Sometimes it is easy being green.
If you're familiar with things like Popeye and some of the old comic characters, you would oftentimes see this cast of characters that takes on different roles depending on the comic or cartoon. They might be businessman in one [cartoon] or a pirate in another. Depending on the story that was being told, they would change roles. So, to a certain degree, I look at our characters in a similar way and feel that they can take on different roles in different games. It's more like they're one big family, or maybe a troupe of actors.
You have a set of characters. They work well as an ensemble; so well, in fact, that they can be slotted into just about any scenario you care to imagine, within the constraints of genre (fitting an ensemble into a different genre is a completely different trope). So you can see them, identical but for different trappings (he was wielding a sword, now it's a blaster pistol...), in places as diverse as Feudal Japan
, the Modern Era, Space Opera
, etc., etc., etc.
What you have is a Universal-Adaptor Cast: found anywhere that an ensemble is cast into an odd situation and yet fits in perfectly because their roles and characters are so well-defined. Many Moe
shows are practically Merchandise-Driven
versions of the Universal Adaptor Cast. Separate Scene Storytelling
is often done this way.
This is one of the essential justifications for Transplanted Character Fic
, including the High School AU
The Magnificent Seven Samurai
is a specific subtrope of this. Commedia dell'Arte
, the former Trope Namer
, is a whole subgenre of theatre based upon the concept.
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Anime & Manga
- Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito is a straight anime example; this one a Yuri series set in a bunch of settings with the same basic characters due to reincarnation.
- Every episode of Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai has the characters playing different roles in a parody of a given genre.
- The various incarnations of Tenchi Muyo!, exemplified by the spinoff of the Pretty Sammy series.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann:
- This dates back to the beginnings of anime, with Osamu Tezuka's troupe of characters. They were a little more versatile than the standard commedia troupe (several of them "played" both heroes and villains), but the idea remains that they are "actors" portraying characters.
- Code Geass spinoff manga Strange Tales of the Bakamatsu places the cast of characters in pre-Meiji Japan, with La Résistance being the nationalist rebels and Lelouch himself leading The Shinsengumi as a cover identity. Oh, and in this universe, "Geass" means the ability to summon Knightmare Frames.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion has two Alternate Universe / Alternate Continuity spin offs: Angelic Days and Gakuen Datenroku, the former being a fluffy shojo manga and other one being an X Meets Y scenario with Persona. There is also the radio drama Shin Seiki Evangelion, which is where the characters are trying to create a new show so they can continue after, you know, all of humanity is destroyed at the end. As the title sounds, Asuka wants a sentai show.
- One Piece frequently puts the Straw Hats into alternate universes, such as one in which they are all fantasy monsters and another in which they — even the males — are middle-aged women. The most frequently used setting is one in 19th Century Japan, in which Luffy is in the police force of Japan under the rule of Cobra. The Chopperman setting, in which Chopper acts as a superhero with Nami as his assistant and Luffy as his Humongous Mecha against Usopp, Franky and a Quirky Miniboss Squad composed of the rest of the crew, initially started out as special that was a few minutes long, but got a full-length filler episode after the Ice Hunter Arc.
- School Rumble tried this a few times as well. Even more so in its short sequel of sorts, School Rumble Z which was mostly composed of the cast in various different alternate universe or possible future settings.
- Urusei Yatsura has its large cast take on the roles of Japanese historical figures like Miyamoto Musashi, or fight in the Heian Self-Defense Force. Of course Kintaro is an recurring character in the modern age, so yeah... As usual, Hilarity Ensues.
- Lupin III and his crew (and you can add Zenigata, too) have found themselves facing pretty much anything that TMS Entertainment can come up with for them. From the 15th century to the 22nd century, they've found themselves in all sorts of situations.
- Most major superhero teams have had "imaginary stories" where they were medieval knights, steampunk warriors, etc.
- Marvel Fairy Tales retells various Fairy Tales with the X-Men, Spider-Man and The Avengers.
- Marvel Noir does the same, but with Film Noir-style tales.
- Sam & Max: Freelance Police. It helps to be the Freelance Police.
- Disney comics often feature the characters in various different settings, such as medieval fantasy, science fiction and parodies of famous books or movies. In one Mickey Mouse story, Mickey and pals performed what was supposed to be a play by Moličre but was actually a parody of one.
- The Archie Comics gang. Including for a while, various spinoffs were they were in space, in the past, or superheroes.
- The Brazilian equivalent of Archie, Monica's Gang — helps that there alongside the core group there are Loads and Loads of Characters in various settings (the hillbillies, the jungle animals, the astronaut, the caveman...).
- The Judge Dredd Alternity Special put several characters from the Dreddverse into various alternate historical periods, such as Dredd taking on Al Capone, Shimura facing off against the Angel Gang during the Old West and Mean Machine Angel in a Film Noir Private Detective parody.
Films — Live-Action
- The Carry On movies are a great example of this. A group of comedy actors (that did change gradually over the years, as people joined, left, or came back) made films together in a wide variety of settings and parodying a wide variety of genres.
- Likewise, the Marx Brothers. The brothers, plus Margaret Dumont, always play the same basic characters under different names, transplanted into any number of settings — race course, opera house, a very thinly-disguised Nazi Germany, and so on.
- The Three Stooges!
- Crosby, Hope and Lamour in the Road to ... movies.
- The French comedic foursome "Les Charlots" played basically the same characters within several movies during the '70s/'80s, in various settings. Among other things, this included them fighting Dracula (Les Charlots contre Dracula), a spoof of James Bond flicks (Bons baisers de Hong Kong) or a retelling of The Three Musketeers (Les Quatre Charlots mousquetaires and its sequel).
- Abbott and Costello meet...
- Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung & Yuen Biao.
- Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius novels do this explicitly. Many of the characters are clearly identified with their original Commedia dell'Arte counterparts, with Jerry as Harlequin, and swung through a wide variety of settings and situations without clear explanation.
- Hal Duncan's The Book of All Hours does this extensively with its central cast. This is an interesting case, because each character is the living embodiment of an archetype superimposed upon multiple realities. So by the second book, where reality has degenerated into isolated wells of time and space, and the characters move from one reality well to another, they all become Dangerously Genre Savvy, having absolutely no qualms about screwing all possible realities to their advantage. This results in them routinely sitting around a table and leafing through the "script" for the next reality, deciding who is going to play what.
- The Years of Rice and Salt is an Alternate History of the 700 years following The Black Death, the "alternative" being thrown in by the idea that all Europeans died, not just 1/3 of them. The same group of characters are reincarnated as characters with the same first letters of their names, until 2002 CE.
- The Blackadder series, including the final movie.
- Northern Exposure did this a few times, once casting all the series regulars as the turn-of-the-century founders of Cicely, and once all showing up in a dream sequence Joel had about returning to New York.
- The cast of El Chavo del ocho enacted different roles in other shows (most notably in El Chapulín Colorado) but often looked and acted almost the same as their Chavo characters.
- Chespirito, when not doing his usual characters, can be from Christopher Columbus to Sancho Panza. The rest of the cast tend to be this outside El Chavo del ocho, where only Chespirito's character is recurring.
- Both Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, with their frequent crossovers and overlapping supporting casts, did this from time to time, setting stories during the French Revolution, 1930s Adventure Archaeologist stories, bizarre mermaids with human husbands soap opera, or having the supporting cast playing the production staff.
- The Goodies had several episodes in which the usual modern day trio were inexplicably transplanted to some historical era and played characters from that era.
- Kamen Rider Decade offers an interesting interpretation of this: the title character is meant to wander between the parallel universes, becoming whatever each needs in time: hero or villain, savior or destroyer. His abilities actually include Undead Tax Exemption, which gives him a role to play in each new world like policeman, lawyer, door-to-door salesman, etc. When he dies in the Grand Finale, his friends are told that this means he's Killed Off for Real, but they say Screw Destiny and find a way to revive him.
- An in-universe example in a Twilight Zone episode in which a prisoner on Death Row states that it's all his dream, and the people in his dream are all from his waking life — and they swap roles every night (i.e. The Judge becomes a guard, the priest becomes his lawyer, etc.).
- Paul Shane (working class Loveable Rogue), Jeffrey Holland (Shane's morally upright Straight Man) and Su Pollard (The Ditz) in Hi-de-Hi! (1950s holiday camp), You Rang, M'Lord? (1920s manor house) and Oh Dr Beeching (1960s railway station).
- Whenever an episode of JAG was set in different time setting (usually a character was being told a story by someone else via Flashback), they would use the existing cast to fill in the roles of the new characters. Whenever a story centered on Harm's father, a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, he would be placed by the same actor, plus a mustache.
One episode in particular played with this: Mac has been researching a case where an Age Of Sail captain was court martialed for summarily hanging several crewmen suspected of planning a mutiny (one of them the son of the Secretary of the Navy). She ends up having a dream about the investigation, with her fiancé Mic playing the role of the Captain, Mac playing his wife, and Harmon Rabb (Mac's unresolved love interest eventually revealed (just before the hanging) to be playing one of the mutineers, naturally segueing into Mac jumping awake to ponder the implications.
- The NewsRadio cast was placed in a sci-fi setting and on the Titanic.
- The Holodeck on the various Star Trek series allowed for this, and several "Holodeck gone awry" episodes featured the cast doing this either deliberately or unknowingly.
- Several episodes of The Suite Lifeof Zack And Cody and its Spin-Off The Suite Life on Deck had the cast as fighters in the American Revolution, superheroes/supervillains, members of a Star Trek-style future, and characters from various fairy tales.
- Vocaloid characters. De-facto, they are tabula rasa (Miku did have a manga series, though) and it's up to the producers just what they are supposed to be— which is largely the point of having virtual songstresses. Even the official merchandise is in it: the sheer variation of Miku figmas is staggering, and these are based on the most popular imagining of Miku.
- The Goon Show has the same troupe of characters in a different setting every episode.
- The best example is Commedia dell'Arte, an Italian theater tradition that uses a group of characters whose characteristics and attributes are so well-known that the entire play is ad-libbed.
- The Sera Myu has a sequence where Chibi-Moon and Saturn are transported to the Edo Era of Japan. The other characters show up as apparently past life versions of themselves. Usagi and the Inner senshi (sans mercury) are a group of noble thieves, Setsuna appears as a traditional comedian/announcer complete with a paper fan, Mamoru as a local playboy who is secretly the magistrate, and Ami as a village girl who has a crystal ball similar to the one carryed by the Inner Senshi and is thus destined to be their companion. One of villains shows up as an apparently time-displaced Mexican named "This is a pear".
- The beatmania series has background animations that show the same characters in different settings.
- Each Mecha's Story Mode in Tech Romancer basically features them as if they were the star of their own Mecha Show, with the other fighters as secondary characters.
- Mega Man; particularly the original, Mega Man Battle Network and some parts of Legends. (Let's not get into continuity, please.)
- The various Super Mario Bros. spin-offs provide the best video game examples and the best example for the video game industry. I.E. they don't just adapt to narrative genres, they adapt to video game and gameplay genres too. To name just a few settings that have been done by the Italian Plumber and his friends:
- Platform Games: Their default genre for the main series
- Sports Games, including Tennis, Golf, Soccer, and Baseball and regularly competing in the Olympics ever since 2008;
- Role-Playing Games (Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, Mario & Luigi)
- Party Games (Mario Party)
- Kart racing (Mario Kart)
- Fighting Games (Super Smash Bros.)
- Puzzle Games (Yoshis Cookie, Dr. Mario)
- And those are just the popular ones that got sequels. They've also guest starred in Dance Dance Revolution, SSX and NBA Street. Plus the cartoon series did this, similar to the animated examples below.
- Moreover, the series has been doing this from the very beginning. Donkey Kong was about a mean ape tormenting his owner Mario, where the second game cast Mario as a cruel owner who caged DK. The player controlled DK Jr. to save him.
- Mario even did a first person rail shooter in Yoshi's Safari on the SNES.
- The Sonic Storybook Series has Sonic the Hedgehog characters filling fairytale roles (save Sonic himself, who gets pulled into the adventures as himself). For instance, Knuckles is Sinbad the Sailor in Sonic and the Secret Rings and Sir Gawain in Sonic and the Black Knight. On another note, Sonic is almost as successful as Mario when it comes to adapting to other gameplay styles for spinoffs, having appeared in fighting games, racing games, a party game, and a Metroidvania among other things.
- In The Legend of Zelda there are many different incarnations of Link and Zelda that occur in different time periods. Fans have come up with numerous explanations for why Link and Zelda reoccur such as reincarnation, descendants, or just some sort heroic spirit that reappears when evil threatens Hyrule. However, on a meta-level, Shigeru Miyamoto says that he sees Link and Zelda like old theatrical cartoon characters like in Popeye who can be recast in many different situations.
The character casts of the two Zelda games The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask are perhaps a nod to this idea, as all of the same character models are reused, like actors cast in new roles (sometimes different only in name, sometimes very different despite the same name, and sometimes arguably the same character as in OOT.) Even Link has a counterpart (Kafei at least uses the same face design, though with different hair and clothes. You also play as him for a portion of the Sakon's Hideout area. The Fierce Deity may also be the counterpart for the original Link or other heroes in the timeline) Though this may have been motivated through technical limitations, figuring out how to have a sequel in a new setting but to reuse the character models from the first installment so you don't have to design and model dozens of new NPC from scratch. Even after getting around those limitations, the series still has a fair number of recurring characters which was something started by Majora's Mask.
- Shows up in Kingdom Hearts. The game features the characters travelling to worlds based on different Disney movies. Once they pop up their, they either show up as themselves and do their own business while helping the characters originally from that movie out, take the role of a character that, while in the original, doesn't pop up in this adaptation (i.e. Sora replaces Christopher Robin in The 100 Acre Wood, Terra takes the role of the huntsman in Dwarf Woodlands), or try to fit in with the world they pop up in by actively transforming to fit so they don't stand out as being from another world, explained as being a result of Donald's magic.
- Sora becomes a Merman, Donald becomes 1/2 Octopus and Goofy becomes a turtle despite still having a Dogface in Atlantica.
- Sora becomes a vampire or bat person of some sort, Donald becomes a mummy and Goofy becomes some sort of clockwork abomination in Halloween Town.
- Sora becomes a Lion, Donald simply loses his human characteristics and becomes a full on Duck, while Goofy becomes a tortoise in The Pridelands.
- Sora, Donald, and Goofy start wearing Powered Armor rife with Tron Lines because they end up in Space Paranoids. Riku later gets in on the action in The Grid.
- Donald and Goofy return to their classic black-and-white animation look in Timeless River, while Sora looks like a Tezuka-era anime character.
- Homestar Runner, as seen by the many many alternative settings (futuristic Japan, medieval times, 1800s US just to name a few) and premises.
- The Something Awful Peezle Ward series of Flash Tub cartoons are various movies that place the same four characters in various movie "adpatations" of a fake author's stories, ranging from Fire Fighters to Astronauts to Time Travelers.
- As Garry's Mod and Source Filmmaker both come with models for characters from various Valve games, said characters are frequently used this way in video made with either program, especially the cast of Team Fortress 2.
- Arthur, King of Time and Space slots its cast into science-fiction, the contemporary world, super-heroics, and various more specific parodies (i.e. Mash), and it always works. How much of this is the versatility of the cast, and how much is not stretching settings farther than it works is debatable. Still, just as impressive, either way. In some settings characters are gender-flipped, and still work just as well.
- The "Stick Figures in Space" Filler Strips from Sluggy Freelance take this approach, transplanting the main Sluggy cast into a space opera spoof.
- Lightning Made of Owls may well set the record for range of different settings used. In theory, at least; its small archive size might not give it room to be there in practice, yet.
- Aaron Williams' Q-4orce: The Mighty Moderately Average Superteam converts the cast of Nodwick from a Dungeons & Dragons adventuring party to a City of Heroes superhero team.
- The massive and diverse cast of Homestuck is this. Common fan fics and fan adventures involve taking the characters and transplanting them into different settings or genres. Some of the most popular examples include Troll Cops (a homage to Buddy Cop Shows and crime thrillers) and Brainbent (where the cast are patients and staff at a mental hospital, rather fittingly).
- AH.com: The Series likes to do this with Something Completely Different episodes such as "Story Hour" (which inserts the cast into The Wizard of Oz) and "Movie Night" (which inserts them into a 1950s B-movie). There are also full-fledged spin-offs starring the same cast, such as AH Dot Com Wars (Star Wars parody) and Luaky Commer (Harry Potter parody).
- Mario's numerous roles are evidence of a multiverse in Cracked's #15 Science Lesson As Taught by Famous Video Games.
- The Annoying Orange has been shown in various time periods, in the video game world, as a viking, in medieval Europe, in a Not-Professional Wrestling ring, in a spoof of The Hunger Games, as a cop, as a Youtube video presenter, and so much more.
- Happy Tree Friends. Lumpy alone has been a carnie, butcher, teacher, doctor, genie, farmer, fairy tale giant, organ trader, and everything in between.
- Many characters originating in animated shorts have this ability:
- Tom and Jerry
- The Warner Bros. Looney Tunes stable, along with the Animaniacs.
- Can't forget Pinky and the Brain, who would appear alongside Samson one episode, then encounter Robin Hood, and then attempt to take over 1946 Los Angeles by shrinking people's hats.
- Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and pretty much anyone from the Classic Disney Shorts, as quite completely proven by Kingdom Hearts. Perhaps the most What Do You Mean, It's for Kids? is the Italian comics story "Mickey's Inferno". Yes, Mickey travels through Hell a la The Divine Comedy.
- The whole series of French animated TV shows Il était une fois...... is a definite example of such a cast. It started with Il était une fois... l'Homme, which followed a cast of similar characters throughout the ages (though with variable nationalities and ethnicities). The same cast was then used in a Space Opera (Il était une fois... l'Espace), as anthropomorphized cells in the human body (Il était une fois... la Vie), and other edutainment entries.
- The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo has Mr. Magoo (and a few other recurring "actors") play various well-known stories, like The Count of Monte Cristo, King Arthur or Robin Hood.
- Weirdly, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show tries this route in its animated version... though all of the different settings remains in the Mushroom Kingdom. Made even weirder by the fact that Mario and his crew were always unambiguously themselves — while Koopa and his Troop more often then not completely built themselves around the theme of that episode's world. Some themed version of Koopa was used far more often then the simple "vanilla" one.
- Similar to the Mario example is Popeye, who might be in Ancient Rome for one cartoon and then play Aladdin in another. Bluto, likewise, might be himself, Sindbad, Hercules, or someone else to fit the theme.
- The central cast of The Simpsons is often worked into the central cast of whatever they're parodying in the "Treehouse of Horror" specials, such as the episode where Bart has the Shinning. Also the Bible stories episode and the tall tales episode. Other episodes featured Homer as Odysseus or the Count of Monte Fatso.
- Family Guy:
- Barbie was this in her earlier CGI movies. She has been Rapunzel, Odette, Clara, a genderflipped Ebnezer Scrooge, D'Artagnan and The Prince and the Pauper. Not to mention all the different professional Barbies that have been produced over the decades. Doctor, nurse, dentist, vet, rock musician, scuba diver, geisha (Japan only), RCMP officer (Canada only), infantryman, fighter pilot...
- Walter Melon, from the Animated Adaptation of Achille Talon. That "hero for hire" does replacements for heroes (like Superman, Casanova, Luke Skywalker, Tarzan, Rambo...) and (in later seasons) historical figures, despite the fact that he's overweight and don't look like a typical hero. His friend Bitterbug is the usual sidekick, and Walter's nemesis, Sneero, is playing the villains (Lex Luthor, Darth Vader, The Joker, Captain Hook, Doctor Octopus...)
- The cast of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is heading this way further and further.
- In any given episode in the VeggieTales series, most of the characters will be played by one of the stock cast members.
- In the '90s X-Men series, Jubilee tells a fairy tale with her as an In-Universe self-insert character, Magneto as the villain, Scott as a prince, Jean as a princess (in pink even).
- This was pretty much the point of Hello Kitty's Furry Tale Theater, a short-lived cartoon where Kitty and her friends played out various stories like "The Ugly Duckling".
- Certain episodes of Phineas and Ferb have seen the cast living in ancient China ("Doof Dynasty"), the stone age ("Tri-Stone Area"), a swords-and-sorcery fantasy ("Excaliferb"), an Indiana Jones-like setting ("Phineas and Ferb and the Temple of Juatchadoon"), and a turn-of-the-century Danville ("Steampunx"). Soon the cast will appear in a galaxy far far away. Then, of course, there was the Whole Plot Reference to The Wizard of Oz...
- Each episode of Dino Babies has a character read a story won't be written for billions of years, even taking place in the future setting, and the Dino Babies play the characters in the story.
- Like with the Puppet Shows folder above, Muppet Babies.
- This is the premise behind the animated Alf spinoff, Alf Tales.
- The entire point of The Backyardigans, though they only imagine themselves as being in different settings in each episode.