exiled and now need the planet's qualities to stave off death. Both groups come across as quite a bit more sympathetic than the writers intended, despite their dog-kicking ways. It doesn't help that the Ba'ku only appear to occupy a few hundred square kilometres at most.
  • Depending upon the writer's intentions, Loki from Thor could be this. To list his evil deeds, he brought Jotuns into Asgard, set up the assassination of his recently discovered foster father, sent The Destroyer to Earth which probably killed quite a few people, and attempted to destroy Jotunheim. Yet, all these actions had understandable reasons behind them and it all boiled down to his desire to prove to his father that he was just as good as Thor. This created an incredibly sympathetic character with a fanbase to rival the hero's.
    • On the one hand, he's way more evil in the Avengers movie; on the other, even his actor greatly sympathizies with him and in an interview said that he "just want(s) to make it all okay" for him. The fact that Loki is currently a Badass Adorable Woobie child in the comics does not help. And the fact that there a lot of signs that Loki is being coerced via Mind Rape helps even less.
  • In Caveman, Tonda is the bad guy, and no question he's a jerk ass... but at least he's looking out for his tribe, and he was also shown to be genuinely upset when he lost Lana to the river (despite that because of his status he would be able to easily get another mate), so did he really deserve the beating (and possible death) he got in the end?
  • The Sean Young movie Dr. Jekyll & Ms. Hyde (a Gender Bender take on Jekyll & Hyde) has this for Helen Hyde, the female, supposedly evil side. Dr. Jacks (the Jekyll character) is very much a Designated Hero, being a whiny, arrogant chemist who feels his job at a major fragrance company is beneath him. Helen, on the other hand - while certainly possessing a ruthless, ambitious streak - comes across as more proactive than Jacks, and while she does try to stop Jack from taking back control of their body, he is doing exactly the same to her.
  • Tamir in The Dictator. Despite his plans to use the land of Wadiya's oil resources and sell them to the highest bidder, he actually comes off as a competent leader who actually seems to care about improvement and has a rightful stake as a ruler (while Aladeen is a terrible ruler who schemed his way to the throne and runs the land as an Egopolis).
  • Colonel Miles Quaritch of Avatar. Many viewers found his actions and motivations understandable, to the point that he's regarded by some as the true hero of the movie. He plays A Father to His Men totally straight, making his dislike of the Na'vi somewhat justified due to their penchant for killing his Marines. He's forced to sit idly by while his men are picked off one-by-one by the Na'vi because his higher-ups insist on attempting diplomacy with an enemy that he clearly (and correctly) believes aren't interested in diplomacy. Then, around the midpoint of the movie, a Marine he had trusted betrayed him and started gathering an army to drive humans off the planet, and you can kind of understand Quaritch's motivations for stopping it.
  • Joe, the Christian fundamentalist antagonist of The Ledge, is supposed to be presented as a close minded religious fanatic and a domineering husband. But even with these flaws, he is shown to be truly devoted to and in love with his wife Shana, and when he discovers that she is cheating on him, Joe is shown to be really devastated and heartbroken... the exact same reaction a lot of people would've had in his place.

    Literature 
  • Julian May's Galactic Milieu Trilogy has one of these on an organisational level. The language used in the finale and elsewhere clearly indicates that the titular Milieu are the good guys and the Metapsychic Rebellion the bad guys. However, the actual events of the story fail to relate this to such an extent that it's a horrific Downer Ending on first reading.
    • This is actually INCREASED if you read the other three books, and discover that the leader of the rebellion is exiled, becomes much more unambiguously a straight-up villain, and then founds the Milieu after his hard turn heel-wise.
    • It also doesn't help that all the good things and superior characteristics of Milieu members are necessarily informed, since the books are written from the perspective of a species that hasn't joined yet.
  • Hannibal Lecter was introduced in Silence of the Lambs as a cannibalistic Magnificent Bastard that once tried to eat the original hero, but gained such a vocal and ever-increasing unintentional fanbase that it appears to have led to inevitable Badass Decay in various sequels and remakes. Thomas Harris was against the Badass Decay, but the character was so popular that editors and movie makers basically said "Do it, or we'll find someone who will."
  • Too many characters in the Left Behind books to count, especially by comparison to the callous, mysogynistic, self-satisfied way the alleged heroes act.
  • Intentionally subverted in John Milton's Paradise Lost. Because the poem starts off from his viewpoint, Satan comes across as more of a Designated Villain than an actual bad guy. However, as the poem progresses, the reader is shown the story from the point of view of the angels and God, and it becomes clear that Satan is rationalizing his behavior just like humans tend to do. The reader is supposed to sympathize with Satan, but they are not supposed to realize why they are doing so until God (literally) tells them why he is wrong. However, because of the eloquence of his passionate arguments, even many who have read the work miss the point, and so believe that Satan is in fact the hero of the story, making this a straight trope. This may be a case of Values Dissonance mixed with Cool People Rebel Against Authority.
  • Murtagh, for many readers of the Inheritance Cycle, due to his level-headedness, sympathetic backstory, and poor treatment by the rest of the cast even well before his involuntary Face-Heel Turn, especially compared to Eragon, who is an Idiot Hero at best, a Sociopathic Hero at worst, and shows signs of being a Canon Sue either way. This likely had a strong hand in Murtagh's decay from Anti-Villain to Card-Carrying Villain in the third book.
    • However, in the fourth book, he is rerailed into a more sympathetic character again and finds a way to Heel-Face Turn back to his former Anti-Hero status. It seems that the author himself can't seem to decide whether Murtagh is meant to be sympathetic in his actions or not — at least so far as his self-justifications went after his Face-Heel Turn.
  • Rosaura de la Garza from Like Water for Chocolate was supposed to be seen as a selfish Jerkass bitch, but many readers ended up feeling sorry for her instead. Yeah, knowing that your husband only married you to be close to your little sister since the Evil Matriarch won't let him marry her is just the beginning to lots of humiliations coming from him, and one can't imagine how bitter such shit will make you in the end. Tita is very sympathetic, too, and indeed a good part of the book is a genuine Break the Cutie for her, but it's very unsettling to see how the narrative takes Rosaura's more or less understandable objections and makes her look like she's stupid, bitchy, or plainly evil in an attempt to make Tita and Pedro's deal better/worse, to the point of having her want Esperanza to stay there for her like Tita did to Elena... followed later by a ridiculously humiliating death and a And There Was Much Rejoicing. (Especially considering that Gertrudis, when she said that Pedro and Tita were meant to be, also added that Rosaura understood it to some point. Why did Laura Esquivel forget about that point?)
  • In Robin Hobb's Liveships fantasy series, you are encouraged to hate the pirate Kennett, who does unspeakably evil things throughout. Then we are given his back-story and suddenly you find yourself getting all teary-eyed over the fact that he is killed, instead of cheering wildly as should be appropriate for the scum.
  • Through most of the Twilight series, Leah is meant to be seen as a heartless bitch who didn't bow graciously out for Sam hooking up with Emily, uses the pack mind to think of various scandals, and tell Jacob he's being overly angsty about Bella. Thing is, with all of the shit that Leah goes through (her fiance is essentially brainwashed into loving her cousin, her father dies of a heart attack at the sight of her and her brother turning into werewolves, she's the only girl ever to become a werewolf, the entire pack thinks she's bitter and weak, her own brother says that she ruins everything, etc), she comes across as an Iron Woobie. She comes across as this even more so when one considers that the same people who call her selfish and whiny all coddle Jacob for being even more self-centered and whiny over Bella, who he was involved with far less than Leah was with Sam.
  • In the Hush, Hush series, Marcie Miller is arguably the most complex character there is. We're supposed to hate her for having money, wearing short skirts, and dating Patch after he and Nora break up, but it doesn't change the fact that she's virtually the only one who sees Patch's stalking as disturbing, dealt with learning that her father never loved her, and comforted her mother after her parents got a divorce (which is more than Nora ever does for her own mother). Then, there's the fact that Nora goes full-on Yandere towards Marcie, and it's kind of hard not to pity the girl.
    • And to add on top of it all, the final book reveals that Marcie died offscreen, several months before the epilogue (meaning she would have still been in her teens and not had a chance to do anything with her life) and that only five people, including her mother, attended her funeral. Vee's response to this is that she deserved it.
  • Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: A number of villains in the series end up as this for the following reasons: 1. Moral Dissonance, to an intolerable degree. 2. The supposed heroines are witches or/and jerkasses. 3. The villain may not seem that villainous if you think about it, which the author didn't. 4. The villain gets their Laser-Guided Karma...and comparing what the villain actually did or was even trying to do with what happens to the villain, the "karma" feels more like Disproportionate Retribution. 5. The reasons you must sympathize with the heroines carry Unfortunate Implications.
    • Yes, this is copy-pasted from the top of the page.
  • In The House of Night, there's the briefly-shown Kayla. She was Zoey's friend when Zoey was human, and supposedly "betrays" her by dating Zoey's boyfriend, Heath, unfairly sending the police to investigate Zoey in the wake of several murders, and forming a "Bitch Posse" with a group of not-nice female classmates. Thing is, Kayla began dating Heath after Zoey repeatedly said how she had dumped him, her going to the police was logical since Zoey openly threatened to drink Kayla's blood (and Kayla saw her drinking Heath's blood), and the alleged "Mean Girls" she befriended are never introduced, so there's nothing to go off of, save Zoey's word that they're "hateful sluts".
    • In Chosen, Erik's reaction to finding out that Zoey slept with Blake is over-the-top, with him repeatedly calling her a slut and a two-timer, while she cries about how he's so different and hurting her so much. Later, Aprodite accuses him of hating on Zoey just to boost his own ego, which is treated as her rightfully calling him out. The thing is, after Zoey spends the past book and all of Chosen sneaking around with two other men, Erik being angry with her comes across as pretty justified. Not to mention that everything he tells her (that Blake didn't actually love her, that he was obviously using her, that he'd dump her the instant he was tired of her, and that Zoey was kinda stupid not to notice) turned out to be true.
  • Mary Bennett, from Pride and Prejudice, was supposed to be, in her own way, just as annoying as Lydia and Kitty. However, the fact that she's the "plain" one who avoids going out because she doesn't want to here about how ugly she is compared to her sisters makes her an underdog from the start. Given the importance placed on women in general, and the Bennett girls in particular, needing to marry, it's not surprising that she does everything in her power to try to develop other talents to make up for her lack of beauty, or that she tries to show off those talents as much as possible. The fact that she's not really all that smart or talented just makes her more woobie-ish. Add in the fact that she's described as "bookish", and it's not surprising that the modern (bookish) readers of Pride and Prejudice are inclined to sympathize with her more than Austen intended.
    • In a similarly-situated family in Spain or Italy, Mary would have entered a convent where she would have played the organ in the chapel and taught in the girl's school, and been very busy and happy. Protestant England at the time had no place for someone like her. (A generation or so later, she might have become a missionary and traveled to far-off lands.)
  • Fifty Shades of Grey:
    • Christian Grey's deceased mother, Ella, is repeatedly called "the crack whore" by her son and he claims she made him go hungry and complains that she should have defended him from her pimp. However, judging by flashbacks, she couldn't defend herself when her pimp started attacking her, much less her son. Grey also mentions that she made a birthday cake for him, so she was obviously doing her best. She was also very young and might have given birth when she was a teen, possibly a runaway. Add in that some pimps get their hookers addicted to drugs to keep them from running and Ella comes off more as a Hooker with a Heart of Gold than she was intended.
    • Leila Williams, one of the previous subs, is an odd case. Grey keeps insisting she needs help due to being mentally ill, but Ana only treats her with contempt (because she thinks Leila is trying to lure Grey away from her) and envy (because she's a better submissive). There's also a strong indication that Leila's relationship with Grey led her to develop PTSD. Also, when she approaches Ana in book 3 to apologize for threatening her, Grey threatens to cut her off from psychiatric help she desperately needs and art school if she ever talks to Ana again.
  • In Harry Potter, the big one is probably Snape. Word of God was shocked that anyone could like the character. The first book had the simple idea that while he was not a nice guy and appeared to be the villain, he was ultimately revealed to be trying to stop the real one. He is the resident Sadist Teacher for most of the books, but his backstory reveals that he was actually bullied mercilessly by Harry's father, and his crush ultimately chose that bully over him, explaining why Harry bothers him so much. In the end, however, the sympathy is well-founded, as he is revealed to be part of a Zero Approval Gambit that leads to his death and Harry finally understanding him.
    • There's the minor character of Marietta Edgecomb, Cho's friend who tells on the DA to Umbridge and gets Hermione's jinx of "SNEAK" pockmarked across her face for it. Any sympathy readers might have for Marietta's plight is completely unintentional on Rowling's part (when asked about her, Rowling said, "I do so loathe a traitor!"). Yet many readers did find themselves feeling sorry for her for several mutually reinforcing reasons:
      • Marietta committed all of one bad deed that 1) didn't directly involve torture, murder, or any other crime, 2) failed completely in what it set out to do, 3) had little lasting impact (Dumbledore had to leave Hogwarts, but was back by the end of the school year), and 4) she might not even remember doing anyway. Yet Rowling insisted on showing us that that jinx was still on her face at the end of that school year and even at the start of the next school year (Marietta's final two appearances). Even some readers who might've agreed that Marietta deserved some punishment for what she'd done felt Hermione/Rowling went way too far on this.
      • Even after Marietta's betrayal, Cho tries to defend her to Harry, and many readers felt Cho's arguments on the whole made more sense than Harry's angry retorts to them did.
      • There's the sheer Moral Dissonance of Hermione's jinx. Umbridge physically and permanently scars a teenager and she's supposed to be a repulsive bitch that we're all supposed to hate (most readers, even most Marietta defenders, have no problem with this and would agree that Umbridge is indeed a monster). Hermione physically and permanently scars a teenager (with bigger, more noticable, and more humiliating scars than the ones Umbridge inflicted on Harry), and judging by Harry's smirk at Marietta's final, still fully jinxed appearance, it's supposed to be funny.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arnold Rimmer from Red Dwarf is most frequently described in-series as a "smeghead" or a "git". He's petty, vindictive, spiteful, a backstabber, selfish, cowardly, hypocritical, a Know-Nothing Know-It-All, aggressively nerdy, two-faced and... well, he has a lot of character flaws and let's leave it at that. However, he does have some genuine, deeply buried noble aspects and his combination of stubborn determination to achieve his goals despite how hopeless they are, combined with how often he is made the Butt Monkey, lead to many people sympathizing with him, despite the fact that in this case of Jerkass Woobie, the woobie part in no way excuses or justifies the jerkass part. He's pretty much the same in the novels as well.
  • The entire cast of Seinfeld, as revealed by the negative reaction to the finale in which they get their comeuppance.
  • Tony Soprano in The Sopranos. Due to being the protagonist, genuinely funny, and masterfully acted, the audience was far more sympathetic to him than the creator expected. David Chase kept writing him as doing increasingly heinous crimes, but the audience never really stopped "rooting for" him and the writers were aware that his tragic circumstances build a compelling bathos.
  • Frank Burns from M*A*S*H is similar to Rimmer in that, though he's obviously supposed to be such a Jerkass we don't like him, the hints of a terribly abusive family life and the constant treatment as the Butt Monkey make people sympathise with him anyway. And unlike Rimmer, there's a lot more evidence for Frank's malevolence (for example, Frank has several times tried to get Hawkeye charged with mutiny, at least once on trumped up charges, knowing that the odds of Hawkeye being hanged until dead if found guilty are quite high).
  • Cole Turner from Charmed is very much this. He spent most of his life working for the forces of evil but became good because he fell in love with Phoebe Haliwell. After a great deal of work, he became a normal human. He ended up being possessed by the Source of all Evil and the Charmed Ones had to vanquish him. After he came back, the sisters just flat out dismiss him as evil and didn't trust him from the start. They didn't even bother finding out if he was possessed by an entity that had possessed humans before. Cole tried over and over again to prove that he was good until he snapped and become evil. This caused a lot of Phoebe fans to hate Phoebe and feel sympathetic to Cole.
    • It gets even worse. When Cole was possessed by the Source, he tried to get rid of it. It was Phoebe (gone temporarily evil) who stopped that from happening.
    • Furthermore, a despondent Cole even realised that he was losing the battle with his dark side and tried to trick them into killing him at one point, but Phoebe realises that he's trying to commit Suicide by Cop and refuses to do it out of petty revenge. Meaning that once again, every death he caused from that point on was technically her fault.
  • T-Bag at various points in Prison Break. This is partly because he had an egregiously awful childhood and partly because he was very well-acted by Robert Knepper. Late on in the show's run, he ends up showing more compassion for a wounded foe than Linc, but by the end he's turned despicable again.
  • Isabella from Robin Hood is clearly meant to be entirely unsympathetic by the end of the show's run, thereby justifying Robin and Guy's attempt to kill her (which ends up successful... at the cost of their own lives). In that case, it probably wasn't such a good idea to have her back-story consist of Guy selling her into an abusive marriage to a sadistic rapist at the age of thirteen, or to have Robin constantly breaking into her bedroom at night to make thinly-veiled threats, flip-flopping in regards to his attitude and feelings toward her, and breaking every promise he ever makes to her. And any woman who is put into a Betty and Veronica Love Triangle with Kate as their rival is inevitably going to look good in comparison. Even Isabella ordering the execution of Meg, which is meant to be her Moral Event Horizon, is somewhat understandable, considering that she frees Meg from an arranged marriage only to catch her releasing a prisoner that has already made at least two attempts on Isabella's life. Likewise, the fact that she is one of the few characters on the show to avoid carrying the Idiot Ball earned her extra points, and even when she's Ax-Crazy, she manages to outsmart everyone around her.
  • Alfred Tomson from The Pillars of the Earth mini-series. He starts off nice and sympathetic enough, but starts going downhill quick and picking up speed. He becomes a jerkass to Jack early on, accuses Jack's mother of witchcraft, starts stalking Aliena, eventually pushes her into marrying him, beats her when he can't get it up on their wedding night, screws up the construction of the church, accidentally causing over seventy deaths (though it is made to look like his fault due to his arrogance and incompetence), and throws Aliena out onto the street after she gives birth to a red headed son (Alfred and Aliana both have brown hair, Jack has red). With all of these horrible things he does, he certainly crosses the Moral Event Horizon, but what makes him unintentionally sympathetic is that all of this comes off as horribly unnecessary. It is as if the writers were trying to make him look as bad and pathetic as possible specifically to make Jack look better. He becomes a meta example of The Woobie.
    • Apart from the witchcraft accusation, most of this is how Alfred behaved in the book. However, his motivation for all this was better handled; he was shown to have a somewhat legitimate grounds to feel that his father showed Jack preferential treatment, and Jack himself wasn't especially likeable as a teenager. Alfred doesn't come off as sympathetic by any means, but his antagonist status never feels contrived.
  • Paul Young from Desperate Housewives has this. In season 1, his wife commits suicide. As it turns out, she was being blackmailed by Martha Huber, who didn't even care, she just wanted money. Paul then murders her with the blender she stole from him. After this, we meet her sister, Felicia Tillman, who knew Paul from the past. Suspicious of Paul, but lacking proof, she cuts off her fingers and spills blood in his house. He's caught, arrested, and sentenced to life in prison. During this time, not a single one of his neighbors, who were best friends with his wife and had known him for years, came to visit him. When Felicia is discovered, he is released. Unsurprisingly, he wants to ruin the lives of those who betrayed him. And, when you consider what the housewives have pulled, involving leaving a man to die, and that they have forgiven far greater acts, like Katherine Mayfair, who can honestly blame him?
  • Scott Baldwin from General Hospital. He was portrayed as a bad guy because he hated two of the show's heroes: Luke and Sonny. Why did he hate Luke? Luke raped his wife and then ran off with her. Why did he hate Sonny? Sonny got his under-aged daughter hooked on drugs, slept with her, and forced her to strip. Yeah, Scott did a lot of bad things, but his grievances were very valid.
  • Maria Joaquina from Carrusel. Granted, she was not always the friendliest person. But nobody would blame her for not liking Cirilo back. In no way is she obligated to return his love romantically for any reason. Sure, sure, his parents donated blood to her mother. And he was always showering her with unwanted gifts and attention. But is she truly required to be anything other than civil and respectful towards him? That, and she is nowhere near as cruel as her other rich classmate, Jorge.
  • On Summer Heights High, it would appear that we are meant to dislike Jonas's English teacher, a shrill and shrewish woman who on at least one occasion verbally humiliates Jonas. However, many viewers (especially teachers who have to deal with students like Jonas) found her sympathetic because Jonas is relentlessly disruptive in class. She's clearly not getting any support from the principal or the rest of the staff either, and most of the time she simply comes across as a teacher whose job is being made a living hell by one student who refuses to shut his mouth.
  • The 2002 - 2004 PBS show "American Family" (not to be confused with the 1973 PBS documentary "An American Family") has one of these in the character of Evangelina Gonzalez, played by Rachel Ticotin. The show tries to make you think of her as a shrewish and uptight traitor to her ethnicity simply because she's a motivated Type A-type businesswoman who speaks flawless English. Instead, you find yourself preferring her over her professional martyr weakling sister Nina.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this became a serious problem with the character Gul Dukat. He was supposed to be viewed as a bloodthirsty warlord, directly comparable to Hitler. Yet he became a major case of Draco in Leather Pants, possibly because he was Affably Evil. The creators then had to make an episode, "Waltz", to remind the audience of how horrible he was. Unfortunately, it just made some people sympathize more.
  • Strangers with Candy: If you actually take Jerri Blank's life into consideration — her history of prostitution, drug abuse, issues with her appearance, relationships with her family and the world at large, her lack of general common sense — it makes scenes like the end of "A Blank Stare" a bit poignant: Jerri, saved by her friends and family, but still rejected when she attempts to hug them, simply wraps her arms around herself while standing alone in a basement.
  • Whether Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer deserved the audience sympathy he got after being chipped, whipped, and generally getting his ass kicked by characters, writers, and the universe alike is still highly debatable. Some do stick with the writers' interpretation (and intended response) that it was karmic retribution, deserved or brought on himself. Others think of him as a Jerkass Woobie whose ongoing Humiliation Conga made the heroes look like bigger assholes than him!
  • On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a surprising number of viewers apparently felt sorry for Skye's ex-boyfriend, despite the fact that his selfish actions resulted in multiple deaths... because Coulson left him to fend for himself in Hong Kong while fitted with a bracelet that would prevent him from hacking at the end of the episode.
  • Everyone not named Ted Nugent on I'm With Nugent." A likely good reason (besides Genre Savvy) that it only lasted one barely-noticed season was that instead of the usual band of reality show contestants that could at least make it Jerkass vs. Jerkass Sadist Show was the fact that they were a cherry-picked list of all the kind of people he didn't like (gays, minorities, metrosexuals and PETA) and basically said as much whether it was kicking off a guy fresh off the bus that never even gave his name or said a word because "he smelled like a French whore on fire" or how he outed the Manly Gay big enough to curb-stomp him and stated he didn't like the guy due to said homosexuality despite said guy never doing/saying anything related to his sexuality. The PETA member hyped to be the Sitcom Archnemesis never achieved such status and was only memorable for wearing her shirt and being a strict vegetarian, so she went out with a whimper instead of a boom. Hell, even his family proved to arguably be the biggest Woobies on the show because they have to live with him as his wife went out of her way to personally cook for the case, including a vegetarian meal for the PETA woman and his son got mocked for favoring the Black guy to win as "You only like him cause he's BLAAACK!" And yes, this show was an Early-Bird Cameo for a pre-Attention Whore Tila Tequila and yes, you fucked up when you can even make her a Woobie even in hindsight.
  • The Designated Villain of The Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last", where a bookworm type who spends the whole episode being abused by every person he meets, and only wants to be alone with his books. Then a nuke wipes out the entire city while he's safe in a bank vault, and he's finally free to read his books in peace...until his reading glasses break. While Word of God says that this was his just punishment for his misanthropy, the character comes off as very sympathetic in a world where people act like such jerks. Sterling's case is further hurt by one scene in which as a cruel joke, the bookworm's wife asks him to read poetry from one of his books to her; he eagerly obliges, only to find that she has drawn lines over the text on every page.

    Mythology 
  • Modern audiences usually view most of the gods of Classical Mythology as Jerkass Gods. Both of the gods often viewed as sympathetic by modern audiences, namely Hades and Hephaestus, were The Scrappy to the Ancient Greeks. Hades was so hated and feared that there were no temples officially named for him, Greeks would avoid speaking his name, and they'd turn away if they ever had to make offerings towards him. Why? Because he's the god of death, and the Greeks didn't like dying. Hephaestus was hated simply because... he was an ugly cripple. Poor guy.
    • Not limited to modern times: Ares was originally one of two gods of war, the other being Athena. Of the two, Athena was the skilled general and protector, and Ares was a slavering bloodthirsty madman that just wanted to see the world burn... and he usually lost when the two came into conflict. In fact, he usually lost in basically any interaction with any other god, and occasionally with mortals. Enter the Romans, with their... stricter views on the role of women and their higher sympathy for war just for the glory of it, and Ares became suddenly a bit of an Ensemble Dark Horse, to the extent that Mars, his Roman counterpart, eventually became THE god of war.
  • For that matter, in modern religions, there are people with genuine sympathy for the devil. This may actually have some roots in earlier mythologies. In Classical Mythology, Prometheus was a hero who challenged the gods and stole fire (forbidden knowledge) for humanity and in effect allowed humanity to progress beyond what the gods would have us do. As a result, Prometheus was punished by the gods for all eternity. Many parallels exist in the story of the devil, but with the obvious exception that he's not supposed to be viewed as the hero.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Therese, Anthony's ex-wife in For Better or for Worse, is portrayed as being a needlessly vindictive harpy toward Liz, openly expressing discomfort whenever Anthony even tries to speak to her for a few minutes. Her rudeness seems bad, except... well, it's obvious to anyone reading between the lines that there's still latent attraction between the two, which is confirmed when Anthony asks Liz to "wait for him" when the marriage seems to be going south. Unusual among examples in that Lynn Johnston later devotes a few weeks to strips explicitly making her sympathetic — it's in these that we find out that Anthony and her parents pressured her into having a child when she really didn't want one, and that she had suffered from post-partum depression after the birth.
    • Note that the above was revealed by Anthony while begging Liz to wait for him — he even explains that he made false promises to Therese so she'd have his child, assuming having a baby would make her fall into line. He thinks this makes him more sympathetic.
    • As The Unfavorite, April also falls into this. Supposedly a rebellious teen, she constantly gets the short end of the stick and is supposed to be grateful for it. One week-long arc involves April deciding to skip eating dinner with her folks to focus on finishing her homework; Elly reacts like this is the end of the world and sends John to loom threateningly over April until she comes down and apologizes. She also gets blamed for falling into the river and causing Farley's Heroic Sacrifice, a guilt she lives with from the tender age of four.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • At the end of TNA Impact's "The Whole F'n Show," while the ECW EV2.0 group were gathered in the ring, Fourtune jumped them from behind as they delivered a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to them with Ric Flair yelling at Dixie Carter that it was her fault. While Fortune are supposed to come off as heels, even before hearing AJ Styles and Kazarian's comments on "Reaction" about Dixie bringing in Ring Oldies rather than using (established) home grown talent (they even got their own PPV that was a tribute to the old ECW), many fans believed that the "heels" were justified. The chants of "THIS IS AWESOME!" during said beatdown didn't help at all.
    • What else didn't help was the fact that that episode of Impact was the second time (behind the aforementioned PPV) the Hardcore Originals took center stage just "one more time" to say "thank you". What ELSE didn't help was the fact that the EV2 guys were being treated as faces for taking the spotlight out of the gate at the expense of TNA's homegrown and long-term talent, something that Paul Heyman never allowed outsiders to do in ECW at least without earning it in the company first — which is ironically part of the reason they loved working for him.
    • Then Fortune joined Hogan and Bischoff's Immortal conspiracy upon The Reveal, which not many people thought would last and even fewer wanted to. Not only was Immortal was doing the same thing Fortune was accusing EV2 of, not only were Hogan and Flair always portrayed as enemies until that point, but there were a few subtle and/or inadvertent hints being thrown out there that TNA was at least thinking of having Fortune turn on Immortal somewhere down the line. Cue Immortal and Fortune working together to basically end EV2, Fortune grabbing a couple titles, Bischoff mistreating AJ Styles some (who is his own case of Unintentionally Sympathetic every time he turns heel anyway), and finally, Main Event Mafia members going to WWE instead of signing on for a plan to reunite as Crimson's "them" outfit and Fortune finally got that Heel-Face Turn, officially recognized as the good guys fans viewed them as all along, and went on to make 2011 a collection of awesome moments for themselves, mostly at Immortal's expense. Between this and Jeff Hardy's infamous issues, Immortal never recovered.
    • Fortune are actually a greater example of this trope. They went from just unintentionally sympathetic, to unintentionally the heroes.
    • Then again, this is standard fare for AJ Styles. A heel turn for him is really nothing more than a phase to slowly transition him into a stronger babyface.
  • In WWE, there's Daniel Bryan's 2012 heel run, or at least the start of it (some may debate that it continued past this or to this day, but that's for another discussion). At the time he won the title, the two other guys in the World Title picture were The Big Show and Mark Henry, two guys who are each literally twice his size and the first match featuring all three of them was a goddamn steel cage match. Even putting aside the fact that Bryan is hugely popular among Smarks while the other two generally get the opposite reaction (at least Show was; Henry's been very well-appreciated at the time), it was a little hard to really get against Bryan, if only because of how massively out-muscled he was.
  • A good example would be Kane, who is one of few pro wrestlers whose character has a deeply fleshed out back story. Even when they try to turn him heel and act like a monster, people will still often be behind him, if often only just because of how fucked up his life has always been.

    Roleplay 
  • In Dino Attack RPG, when Atton Rand wrote the fight scene between Snake and Plastic Serpent, he'd intended it to be representing Snake Plissken getting revenge on Solid Snake for what he saw as the latter ripping him off.note  In order to get this message across, he tried to write Plastic Serpent to sound like a low-life criminal scumbag that made Snake look honorable by comparison, complete with references to him screwing Snake over and trying to steal credit for his actions. Players still found themselves relating to him, though, the reason being that Atton Rand was already writing Snake as an unsympathetic jerk. Furthermore, instances of Plastic Serpent screwing Snake over have Noodle Incident status since we never actually saw any of that happen in-game. Instead, all we saw was Snake inflicting a seemingly unprovoked No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. Given all that, it's infinitely easier to sympathize with Plastic Serpent in this scenario.

    Tabletop Games 

    Theatre 
  • It's really, really hard not to be sympathetic to Harry Beaton in Brigadoon, given that all he wants to do is leave a village where he is utterly miserable and in which he has been essentially imprisoned for all eternity without his consent.
  • Shylock from The Merchant of Venice to modern readers, who are much more prone to sympathize with an oppressed Jew getting some payback on an antisemitic society. While Shakespeare gave Shylock some sympathetic motivation, he very possibly did not intend the audience to root for him. Shylock is, after all, a heathen who wants to murder a Christian over injured pride.
    • In modern productions, he is often intentionally portrayed as sympathetic and sometimes even as the victim.
    • There are those who believe that Shakespeare may have intended exactly this interpretation, having written the play as a veiled attack on anti-Jewish bigotry.
  • Laertes from Hamlet. Yes, he tries to kill Hamlet and is Claudius' pawn, but he also had his father murdered, his sister committed suicide, and his best friend, Hamlet, was the primary reason for both of their deaths. He is also manipulated by the King into being a pawn, being falsely promised the throne. Prior to that, it was shown that he was emotionally abused by his father, being ignored and having rumours spread about him. Oh, and he dies at the end. Poor guy. At least he and Hamlet got to exchange Forgiveness with each other before dying.
  • Many fans of the musical Wicked think of the Wizard as sympathetic and think that Madame Morrible is the real villain. It's not entirely without reason; his songs are entirely about how he wants to make people, including Elphaba, happy, and he's genuinely heartbroken when it's revealed that he was Elphaba's father. Plus, his Fantastic Racism towards the animals is actually a Genghis Gambit.

    Video Games 
  • Kingdom Hearts II: The Nobodies. They are played as disposable monsters without hearts, incapable of any emotion. Still, despite their blatantly evil acts, some fans empathize with the Nobodies' desire to obtain hearts. It doesn't help that they act out what they remember of their emotions, making it easy to forget that they're technically uncaring. It also doesn't help that Roxas is a Nobody, and definitely seems to still have feelings, though he's said to be a special case because he was created with Ven's heart.
    • Interestingly, there are two scenes where the Nobodies straight out acknowledge that they are emotionless. Twice, one of them gets a big speech on how they're in the right, one talking about the pain of not having a heart... then Sora points out that they can't have pain, as they don't have a heart. The response? To completely shift out, and basically tell Sora, "Okay, ya got me." This behavior mimics that of real-life sociopaths.
    • This has been addressed by the creators; the Nobodies got a game revolving around them (Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days), and Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] also revealed that the stronger Nobodies tend to gain new hearts over time, so Xemnas lied to them to make them think that what they were feeling was a lie. Several former Nobodies have come back to life, and it's strongly implied that Roxas and Namine will as well, so all but four of them are unaccounted for.
  • Gears of War 3 barely averts this. While the Locusts were portrayed as genocidal monsters in the first two games, the third finds them on the edge of extinction like humanity, struggling against an insane mob of their own mutated kin and a glitchy human superweapon that will render their entire species extinct. On top of this, there are strong implications that Adam Fenix initially cooperated with the Locusts against the Lambent years before the start of hostilities between the two species and is now (albeit reluctantly) firing said superweapon because it will save his own species while it destroys theirs. Sympathy is averted only because of brutal, unrelenting hostility and disregard for human life shown by the Locusts, both their loyal remnants and savage encampments, but especially by Queen Myrrah herself.
  • Valkyria Chronicles: Faldio. Faldio was wrong to shoot Alicia and the game makes us very, very aware that we are not supposed to like him. Unfortunately, they didn't do a very good job of setting that up: it was bad, but there was no other way to save Gallia and it worked. This might have gone over better if his reasoning were faulty, but his logic was pretty sound, and preserving the game's moral stance and the titular premise could not have accommodated his simply asking, whether she agreed or not.
    • The same goes for Gallia's military. General Damon is probably the least sympathetic character in the game, if only because the people who are bigger assholes than he is don't spend as much time on-screen as he does. He's also the only representative the Gallian main army has because the rest are all Cannon Fodder. The story wants us to believe that every non-militia soldier is an aristocratic Jerk Ass because of Damon's example, and because only a Jerk Ass would choose to join the army full time (rather than serving under conscription like the militia). That's why no one gives even a fraction of a damn when they're murdered en masse.
  • Possibly Miles Edgeworth from the first Ace Attorney game, a prosecutor who only cares about winning because his father was killed and he was raised and mentored by an even worse prosecutor, while seeing the man he thought had killed his father get off because of an unethical defense attorney. Shu Takumi commented that Edgeworth was supposed to be seen as tragic, yet unlikeable in that game. Possibly as a result, he got Character Development in subsequent games and became a more intentionally likeable character.
  • DmC: Devil May Cry has Lilith, a demonic woman who is pregnant with the villain's baby. During the course of the story, the protagonist Dante attacks her to use her as part of a hostage exchange. During the entire cutscene, Lilith is incredibly afraid, and when things appear to be okay, Vergil shoots her in the stomach to kill the baby (an act that Dante briefly calls him out for before things quickly go south). Lilith's horrified reaction to the baby's death before she is killed by Vergil left a bad taste in players' mouths. Then there is Mundus himself, who is incredibly (and justifiably) angered over what happened and calmly asks Dante why they killed his unborn child. (Of course, there is hypocrisy in that Mundus essentially did the exact same thing by killing Dante and Vergil's mother Eva and attempting to kill the twins, but Dante going along with Vergil's suggestion to mock Mundus over the deaths of his loved ones didn't help in the slightest.)

    Web Comics 
  • Syphile from Drowtales is treated like The Woobie by many fans, despite her mistreatment of Ariel since the latter was only an infant and treating many of her friends and servants poorly. This is due in part to her background as a "Well Done, Son" Guy to her adoptive mother Quain'tana, who she was never able to satisfy, and the apparent abuse she suffered at the hands of Sil'lice, because she was tainted (and to top it off, the only reason she became tainted was to please Quain'tana, who then immediately rejected her). The author said that she was "not meant to have much redeeming features, she lost them all over time. I wouldn't portray her as anything else", but given her recent death it's obvious that a lot of people felt for her. This is further compounded by the Continuity Snarl of the canon, where certain elements like stories where Quain'tana explicitly beat her or Sil'lice and Mel'arnach raped her her are no longer considered canon. In other words, she certainly wasn't treated well, but not nearly as horrifically as was formerly portrayed.
  • Angelica from Jay Naylor's Original Life was meant to be the personification of everything the author didn't like. She ended up being the most likeable character in the entire strip, especially because everyone else is such an unrepentant tool to her, she comes across as The Woobie.
  • Pablo, introduced in The Fall of Little Red Riding Hood, came across as way more sympathetic than the sociopathic, coldhearted protagonist, mostly due to all the crap he's put through in the story. Naylor apparently never intended for readers to like him, so he made a follow-up comic where he pines for Mary Ann Huckleberry — who completely ignores him while having sex with a well-hung horse — while espousing his personal philosophy of selflessness (which is supposed to be despicable, by Naylor's Objectivist standards). It only made him even more tragic and relatable.
  • Zenith in Commander Kitty. Despite spending much of the comic as a perfection-obsessed megalomaniac who spliced together who knows how many victims in an attempt to create her perfect mate, the final frustration of her plans along with her ultimate fate manage to push her into Woobie territory - note that the latter is after her Heel-Face Brainwashing!
  • Sarda in 8-Bit Theater. Yes, he's out to humiliate and murder the "heroes" of the story, but when you see the horrible things that happened to him in his childhood, you can't help but feel he has a valid point in what he's doing.
    • It gets something of a Lampshade Hanging. Red Mage pretty much points out that even though his reasons for revenge are understandable, Sarda could have easily fixed his life on his own once he gained his powers if he had just set aside his petty desire for revenge. In order words, while Sarda's reasons for being a villain may be sympathetic, this does not excuse the horrible things he does.

    Western Animation 
  • Tom of Tom and Jerry fame is an even more gratuitous example. In this case, Tom is simply defending his home and getting abused by the freeloader when he tries to stop him. This has, on at least one occasion, resulted in Tom being killed. For trying to keep Jerry from stealing from him.
  • Many Looney Tunes villains fall under this category, particularly Sylvester. Sure, they are willing to eat the good guy, but in terms of eliciting sympathy, the agony they go through far outweighs any harm they want to do.
    • This is particularly true for Elmer Fudd. The director Friz Freleng realized that he was more sympathetic than Bugs Bunny in some shorts. So Freleng created Yosemite Sam, who is more of a jerk and far less sympathetic than Elmer.
    • In the Daffy/Speedy series of cartoons, Daffy could sometimes come across as this. For example, in "Daffy's Diner", he's simply trying to protect himself from a vicious bandito cat who threatens to blow Daffy's brains out if he can't produce an authentic mouse-burger for him. And yet, even though the cat is the real villain of the cartoon, it's Daffy who loses in the end. While, in "Feather Finger," Daffy's a homeless street rat who's just trying to earn enough cash to survive. And yet, in this cartoon, he also winds up being the big loser in the end. Nevermind that Mayor Katt was not only the one who really wanted Speedy captured but essentially conned Daffy into doing this deed for him.
  • In the Classic Disney Shorts, Donald Duck's multiple failures are meant to be deserved, especially when he encounters the likes of Chip 'n Dale. Nevermind that most of the time they are the ones who start the trouble by stealing Donald's belongings or messing with his attempts at, well, having a life. When he does begin the fights, he gets royally screwed by the cartoon's end. Yet, the audience is clearly meant to be rooting for Don's adversaries all the time, even if the duck has done no wrong whatsoever in the picture and the pests just felt like ruining his day for laughs and giggles.
  • Hoggish Greedly from Captain Planet, to some, because some of his motivation is humanly understandable. His grandfather was, we are told, a nature-lover who treated him harshly; he was a self-made man pig who turned against environmentalism in the process. Anti-environmentalists the world over can relate. He also never completely understood the long-term damage he was causing, unlike most of the villains who loved what was happening.
    • There's also the fact that he has a Morality Pet of sorts: he has a Lonely Rich Kid son who comes to sorta befriend the Planeteers (after being Linka's Crazy Jealous Guy), and when said son accidentally falls victim to one of Hoggish's plans, Hoggish does what he can to help the Planeteers so they can save his child's life.
    • Actually, Hoggish's grandfather was initially an anti-environmentalist himself and Hoggish wouldn't know about the change until he temporarily inherited his grandfather's state. (His grandfather faked his death to see if Hoggish would change as well. It didn't work.)
  • Swiper the Fox from Dora the Explorer is probably the most beloved character on the show, with some people feeling sorry for him due to his kleptomania and being shunned by Dora. This is probably why he ended up becoming less of an antagonist as the series went on.
  • Plankton from Sponge Bob Square Pants. At the start, he was a sort of evil, yet mildly successful business rival of skinflint but basically good-hearted Mr. Krabs. Now he's a full on Woobie who can't catch a break and is routinely mentally and psychologically tortured by the now total Jerk Ass Designated Hero Krabs.
  • Total Drama:
    • Ezekiel, during the third season. If his treatment was meant to convince his disproportionately large fan base that he was unlikeable, it failed — instead you just have a lot of angry Zeke-fans.
    • Heather may also count, especially in the first half of the same season, as everybody continues to act as if she were plotting against them even though she hasn't done anything particularly nasty since season one. When she tried to warn Leshawna that Alejandro was trying to manipulate her, Leshawna tackles her and knocks her tooth out, and still brags about it even after she finds out Heather was telling the truth!
    • Gwen in World Tour, to some extent. While she was wrong for kissing Courtney's boyfriend, Duncan, almost all of Courtney's (and the Duncan/Courtney shippers') wrath is towards Gwen while Duncan is given somewhat of a free pass. She loses all of her team's respect (minus Cody) and she is treated like scum for taking someone else's boyfriend. Duncan, in contrast, is mostly ignored by Courtney until Gwen's elimination. In All Stars she's part of the Villainous Vultures despite her actions falling more under What the Hell, Hero? than actually being villainous and her good moments in the past. Gwen spends much of that season trying to get back on Courtney's good side while Duncan is mostly ignored, despite being just as guilty. Courtney's grudge is pretty much portrayed as perfectly reasonable.
  • Transformers Animated: Blackarachnia. She was written to be a pitiful character, but the writers went a little too far by making her Left for Dead by her True Companions, romance with Optimus Prime, and a poor girl driven mad by her freakish mutation and having to join the Decepticons just to survive, then told by an old buddy it would have been better if she died and hints that there was still some goodness in her. However, Word of God seems to imply the Heel-Face Turn the audience was hoping for was kind of in their heads...
  • The Ice King from Adventure Time comes across as this a lot, even before he's established as a Tragic Villain, because in many episodes he's just minding his own business while Finn is the troublemaker. In addition, almost anything bad he did do was a misguided and desperate attempt to be happy. Fittingly the writers started playing off this and essentially made Ice King the Token Evil Teammate for the heroes.
    • Lemongrab was this in the episode "Too Young," because he appears to be severely mentally handicapped and had a job he was incapable of doing right (ruling a kingdom). Finn and Princess Bubblegum are disproportionately hard on him, up to the point of actually beating him up and making him cry. Averted in later episodes, where A) Princess Bubblegum helps Lemongrab, and B) Lemongrab is genuinely being a horrible person and deserves what's coming to him.
  • The Urpneys of The Dreamstone, the abused lackeys of Zordrak sent to steal the stone so as to make nightmares. They are abused regularly for any screw ups and contradictions to their bosses' plans (multiple mooks have in fact been killed as punishment) and, as with many Harmless Villains, usually face humiliating and merciless defeats from the Land Of Dreams (which is saying something considering how sacharrine the place usually is). Especially applies to Frizz and Nug, who spend a lot more time being pitiful Nervous Wrecks than doing anything particularly dastardly.
  • Many My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic antagonists and villains receive this treatment:
    • "The Great and Powerful" Trixie, while bringing it upon herself with her boasting, ends up losing her reputation and probably almost everything she possessed at the end of her introductory episode, which some people believe was disproportionate to her wrongdoings. Part of the sympathy may arise from the fact that the main ponies antagonized her because she's so obnoxious, and because Twilight exposed her without meaning to. Season 3 actually refers to this later on, when Trixie returns to Ponyville to get revenge for having her livelihood ruined.
    • The high-tier villains also get this. Some people actually manage to sympathize with Discord's goals. It helps that he's a silly, goofy Trickster Archetype who spent 1000 years sealed in stone. (Even though he was sealed precisely for being evil in the first place, and his idea of fun involves copious amounts of Mind Rape and chaos.)
      • As of Keep Calm and Flutter On, Discord more becomes a case of Cry for the Devil when you find he actually does have a Freudian Excuse for his behavior and reformed quite readily when he actually made a friend.
    • Queen Chrysalis. Even though she happens to lack Nightmare Moon's backstory or Discord's wackiness, and could arguably be considered worse than both of them, some fans tend to look upon her attempted takeover of Equestria as her merely doing what she thinks is right for her species, or possibly that Changelings operate on Blue and Orange Morality rather than Always Chaotic Evil and Chrysalis herself has a particularly sick sense of humor. Suffice to say that Alternative Character Interpretation is par for the course for this fandom.
    • Rainbow Dash in "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well." The episode is notorious for making making it look like the rest of the cast goes overboard in trying to teach Dash humility, thinking that Dash's actions weren't bad enough to merit the treatment she got. Keep in mind, conceited about it or not, she did save no less than six lives.
    • Good old Pinkie Pie as well. She has a near schizophrenic paranoia attack whenever she feels like even one of her friends has abandoned or forgotten about her, which is typically just ignored by the cast and Played for Laughs. It's just so hard to not feel bad for the normally happy pony when she's having a sleepless breakdown at a mailbox, waiting for a letter from a friend.
  • Dragon Tales gave us a one-shot character Mr. Pop, who only made an appearance in "Wheezie's Last Laugh." He is meant to be obnoxious, with an Annoying Laugh and hamming up everything for no reason at all. His shtick is taking sounds and swapping them; he takes a liking to Wheezie's laugh in particular, and steals it without her permission. The problem here is that Wheezie is The Scrappy to many viewers, especially those outside the target age range, with her laugh being one of the major reasons. Since her laugh comes off as actually annoying whereas Mr. Pop's laugh sounds comical, you end up rooting for Mr. Pop instead.
  • Planet Sheen has Dorkus Aurelius, the Big Bad of the series. Not only did Sheen destroy his house at the beginning of the series, but he also replaced Dorkus as the Emperor's top advisor (keep in mind that Sheen isn't smart enough to pass the fourth grade). Now, Sheen regularly receives glory and praise for saving the planet (always from disasters he caused), while Dorkus is always trying to expose Sheen for the idiot he is. Not helping matters is how Sheen constantly makes fun of Dorkus's name.

Unfortunate ImplicationsUnexpected Reactions to This IndexUnintentionally Unsympathetic
Uncanny ValleyAudience ReactionsUnintentionally Unsympathetic
Ungrateful BastardCharacterization TropesUnluckily Lucky
Translation Train WreckBad Writing IndexUnintentionally Unsympathetic
Unfortunate Item SwapIndex FailureUnwinnable
Noble DemonSliding Scale of Character AppreciationDraco in Leather Pants

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
182405
0