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Playing with a Trope meets Gambit Pileup
Sometimes, a trope is handled in a way that is, quite frankly, beyond our normal categorizations of subversion
, Double Subversion
, or inversion
. Such tropes wind up as those rare complexities that can make the readers grin (or shoot their brains out
due to being Mind Screwed
). Thus, the Zig-Zagging Trope.
Sometimes a Zig-Zagging trope is a product of overcomplication after it comes into play; anything involving a triple subversion makes the result a zig-zagging use of the trope. Sometimes, a trope is both inverted and played straight at the same time, which is also a Zig-Zagging trope. And sometimes the author is simply saying "Dance, trope, dance! Dance for my amusement!
" before indulging in an Evil Laugh
In other words, think of an example of this as any that is too screwy or complex to be one of the other Trope Tropes
. As a rule of thumb, if someone cannot describe a use of a trope any better than "played with
", it's likely this.
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- One coupon commercial ran up and down with its entire concept. It opens with a couple talking about a website that helped their relationship, before revealing that it's talking about coupons. Then the guy says that he printed out some coupons to surprise his wife, then cuts to a shot of her jumping on him, at which point it cuts to them being interviewed for the commercial on the couch, with the wife saying "and that's how the twins were born," implying that they really were talking about sex now, then it pans out to show two bags of groceries, leading you to believe that's what they were talking about, at which point the husband says that it's good they can get coupons for diapers, leading back to the idea that it was talking about sex.
Anime & Manga
- Neon Genesis Evangelion does this to many, many, many things (it seems) such as giant robots, the usefulness of anyone over 18, the nature of man, the nature of the divine and... you know what? Just watch the show.
- Mahou Sensei Negima! does this with the concept of the Unwanted Harem. It starts out as one, but oh wait, he's Oblivious to Love, then a bunch of the cast fall in love with him anyway, but it doesn't count because he never reciprocates, unless it's unintentional, etc. It's still not entirely clear if the series is actually an Unwanted Harem or not.
- Hell, it's not even clear whether the harem is unwanted! On one hand, he doesn't return any of the feelings at the moment, and probably won't for a while. One the other hand, he has become good friends with all the girls and a bunch more who aren't romantically interested in him, and does appreciate how much they are willing to help him. On the other hand, as Haruna and Chisame have pointed out, love triangles rarely work out well, and unless Negi goes for everyone (and there are a lot of them), a whole lot of them are going to be disappointed. On the other hand, this isn't just a straight romantic comedy but also an action/adventure fantasy as well, and Negi would not have gotten nearly as far as he had without all of these other characters backing him up. Zig Zagged Trope indeed...
- It does the same thing with First Girl Wins, as there are about 5 girls who fit the criteria, and at least one of them could also qualify as the last girl. And of course, Negi might not end up with any of them...
- The Negi/Rakan fight is essentially a long string of Subverted Anti Climaxes combined with numerous instances of I Am Not Left-Handed. It's hard to tell whether the fight's conclusion is actually an Anti-Climax or not.
- Giant Robo does this with a Broken Pedestal. The image of Vogler keeps getting added on with new information from new character left and right, from being a vengeful Mad Scientist to a benevolent scientist. Eventually, it ends with subversion. Too bad Poor Communication Kills.
- In Kitchen Princess, Sora appears to be a Satellite Love Interest as he seems to fall for Najika off the bat. A side story reveals that he had already run into her and was charmed by her, though she never finds out.Then it turns out he was just ordered to hang out with her so that she could be used in a publicity stunt. However, it was inevitable that he'd develop real feelings for her with all the time he spent with her. Then Sora dies. Not to mention it's also insinuated another reason he wanted to have a relationship with her was so that there would be less chance of his younger brother remembering how their mother died.
- In Zettai Karen Children, Wife Husbandry is sent through a blender. Minamoto is absolutely not trying to do this, but The Children want him to (not that they want him to wait that long), everyone else either thinks he's doing this or is trying to get him to do it. Also, according to the future timeline, it's Double Subverted when Minamoto and Kaoru get together despite his best efforts.
- Pokémon does this with their Goldfish Poop Gang: Team Rocket quickly goes from being a threat to being a Goldfish Poop Gang. They volley between legitimate threats and harmless nuisances. As of season 14, they are dangerous threats with an Evil Costume Switch. But then they change back to white. Then ghosts suck out their life force, making them goofy for one episode. Then they're back to serious again. And they may or may not follow Ash and co. anymore.
- Axis Powers Hetalia does this with the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys trope in it's depiction of France, playing it straight earlier on in the series, but averting it later on. The dub tends to play it straight, though, and England even calls him that in one episode.
- I Want A Refund, Kuno has forbidden anyone to date Nabiki Tendo. Nabiki invokes an inverted "I'll do anything" offer to any boy that defeats Kuno- secure in the knowledge that he will successfully defeat all the other boys in school (since Ranma isn't fighting). Kuno manages to defeat himself, and what follows is a Triple subversion of the "I'll do anything" trope- maybe even quadruple, or quintuple depending on your perspective.
- Kyon: Big Damn Hero does this with Recurring Dreams: Kanae's favorite dream is kissing her sempai at the beach and magically teleporting to a shadowy wooded glade surrounded by bunnies and flowers. The dream isn't psychic or precognitive but events happen so her sempai is in a very similar position to the start of her dream. With Kanae sightly dazed (enough to realize the differences on her usual dream but not enough to realize she's awake, It Makes Sense in Context) she kisses her sempai for the first time, everybody watching.
- Heroic Second Wind has a rather peculiar level of heavy subversion in The Matrix Revolutions: After Smith delivers a truly exemplary Nietzsche Wannabe speech, he asks the beaten Neo why the hell he even bothers to keep fighting. Neo stands and says, "Because I choose to." Cue asskicking, trope subversion as Smith rejuvenates and beats Neo to a pulp again, double subversion as Neo gets up again, triple subversion as Smith manages to infect Neo, and finally quadruple subversion as Neo uses his defeat to provide a link between Smith and the computer that created him, allowing it to simply delete him.
- Galaxy Quest in regard to Lampshade Hanging.
- The Bad Guy Wins becomes rather a Zig-Zagging Trope in Murder on the Orient Express. In the traditional way of viewing murder mysteries the "bad guy" is the committer or committers of the in-film murder, but the murder victim was himself a horrendous monster and mafioso who was killed only because he escaped justice by due process of law for his crimes, and a large part of the story involves the central dilemma caused by Poirot being after the murderer/murderers of a man who so obviously had it coming to him and was clearly the worst guy amongst all the characters of the story ethically. When Poirot figures out whodunnit, he lets the guilty parties literally get away with murder, allowing them to win in the sense of escaping justice even though they've lost in the sense of failing to succeed at their plot of deceiving him — although in a sense they won to begin with just by succeeding at their plot to murder Ratchett at all, which is what they were there for in the first place. If you go by defining the bad guy literally as the most morally degraded character in the story, then Ratchett alternately loses in the sense of ending up a murder victim himself, wins in the sense that his murderer(s) cannot murder him without getting caught, and he loses again in that the murderer(s) get(s) away with it anyhow. And had won long ago at escaping the law itself in the first place to begin with, at which his success technically remains permanent.
- Watching the Detectives zigzags quite frequently between Deconstruction and Reconstruction while playing tropes like a drum. It's better to just give up trying to analyze it and enjoy the dreamy blue eyes.
- Men Don't Cry is pretty much thrown into a Tornado when it comes to The Wizard of Oz. The Tin Man can cry, and even does so on several occasions, but is advised against it and it ends negatively for him, as he rusts when it happens. The Cowardly Lion also cries several times out of fear, and while he isn't human, he is genuinely courageous in the sense that when he has a good reason to, he does things even though he is afraid. The meaning of the trope is also challenged a bit when it comes to them; do they count as subversions because they are male characters who cry? Or are they playing it straight due to the negative In-Universe connotations they have for crying?
- Asshole Victim is toyed with in Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun, where the murder victim qualifies under reasons two (to allow the murderer to be sympathetic) and three (it maximizes the number of possible suspects) . . . because he was the perfect embodiment of the planet's social code ("a good Solarian"), that is, an anti-social a-hole. Everyone had a motive to murder the man who reminded them all of their imperfections, and in the end Elijah Baley decides to sit on the knowledge of who murdered the victim.
- The Mole is played with in the Harry Potter books with Snape. As in, the main characters have thought (and therefore the reader thinks) that he was every single sub-trope of this at some point, until finally he just becomes ambiguous. It was played straight to begin with, then inverted to become the Reverse Mole, then the main characters thought he was a Heel Face Mole who was just duping Dumbledore and can't be trusted, and then the inverse of that, etc, etc. That is, up until The Reveal, where it's established that he's just doing it for Lily Potter.
- The entire point of the Tom Holt novel Falling Sideways. The description of the backstory of the major players is revised, revisited and completely contradicted every two or three chapters, and keeping track of all the lies (and trying to fit it into the events of the book) becomes a big brain-hurting exercise. It doesn't help that, at the end, there's still plenty of huge Plot Holes.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting gets a lot of play in The Sirantha Jax Series. There's an alien species who change form... by extruding an extra skin around their insectoid bodies. They can manipulate the features on the outside layer, but they occasionally have to molt it and replace it.
- The Wheel of Time zigzags Kissing Cousins in one chapter, when Rand is researching his family tree, trying to figure out if he is related to Elayne Trakand, his lover, and receives a lot of confusing and slightly contradictory evidence resulted in the trope going from seemingly played straight, to subverted, to "sort of true." Elayne is indeed Rand's cousin, but only a very distant one. They descend from the same bloodline, but are not close enough to be considered really related.
- Except that he doesn't know his mother was actually much more closely related. We think anyway.
- They are very distant cousins... who share a half brother, by way of Rand's mom and Elayne's dad.
- The Hunger Games zigzags There Can Be Only One: The premise is that the last survivor wins. With only a few competitors left, the Capitol makes an announcement that if the last two survivors are from the same district, they will be co-winners. Katniss and Peeta become the last two survivors, but the Capitol lied, and there will only be one winner after all. They decide to commit double suicide rather than attempt to kill each other, and the Capitol backs down, deciding that having two winners is better than not having any.
- In the second book, there's even more play on the trope- Katniss is sure that there can only be one winner this time, but then five of the tributes are rescued from the arena.
- Lisanne Norman's Sholan Alliance series does this with Luke, I Am Your Father. It's mostly an inversion, but...
- To whit: Mara has a mate. She is also pregnant. Her mate is not the father. Half a chapter is devoted to finding daddy.
- Played with for Kaid and his son, Dzaka.
- Candle by John Barnes does something to Shades of Conflict, as one reveal after another changes the apparent shade of the conflict. In order: Black and White Morality (One True is good, the last rebel raped a little girl for the fun of it), Black and Grey Morality or Evil Versus Evil (One True is solely concerned with propagating itself, but the representative of it who serves as the main character is only partially controlled and is a Lawful Good Well-Intentioned Extremist), White and Grey Morality or a reversed Black and White Morality (One True lied about the rebel, and he's actually a good guy), Grey and Grey Morality or Evil Versus Evil again (the rebel is the last survivor of a benevolent Hive Mind founded to protect humanity from One True and its like, but it jumped off the slippery slope and now what remains of it forces him to convert more people, just like One True), and finally Rousseau Was Right (the rebel himself is still an idealist, and One True is willing to learn from his example, voluntarily splitting itself into bits and becoming more of a Mental Fusion. The sequel takes it another step: One True is trying to be good, but is still driven to propagate itself, and may or may not have killed thousands of people so it could assimilate the rest into its "benevolent" control.
- Monstrous Regiment does that with the Modern Major General Blouse's Ping Pong Naďveté. Is he really that stupid? No, he turns out to be a genius about certain things. Then he reverts right back to useless officer, and back to smart... and back.
- He's smart about certain things ... and only about those things. It's just that, unlike most characters of his type, he can find practical uses for them. But only some of the time - the rest of the time he's genuinely clueless.
- Wouldn't that make him a Genius Ditz?
- As well as this trope, Monstrous Regiment zigzags Sweet Polly Oliver , when it starts applying to every single character. Except Vimes.
- Umberto Eco's approach to The Death Of The Author tends toward this, as demonstrated by The Limits Of Interpretation.
- In L. Jagi Lamplight's Prospero's Daughter trilogy, Miranda sees Ferdinard, her New Old Flame, again after centuries, and he actually has an explanation for why (despite Shakespeare) he didn't turn up for their wedding. Except that it's not him. But the person disguised as him is someone else who has a romantic link to her the past. Except that when she brings them up to him, he jeers at the very notion of love between someone of her species and his.
Live Action TV
- A variant on a popular joke is a triple or quadruple subversion:
"My grandfather died at a Nazi concentration camp."
"He fell out of a guard tower."
"Your grandfather was a Nazi?!"
"He was trying to escape." (beat) "The prisoners were rioting."
- Traveller: Planet Ville. A planet does not have to be a planet ville. Many planets are large and complex societies and some have mini-sourcebooks about them. On the other hand PCs when travelling through the stars often don't see more then the starport. On the other hand, a whole campaign can be set on a single planet. On the other hand some planets are almost virgin worlds with no more then a small outpost on them, whose population may be that of a small town or even a villiage.
- Legacy of Kain somehow manages to do this with both You Can't Fight Fate and Screw Destiny.
- As does the Terminator franchise, even when it probably shouldn't...
- Ace Combat zig zags around So Last Season with its starter planes; some games have better starter planes than later ones, but the current latest one, 6: Fires of Liberation also has a better starter plane that some games before it. See the trope page for the full rundown.
- Fat Princess does this to Save the Princess.
- Knight In Shining Armour trope in Braid.
- Frontlines: Fuel of War zig zags with Bag of Spilling: Each mission comes in two halves, and you keep all of your gear if you die... But when the second half of the level loads you're suddenly stuck with a regular weapon set and none of the collected gear from the first section.
- Jeanne d'Arc actually managed to pull this off with the Doomed by Canon Trope. In real life, Joan was burned at the stake but in the game, she was previous Not Quite Dead, so her best friend Liane was actually posing as her for a portion of the game. Liane instead was captured and burned at the stake since she had been masquerading as Joan and everyone believed her to be the true Joan. For extra irony, Joan herself appears on the scene moments after.
- Portal 2 does this with Boss Arena Idiocy. In the course of a few short minutes, the Final Boss of the game defies it, plays it straight, subverts it, and double subverts it. The subversion is itself set up with a justification earlier in the game: there are elements of the mainframe room that are not under the control of the supervisory AI. This does not, however, prevent it from setting traps.
- NetHack has a triple subversion of Useless Useful Spell. The game has an instant death spell (and wand that contains the spell in consumable form) that's Too Awesome to Use against regular enemies. However, the list of things immune to it is "everything that's already dead", which, in the first subversion, does not include all the bosses (it's about half; as an extreme example, two of the three endgame bosses are vulnerable to it, one is immune). However, the most powerful bosses (that are vulnerable to it) will simply respawn, making it much less powerful against them than you'd expect. However, it's still the most effective weapon to use against them anyway...
- Kings Quest IV and Kings Quest VII do this for Standard Hero Reward. Subverted, gender inverted, played straight, subverted another two times, gender flipped again... in the end, Edgar and Rosella just agree to date.
- Fire Emblem Elibe does this to Lamarck Was Right: Played straight with Lou and Ray's magical ability (inherited from Nino), Eliwood's and Hector's ability to wield Durandal and Armads, respectively; inverted with Zephiel's (and nobody else's) ability to wield Eckesachs; subverted with Hector's and Lyn's inability to wield Durandal in Rekka no Ken and with everybody's (if they have the appropriate skill in swords) ability to wield Durandal in Fuuin no Tsurugi. Also subverted with Lilina's magical ability, as neither Hector nor his wife were able to use magic.
- Disgaea 2 Cursed Memories pulls this off right at the very beginning, and relating to the game's major plot-twist. In order to lift a curse cast on their world, the heroes try a magic spell to summon the demon responsible, Overlord Zenon, but it was seemingly botched, and they instead get Zenon's spoiled daughter, Rozalin. Then comes the major twist, revealed at the end of the game, that Rozalin is Zenon as a Reincarnation, and her father (who isn't even biologically related to her) is just a poser who took on the name just to spite her. The heroes did succeed in summoning Zenon after all; however, it was still the Fake Zenon that they were after, since he's the one who cast the curse, so in a way the summoning ritual still failed.
- Look under "Fan Preferred Couple" for El Goonish Shive. The trope is set up when an alternate love interest for Elliott is introduced in the form of Nanase, subverted when they turn out to actually be a couple, double subverted when she breaks it off because there's no spark, and then triple subverted when Ellen/Nanase becomes canon. Triple-subversions are extremely hard to do, but the trope isn't being subverted as much as being a straight playing of Will They or Won't They?.
- Darths & Droids do this with Not the Fall That Kills You. More complex than you thought.
- Sivo in Gunnerkrigg Court is a triple subversion of the "Knight vs. Dragon" story.note
- This comes close to quadruple-subversion level, though only time will tell: Reynardine is now under Annie's control, and as Annie learns more and more about him, he appears to be far more sympathetic and far less the demon that Eglamore believed.
- Probably already counts as a quadruple subversion, after in #109 Eglamore requested to turn Reynardine over and Antimony refused and offered a good rebuff, so the situation essentially turned into "the Fair Maiden saves the [ex-] Dragon from the Knight".
- Tom zigzagged the Ship Tease in chapter 34 where it looks like Annie and Jack flirt with each other well, in contrast to their previous awkward interaction in chapter 31. They have an apparently sweet moment in a balcony, which leads to her saying she doesn't like him when it looks like they're about to kiss. Then he sighs in relief and declares a crush on Zimmy. She gets pissed off, and he gives her "The Reason You Suck" Speech. He then cracks a joke, and she agrees with the joke and concedes to his calling her out. It finally ends in a relatively sweet moment which leads her to offering him an actual kiss. He turns her down gently and they're shown hugging at the end.
- Randomly point a finger, with eyes closed, somewhere on the Fate and Prophecy Tropes page, and you're likely to find something in Digger that's addressed in this manner.
- The Order of the Stick does this with Always Chaotic Evil. Subverted, inverted, averted, double-subverted, and ultimately deconstructed. And just occasionally played straight. It works beautifully.
- The Whiteboard does this regularly with More Dakka, substituting paintballs for real bullets. LOTS of paintballs.
- In Nedroid, the initial comics had a lot of artistic experimentation, with some comics looking sketchy while others looked gorgeous. As time went on, the comic eventually focused on a simple, but polished art style. It's two cases of Art Evolution while simultaneously being two cases of Art Decay.
- This Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal panel is a textbook example of screwing with the reader's expectation so many times it makes you dizzy. The webcomic in question loves this trope.
- Jack zigzags Parental Abandonment with Fnar, an innocent unborn, who has two dead parents - both reside in Hell like he does. He is mainly kept away from them, since Mama's stuck in a dangerous place, and Papa is just dangerous. Later on the trope gets twisted further: Papa finds him and to some degree abuses him as a means to get to his de facto guardian, after which Fnar is separated from both Mama and Papa as he is given another chance at life. Except that not all so, because Papa is a Sin and able to visit the world of the living...
- In Tales of the Questor, Ralph Hayes has loads of fun with Be Careful What You Wish For:
- Subversion 1: Quentyn is careful what he wishes for, very carefully wording his wishes so that his Fae Lord enemy has no loopholes to wiggle through.
- Subversion 2: Later, he convinces himself that he wished for the wrong things—that he should have used them to bring back the artifacts he's looking for.
- Subversion 3: He's told that his wishes were the most damaging things he could possibly have asked a Fae Lord for All debts and favors cancelled, everything stolen returned to the duchy, and barred from hunting the world again—and what he thought he should have wished for would not have worked as he thought.
- Sequential Art had fun with 5C4RL37 and her sisters building a Humongous Mecha, because it's clearly the best way to stop a giant bug. Then they got carried away and due to a scaling error made what on the next page became a Powered Armor. Then liked it and made more. But later built one Mini Mecha anyway, as a carrier for "Soopa Soots".
- The TV series version of Aladdin has a female genie called Eden, who is also benevolent. Unlike Genie however, she's wise enough to become a Literal Genie when dealing with Jerk Ass Abis Mal. When the villain wishes Genie imprisoned in the bottom of the ocean, she give him an escape hatch because Mal didn't say forever. When Mal wished the biggest and strongest being in the world, she including a method of relieving him of his power; and when the little girl who finds her wishes for everything to be all right, she turns Abis Mal into a bug as a "freebie". She also went out of her way to encourage the little homeless girl to come up with better wishes; when the girl wished for a sandwich, she convinced her to wish for a lifetime supply of food instead.
- One episode of American Dad features a new guy in the neighborhood; one Stan instantly recognizes as an ex-KGB agent, one of their top guys in fact, with who he had several previous run-ins. He's convinced that the agent is here to destroy America, but everything points to him just wanting to live a good life post-USSR-breakup. Several pieces of seemingly damning evidence are piled up, but then they're all reasonably explained away. It seems for the entire first half of the show, Stan is just being put up as a bigot who can't let go of old rivalries; then it turns out the KGB agent actually is there for nefarious purposes, not to destroy America (in fact he does kind of like it here) but specifically to turn Stan's son Steve into a Communist as revenge against Stan. Even after admitting it to his face, Stan still can't get others to believe him for a while due to his previous paranoia.
- There are at least two episodes in the Men In Black animated series which play with the What Measure Is a Non-Cute? to a somewhat confusing degree:
- In The Buzzard Syndrome, an alien comes to Earth hunting another alien, so it's Space Policeman hunting Dangerous Killer. Then the lies are exposed, and it seems to be Heartless Bounty Hunter hunting Cute Alien. Then it turns out that the cute alien is a killer, so it's Heartless Bounty Hunter hunting Cute Dangerous Killer. Bit hard to keep track of the lies.
- In The Star System Syndrome, something is doing in the alien actors of Hollywood. They believe it's the Space Demon, a washed-out actor who looks like the Alien, but he just wants to get another movie deal. It turns out to be the Astro Tots, the cute little hosts of a children's show. And then, it turns out the Astro Tots are exactly as harmless as they appear and that they only trapped the other actors for setting a bad example.
- A Triple Subversion occurs in The Simpsons episode "Bart Gets An Elephant." Two men are carrying a large pane of glass across a street. Out of nowhere, Stampy the elephant comes charging down the street, only for the men to move out of the way. Then Bart comes racing down the street on his skateboard in pursuit; the men move out of the way again. This leaves them free to continue carrying the pane of glass across the street, where they promptly toss it into a garbage bin, shattering it.
- Adventure Time does this with the Magical Land trope. On one hand, Ooo has all the problems endemic to human societies (child neglect, insanity, crime), and the daily monster attacks don't help matters. The wise monarch is of questionable sanity, the magic causes problems just as much as it solves them, and the fantastic creatures are often jerks. On the other hand, it really isn't much worse than any modern society, and, well, it is a pretty amazing place.
- In the days of William Shakespeare, all roles in a theater play were played by men or boys. This includes the female roles, so you had guys dressing up as girls, so you get Dude Looks Like a Lady. Which makes for a very interesting time when this guy is playing either Viola from Twelfth Night or Rosalind from As You Like It. Both are female roles, but the females disguise themselves as males in their respective plays, producing the reverse trope, Bifauxnen. So you end up with a guy playing as a girl that's pretending to be a guy: a crossdressing double-cross, one could say.
- Rosalind goes one better - a boy plays a woman, who disguises herself as a man, who pretends to be herself for her love interest to pretend to court her. The final speech of the play essentially lampshades the whole thing.
- This newspaper article suggests that a current political sex-scandal is going through this. In brief, Gay male mayor, possibly underage male intern. On the one hand, Gay Man Child Predator is a very old and damaging trope, on the other hand Hot for Student suggests that we don't think of a young male was 'taken advantage of' but maybe even 'got lucky'. By contrast, old guy - young girl is seen as more 'appreciable' but much more often 'predatory'. Furthermore, gay men are 'expected' to be secretive about their sex lives for some because of privacy, for some because of leeway for a frowned-upon sexuality, and for some because of Brain Bleach.