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Anime and Manga
- Invoked in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Madoka Kaname believes there's nothing special about herself and this feeling is highlighted by the four other members of the main cast becoming Magical Girls, and beating the crap out of witches and each other. As the story goes on, we find out that this is justified, as mahou shoujo in the series are doomed to become the very witches they fight, and Homura has been keeping Madoka in this role to protect her. In the end Madoka becomes an ultimate savior and shows her compassion by helping Magical Girls die happy. Also her witch form showed the isolated dark part of her which was to help others by absorbing them. Not a colourless person, no?
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Protagonist, Yugi is the only duelist without a quirk. He's not the blue-eyed dragon guy, the bug guy, dino guy or even the gambling card guy. His own alter ego has his "age-old pharaoh" thing going for him. It's downplayed in the manga, where he definitely does have a few outstanding quirks (i.e. getting mad when somebody mistakes his age, having the tendencies of a Covert Pervert, e.t.c.) but just not as much as other characters.
- Daily Lives of High School Boys. Tadakuni is an inversion. He's a plain Generic Guy with no backstory and he has less relationships with other characters than his two friends Hidenori and Yoshitake. Tadakuni's suffers from being Out of Focus ,with basically no presence in some episodes and many chapters. His status is often lampshaded. However, Tadakuni is one of the most popular characters in the series and he's much more popular than Hidenori and Yoshitake. He's Out of Focus after the first volume and episode 5, making him somewhat like an Ensemble Dark Horse.
- Sonic X: Sonic is fazed into the background as the role of The Ace, with Audience Surrogate Chris Thorndyke played more as the show's lead. Thus, the more colorful side cast he encounters are the main draw.
- Sasahara in Genshiken is pretty passive as an otaku. Unlike the rest in the club, he's lacking an overriding passion for any one thing, and serves as the entry point for the non-otaku/closet otaku readers. In later issues, some characterization sauce is swirled in when his sister is introduced; his annoyance at her shallowness is the first negative emotion he shows.
- Invoked in Durarara!!. Mikado feels he and his life are boring, and with people like Celty and Izaya around, he's probably right. In fact, that's why he founded the Dollars. However, his desire to make his life interesting has the side effect of eventually making him batshit insane.
- The main character of Anpanman is designed to have a simple and all-loving personality, so the characters he interacts with are able to shine through. Heck, most of the episodes featuring two characters interacting mainly only have Anpanman in it to get the two introduced and to end up saving them from Baikinman at the end.
- Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion is a very rare invoked example of this trope - despite being the series protagonist, most of the characters he's surrounded by are more quirky, and unique than he is, particularly Rei Ayanami. This was done intentionally by Anno, however, as he intended Shinji to be a commentary on the average Japanese male.
- Thou Shalt Not Die plays around with this, the reader is introduced to the main character Usuki who is portrayed as the typical ace, a charismatic leader of the group, lacks any of the more bizarre quirks of those that surrounds him, has a very basic but useful telekinetic power and... is dead by the end of the first chapter. Thus the reader is bluntly reminded that this is a Taro Yoko work and is introduced to the real main character, Kuroi, who is anything but vanilla.
- Duke from G.I. Joe is fairly bland and doesn't have very much characterization aside from being "The Leader" and for refusing a promotion so he could stay in the field. His teammates include a silent ninja master with a wolf, a Vietnam veteran who was once a street thug, a heavy machine gunner who surfs and plays bass guitar, and a gourmet chef who wields a massive crew-served machine gun as if it were a lightweight rifle.
- Tintin was deliberately designed so that every reader could identify with him, so he has no family, no back story, no personal connections, nothing apart from what is shown in the adventures. Thus, it is no coincidence that he was overshadowed by the colourful Captain Haddock.
- Sonic the Hedgehog:
- Princess Sally ended up as such in her brief spin off series. Since her role in the main series was usually to act as The Straight Man to Sonic, she lacked much chemistry in his absence, with most personality and conflicts being granted to her more flawed Substitute Freedom Fighter team and Geoffery St John.
Films — Animated
- Disney Animated Canon:
- Walt Disney's animated films were very much inspired by this element from the older fairy tales, in which the typically nondescript protagonist ventures into the unknown and encounters the supernatural; as such, "normal characters in bizarre situations" tended to be a trademark of his.
- Sleeping Beauty: The creators of the film weren't all that interested in the beauty herself, hence why the movie spends so much time with the magical and bickering trio of fairies. In fact, she is so underdeveloped and uninvolved within the story that she can be a case of Decoy Protagonist.
- Frozen's spotlight is split between the royal sisters, Anna and Elsa. Anna is a cheerful, happy-go-lucky princess who is eager to be friends with anyone who crosses her path — much like Rapunzel and Giselle and most of the Disney Princesses. She's a well-done character, but definitely vanilla compared to her sister, who is busy engaging in an epic quest of self-discovery and self-acceptance through generating ice palaces and singing awesomely, and struggling with intense fear and social isolation. Since Elsa is the Deuteragonist, one could say Anna is her foil.
Films — Live-Action
- GI Joe The Rise Of Cobra stayed true to its comic roots. Ripcord is funny and charming, Heavy Duty is tough and awesome, Breaker is lovable and clever, Snake Eyes is a dang ninja, and Duke is... the main character. The fact that he dies and Dwayne Johnson (as Roadblock, the above-mentioned gourmet chef who for the movie upgrades his BFG to an even bigger Gatling gun), a more colorful lead replaces him furthers this point.
- Godzilla (2014). The bland soldier protagonist is bland because he's in the same movie as scientists involved with conspiracies, secretive groups, and Godzilla who is what you're truly watching the movie for.
- Kingdom of Heaven: Balian, the humble blacksmith, finds himself crusading with Godfrey, The Hospitaller, King Baldwin, Sibylla, Tiberius and Saladin.
- Pacific Rim the main protagonists are bland to emphasize the more colorful side characters, such as the Russian, Chinese, and Australian Jaeger teams. All three of the latter have turned out to be Ensemble Darkhorses and Memetic Badasses.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan are polite civlians and so the contrast with the colorful crew of the hammiest pirates in the world is all the greater. There's Captain Jack Sparrow, who may or may not be insane, Cotton and his talking parrot, wily Barbossa, and others. Even as they take on some piratical traits themselves in the next two installments of the franchise, Will and Elizabeth remain much less colorful than the other major characters.
- Star Wars: Luke Skywalker is a Farm Boy on his The Hero's Journey. He's traveling with a mystic war veteran, a Loveable Rogue smuggler, and two droid comedians. On the other side is an adversary that not only thickens Luke's mythical qualities but the movies he receives transform the series into his hero's journey...
- Harry Potter: For most of the first three books, Harry was a Na´ve Newcomer and Heartwarming Orphan who is introduced to the amazing world of magic and the wondrous school that trains its people. After a couple books, he is familiar with it and his own personality shines forth.
- The Lord of the Rings Frodo Baggins's position in the Fellowship is "the Non-Action Guy carrying the ring" and so the contrast with the epic heroes he's traveling with is all the greater. This was a deliberate choice by Tolkein to demonstrate the humble virtues of the Hobbit; the vanilla character can save the world too. His equally humble companion Sam is one of the very few canon characters to not give into the Ring's temptation, thus emphasizing this point even further.
- K. A. Applegate once suggested this was true of Jake from Animorphs: while the other characters had clear, definable traits that made them easy to identify (Marco's ruthlessness, Rachel's bloodlust, Cassie's empathy, Ax's alienness, Tobias' conflicted nature as a hawk and a human) Jake was the Standardized Leader keeping them all focused. Late into the series, this is dropped because he grows into the role of The Chessmaster. He also develops a serious complex regarding his leadership qualities.
- Twilight: Fans and detractors mostly agree that Bella lacks a personality, and this is because the author did not give her one. She was specifically written so that the reader can step into her shoes, and experience the cool supernatural world of vampires and werewolves (and the hotties fighting over her). Compare her backstory (moves from Phoenix to a small town in Washington, becomes popular, falls in love with supernatural beings) with that of Carlisle (devout Christian vampire hunter becomes vampire, spends his life helping people even though they're his natural prey), Rosalie (girl becomes a vampire after being raped and left for dead by her fiance, kills him), Jasper (ex-Confederate soldier and some of his friends raise a vampire army), and others.
- Terry Pratchett says that when he wrote Guards! Guards!, he thought Carrot was the main character and that Vimes would be just a viewpoint character to introduce Ankh-Morpork and in general set things up for Carrot. Then he realized the vast potential Vimes had as both The Protagonist and The Hero and so he made the switch. The result is that Carrot reads like a stock character brought in from another fantasy 'verse entirely, and Vimes undergoes a rich and complex arc in the first book alone.
- In The Heroes of Olympus (the sequel series to the Percy Jackson books) introduces Jason Grace. He has no memories starting off and as a result he's a vanilla sea for the more tasty topping (i.e. secondary characters): Leo, Hazel, Annabeth, Nico and others, who are more relatable and flawed.
- Stargate Atlantis teams up the rather bland Brilliant, but Lazy protagonist Sheppard with characters like the memetical Smug Snake Dr McKay, Wide-Eyed Idealist Dr Beckett, Proud Warrior Race Guy Ronon Dex and the constantly Beleaguered Czech Radek Zelenka.
- Oz avoids this by making the narrator, Augustus Hill, a minor character and perhaps the most sympathetic in the series, and by otherwise having Loads and Loads of Characters.
- Dollhouse has this as an Enforced Trope because a major point of the series is that Echo slowly develops a personality despite being repeatedly mind-wiped. This is emphasized by the side characters who already had developed personalities, or even her fellow Dolls Sierra and Victor, who managed character development early on via their romance.
- In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Sarah herself is sharing screentime with Robot Girl Cameron and Time Traveling Terrorist Vigilante Derek. She was important because John would be important which means that both of them couldn't be important at once. The more John becomes The Chosen One, the more Sarah becomes just another sidekick.
- Austin & Ally: Ally is an aversion considering how easy a Straight Man (i.e. Ally) lead can slip into this in the kid-com genre. The reasons could include that only Austin and Ally sing, ruling out the intra-fandom rivalry that other shows like Victorious suffer from. There is also no realistic opponent to the Austin/Ally 'Auslly' Shipping pairing, which would cause Die for Our Ship in the event of a lopsided Fan-Preferred Couple that does not include Ally. Finally with such a small cast of four main characters, there is no room for a typical overshadowing Ensemble Dark Horse to suck all the popularity on the show away from the main two cast members.
- Lost Girl's cast includes include a goth pixie girl that comes from a family highly connected with Russian organized crime, a doctor who is a literal slave, the bartender who was once an all-powerful king who now lives anonymously, and a valkyrie who has laid waste to entire armies. One of Bo's Friendly Enemies is a mesmer who owns several bondage clubs, one of the light fae cops has a long family history, and even the leaders of the sides have vast histories. With such colorful supporting characters, the protagonist, Bo, is vanilla by contrast.
- WKRP in Cincinnati Andy Travis was written to be the Only Sane Man protagonist a la Bob Newhart or Mary Tyler Moore but they couldn't get it to work. Thus, reconfigured the show so all the characters were roughly equal in importance.
- Defiance : Nolan is just some guy living in a town with fascinating aliens.
- Orange Is the New Black features Piper Chapman, a 30-something white yuppie from a privileged background who has her life turned upside down when she is sentenced to jail over a crime she committed 10 years ago. However, her past background is fairly bland when compared to those of the loads and loads of other quirky inmates that she meets in prison. The writers seem to have picked up on the fans' preferences in Season 2 as they increasingly put Piper Out of Focus in favor of further development for the supporting cast members, all the while giving her a more pragmatic personality.
- Gavin and Stacey was openly sold on the premise that Gavin and Stacey themselves are vanilla protagonists and the real point of the show is how their relationship affects their friends and families. It's telling that the show's two BAFTA Award nominations were for members of the supporting cast rather than the designated leads.
- Link of The Legend of Zelda is a Heroic Mime and a Memetic Badass in the large and colorful supporting cast, and amazing countries each one inhabits.
- Far Cry
- Far Cry 2 : player chooses from one of 12 characters to play as at the beginning. The remaining 11 are found throughout the game, and interact with the player and they have distinctive personalities. The player's character on the other hand becomes a personality-less Heroic Mime.
- Far Cry 3 follows a similar trend. The main character, Jason Brody, is a virtual cypher, with the only real information about his past and relationship with his girlfriend showing up in the first few missions. Meanwhile, the supporting cast includes a villain who plays up the "definition of insanity", a tribal queen who alternately seduces and sends you on quests, a kooky survivalist with suicide vest-wearing monkeys (if you bought the DLC) and plenty more mysterious side characters.
- Valkyrie Profile: Feelings of certain characters bounce all over the place; many fans simply see Lenneth, the main valkyrie and protagonist of the first game, as a useful party asset, but otherwise find her trite, dull, and lacking compassion. On the other hand, many of the Loads and Loads of Characters that Lenneth can recruit are also pretty thin. Once Lucian is killed by Loki, her characterization is done in a way that makes her more human and makes us root for her.
- Valkyria Chronicles: Welkin is the main character and instantly becomes The Leader of Squad 7 despite all of his major subordinates being veterans, while this is his first tour in real combat. He's had officer training, but he's mostly in charge because he's the guy who owns the tank. The rest of Squad 7 is notoriously colourful, with three DLC stories centering around secondary characters and one centering on Selvaria. Unlike many video game heroes, Welkin does have a personality of his own, but it makes him less a generic game hero and more a generic romance-story hero, and he pales in comparison to the quirky Squad 7 soldiers.
- Dangan Ronpa: Makoto Naegi. Even in-universe the other characters are chosen by Hope's Peak Academy for being remarkably skilled in some aspect, and as a result they are all quite colourful. Makoto, on the other hand, got into the Academy by pure chance and he criticizes himself for being average. However, he is unique in that he is extraordinarily optimistic and filled with hope. For that, he earns the title, 'Super High School Level Hope'.
- Super Dangan Ronpa 2: Hajime Hinata can't even remember his talent and basically acts as a snarky straight man to his much more diversified and distinctive cast members. Also invoked since unlike everyone else in the games so far he doesn't have an ultimate talent of any sort to help him stand out on his own. His awareness of this before the events of the game is an integral part of his character, because he's truly Izuru Kamukura, the man behind AI Junko Enoshima. His desire to be talented (and not be a Vanilla Protagonist) is a major factor of his surgical transformation into Kamukura.
- Sonic the Hedgehog served as this in early installments of his own series. While having slightly better stats than the other characters, his move set is more limited compared to Tails and Knuckles, usually limiting him to the games' primary path. This tends to be zigzagged in later games, since new exclusive moves such as the homing attack and light dash gave him his own edge in gameplay. As story and character were established, his personality was usually kept more simplistic than the others (if still often charismatic), relying less on specific back stories or roles than the others.
- BlazBlue's protagonist, Ragna the Bloodedge is a pretty clear cut example of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, but has a pretty down to earth personality otherwise. This is especially noticeable when most of the cast are filled with sociopaths, Large Hams, and Yanderes. As such, Ragna plays the Straight Man Deadpan Snarker to almost everyone he interacts with. Over time, he goes through a sufficient character arc, learns how to wield his own powers properly and becomes a more reponsible and heroic individual. So he starts off vanilla, while gaining more flavor over time.
- Mortal Kombat; In a World... with energy-wielding ninjas, Physical Gods, fantastic creatures, Cyborgs, et al., Liu Kang was designed to be the accessible humble monk hero. There's not a great deal to his story other than winning the various mortal kombat tournaments, but the various rivalries and relationships in the series are the true focus.
- The second timeline does away with this by focusing on Liu Kang's moral strife as opposed to him being little more than a living set piece. With Raiden's visions of the future and his actions in response to them leading to increasingly disastrous results, the reboot showcases heavy fallout between the Shaolin monk and the thunder god, culminating in Liu Kang losing faith in his mentor, getting accidentally fried by Raiden in self defense, and cursing him in his dying breaths. He spends most of the next game as a vengeful revenant and ends up becoming the Netherrealm's ruler alongside his dead lover Kitana.
- Street Fighter has Ryu, who has a run-of-the-mill personality consisting of being serious about training and wanting to be a great fighter. His opponents contrast him by being much more colorful.
- Tekken 2 pulled a switcheroo by having the first game's bland Shotoclone hero Kazuya turn out to be the main villain. He was replaced as main character with the equally flat and stone-faced Jin in Part 3.
- Jin then morphed into a darker and more conflicted character after being betrayed by his grandfather and learning of the Mishima family's cursed bloodline, eventually becoming the main villain of Tekken 6 and plunging the world into what was essentially World War III. Except it was all a carefully orchestrated plan to lure an evil greater evil out of hiding (and allow Jin to put an end to his suffering). The role of protagonist was subsequently assumed by Lars, who formerly worked under Jin in the Tekken Force and turns out to be the only living Mishima who is squeaky clean in terms of morality. We're sensing a trend here.
- Mega Man (Classic): Mega Man is your standard 8-bit hero with little motivation other than doing the right thing (which came from his creator anyway). In this case, his uniqueness mainly comes from copying the abilities of the various colorful robot masters as well as fighting Dr. Wily. This can be contrasted with his more free-thinking brother Proto Man, as well his Evil Counterpart Bass.
- Certain games do attempt to challenge Mega Man's Incorruptible Pure Pureness, such as Mega Man 7 showing Mega Man attempting to kill Wily at end (but locking up due to entering an A.I. loop) and The Power Fighters having Wily question Mega Man over his efforts to keep the peace between humans and robots when he's essentially committing genocide on his own kind. This always comes with a Snap Back, as the morality questions don't truly come into play until his "little brother" X, the first robot able to think and make decisions of his own accord, is created.
- Super Mario Bros.: Mario was designed to be an extremely accessible character who can fit any role. He himself does not have too much personality other than cheerfulness, but it's the colorful world and challenges he inhabits that provides the true meat of the series.
- Dissidia: Final Fantasy: Warrior of Light has the fewest frills in a game full of many toppinged characters such as Cloud and Squall. Justified in story, as he's a sentient Manikin with no memories outside the cycles of war, and he doesn't really have much character to express beyond what he has developed over the past cycles. Also a case of Tropes Are Not Bad, as his Undying Loyalty to Cosmos — his only motivation — makes him The Paragon to the other heroes, and he has none of their confidence issues or emotional baggage, so the villains' usually effective Breaking Speeches and mind games don't work on him.
- Bravely Default has Tiz Arrior, the first playable character. Aside from the first arc where he's acting to restore his village, he doesn't have a decisive role in the plot as a whole. He's primarily acting as a down-to-earth moral center and Agnes' love interest. Contrast his Farm Boy status with Agne's priestly Chosen One, Edea's Defector from Decadence and Ringabell's Amnesiac Hero.
- Senran Kagura: Asuka has a personality, but it's expressed largely in how she's a Foil to other characters. Another case of Tropes Are Not Bad, as this is extensively commented upon. Asuka narrates several times that as a generalist, she fails to stand out compared to her allies, rivals, and enemies, and uses that as her motivation moving forward with the goal of becoming a Master of All.
- Riki from Little Busters! is a great example of this trope, being a generic male lead (lacking the snarky qualities of Key's other male leads) surrounded by a quirky & colourful male and female supporting cast. The only standout thing about him is his very feminine face.
- Antimony of Gunnerkrigg Court, whose general calm and open-minded approach to everything, combined with her ability to be near-central to every subplot she comes across just by existing and the enticingly vague development of the other students, tends to make her the vanilla of many plots. This is diminished after it's revealed that she's part fire elemental and unknowingly responsible for her mother's death, both of which give her emotional depth. Plus, she started having fun with it.
- John was the first character introduced out of the stupendously large cast and acts as the Audience Surrogate through much of the series, being the kid to whom all the bizarre and improbable game mechanics have to be explained, so he wasn't nearly as well-developed as some of the other characters at first. He's gotten a bit more Character Development now that we can see his actions through other points of view.
- Karkat on the Alternia side is the first troll introduced and becomes team leader, which in the end is responsible for their victory. His job is to hold the Sanity Ball so his friends can steal their scenes with craziness. Occasionally there are exceptions like calming down his homicidally insane friend by shoosh-papping him into submission. Also, the fact that Karkat has at least one major comedic trait...namely, his hilarious and ineffectual anger issues.
- Parker in Hero Business. Her main trait? She's very competant as a secretary, and helping all the other characters. Then subverted. She's the daughter of a SUPERVILLAIN...and plotting some sort of scheme, in addition to a witch!
- The nameless protagonist of PHD mainly serves as a generic representation of a grad school student, and has no distinguished personality or background. As such, he is frequently pushed Out of Focus when the author wants to write a proper story arc involving the cast. Cecelia, Mike, Tajel and even Dee has more development than our main guy.
- The Looney Tunes series went through a long tenure of this as it slowly gained it's trademark slapstick. The series originally utilized Mickey Mouse-alike characters such as Bosko and Buddy, who missed this trope and hit the Generic Guy instead. Beans the Cat was then billed as a new more colorful star, but his sidekick, Porky Pig outshone him in that regard. Porky then turned into this trope for more abrasive stars such as Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny with his Everyman persona making him better fit as The Straight Man or The Comically Serious.
- Mickey Mouse became a pretty iconic case for the Classic Disney Shorts. Mickey started off a more mischievous scrappy protagonist, though as new additions such as Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto were introduced and took over the more abrasive roles, Mickey ended up toned down into The Everyman to foil them and by the forties was Demoted to Extra. Modern works have tried to give Mickey star power again, with varying degrees of success.
- The title character of Hey Arnold!. While the first season had some palpable focus on his own dilemmas and personal conflicts, as episodes passed, his shortcomings and foibles faded and he ended up a messianic Only Sane Man to the far more flawed and eccentric universe around him. A high number of episodes barely even featured Arnold, in favor of playing a borderline Ensemble Cast setup.
- For The Dreamstone, the Noops, Rufus and Amberley, end up looking fairly unremarkable against the majority of the cast, lacking the quirks and humour value of the villains, and being overshadowed and made redundant by their more powerful and surreal comrades. They take the part well as newcomers encountering the show's different worlds and processes, but the focus otherwise usually sways in the Urpneys' favor due to their more colorful personalities and providing most of the show's slapstick.
- Its sister show, Bimble's Bucket follows a very similar formula for Bimble, who gets less screen time than the villains and largely exists as a naive newcomer for Teeny Weeny to explain all the details of the plot towards.
- Daria rarely changes her facial expressions and is well known for her witty sarcasm spoken in a monotone voice in a show replete with characters who have more developed and quirky personalities.
- The title character of The Life and Times of Juniper Lee falls squarely into this. There isn't anything that truly stands out about her personality-wise other than her interactions with the various characters of Orchid Bay, and her fighting style doesn't help her win fans. In fact, there was an episode that focused on this: at a big supernatural social event, everyone was more interested in her Cool Old Lady grandmother than herself specifically for this reason.
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Twilight Sparkle was this in season 1, being a Audience Surrogate by which the distinct personalities and antics of her friends could be observed without bringing much herself. Season 2 onward averted this by giving her distinct character flaws, episodes focusing on her story arc as a student to Celestia, and also demoting her slightly for more an Ensemble Cast setup.
- Rocko in Rocko's Modern Life could be considered this. He is the Only Sane Man of the show in comparison to the more eccentric and idiosyncratic cast surrounding him.
- King of the Hill: Hank Hill is a straight-laced, hardworking, upstanding Texan suburbanite with strong morals and a comically mundane work life ("I sell propane and propane accessories!"). Practically all of the show's comedy comes from his failure to relate to his wacky neighbors and family. When the supporting cast includes a Conspiracy Theorist exterminator, a sad sack Army barber, an mush-mouthed womanizing Texas Ranger, a pudgy aspiring comedian, and a ditzy former trailer trash girl, the mild-mannered family man underscores the insanity.
- Steven Universe has a in-universe version of this. In the earlier episodes, Steven himself is an adorkable newcomer to the Crystal Gems. When not busy being generally awesome, they had a Comic Trio dynamic and so he felt left out. This serves as the contrast that the trope dictates. As the series progresses, he embraces to the max his status as an All-Loving Hero, steppes into the legacy left by his mother/past incarnation Rose Quartz, he becomes more part of the group instead of its foil.