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Universal-Adaptor Cast
aka: Commedia Dell Arte Troupe
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.


Examples

    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 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.

    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 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.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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 fiance 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.

    Music 
  • 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 

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

    Theater 
  • 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".

    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 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:
  • 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.

    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.

    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.
  • 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).

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 


True CompanionsEnsemblesVillain Team-Up
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alternative title(s): Commedia Dell Arte Troupe
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