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Anime and Manga
- In One Piece, somebody has made level 5.5 of Impel Down using his devil fruit ability. We may never know who.
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex:
- Aoi aka "The Laughing Man" reveals that he himself was arguably the second part in the eponymous "Stand Alone Complex" (an event where many people spontaneously start copying something which wasn't there in the first place) and the real "Laughing Man" was an unknown person whose email exposing the micromachines company's coverup was found by Aoi.
- In the episode "Embraced by a Disguised Net – CAPTIVATED", a member of an Organ Legging gang accidentally kidnaps the daughter of a politician who was denying their existence. The rest of the gang are never shown, but it turns out the entire episode's plot was orchestrated by a rival who had given her a list of kidnapping targets which included the girl so she'd be branded a traitor.
- The second generation of Get Backers. They give Ban and Ginji their name, their car, and their analogy of a retrieval being like a jigsaw puzzle, but the only reason they exist is because the identity of the first generation is a major plot twist and a surprise to the cast.
- In the background of Fullmetal Alchemist, the War of Ishvalan Extermination was caused by the Ishvalans uprising against the Amestrian military. It's later explained that they did this because an Amestrian soldier shot and killed an Ishvalan child for no discernible reason, but no one knows who this soldier was and the Amestrian military claim that the Ishvalans made him up as an excuse. Later still, the trope is actually subverted when it's finally revealed that the "soldier" was the disguised homunculus Envy, who deliberately started the war as part of the Big Bad's plan.
- Naruto: We can clearly infer that the third Hokage had another son, who is Asuma's brother and Konohamaru's father. Now, in Naruto, being related to the right people is an automatic free pass for character importance and focus; you can't be the "brother of" or "father of" without at least getting your backstory fleshed out in broad strokes. Except, that is, for this guy, who is the glaring exception. For the entire series proper we never see his face, we never get his name, and he is never even referred to indirectly — not even in the otherwise comprehensive databooks. Eventually he has the dubious honor of being mentioned in passing, unnamed, in a one-shot spin-off, after the story proper had already concluded.
- There's a more recent example that's been subjected to several memes: the identity of the Sage of the Six Path's father. The final arc contains a lengthy backstory about the Sage, real name Hagoromo, who was the son of Kaguya, an extraterrestrial princess and the first person to awaken chakra, which she used to bring world peace. However, the story then cuts to her giving birth to her twin sons, Hagoromo and his brother, Hamura, exactly with whom is never addressed. This predictably gave birth (no pun intended) to such Epileptic Trees as the beau being also an alien like her, a mere human, or even Jashin, the evil god that Hidan worships. While there are still others who get this treatment, Kaguya's beau is the most significant because he's supposed to be the equivalent of the companion of the person who gave independence to a world and the father of the person who would revolutionalize the same world forever, and yet the readers know nothing about him. At least before he was introduced in anime filler.
- Joe Chill, the mugger who murdered Bruce Wayne's parents, sometimes functions as this, particularly if his identity is still a mystery to Batman. In other versions of the story, Bruce eventually finds him and he gets dealt with.
- The (usually) unnamed robber who killed Spider-Man's uncle Ben. He's literally responsible for Spidey's entire career, but he's generally only ever referred to as "the robber" or "the burglar".
- Green Lantern: Whenever the Green Lantern Corps appears in force, the background will be littered with unnamed Lanterns who exist simply to fill out the Corps' numbers and give the artist an opportunity to draw weird aliens (and give the bad guys Lanterns to kill other than the ones with names and speaking parts). Sometimes one will strike a chord with an artist or the readers and appear enough times to get a name, but many will only ever appear in one issue, or even one panel.
Films — Animation
- The sorceress in Beauty and the Beast who turns the prince into a beast and lays a curse over his entire castle, thus kick-starting the plot. We're given no explanation for why she does this - was she motivated by a sense of justice in putting the prince through a Secret Test of Character, or was it Disproportionate Retribution at being rejected by him? She's also never seen in person, only depicted in stained glass at the beginning of the film. (the live-action adaptation expands on the character)
- Like the above, Shrek mentions a witch who put a curse on Fiona, causing her to turn into an ogre at night. This sets up the entire plot of the first movie and affects her and Shrek's entire relationship, but we have absolutely no idea why she did it (unless one goes with the theory that she was the Fairy Godmother trying to arrange a marriage with Charming).
Films — Live-Action
- The Big Bad of The Usual Suspects is one "Keyser Soze," who very few people have ever met firsthand and lived to tell about it — the only one the police have tracked down is a mutilated Hungarian sailor babbling nonsense. We see him with his Face Framed in Shadow, but even that is only within the flashbacks of a questionably-reliable narrator. We hear his Origin Story, but it's the kind of unlikely, mythologised tale you'd expect of a Folk Hero. The only contact he has with any character is via The Dragon, Kobayashi. The final Reveal? The narrator is Keyser Soze, so far as such a man exists.
- Many of the events of The Gods Must Be Crazy happen because a pilot flying over Africa's Kalahari Desert - who is never named, never speaks, and appears for only a few seconds - thoughtlessly tosses an empty Coca-Cola bottle out the window.
- In Attack of the Clones, the clone army is said to have been first commissioned by a Jedi Master named Sifo-Dyas, who was reportedly killed around the time the Star Wars prequel trilogy began, but gets no more mentions or development in the movies than that. His story is eventually fleshed out in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, where it's revealed that the Sith killed him and took over the clone production.
- The man at the beginning of The Chronicles of Riddick who tries to stand up to the Lord Marshall. He gives a little speech, but has no name or any other lines. He exists mainly to show the audience that the Big Bad can literally rip someone's soul out of their body.
- Hoid is a mysterious character who has appeared in almost every one of Brandon Sanderson's books; the only exceptions are the Wheel of Time (since they are not originally his books) and, The Reckoners Trilogy, The Rithmatist, and the Alcatraz Series. He is seldom named, but inevitably the cause of something that eventually turns out to be instrumental to resolving the plot, even or especially if a story otherwise has no indication of being in the same universe any of his other books.
- King Galbatorix from the Inheritance Cycle doesn't appear until the last book, yet he is a constant presence in the series.
- Big Brother from Nineteen Eighty-Four is technically the Big Bad of the story; however, he's never shown in person and it's left up in the air as to whether he really exists in the first place. The same goes for the leader of The Brotherhood (where it's not even revealed whether the organisation he leads even really exists).
- In The Malloreon, there is an unnamed character who stole the Sardion (MacGuffin of the series) and deposited it at its final resting place to be found by the heroes 300 years later, along with his remains.
- In Rebecca, the main character is the second wife of the eponymous Rebecca's husband. She's compared unfavorably to Rebecca without ever being told anything about her by his staff. Nothing is revealed abut her as they figure she doesn't need to know, except that she died. In the end the protagonist learns more about Rebecca and gains the respect of the inhabitants by saving them from a fire.
- In the film adaptation, the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, refuses to accept her and stays behind to die in the fire.
- In The Bible, Cain had a wife, but her very existence is a notorious theological mystery, since Adam, Eve and the murdered Abel are the only other humans mentioned from creation until that point. Later verses do mention his parents having other kids aside from Seth offering a non-linear answer. Sometimes Cain's wife and the closely related issue of everyone having the same parents are offered as reasons to not read Genesis literally. Wild Mass Guessing can include God whipping her up offscreen for Cain and more. Who's right is best left to other venues. She doesn't even get a name, even though both wives of Cain's great-great-great-grandson Lamech are named.
- She isn't named in the Bible, but she is named elsewhere. According to the apocryphal Book of Jubilees, she was Cain's sister ’Âwân. According to both the Jewish Midrash and the Muslim tradition, Cain and Abel both had twin sisters, and each of them was supposed to marry the other's twin. Aclima, Cain's twin sister and Abel's promised wife, was lovelier than Abel's twin sister and Cain's promised wife, Jumella, and Cain didn't want to agree to this arrangement. The sacrifices mentioned in the Bible are, in this version of the story, supposed to determine which one of them God deems more worthy of Aclima. After Cain murders Abel, Aclima leaves with him and becomes his wife; Jumella ends up wedding Seth...who isn't even born until after Abel dies.
- In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka's rival candymakers Prodnose, Ficklegruber, and Slugworth qualify as unknowns. In the Backstory, Driven by Envy, they sabotaged Mr. Wonka's operations by sending in spies disguised as workers to steal his recipes so they could come up with Follow the Leader equivalents. Mr. Wonka, desperate to save his work, sacked his entire workforce in response and became a Reclusive Artist who — somehow — managed to get his factory up and running again without anyone entering or leaving it. The question of how he accomplished this is the key reason why the Golden Ticket contest becomes such Serious Business in the present — the chance to actually meet him, see his operations, and learn the answer is one many people want. The rivals have no other plot importance than their Backstory role and are rarely depicted (even in Flashback) in adaptations, with the key exception of the 1971 film version, in which Adaptation Expansion includes a subplot involving Mr. Slugworth's attempts to ruin him in the present by bribing the Golden Ticket finders to steal one of Mr. Wonka's new inventions.note
- Doctor Who:
- Played with in one episode ("Midnight"). The Doctor goes on a shuttle, and socializes with everyone in the cabin except the hostess. It gets lampshaded at the end when he realizes no one knew her name after she sacrifices herself to protect everyone from the Monster of the Week.
- A later episode, "Listen", gives this to the Monster of the Week, an entity that the Doctor theorizes is the perfect hider, so much so that nothing at all is known about it. By the end of the episode it is unclear if the creature even exists, or if it exists it had appeared in the episode.
- Vivienne in Merlin (2008), who is also a Posthumous Character. She is the mother of Morgana and Morgause, was married to Gorlois, and had an affair with Uther. That's literally all we know about her.
- One episode of M*A*S*H features a helicopter pilot who risks his own life to fly patients to the unit with a broken fan belt in his chopper's engine. He gets a replacement and leaves again, and no one ever even has a chance to learn his name, much less thank him for his bravery. When the medical staff assemble a time capsule at the end of the episode, Hawkeye suggests including the broken fan belt to commemorate the man's courage.
- Used during the sixth season of The Walking Dead when Alexandria learns of a hostile group called the Saviors, rumored to be led by a man named Negan. They launch a covert attack on a compound they believe to be their base and kill everyone inside, and later wonder if Negan was among them. Later episodes imply that Negan may not be a singular person, but a rather a Collective Identity. The matter is left vague until the season finale, when Negan is revealed to be a very real person.
- The Little Red-Haired Girl in Peanuts, Charlie Brown's always offscreen, always silent, always unrequited crush. She was briefly shown and named Heather in one of the animated specials, but this is not canon. A 1990s strip showed her in silhouette, dancing with Snoopy.
- Bastion has a couple, the most obvious one being the unknown man who seduced and betrayed Zia, which lead to both her surviving the catastrophe...and to her father setting it off. Another example would also be whoever ended up with The Kid's money, which he'd been sending back to his mother (who was already dead). Forcing him to take another tour of duty as a Mason (although with the loss of his mother he might have done so anyway) and surviving the catastrophe.
- The Rat Man in Portal who has scrawled graffiti all over the place (although he might be closer to The Ghost, given that he's essentially interacting with the story still). A comic given out with the game's sequel fleshes out this character.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas gave us Sweet's girlfriend. She was deemed important enough to get a mission named after her (the rather impersonally named mission Sweet's Girl), but we never hear her say anything, and her existence is completely ignored after that.
- In the game Singularity, you often come across hidden messages that seem to be addressed to you, specifically. The messages are from someone who seems to know you, and who also seems to have done the same things you're doing; before certain major plot points, the messages will actually give you the heads up before anything's actually evident (i.e. "DON'T TRUST HIM", etc). It's later implied to be a future version of yourself who went back in time to leave the messages.
- In Quake IV, the protagonist from Quake II is this (Quake IV being the direct sequel to Quake II). He single-handedly invaded the Strogg homeworld and assassinated their leader, allowing a full-scale human invasion. He is never shown or mentioned by name.
- Super Mario Bros. has King Toadstool, Princess Peach's father. He's never been seen in the games, but he must exist given that the Mushroom Kingdom is a kingdom rather than a principality. What appearances he's had are limited to some very early Expanded Universe comics, which portrayed him as a blithering idiot whose much smarter daughter made all the actual decisions.
- Likewise, Bowser's wife; Junior had to come from somewhere, and no, it wasn't Peach.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent: The members of the main and secondary casts are all descendants of characters that were shown in the Distant Prologue, that takes place ninety years earlier. As such, having the main characters exist at all required one or two generations of people simply being born, finding a mate, and having children of their own. With the cast consisting of six different families taken together, this creates plenty of these. A family tree published after Chapter 12 fills most of the gaps.
- Onni, Tuuri and Lalli's grandfather seems to be intentionally this. He's the only person without a last name on the tree and the author has confirmed it was as literal a one-night stand as one can be, which makes the guy come across as literally existing only to sire a pair of twin boys to their grandmother.
- One of the more noticeable pairs is Emil's parents, due to him being Torbjörn's nephew.
- Reynir's parents are very likely to have used the same genetical material donor or pair of donors for all four of their older children. Whoever that person or pair of people is, Reynir owes them the existence of his siblings.
- Most adult prologue characters are either already married or have their future spouse appear in the same segment. The only exception to this is Árni Reynisson. Since he's the aforementioned Reynir's great-grandfather, him eventually meeting a woman and starting a family with her is a given.
- Petscop: There is mention of a wife, a husband and someone who is adressed by "Paul". In Episode 6 "Paul" finds put there are four more "Pets", while three of them are different versions of Care, the last one isn't even pictured.
- Lapis Lazuli of Steven Universe has three in her backstory once it's revealed; whoever attacked her when she was caught up in the rebellion while visiting Earth, whoever mistook her for a crystal gem and placed her in a mirror to be interrogated and the random homeworld gem that trampled (and cracked) her as they were all fleeing. We later find out that the first might have been Bismuth, which was foreshadowed when she had a silhouetted appearance in Lapis's flashback.
- The soldier who fired the arrow which killed Harold Godwinson in the Battle of Hastings (thus changing the course of English history).
- The "person from Porlock" who interrupted Coleridge while he was in the middle of writing "Kubla Khan". By the time he'd managed to get the person to leave, Coleridge had completely forgotten the dream that inspired the poem, leaving it forever unfinished.
- It's even disputed whether or not they even existed, with some thinking that Coleridge invented them as an excuse for writer's block.
- The man who fired the "shot heard 'round the world" that kicked off The American Revolution. To this day, no one can even agree on whether he was a colonial militiaman or a British Redcoat.
- The person who fired the shot that sparked the Wounded Knee Massacre, the bloodstained incident that effectively ended the conflict between the U.S. Government and the Plains Native Americans, is similarly unknown.
- The soldier who killed Charles XII of Sweden as he raised his head to look over a wall at a Norwegian emplacement. It may have been a skilled Norwegian sniper, a Swedish soldier tired of his endless warmongering, his brother-in-law to pave the way for a coup or even himself. His body has been exhumed multiple times and analyzed, but no consensus has been reached as to where the shot came from or where he was looking when he died. At any rate, his death ended the long string of wars which had ruined Sweden.
- Depending on circumstances, the shooter may have been basically firing blind and never found out themselves that they were the one who took out the king.