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Adaptational Karma

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An adaptation of a story changes the fate of a character who was a Karma Houdini in the original work, by having them receive a fitting karmic punishment. This trope was mandated by The Hays Code, and thus, often sprung up in films made during that period. Similarly, it can sometimes occur to appease other Moral Guardians.

Sometimes, however, it may simply be used by directors who think that the story is strengthened by a Karmic Twist Ending, or are simply responding to fan complaints about how the villain should have been punished. In any event, it adds an element of Not His Sled for adaptations of very well-known stories.


In some instances, the film is an adaptation of the first installment of a series, and the change allows for finality when sequels are unplanned or uncertain. This may overlap with Death by Adaptation and Super Hero Movie Villains Die.

Not just limited to official adaptations — a lot of Fan Fiction does this, as disgruntled fans who want to see the villain get comeuppance but have no official material to supply this may decide to write their own.

Examples are sorted by medium of adaptation, not by medium of the source material. Because of the nature of the trope, spoilers ahead.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • The novel and anime versions of Candy Candy never show the fall-out of Neil Legan's failure to get Candy for himself. In the manga, he is publicly humiliated due to Albert's intervention and is last seen literally crying to his mommy about it, much to his sister Eliza's secondhand embarrassment.
  • Dragon Ball Super: In the anime, Goku Black is an Invincible Villain who never lost a fight and a Karma Houdini who fused with Future Zamasu so he never paid for his crimes as an individual. In the manga, he isn't so lucky, getting beaten and humiliated by Vegeta twice and driven into a Villainous Breakdown.
  • Les Misérables: Shōjo Cosette: In the original book, M. Thenardier manages to escape to America with Marius' money. That does not happen here, since Javert decided (at the last second) not to commit suicide and was able to arrest him.
  • Cyrus from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl suffers nothing beyond frustration at his plan to destroy and remake the universe failing. But in the anime, he ends up Deader Than Dead when he jumps into his new universe as it's fading from existence.
  • Persona 5: The Animation: In the original game, during Makoto's Confidant, the harasser Tsukasa's only comeuppance was that he got his plan exposed that he had to stop on that, and nothing else. In the adaptation, however, Eiko proceeds to put his misdeeds on her in the Phan-Site and then his other victims follow suit. This made him a target for the Phantom Thieves, who proceeded to eventually defeat his Shadow in Mementos.
  • Black Lagoon's anime adaptation of the "El Baile de la Muerte" arc, "Roberta's Blood Trail" does this to Roberta. While she still gets to go home and retire in peace after a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, she does so minus an eye and several limbs.
  • In Shaman King, the Big Bad, Hao/Zeke, obtains the Great Spirit, making him invincible which eventually makes him as the Shaman King. In the anime (the first one at least, the series got a remake later), Yoh defeats him by cutting him in half despite Hao still getting the Great Spirit.
  • In the first anime adaptation of the Fullmetal Alchemist, Envy got away with a lot of his evil deeds, including killing Edward, and while he does die in the The Conqueror of Shamalla, it's only due to Hohenheim sacrificing himself to do so, allowing Envy to pretty much get everything he wanted. The author must've really took notice and listened to fan complaints, as in the manga and subsequent Brotherhood anime, Envy suffers a lot of humiliation once the heroes understand how to fully fight him, culminating in Mustang flaming him repeatedly in revenge for Hughes' death to the point that he's forced to revert back to his pathetic smaller form and ultimately taking his own life when he realizes he can't manipulate the heroes anymore.
  • In Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, Azalie Cait Sith was a Broken Bird character in the first anime but she still got away with a lot of her misdeeds, particularly when she took over Childman's body and engaged in all sorts of shady acts. Despite all that, Orphen would continue to defend her and try to help her, no matter what evidence to the contrary was presented or how much Claiomh tried to tell him Azalie wasn't the same person he once knew. Towards the end, Azalie is brought back to normal and gets to sail off into the sunset without really having to answer for much of anything. In the 2020 anime, the Bloody August story with Azalie is resolved relatively early on and towards the end of it, Orphen finally comes around to seeing the kind of person Azalie is and calls her out for her wrongdoings against him and Childman, culminating in a sword fight where Azalie is beaten down.
  • In Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, Colbasso, Rei's senior maid, is a Jerkass who treats Kimidori, the younger maid, like dirt and is rather cold to Lag Seeing. She listens in on Lag's conversation with Kimidori and finds out that while Kimidori was the one who anonymously sent the picture postcards to Rei, Kimidori has no intention of revealing herself. Colbasso then lies and says that she was the sender, so she can ask Rei for a reward, prompting Lag to use his Shindan to show Rei the feelings Kimidori put into her postcards. In the manga, Colbasso is never seen again, and the end of the chapter focuses on Rei recognizing Kimidori as her old friend, as well as Lag considering sending a picture postcard to his friend Gauche. In the anime, there's a brief scene of Colbasso swearing revenge on Lag, and the fact that she's wearing civilian clothes and carrying suitcases implies that Rei fired her for her deception.

    Fan Works 
  • As Fate Would Have It: While Ghetsis suffered a Fate Worse than Death in the original Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, in this fic he ends up getting incarcerated for good. In addition, the Shadow Triad, who had remained a Karma Houdini even well into the post-game, end up giving in to the authorities after Nate, Black, and Yancy confront and defeat them.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness: In the original manga, Kuyou, Kiria, and Hokuto all survived the final battle with Alucard and went on to rebuild Fairy Tale. Here, both Kuyou and Kiria are killed by Tsukune at the end of Act III, and Hokuto is killed as well during the climax of Act IV; the final chapter of Act IV specifically shows them being brutally tortured in Hell.
  • Roy Earle in L.A. Noire receives no punishment for ruining Cole Phelps' life by reporting his affair with Elsa Litchmann and being indirectly responsible for his death, but a number of fanfics have him being killed off to satisfy the audience. Examples include A Happy Ending and LA Noire 2: The Return of Cole Phelps.
  • Carter Blake from Heavy Rain gets away with abusing his position as a cop, with only two ways to get his comeuppance through bittersweet deeds: losing his job by getting Ethan killed by him while Jayden is alive, and being haunted by Jayden through the ARI if said FBI agent dies throughout the investigation. There are a number of fanfics in which Blake gets better punishments than the ones done through the game. Examples include A Son's Revenge and Under Arrest.
  • Fairly common in Neon Genesis Evangelion with Gendo Ikari, though often with a side order of Adaptational Villainy and changing his goals to more generic Take Over the World fare.
  • Also fairly common in Persona 4 with the girls for getting away with the boys' misery at the Amagi Inn. Examples include The Amagi Inn Revenge Scheme and The Hot Springs Revenge Plan. (Although, the latter involves the school bullies...)
  • In Shakugan no Shana Final, the fused Snake of the Festival and Yuji Sakai ultimately emerged victorious in the Haze-Denizen war, and Yuji got away with a promise to make amends. In Shakugan No Shana Eternity, Yuji breaks free of the Snake's control with help from Shana and Hecate, then uses the Synchronization between him and the Snake to completely obliterate him from existence.
  • In Essence, Charmander's previous owner Damian gets his Pokémon license revoked for Pokémon abuse and neglect. He forgot that Pokédexes record every capture, so Nurse Joy was able to figure out that the severely injured Charmander she saved was Damian's. He also gets arrested and sent to juvie.
  • In the backstory to Formerly Known as Harry Potter?, Lily's abusive uncle and aunt were arrested for child abuse and child neglect. They've been in prison for six years come time for Lily to enter Hogwarts.
  • The Fire Has Burnt Out: Several characters, such as Ashfur and Clear Sky, end up in the Dark Forest rather than StarClan.
  • In one retelling of Persona 3, Natsuki gets expelled for bullying Fuuka and locking her in the gym, which results in her getting trapped inside Tartarus during the Dark Hour and endangering her life. In the game, Natsuki is not officially punished, although she does regret her deeds, risks her life to try to help Fuuka and becomes friends with her.
  • Code Prime: A rare societal version of this trope is applied to Britannia, as the Autobots are doing considerably more damage to Britannia's forces and image than anything Lelouch could accomplish as Zero. And at the end of R1, the Deceptions straight up destroy the empire in an especially brutal and thorough way, with Pendragon being destroyed, Britannia's leadership being killed, imprisoned, and enslaved, and its armed forces being horribly slaughtered.
  • Orochimaru in the Naruto canon was Easily Forgiven despite all the atrocities he committed, and not only achieved his goal if immortality, but still continues to perform his experiments by the time of Boruto. In Son of the Sannin, he's defeated in battle by Jiraiya and Tsunade, the latter of whom sucks out his soul using the Rinnegan. To drive the point home, Anko Mitarashi had gotten her cursed seal removed, which means there's no way he can resurrect himself, unless of course Orochimaru has other cursed seals lying around...
  • Subverted with a long-deleted Lucky Star fanfic Cries Unheard: The antagonists were explicitly dead, and that in turn was the reason Miyuki and Kagami spent the flash-forward prologue and some follow-up chapters throughout the story under police interrogation. We just never got to see said deaths play out before the fic died and was eventually deleted, until another fic, THIS IS IT!, took care of that in its place another four years later. (And their defeats were just the tail-end of a full-blown Humiliation Conga: Three of them suffer a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown hours before their actual demises, primarily by Hiyori and a few girls they never got to account for, who then reveal knowing about an arms deal they were planning and having set Yutaka free on them while they were all too busy raping and torturing Konata as their "dog", who then bites back at Kenji (part-literally) in-between. Riku and Brick are forced to retreat, and Yamato Nagamori makes good use of Brick's phone that she had swiped in order to undo all the boys' efforts to keep everyone divided. Kenji, meanwhile, betrays his accomplices for not only breaking a promise Satoshi made to him in CU, but then for killing Soujiro without him, and assists in killing them just when they think they have Miyuki, Minami, and Kagami back under their thumbs (and just moments after Satoshi was about to publish something he had been blackmailing Miyuki with, which Minami had just derailed). They are unable to fight back, and a freshly Groin Attack-ed Brick is just barely able to try to outrun a chainsaw-wielding Minami. Then, Kenji does everything in his power to escape Kagami and get away with his own part in things, and it's all for nothing. It's also implied that their families are next, each in for an angry mob, now that some serious dirt is up on YouTube about them; even if they had won, they still wouldn't likely have much left to look forward to.)
  • In canon, Bakugou Katsuki of My Hero Academia suffers no consequences for his bullying of Midoriya Izuku. This is changed in many fanfics to the point that on Archive of Our Own, the tag Bakugou faces consequences has hundreds of fanfics with that tag.
  • In Hope of the Shield Hero Motoyasu suffers the consequences for his incompetence far earlier than in canon, starting with how he was able to become the Lord of Lute without Naofumi's interference and the townspeople revolting.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live Action 
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets is a case of this in regard to the source novel Israel Rank: in the film, the Villain Protagonist narrowly escapes being executed for a death in which he had no involvement, but then the film ends with him realizing that he left his Memoirs (in which he had confessed to everything) in his cell. In the source novel, Israel Rank, there isn't this kind of twist (the Villain Protagonist is on trial for the murders he did commit), but an Adapted Out love interest kills herself and takes the blame for the crimes.
  • The George Sanders film The Private Affairs of Bel Ami has the Villain Protagonist Georges Duroy get in trouble for posing as an aristocrat. In the novel the film is based on, Guy de Maupassant's Bel Ami, Duroy gets away with everything and the "posing as aristocrat" is a minor detail (he is from a town called Canteleu starts calling himself Du Roy de Cantel).
  • Topkapi ends with the band of thieves and the protagonist Arthur Smith breaking rocks in prison, but on good terms and plotting escape/future jobs. In the source novel The Light of Day, the thieves escape and Smith (who in both versions was planted as a Sixth Ranger Traitor by the Turkish police) who is a much more anti-heroic character, leaves with a small reward, but is essentially stateless. At the end of the sequel novel Dirty Story (written after Topkapi), he ends up in a slightly better position.
  • Les Misérables (2012) has this with the Thenadiers in regard to both the original novel and the source musical:
    • In the novel, M. Thenardier, who is the evilest character in the book, is given money by Marius to settle a debt, and the narration indicates that he became a wealthy slave trader in America.
    • In the musical, Thenardier and his wife (who is Spared by the Adaptation) have the role of Plucky Comic Relief but still do the same evil stuff as in the novel. At the end, they crash Marius' wedding and are paid by him as in the book, and sing a cheery song about how people like themselves who scavenge off society without moral compunction always win.
    • In the newer film (which is mostly an adaptation of the musical but is also in some respects more faithful to the novel), the Thenardiers are physically thrown out of Marius' wedding and don't receive any payment (although oddly, they still sing the same song about "winning"). This may have been a case of What Might Have Been, as set photos show the pair crashing the cake and generally having a good time of things.
  • In the original play of The Bad Seed, the Devil in Plain Sight Enfant Terrible Rhoda manages to survive her mother's attempt to kill her when she discovers what kind of being her daughter is and it is implied that she has a new victim in her sights. The 1956 movie adaptation, because it was made during the Hays Code era, wasn't going to allow such a monster to live... and because her mother failed, Rhoda was struck down by lightning on the very last scene (an epilogue right after that has the actresses of Rhoda and her mother break character and, in a pretty comedic moment, Rhoda's actress gets spanked).
  • Thanks to the fact that Joker Immunity wasn't in play, The Joker is actually killed in Tim Burton's first Batman movie rather than being sent to a Cardboard Prison.
  • The 1995 film of A Little Princess does this to the evil Miss Minchin, who was a Karma Houdini in the original, by having her lose the school and forced to become a chimney sweep.
  • Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice tend to do something regarding Wickham who, after nearly ruining Lydia, is bribed into marrying her to save the family's honour. Joe Wright's film implies that Domestic Abuse might be in their future, Bride and Prejudice has him getting busted by Darcy before he can do anything harmful to Lydia, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has Lizzie stabbing him in the chest.
  • Rebecca had Mrs. Danvers escaping Manderly after she burns it to the ground. The film — by order of the Hays Code — shows her dying in the fire.
  • Subtly done in Matilda with the setting change from the UK to America. In the end of the book, the Wormwoods flee the authorities to Spain. At the end of the film, they flee to Guam. But since Guam is a US territory, it's likely that the FBI might catch up to them, thus giving them a direct comeuppance for their abuse of Matilda.
  • In Witness for the Prosecution, Christine Vole commits perjury in her husband Leonard's murder trial, and deliberately gets caught doing so, in order to sabotage the case against him and get him acquitted. The Agatha Christie short story it was based on ends with her admitting what she did to Leonard's defense attorney and the reason she did it: she knew he was guilty. In the movie, Leonard abandons Christine for another woman shortly after his acquittal, and she murders him in rage.
  • In A Street Car Named Desire, Stanley was able to win back Stella, despite being an abusive husband and raping Blanche and getting her sent to a mental institution. In the film, it cuts to the credits after he kept crying "Stella," heavily implying that she was finally going to leave him.
  • In the film adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale, Offred kills the Commander (one of the movers and shakers of the intensely awful Republic of Gilead, who has been keeping Offred as a breeding slave) before she is taken away. In the original novel, the Commander is still alive and in power at the end.
  • The Chocolate War: In the original book, Archie gets away with manipulating everyone and setting Jerry up to suffer a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown at the hands of Emile Janza. In the film, his luck runs out when he draws a black marble and is forced to take Janza's place in the boxing match he himself set up. The end result: Archie himself suffers a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown at Jerry's hands, and Obie takes his place as the Vigils' Assigner with Archie himself demoted to Obie's secretary.
  • In Treasure Island, Long John escapes with some loot, is believed to have settled down after that, and the protagonist makes no effort to pursue him. In Muppet Treasure Island, Long John Silver escapes with the loot, but his previous warning to Arrow about unsafe lifeboats turned out more accurate than he expected. He ends up trapped on a desert island with its annoying inhabitants. An interesting example because Silver in this version is much more affable.
  • Ready Player One:
    • The book's climax suggests that Nolan Sorrento may get away with his many wrongdoings due to lack of solid evidence and very good corporate lawyers (on the other hand, the protagonists now have enough wealth to get lawyers of their own along with the support of millions of people that can act as witnesses). In the film, the last we see of him is getting locked away in a police car and getting socked in the face by a disgruntled ex-employee that was arrested with him, making it clear that no lawyer is going to save him.
    • This also applies to one of his henchmen, I-R0k. In the book, he disappears from the plot after giving Sorrento the location of one of the keys. But in the movie, Sorrento activates a bomb that wipes out all the avatars in the area- and I-R0k is the first to be killed.
  • The three villains of Holes are arrested by the Texas attorney general's office at the end of the movie, while the book doesn’t mention their fate (and furthermore, the continuation has the Camp reactivated a few years later and them getting back their old positions).
  • The 1987 adaptation of Flowers in the Attic had this enforced by the studio. In the book, Corrine marries another man and doesn't get any form of comeuppance until the third in the series (where she tries to win back her children's love and dies in a fire). The higher-ups felt the audience would want to see Corrine get punished, and so she is exposed by her children and hung on her wedding day. Understandably, the sequels where she plays a big role never got adapted.
  • The novel In This Our Life saw Stanley framing Parry for her drunk driving accident and getting away with everything. Per the Hays Code, Roy and Craig find out what she did and she dies in a fiery car crash while being chased by police.
  • In the original musical version of Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II is able to kill Seymour and the original Audrey, sell itself to every household in the world, and start an apocalypse. This was the plan for the movie, too, but test audiences didn’t like the ending, so they changed it so that Seymour is able to save Audrey, then destroy Audrey II by electrocuting it.
  • In the 2019 remake of Lady and the Tramp, Aunt Sarah and her cats are forced to leave the house after Jim Dear and Darling find out about her mistreatment of Lady. In the original, they don't get much punishment, and Aunt Sarah apparently learns her lesson after realizing she misjudged Lady and sends a gift of dog biscuits for Christmas.
  • In The Hobbit, Alfrid, the greedy servant of the corrupt Master of Laketown, escapes with a haul of money and is never seen again. In the director’s cut of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Alfrid dies in a hilarious way when he hides in the launching arm of a catapult. The weight of his gold triggers the catapult and he is launched into the mouth of a troll, killing both himself and the troll.
  • Inverted with Uncle Ben's killer in The Amazing Spider-Man Series. Unlike other version, Peter never managed to catch him at all in either film.

  • In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the eunuch, Huang Hao, is one of the few people responsible for the downfall of Shu by manipulating Liu Shan into his favor. After Shu surrendered to Wei, Sima Zhao had the eunuch executed. In historical records of the Three Kingdoms Era in Imperial China which the novel is based from, Deng Ai wanted to execute the eunuch after he heard of his reputation, but he escaped by bribing his officials.
  • The Bulgarian adaptation of The Wolf and the Crane by Ran Bosilek. Yeah, the ungrateful bear had managed to get out of paying the stork with the usual excuse... but what happens when she needs to get another bone out? Well, the stork doesn't want to be fooled a second time, so, just in case, he's going to pull out the bear's teeth first.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Saturday Night Live adapted the final scene of It's a Wonderful Life for one of their sketches... which immediately goes this route by having the characters pointing out how Mr. Potter had been quite the Karma Houdini up to that moment (like in the original movie) and then mobilizing to lynch Mr. Potter.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax", the villains get away. In the adaptation by Granada starring Jeremy Brett, they are caught — although Lady Frances also suffers brain damage.
  • Happens in both the BBC and the ITV adaptations of the Miss Marple novel At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie. In the original novel, the murderer is not seen to be apprehended, although Chief Inspector Fred "Father" Davy vows to go after her. In both screen adaptations, she is exposed by Miss Marple and taken into custody.
  • After episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ending with a criminal still at large, Hitchcock's closing remarks would often dish out some Offscreen Karma by stating that they were brought to justice afterwards; this was generally not present in the original short stories being adapted. It should be noted, however, that Hitchcock himself did not actually want to include these in his closing remarks and only did so in order to placate the sponsors.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017): In the books, Mr. Poe placed the Baudelaires in one abusive home after another throughout the first seven books (except Book 2) and never got punished for either doing that or or just being an incompetent moron. Here, he has to face the consequences for his incompetence when the Baudelaires run off at the end of The Wide Window and almost loses his job at the beginning of The Miserable Mill.
  • Watchmen (2019), a Sequel in Another Medium to the original Watchmen comic book series, sees Veidt finally get arrested for what he did to New York in the original comic at the end of "See How They Fly".
  • In Horton Hears a Who! and most adaptations of the work, Jane Kangaroo is Easily Forgiven for harassing Horton the entire story, and a Happy Ending ensues without forcing so much as an apology from her. In The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss however, a lot of Jane's nastier or more careless moments backfire onto her, to the point of nearing Can't Get Away with Nuthin', with her nearly always displaying remorse and trying to make amends. This is an unusual case where the trope also leads to Adaptational Nice Guy, since these consequences often made the show's version of Jane rather sympathetic.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 

    Web Videos 
  • In Pride and Prejudice, Wickham seduces Lydia and is bribed into marrying her to save the family's honor. In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, he gets busted by Darcy before he can do anything harmful to Lydia.
  • In Sword Art Online, the Big Bad of the first arc, Akihiko Kayaba escaped justice for being responsible for 4000 deaths because of his Win to Exit scheme with lethal consequences for player death. In Sword Art Online Abridged, he's not only alive but on the run as "the most wanted man on the face of the planet".

    Western Animation 


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