Universal-Adaptor Cast

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. So you can see them, identical but for different trappings (this character 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: an ensemble is cast into an odd situation and yet fits in perfectly because their roles and characters are so well-defined. They have the same personalities and the same relationships, but play out the conventions of that genre regardless of how bizarre it would be for them normally.

This is one of the essential justifications for Transplanted Character Fic, including the High School A.U.. The Magnificent Seven Samurai is a specific subtrope of this. Many Moe and Merchandise-Driven works are created with this trope in mind. Separate Scene Storytelling is often done this way. Commedia dell'Arte, the former Trope Namer, is a whole subgenre of theatre based upon the concept. Such a franchise is likely to have Negative Continuity, as, with a few exceptions, it's rather difficult to explain why the characters keep changing settings, roles, and time periods from story to story.


    open/close all folders 

    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 Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi 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: Neon Genesis Evangelion: 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 Molière but was actually a parody of one.
  • The Archie Comics gang. Including for a while, various spinoffs where 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, such as Chuck Billy 'n' Folks (hillbillies), Lionel's Kingdom (jungle animals), the Funnies (an astronaut's adventures and encounters during his space travels), and the Cavern Clan (cave people).
  • 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.

    Fan Works 

    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, in much the same vein as the above two examples.
  • 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).

  • 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 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.note  The same group of characters are reincarnated as characters with the same first letters of their names, until 2002 CE.
  • Keith Roberts' Kaeti and Company series. Each story has a prologue in which Roberts literally casts Kaeti in a new story.

    Live-Action TV 

  • 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.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Muppets, who manage to play themselves whether on a vaudeville stage or in Treasure Island. Yet, and this is the unique part, they still capture the roles they're playing. The Muppet Christmas Carol is widely regarded as one of the best adaptations of the book ever made. The trick is that the most iconic characters are played by humans playing it more or less straight, for instance Scrooge in Christmas Carol and Silver in Treasure Island, providing an anchor for all the wacky side characters.
  • Similarly, many sketches in Sesame Street would use the characters in a variety of settings.

  • The Goon Show has the same troupe of characters in a different setting every episode.

  • Film Reroll uses the same cast but puts them in a different "reroll" of a movie every week.

  • 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 Musical of Musicals: The Musical! features the same four characters with only slightly different names in all five segments, each of which is a pastiche of a different style.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is why Costume Fairy Adventures doesn't really have an experience system unless you choose to put it in - it keeps them from developing traits that don't fit in certain milieus. You're supposed to be able to take the same small group of fairies and apply them to an enchanted forest, a steampunk city, a generic space opera ship, a spoof dungeon crawl and the pie contest at a small village, and those are just the ones in official published material. It helps that the game objective is to be a disruptive element to whichever poor setting is hosting the mischief that week, because it means that not quite fitting just means the pranks are funnier.
  • The system Hong Kong Action Theatre is built around this. Your character as built is essentially an actor and will always have the same Martial Arts style and physicality but their skill set will depend on if their role is that of a cop or a scientist or whatever in that particular story.

    Video Games 
  • 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 best examples for the video game industry. I.E. they don't just adapt to narrative genres, they adapt to video game and gameplay genres too. The ones below are just the popular ones that got sequels; they've also guest starred in Dance Dance Revolution, SSX and NBA Street. Shigeru Miyamoto once said that he considers the characters in the Mario franchise as being essentially being less like characters in a single coherent story, and more like a troupe of actors that can be cast in a wide variety of roles depending on the game.
  • 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 enemies in the Ape Escape franchise are always intelligent apes that adapt to wherever they're stationed, no matter the country, time period, or even TV genre they're stuck in. This applies not just to the voiceless Mook monkeys, but the Five-Bad Band, the Freaky Monkey Five. These boss characters will build giant robot dragons or become ninja masters just to fit in with their station.
  • The Final Fantasy characters in Kingdom Hearts are supposed to be the same characters 'playing' different roles. Some are seen younger (Selphie, Wakka, Tidus, Seifer, Zack); some older (Squall); others are totally different (in Final Fantasy VII, Cloud was Sephiroth's cocky Stalker with a Crush and the bodyguard of Aeris and Tifa; in Kingdom Hearts both Sephiroth and Tifa are part of Cloud's Literal Split Personality, and Aeris is a member of Squall's team).
  • Final Fantasy recycles certain characters even when the universes are entirely different. There's always cuddly giant bird mounts called Chocobos; always a funny, eccentric middle-aged man named Cid, who has some connection to airships; and the same Summoned monsters reappear (Shiva, Ifrit, Ramuh, Titan, Leviathan, Bahamut, and so on). They may have radically different designs and roles in the story, but they're the same character on some higher level.

    Web Animation 
  • 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.
  • Happy Tree Friends. Lumpy alone has been a carnie, butcher, teacher, doctor, genie, farmer, fairy tale giant, organ trader, and everything in between.

    Web Comics 
  • 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.
    • Later on, they (at least, Torg and Riff) became comic book superheroes in The Harassers.
    • The main Sluggy Freelance strips contain so many diverse setpieces, from aliens to time travel to alternate dimensions to vampires, that they could be considered this on their own.
  • 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.
  • David Willis’s Walkyverse and Dumbing of Age use the same cast in different settings with different backstories. (Essentially, DoA relocates everyone to the Roomies! university setting and removes all the aliens, Drama Tags and general weirdness.)

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Many characters originating in animated shorts have this ability:
  • 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 remain 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 than not completely built themselves around the theme of that episode's world. Some themed version of Koopa was used far more often than 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" episodes (such as the episode where Bart has the Shinning) or other Three Shorts specials: one has the family starring in Bible stories, another has them in Tall Tales, other episodes featured Homer as literary characters like 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 Ach!lle 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...)
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • 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"). They've also been to the Marvel Universe and traveled to 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 that won't be written for millions 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.
  • This was occasionally done on Rugrats.
    • The Passover special had the babies act out the story of Moses while Tommy Pickles' maternal grandfather Boris Kropotkin told them the story.
    • "Finsterella" had Chuckie imagine himself in the role of Cinderella, with his sister Kimi and Angelica Pickles as his stepsisters and Tommy as his "fairy bob-brother".
    • There was a duology of direct-to-video films titled Tales from the Crib, which had the babies act out the stories of "Snow White" and "Jack and the Beanstalk", with the framing device consisting of the babies being read the stories by their babysitter Taffy.
  • Three SpongeBob SquarePants specials put different versions of the characters in different settings, including "Ugh" (in prehistoric times), "Dunces and Dragons" (in a medieval setting) and "Pest of the West" (in The Wild West).
  • Archer, after having the main characters as a spy agency for its first four seasons, begins to alter the setting Once a Season, starting with the main characters becoming a drug cartel in the fifth. S6 returns to the spy genre, S7 has them as private detectives, and S8 transports the cast to a 1940s Film Noir setting as part of Sterling Archer's coma dream.

Alternative Title(s): Commedia Dell Arte Troupe