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Trickster Hero Straightlaced Villain Foil

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Hero versus villain dynamic of a trickster/unscrupulous hero and an honorable/morally rigid villain

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
Hodor2 on Apr 25th 2017 at 1:56:29 PM
Last Edited By:
AHI-3000 on Feb 13th 2018 at 10:33:13 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

I'd been thinking of this for a while and wonder if there might be a trope to this, separate from Evil Former Friend and Rival Turned Evil, with which it often intersects.

So basically, this involves a personality contrast between the protagonist and an antagonist who is the other main character in the work, who serves as their foil. Somewhat at odds with moral expectation, the protagonist will be a trickster and potentially even unscrupulous, whereas the contrasting antagonist has a high emphasis on honor and obeying "the rules". Because the two figures are central to the work, typically the protagonist and antagonist with this contrast will start out as friends, but after that friendship ends, the antagonist will end up as the Evil Former Friend and Rival Turned Evil. Because of the unusual moral framing of the characters, the antagonist generally turns against the protagonist out of a sincere belief that the hero has acted unscrupulously and betrayed them- at odds with the typical dynamic of the Evil Former Friend and Rival Turned Evil tropes. As the mention of evil suggests, the antagonists in this set-up tend to quickly go from a Hero Antagonist to an outright villainous Principles Zealot, and have their moral standards revealed as Black and White Insanity, especially if they don't ultimately end up back on the protagonist's side.

Compare with Red Oni, Blue Oni which involves a similar personality contrast but doesn't necessitate the characters being enemies nor that either will be more honorable than the other (although in examples of this trope, the protagonists will almost invariably be Red and the antagonists almost invariably Blue).

Contrast with Brains Evil, Brawn Good, as in this case, the more heroic character in the dynamic relies on clever methods whereas the antagonistic character relies on brute force.

See also the first type of Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor which tends to play out with these examples, as unsurprisingly, the trickster protagonists will usually have a well-developed sense of humor and the straightlaced antagonist will be The Comically Serious or be totally humorless.

Edit- Trying to reword to make the suggestion clearer.


Anime and Manga


  • In Doctor Strange, this is the contrast between Strange, the newbie and obviously the hero,, who succeeds through bending and breaking the rules and his friend/ally Mordo, who is all about protecting the world by maintaining those rules. Mordo breaks with Strange by the end of the movie and turns to evil in The Stinger based on a perception that Strange and other Sorcerers threaten the world by messing with power and Mordo can only stop this by making sure he's the only Sorcerer alive.


  • The Grace of Kings is based around the Odd Friendship and eventual arch rivalry between Kuni Garu, a Trickster Archetype whose approach to everything is based on pragmatism (of a good natured kind) and the stubbornly honorable Blood Knight Mata Zyndu, who increasingly embraces Black and White Insanity as he comes to believe Kuni is plotting against him. Tellingly, Kuni wants to defeat The Empire and reform it into something which keeps the good points and benefits of uniting people, and gets rid of the oppressive elements, whereas Mata opposes The Empire because of the cruel slaughter of his family and because it gave power to a lot of lowborn riffraff and upended the traditional system of decentralized rule by hereditary aristocrats. Incidentally, the Kuni and Mata are respectively based on (legendary accounts of) Liu Bang and Xiang Yu making this example sort of a Trope Codifier.
  • Red Rising has this dynamic between The Unfettered hero Darrow who can be pretty unscrupulous in his quest to bring down the horrendous Society which runs on Social Darwinism, and his friend and later rival/enemy Cassius, who is The Ace and embodies the best of the Society in terms of looks, martial prowess, and honorable mien. Tellingly, even before Cassius finds out that Darrow is infiltrating the Society to destroy it, the two end up as enemies because Cassius recoils at what he sees as dishonorable ruthlessness by Darrow, although over time, this aspect is downplayed as Cassius himself does several dishonorable actions (partly motivated by the slaughter of his family which he's falsely lead to believe was carried out on Darrow's orders). Unlike some other examples, the two ultimately end the series as friends and allies once again.
  • Wolf Hall has this dynamic between its main characters Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More. Cromwell, the protagonist, is an ambitious and unscrupulous Self-Made Man whose dissatisfied with norms that make life oppressive for people, including in terms of religious persecutions, as well as gender equality, and strives toward power so that he can improve the lives of the English people (and enrich himself while doing it). In contrast, More is an Old Money traditionalist who prides himself on his unwavering moral principles and who likes to torture and burn heretics. While the two are never friends, they both dominate the first novel and to enhance their dynamic, Mantel invents a Forgotten First Meeting in which arrogant young student More was mildly condescending to young servant Cromwell- which is part of what motivates Cromwell to destroy More.


  • In an Older Than Feudalism example, The Trojan War as recounted in The Iliad and The Odyssey has this dynamic between the "good guys", the Greeks, who include the cunning Odysseus and the classical hero Achilles and the contrasting character on the "bad guy" Trojan side, Hector, who is the epitome of the good and honorable warrior. Unlike some of the other examples, Hector actually isn't a villain by any stretch and depending on who you ask, the more sympathetic presentation of the Trojans// Achilles being highly unsympathetic may be the intent and not just Values Dissonance.


  • William Shakespeare liked doing this:
    • Henry IV has the dynamic between the scheming Hal, who pursues a life of revelry as part of Obfuscating Stupidity and his foil the honorable and rather dim and brutish Hotspur, to whom Hal's own father (Henry IV) has the attitude of Why Are You Not My Son?. Notably, in actual history, the two were decades apart in age, and so the idea of there being a dynamic between the two is completely Shakespeare's invention.
    • In Julius Caesar written around the same time, the dynamic plays out between the unscrupulous Marc Anthony, whose nonetheless the hero as per "history" and desire to avenge his friend Caesar and the honorable Brutus, who was viewed at the time of writing as one of history's worst traitors. This is most evident during the competing speeches the two give at Caesar's funeral, where Brutus gives a good but not super-persuasive speech justifying his assassination of Caesar, and then because he was stupid enough to allow Antony to speak, Antony gives a manipulative and rhetorically brilliant speech which turns the Roman populace against Brutus and the conspirators.
  • In a rare case in which this dynamic doesn't involve physical violence (well, until the end), Hamilton has this dynamic between the protagonist, Alexander Hamilton, and his friend turned arch-enemy Aaron Burr. Hamilton is a Self-Made Man who succeeds through his cleverness and willingness to think outside the box, whereas Burr comes from Old Money and his strategy for political and life success is based around being deliberately indecisive and not making waves/committing to a stance. While starting out as a mentor figure to Hamilton, Burr ends up turning against him due to a combination of seeing Hamilon as unscrupulously overly ambitious and being jealous of Hamilton's greater success and dissatisfied that his own ambitions haven't played out.

Western Animation

Feedback: 23 replies

Apr 25th 2017 at 4:47:39 PM

Please name this with a clearer title.

Chaotic Hero Orderly Villain?

Apr 25th 2017 at 5:43:28 PM

Thanks for the response. Not a bad suggestion. Perhaps something like Trickster Hero Straightlaced Villain or Scheming Hero Honorable Villain?

Edit- Going with the former for now.

Apr 25th 2017 at 8:26:09 PM

How's this even related to Evil Former Friend and Rival Turned Evil? They shouldn't get mention.

Apr 26th 2017 at 1:38:20 AM

Apr 26th 2017 at 4:13:08 PM

@Arvine- Thanks for the editing.

@Everyone- I went and made some changes in wording to make the trope suggestion clearer. Hope it helps.

Apr 27th 2017 at 5:56:30 AM

It looks better.

This often crops up in shows where Order Is Not Good, i.e our heroes are chaotic oppositions of the order.

Apr 27th 2017 at 9:52:46 AM

  • Most adaptations of Peter Pan have this dynamic regarding Peter and Captain Hook. Peter, the eternal spirit of youth, is mischevious and often reckless, while Hook, who represents adult authority, acts like a proper gentleman most of the time and is always concerned with "good form".
  • Bugs Bunny, Karmic Trickster par excellence, is usually pitted against brutes or nincompoops. And then there's Wile E. Coyote, self-proclaimed "super genius" who acts prim and proper towards his prey and makes meticulous plans to capture him, which Bugs quickly derails with chicanery, subterfuge, and just plain playing dirty.

Apr 27th 2017 at 4:06:33 PM


Apr 27th 2017 at 7:55:42 PM

Anime and Manga:

Apr 28th 2017 at 3:02:40 AM

I think Pirates Of The Caribbean would have this but I dunno the details.

Apr 28th 2017 at 11:34:55 AM

"runs on the dynamic between" is god phrasing, but several of your examples follow a bad pattern of speech, which tends to indicate ZCE: "this dynamic" and "this is".

May 1st 2017 at 12:30:59 PM

Appreciate the replies. Some good suggestions, but it makes me wonder if there's like a sub-trope I'm missing to avoid this being People Sit On Chairs. Because for example, while that Pan/Hook example does seem close to what I was thinking of, from the suggestions that (probably obviously) tricksters usually face off agaisnt humorless butts/foils.

I'm not sure if this is a trope in itself, but it is kind of different than what I was thinking of in the OP. Basically I got the trope idea from reading The Grace Of Kings, which as mentioned in based on legendary historical figures in China, but the author also cites the Shakespearean and Greek Mythology examples as inspiration. However, he also mentioned how those two figures tie into stock characterizations in Chinese and Japanese media, which would explain the examples I noted in several "shonen anime" as well as Avatar: The Last Airbender. The character archetypes seem to be closely related to Red Oni Blue Oni as well as how The Rival of the protagonist tends to be characterized. So I'm trying to piece together if there's a separate trope or if I'm looking at something that is The Same But More Specific. Thoughts?

May 1st 2017 at 3:09:31 PM

^ In short, it turns out to be less "deep" than you thought?

By the way, Avatar doesn't exactly count - Aang's more playful than being outright mischievous and he does have codes, while Zuko resorts to trickery and sneaky tactics as well.

Jun 20th 2017 at 6:27:22 PM

  • The Reynard The Fox story cycle is possibly an example. The protagonist, Reynard, uses trickery to defeat representatives of the Medieval church and aristocracy—especially his arch-nemesis, the wolf Ysengrin—exposing their corruption and buffoonery in the process. But Reynard is not much better than they are, and in some adaptations he's an outright Villain Protagonist.

Jun 20th 2017 at 6:39:29 PM

  • Mary Poppins: The 1964 one has Mary as the Trickster hero, and Banks (and his bankers) as the straitlaced, uptight, regimented "villains" inasmuch as they can be considered villains.

Jun 20th 2017 at 10:11:59 PM

Western Animation

  • Total Television's The Go Go Gophers segment of the Underdog show has the two Gopher Indians, Running Board and Ruffled Feather as the protagonists, set against the American Cavalry, namely Colonel Kit Coyote and Sergeant Okie Homa. The Gopher Indians regard all of Gopher Gulch as their sovereign domain, and defend it via Combat Pragmatist means. The Colonel, however, is a stickler for protocol, and adheres to Honor Before Reason documented tactics. The Gopher Indians remain undefeated.

Jun 20th 2017 at 7:00:36 PM

Also compare Noble Male Roguish Male, in which the villain is the noble one and the hero is the roguish one, both male, of course.

Jun 20th 2017 at 9:39:56 PM

I don't think you need "foil" in the title, it's already a foil trope.

Feb 13th 2018 at 6:31:10 AM

The name is a mouthful. Can't you change "straightlaced" to "strict", "austere" or "prudish" and drop the "foil" part?

Feb 13th 2018 at 9:33:11 PM

I started to think this was abandoned time ago or OP isn't interested on this at all, since most of the examples are unadded nor the suggestions of changing the name are omitted

Feb 13th 2018 at 10:38:16 PM

Comic Books

  • Spider Man: The eponymous hero is one of the mouthiest and most tricky heroes in all of comics. Spidey is typically seen as middle tier on the power scale, so the way he deals with most of his villains is to get them angry enough to lose their composure. This is especially true of Kingpin and Norman Osborn, who are two criminal masterminds that take pride in putting on a Faux Affably Evil and Wicked Cultured facade. But when Spidery gets under their skin, their civil mask goes out the window and they become raving madmen and more prone to making mistakes.
  • Superboy: Early in his adventures, Superboy (Conner Kent) tended to be a lot more cocky and arrogant. This tended to work against most of his villains like Sidearm and King Shark because they underestimated him as just some punk kid pretending to be Superman. However, after suffering through a number of losses, tragedies and traumas, Superboy eventually lost this and became a lot more brooding and edgy himself.

Western Animation

  • Batman Beyond: To contrast the original Batman, Terry McGinnis is a mouthy teenager who likes to taunt his enemies, especially his Arch Enemy Blight, the Corrupt Corporate Executive that killed his father. It also becomes an ironic plot point in Return of the Joker where the Clown Prince originally dismisses Terry as a poor knockoff because the "real" Batman was the straight-laced foil. Terry turns the tables by realizing he likes to talk trash as much as the Joker does, and this works because the Joker is so unused to being mocked that he loses his temper.