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Art-Style Dissonance

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This is what happens when the story or themes behind a cartoon, comic, or such don't match their art style. It can be intentional (a specific way for the author to get their point across) or unintentional, in which case it is often jarring. It is often used to portray a work of fiction within another, so the audience doesn't mistake it for "reality". In such instances, Stylistic Suck may come into play.

Can be a sub-trope of Mood Dissonance, lead to What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids? or What Do You Mean, It's for Kids? if the art style is cartoon and kid-oriented, and is itself the supertrope of Grotesque Cute and Sugar Apocalypse. Compare with Crapsaccharine World.


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Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • The gimmick behind It's Happy Bunny is that Happy Bunny is a sweet-looking character who spouts insults.
  • The advertisings of the insurance company, Metlife, which used the Peanuts characters, as it was confusing for young children to see the cartoon characters talking in "grown-ups" insurance terminology of which they could understand close to nothing.

    Anime & Manga 
  • The cast of Aggretsuko is full of Ridiculously Cute Critters drawn in a simple, cute art style, as expected from a company known for its kawaii products. However, unlike most of Sanrio's properties, the series is primarily aimed at adult women; as such, it explores a modern office lady's frustrations, like sexism, workplace abuse, and societal expectations. The main character's primary method of stress management is venting her rage in Metal Scream, and she isn't above getting wasted on alcohol either.
  • Barefoot Gen looks like a Saturday morning cartoon in the vein of Astro Boy. It ran in the pages of Shonen Jump, the bastion of idealism, for Pete's sake. It isn't. It's about Hiroshima. And if you know your history, you'll know that this story is equal parts horrifying and heartbreaking.
  • Bokurano looks like a normal shonen mecha series but it's far, far darker than normal and is a seinen.
  • Bokura no Hentai looks like a series aimed at young girls, but the content itself is a rather dark Seinen based around a Dysfunction Junction trio of middle schoolers.
  • Code Geass: The art style is very Shoujo-ish with lean, tall and handsome big-eyed male characters (well, most of them), whose designs were made by CLAMP themselves, which would probably make you think that this is a Shoujo series if you only look at the promotional posters. However, the story itself is very dark Shounen, with battles between masterminds that will make Light and L proud.
  • Cromartie High School has a very sharp-edged, heavily-shaded style that makes it look like a fighting anime in the vein of Fist of the North Star. It's actually a high school sketch comedy, even if they still react to everything as seriously as an action series would.
  • Devilman: With the original manga's cartoonish art style you wouldn't think it would be full of graphic and disturbing imagery.
  • Dolls Fall. Super-Deformed, cutesy character designs (when they've got their clothes on, at least); sexualized, psychological, gory horror story.
  • Fist of the North Star: Strawberry Flavor keeps the gritty, Testosterone Poisoned look of the original manga... and gives it to a bizarre, lighthearted gag series.
  • Gosick has a cute moe-esque style reminiscent of Rozen Maiden and a cheerily-colored opening, but is a murder mystery through and through.
  • Gundam:
  • Gunslinger Girl draws the girls in a cute, innocent style when they're child assassins. The original anime has an distinct muted art style that fits the noir tone of the series but Teatrino plays it even more straight than the manga. The girls are even more Moe, even the Handlers are adorable, and everything has a bright pastel style.. While still revolving around middle school aged girls torturing and killing people.
  • With a name like Happy Sugar Life and a pastel art style that looks like it came straight out of a Manga Time Kirara series, you wouldn't expect it to be a psychological horror about kidnapping, abuse, and all the nasty complications a loveless life can leave on a person.
  • Hen Zemi is illustrated in the Puni Plush style, with a cast of big-eyed, soft-faced characters. It's about an average college girl taking a course in abnormal sexuality with a class so jaded they think nothing of giving practical demonstrations of the study material.
  • In This Corner of the World's characters are drawn in a cute and somewhat cartoony art style. While this isn't so bad at the beginning of the story when it's more of a historical Slice of Life, it gradually becomes this trope as the story's tone becomes more serious.
  • Junji Ito is a noted horror author with a distinctive art style that fits very well with the genre of his work, which doesn't change in the slightest when he writes Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & Mu, an autobiographical Slice of Life manga about his cats. This is Played for Laughs, as Ito is clearly parodying himself by still using his typical creepy art style for such a mundane series.
  • Kaiba; just look at the page picture, then look at the trope list.
  • A slight version with Kaiji. Looking at the exaggerated artwork and overdramatic facial expressions one could easily assume that this series is partly comedy. In reality there is almost no comedy to be found in Kaiji, and those high-stakes gambles that Kaiji is making mangled faces over are played completely seriously, making for one of the tensest and suspenseful manga of all time.
  • KanColle juxtaposed bright colors, cute girls, and lighthearted fun with an almost jarring dark plot about war with monstrous life forms, senseless deaths of innocents, and the corruption that creates their enemies. In fact, it was so jarring that the series suffered in sales because of the dissonance.
  • When promotional artwork for the Karneval anime came out, it received a lot of flack by those unfamiliar with the original manga for being another "Bishōnen" or "fujoshi" series. In actuality, it's a rather dark Bio Punk Josei manga set in a Crapsaccharine World and just happens to have a predominately male cast and colorful artwork. The first chapter alone includes the near-rape of a child by a monster woman who then goes on to gruesomely devour a bunch of thieves who break into her mansion.
  • Made in Abyss has characters done in a very Puni Plush art style, in stark contrast to the lush backgrounds and visceral horrors. Despite the cutesy looks of the main characters, don't be fooled for even a second, the manga has very frequent graphic content and Body Horror that's realistic.
  • Now and Then, Here and There isn't quite as cutesy as some of the examples on this list, but it's unusually stylized for such serious subject matter. This works in its favor, softening the blow of the most traumatic scenes.
  • Osomatsu-san: While the original manga is a Shonen and the characters in -San are still drawn as wacky and cartoonish as it gets, the anime airs late at night in Japan and most episodes have enough sex/nudity jokes that wouldn't let it pass as a kid's show.
  • HeartCatch Pretty Cure! easily has the most stylized and cartoony art style out of any series in the Pretty Cure franchise (courtesy of Yoshihiko Umakoshi, who previously did very similar character designs for Ojamajo Doremi) despite being one of the most serious of series in the franchise.
  • After the art style got a more cartoony overhaul in Pokémon, the darker episodes and themes can come off as this. Sun and Moon had two episodes about death and an arc exploring Lillie's PTSD.
  • Princess Tutu. A Magical Girl show that takes place in a whimsical town of pastel colors, ballet, and fairy tales. Unfortunately for the characters, their fairytale has not been Disneyfied, and they are the cosmic playthings of an Ax-Crazy tragedy-loving writer.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has characters done in the Puni Plush style of Hidamari Sketch (by the same artist, even) to tell a Cosmic Horror Story that is frequently compared to Neon Genesis Evangelion.
  • School-Live! has the normal Moe art style of an early 2010s Schoolgirl Series but takes place in a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Shin-chan. This family-aimed anime is drawn in a very crude, "crayon" style reminiscent of children's drawings. However, in the original language and the two English dubs, the series is written to be raunchy in its humor and references, despite airing on various kids' timeslots and channels internationally.
  • Il Sole penetra le illusioni comes pretty close to being a horror series. The art style is reminiscent of Disgaea.
  • Some of the more serious or adult work by Osamu Tezuka can look at odds with his cartoony, Disneyesque style.
  • Hitoshi Tomizawa. His art is cute, which makes sense since his characters tend to be fairly young. As for his manga itself, it's usually very violent and weird. He even did the art for Battle Royale II: Blitz Royale, which is every bit as violent as the original novel.
  • The anime adaptation of Violinist of Hameln, originally a parody manga, removes all the humor and plays the Dysfunction Junction for its full angst value, but keeps the art style.
  • Yuki Yuna is a Hero had an adorable art-style that makes it look like any normal Magical Girl anime or Schoolgirl Series. It has a lot of dark elements including a character attempting suicide on-screen. The light novels aren't much better as, unlike in the original anime, characters can die.

    Comic Books 
  • Archie vs. Predator has the cute, friendly Archie Comics style we all know with gorn and horror.
  • The flashbacks to Jessica Jones' past when she got her powers and her life as the superhero "Jewel" in Alias are drawn in the style of Amazing Fantasy #15 (the debut issue of Spider-Man) and 90s superhero comics. However the scenes are also filled to the brim with profanity since this is an adults-only Marvel MAX series.
  • Batman Black and White, being all about the artistic experiments, had a few of these. For instance, "Two of a Kind" is a very dark, horrifying Two-Face story written and illustrated by Bruce Timm in the cartoony style he developed for Batman: The Animated Series. Timm did an even nastier story, "Red Romance", for the non-Batman title Flinch; see Destructive Romance for the details. And it's still in the BTAS house style...
  • Maus. Holocaust memoirs — with the characters portrayed as Funny Animals. "Funny" absolutely not being the operative phrase. Art Spiegelman introduced the story in the underground comic Funny Animals with the mice actually having Mickey ears, so he actually toned down the trope in the decade it took turning it into a graphic novel.
  • Persepolis, and its 2007 Animated Adaptation by extension, is drawn in a simplistic and stylized manner akin to newspaper comics such as Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes. However, the actual comic itself deals with mature subjects such as war, religion, oppression, sexism, racism, and prostitution.
  • Much of Jason Shiga's comics have a serious tone that contrasts with his cartoony artwork. His characters are big-eyed and usually have Generic Cuteness; his plots involve searches for missing parents, gang wars, terrorism, over-the-top police action, or the death of every human on Earth. His self-proclaimed magnum opus Demon takes the cake however, with lots of gore and adult themes such as suicide, murder, nihilism, drug use, and even camel sex.
  • Invincible has the typical look of a colorful superhero comic book but make no mistake it's a Decon-Recon Switch story filled with tons of Gorn.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) stories drawn by Jon Gray have this in spades, only the weird thing is, it works really well. Gray's hyper-exaggerated, hyper-expressive cartoony style makes comical moments like Knuckles meeting his baby half-brother all the funnier, but it also lends full emotional weight to more serious moments like Sonic and Sally's breakup argument.
  • The gimmick behind Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #86 was that the assistant editor of the comic had thrown out Al Milgrom's artwork and hired Fred Hembeck to replace it. Thus, we get a dark and dramatic scene drawn in a cartoonish manner.
  • The Unfunnies. A Hanna-Barbera-esque comic series with extremely dark subject matter. Eventually the corruption of this once idyllic world is explained, but the shock of seeing Funny Animals involved in child pornography, murders and drug abuse is hard to forget.
  • Usagi Yojimbo has a loose, cartoony style that wouldn't (and didn't) look out of place in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with each cast member a Funny Animal. That said, it's a fairly straight Jidaigeki, and there is much Family-Unfriendly Violence, and at times a frankly astonishing body count.
  • When the Wind Blows, a grim depiction of the futile efforts of an old British couple in the countryside trying to live through a nuclear holocaust, as illustrated by the guy that gave us the children's classic The Snowman.
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    Comic Strips 

    Eastern Animation 
  • Squirrel and Hedgehog, a North Korean children's cartoon. Cute Funny Animals alternate between frolicking in the idyllic paradise of Furry North Korea and waging war on American Wolves, Japanese Weasels, and South Korean Mice. Even without characters getting shot and killed on-screen, the blatant militarization of Furry North Korea is pretty disturbing.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Bad Cat (the Animated Adaptation of the comic Serafettin the Bad Cat) looks like a CGI animated family friendly funny animal movie. While it does feature funny talking animals, it is not appropriate for children with all the swearing, drug use, alcoholism, blood and gore, and sexual content.
  • Bird Boy: The Forgotten Children: A Spanish animated movie with an art-style lifted from children's storybooks... It's also a horror movie not at all meant for children. It has a cast mostly consisting of cutesy anthropomorphic animal children, but they live in an isolated island ravaged by a nuclear crisis and want to run away due to feeling disconnected from their society. The titular Bird Boy is drawn in a similarly cute manner, but he also has a horrifying One-Winged Angel form that he has to control by taking drugs which give him terrible nightmares, and at one point he uses the form to gorily tear apart a cannibal tribe that was going to eat his friends.
  • Born Under Fire is a Colombian animated movie that looks like an animated series like Charlie and Lola or Pinky Dinky Doo. It is actually a dramatic documentary about the on-going war conflict in Colombia told from the perspective of children who have witnessed the events, incorporating their drawings into the film.
  • You'd be forgiven if you thought Eight Crazy Nights was a kids' movie just by looking at its Disneyesque/Brad Bird/Don Bluth art-style, especially since most of the animation team had just come off working on The Iron Giant.
  • Along with the Animation Age Ghetto trope, this could be one of the reasons why some viewers make the mistake of thinking that Felidae is a movie for kids due to its cartoonish, almost cute characters designs. And also the fact the main characters are talking cats.
  • The Animated Adaptation of The Haunted World Of El Super Beasto may look like it was done by Spumco, but it's not at all appropriate for anyone under 18.
  • The extremely simplistic and cartoonish character designs from the CGI movie Killer Bean Forever would make any viewer think that it is some kind of silly comedy for kids, but it is actually a serious action film with almost no comedy (except for a couple of Black Comedy moments) and lots of killings, as the title suggests.
  • The animated documentary My Depression has a cute, cartoony style all while talking about crippling depression.
  • Once Upon a Girl is animated in the style of the family friendly Hanna-Barbera/Filmation cartoons, but it is absolutely not appropriate for children in any way, as it is a collection of fairy tale parodies in which each segment ends with the characters having sex, with plenty of nudity and foul language scattered throughout.
  • Ringing Bell (Chirin no Suzu) looks like a cute children's movie and, while it is a children's movie, it is a very dark film about a baby lamb seeking revenge on the wolf who killed his mother. The original book by Takashi Yanase also has a cute art style despite dealing with the same theme as the movie. Even as the story enters darker territory, it still retains it's beautifully watercolored art style.
  • Sausage Party looks like something one would expect out of either Pixar or Dreamworks Animation, but it's in no way appropriate for children given the film's dark humor, rampant profanity, sex jokes, and religious themes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Hulk: The film is notorious for its use of Idiosyncratic Wipes and split-screen meant to emulate the feel of a comic book, a style that clashes with its somber and serious tone.
  • The World of Kanako: Although the story of this movie is infested with cynicism, there are still a lot of bright lights and colors, flash cuts and fast-paced editing that give the movie a unique atmosphere, especially during Kanako's appearances and the narrator's Mushroom Samba.

    Literature 
  • The covers of the book series Phenomena tend to be colorful and bright. But they're about two chosen children who eventually have to kill to protect themselves; slavery is a major theme that is not ever played for laughs; there are horrid betrayals and suicide; a character kills his brother; and the story indirectly refers to rape. Despite this, most of the artwork is colorful and seems lighthearted. The spin-off picture books are much worse - they have happy colors and soft lines but are about scalping, the murder of innocent slave children, insanity and more, and are meant for children younger than the audience for main books.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Done In-Universe on Friends. Joey was cast in a play whose dialogue and setting suggested something similar to a play written by Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams. The final scene revealed that it was actually cheesy science fiction.
  • The Henshin Hero branch of Tokusatsu is mostly geared towards children and usually looks the part, too. Don't be fooled, it often crosses into What Do You Mean, It's for Kids? and the goofier the graphics are, the darker the story may be to balance things out.
    • Power Rangers RPM shares the goofy graphics like bright colors or cartoonish zord design of its source material, Engine Sentai Goonger. Unfortunately, its setting is a cross between Terminator and Mad Max and it starts with a Robot War wiping out most of humanity.
    • Kamen Rider OOO: Animal themed, bright colored Idiot Hero fighting monsters that feed on human desire should be enough of a family friendly set up, right? Yeah, it would be if (presumed) Idiot Hero was not traumatized by civil war, which he indirectly caused while trying to help local people. And that's just a single backstory.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim: You would be forgiven for thinking it's a happy, family-friendly show judging by the fruit-themed design and the protagonists being dancing teams. The Cosmic Horror Story part comes up only later anyway.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Video game fighting mechanics, cartoonish effects and the hot pink colored design of the main hero can easily detract from the fact that Ex-Aid is a medical drama that takes ethics of care, value of life and What Measure Is a Non-Human? extremely seriously.
    • Kamen Rider Build doesn't have a dissonance between design and story because of the design being bright and cheery (it isn't most of the time, anyway), but because of how it questions identity, use of violence and governmental corruption. Not to speak about Dehumanization and the war that breaks out early in the story.

    Podcasts 
  • The caricatures of the two hosts of Fat, French and Fabulous have a distinct, cutesy animesque art style that belies the dark, disturbing comedy of the podcast itself.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Hunter: The Reckoning: Played according to the rules it's gothic Call of Cthulhu- a bunch of scared people fighting a threat they don't understand who are going to get very quickly and bloodily slaughtered without a lot of cunning, firepower, caution and careful planning. Played according to the artwork it's gothic Rambo- a kickass action story about Rated M for Manly heroes gunning down hordes of Mooks.
  • Transhuman Space is widely considered by fans to have suffered in its early days because the artist then responsible for all the illustrations apparently perceived more Body Horror in the high-biotech setting than the writers quite intended. On top of that, none of the images actually illustrate anything in the text. It's like they are from an entirely different book.

    Video Games 
  • Avenging Spirit has a colorful theme and an adorable ghost protagonist and cartoonish enemies, but the story is pretty dark to begin with, as the hero of the game is resurrected as a ghost by his girlfriend's father after being killed by evil syndicate organization members who kidnap his girlfriend.
  • Bastion looks like a Sugar Apocalypse at first, but it eventually becomes clear that the world (or at least the main character's nation) was pretty messed up even before the Calamity.
  • This is one of the criticisms often aimed at the Battalion Wars games: their art style is a little too cute for the combat involved, but not quite cute enough for the characterization of the units and commanders.
  • The Binding of Isaac mimics Thick-Line Animation, and has a protagonist who looks very baby-like despite apparently being at least kindergarten-age. Edmund McMillen has said this was a deliberate design decision—the grotesqueness of what Isaac goes through would not be bearable if drawn realistically. And even with the art-style used, some of the bosses are still flat-out disgusting and horrifying, such as Blighted Ovum, The Wretched, or Super Lust.
  • In the [adult swim] game series Candy Mountain Massacre, a virus has turned the inhabitants of a Sugar Bowl setting into trigger-happy psychos with guns and bombs. The second game turns things in this direction, with the Cake Queen having turned her land into one of dread for both the Cupcakes (the only inhabitants unaffected by the virus) and any humans unfortunate enough to set foot in the place — and one level has you blasting your way through what is for all intents and purposes a torture chamber. Yikes!
  • Cave Story:
  • Child of Light takes place in a gorgeous Fairy Tale land with a host of literally colorful characters. It also opens with a child being murdered, ends with a town being destroyed, and has a whole lot of unpleasantness in between.
  • Chrono Cross. Brightly-colored, often hand-painted visuals, and come on, Chrono Trigger was so fun! Cue Darker and Edgier Mind Screw storyline featuring copious Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! and Fantastic Racism, which also retcons the ending of CT into something a lot darker.
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day could best be described as the video game equivalent to South Park. Death, sex, drunkeness, scatalogical humor, swearing... not a kids game. But Rare made it with the same adorable art style that characterized their family friendly fare like Banjo-Kazooie (which itself has some occasional dark humor and jokes, more so its sequel). This is because Twelve Tales: Conker 64 was originally going to be a family-friendly game, not too dissimilar from Conker's Pocket Tales for Game Boy Color, but then Rare caught on that it would've been too similar to their own Banjo Kazooie, so they turned it into the more adult final version, while keeping the art style intact.
  • Corpse Party: Book of Shadows has a surprisingly cutesy art style for a game about people being murdered in gruesome ways.
  • Cuphead has a fun, colorful art style based off of 1930s era cartoons a la Mickey Mouse or Felix the Cat. That said, the main storyline is a literal deal with the devil and it has already become well-known for its high difficulty curve.
  • Dead Cells goes for the opposite tack to a lot of other games, going for a fairly serious (if pixelly) portrayal of a dead kingdom full of zombies and monsters, but having a keen sense of humour and a main character who's a bit of a comic dim bulb who communicates entirely through exaggerated gestures and has a very flippant internal monologue.
  • Devil Survivor and its sequel, Devil Survivor 2. The cutesy, chibi-style sprites? Prepare to watch as they get incinerated, beaten to death frozen, or more! In fact, in the first few minutes of the second game, you get to see a bloody train crash, WITH the main trio alongside the other corpses.
  • The Dragon Quest series starts off pretty campy and cutesy, but overall takes itself seriously. This is what makes certain games like Dragon Quest V and Dragon Quest VII so unusual, because they're quite depressing and dark (respectively) given their cutesy Akira Toriyama art-style.
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail is a tragic story with a genocidal army trying to exterminate an entire race of people. It's also rendered in a very colorful and cartoonish style with a cast of Funny Animals, where even older male characters (including the Big Bad) have huge Disney eyes.
  • Edna & Harvey:
    • Edna & Harvey: The Breakout shows the protagonist Edna and her surroundings in a cartoon-y style that initially seems to reflect well her whackiness and how everything seems a bit nonsensical and just for giggles. It fits less the more the story is about how deep Edna's psychological issues actually go and what a dark past lies behind her.
    • Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes is about a very idealistic little girl, and the art style reflects how she views things. This makes it all the more jarring when her illusions begin to slip, and she starts to see blood and dead bodies.
  • The Epic Battle Fantasy series has a bright, colorful, cutesy animesque art style. It also has plenty of Black Comedy, sex jokes, mild swearing, Nazi-like imagery, Satanic-like imagery, and in the fifth game there's bird-flipping and a poo attack (from the Bears, thankfully not from the party members). By the fifth game, it became possible to remove the raunchier elements and play a more all-ages version.
  • The world of Eversion starts out bright and cheerful, but becomes gradually less so as you evert to higher levels, and it's not long before the game reveals its true colors.
  • Some of the worlds in Fire Emblem come across as this. The Game Boy Advance entries are mostly this due to the artstyle being bright and colorful as a result of the SP model not being standardized for most of the runs (not so much in 8). Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem is interesting, despite being one of the Darker and Edgier titles, the SNES original used very colorful, bright and cartoonish graphics. However, the DS remake of the game used a much darker color scheme and less stylized art style.
  • Forever Home uses Kaduki and RTP style sprites that are in many other RPG Maker games, which look fairly saccharine, but it still doesn't shy away from showing dead bodies, mangled corpses, pools of blood, and suicide.
  • From the Depths mixes cartoonish, simplistic voxel-based graphics with advanced ballistic calculations, fluid drag characteristics, naval fleet tactics, and detection equipment to make one of the most complex Design-It-Yourself Equipment engineering games, only being surpassed by the ultra-hardcore space combat simulator Children Of A Dead Earth.
  • Gretel and Hansel features very cutesy, childish drawings undergoing horrible twisted Fairy Tale torments.
  • Harvest Moon:
    • Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life is probably the darkest game in the entire series, dealing with some fairly deep thematic stuff (like aging, losing one's friends, cheating, etcetra). But it still has the same cuddly, puni plush aesthetic as the other games (albeit with more muted colors than other games).
    • Harvest Moon 64 has simplistic, childish character models and cutesy anime character portraits. But the game deals with alcoholism, implied abuse, stagnating marriages, Parental Abandonment, and death among other things.
  • Hometown Story has a Generic Cuteness art style but the story can be pretty dark. A character dies, for example.
  • Indiecalypse: The "Calarts" style (used for cartoons such as Gravity Falls and The Amazing World of Gumball) depicted in this game is deliberate because Word of God says that he wanted to create this striking contrast between a cartoony art style versus adult themes, gore, and black humor.
  • Kerbal Space Program is a game about cartoonish Little Green Men who try to launch themselves into space atop rockets. While there's nothing actively trying to kill you in the game, it more than makes up for it by being unexpectedly faithful to actual physics. If you don't know what you're doing or are expecting the game's flight model to be as cartoonish as the art style, your rockets will crash.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker introduced a cartoony and very brightly colored art style very different from the Ocarina of Time era's more realistic art. However, its storyline has many dark undertones: A Great Flood that reduced the world to a handful of islands that were once mountaintops, and the final battle culminates in Ganon being stabbed in the forehead. There are also various dark elements like the destruction of Greatfish Isle and the subsequent curse of the Great Sea, and the presence of dangerous creatures like Seahats and Big Octo.
    • Zigzagged with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While not as consistently cartoony as The Wind Waker, it's still very brightly colored and cheery-looking compared with Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess, even though the setup involves the Kingdom of Hyrule having been destroyed by an Eldritch Abomination incarnation of Ganon and the land still being threatened by him and his minions. However, it's also a bit of a Cozy Catastrophe, as a century later many of the surviving settlements are flourishing and most civilians don't seem to care that an apocalyptic event has occurred beyond wistful longing for the good old days when the Kingdom was still around. The fact that Ganon was sealed away during that century, and is only now starting to break free when Link reawakens, is a major factor. Plus, Ganon himself and the Blight Ganons he uses to control the Divine Beasts have Non Standard Character Designs that do look like the kind of gruesome monstrosities that could cause such carnage.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky has a bright, anime-style aesthetic with chibi sprites that look like your favorite PlayStation JRPG. The protagonist is a Genki Girl with her grumpy adopted brother helping people and making friends. Its themes match said art style at first...sure, the first game has a backstory of war and the heroine once recounts how her mother died protecting her under a pile of rubble as they were bombarded with shells, but it's only briefly described, much less shown. Then the ending completely changes everything you were led to believe with the threat of darker things to follow. Come its two sequels, it delves into very dark territory for an RPG, such as betrayal, manipulating friends for the greater good, government conspiracy, brainwashing children through repressed trauma, the merciless slaughter of a community as a political scapegoat, survivor guilt, psychological dependence on addiction and the collapse of a civilization, and the hardships of two child soldiers. The worst offender is the reveal that one of the aforementioned children was driven to murderous insanity when her parents sold her into prostitution at the age of 5 to cover their debts.
  • LEGO City Undercover is seemingly just another Lego game. However, it has many references to adult movies and books that children aren't supposed to watch/read (James Bond, The Shawshank Redemption, Terminator, GoodFellas etc.). You get points for breaking things, a crime boss gets frozen to death (he is rebuilt, but still), a mook loses both hands, The Hero tortures a mook through brain freezing, and more. It is nicknamed Lego Grand Theft Auto for a reason and probably would have the same ratings if not for the LEGO style. The fact that the hero is a cop doesn't make it much better.
  • Video games by Spanish developer Mango Protocol have a cutesy cartoonish art style, vaguely reminiscent of Adventure Time (lampshaded when the protagonist of one of them has a BMO plush on her bed) but their attitude and humor is quite cynical and sarcastic. There are some wildly inappropriate elements as well, such as the girl who made up the "Carnivorism" religion, represented by a crucified pig with its intestines hanging out.
  • Minecraft looks like a harmless children's toy at first glance, until you play Survival mode. Constant threat of starvation as well as brutal undead creatures and otherwordly monsters out for your blood that are far more threatening than their blocky, cartoonish designs could ever suggest are what awaits in this bright and colorful Lego Land. Needless to say, if Minecraft is a playground, it's an evil playground that shows no mercy and wants you dead.
    • This trope goes double for certain mods, since those mods generally keep to the same cute, blocky art-style as vanilla Minecraft while sometimes having much darker content. A few notable examples include Witchery, which allows the player to perform Blood Magic and Hollywood Satanism among other things, and Miskatonic Mysteries, which is centered around bringing the mind-shattering alien gods of the Cthulhu Mythos to Minecraft.
  • Mother:
    • The series is colorful, cartoony, and filled with beautifully subtle details. The battle screens suggest you're fighting during a psychadelic trip-out, and the characters almost look like they're from a stylized Peanuts comic. And, implicitly and thematically speaking, it's probably the darkest Nintendo has ever gotten.
    • Mother 3. For the first 15 minutes, it's averted, but after that it takes a swan dive into the depths. Compared to the art style, the story gets so dark, you would need the light of a thousand suns to be able to see three feet ahead. Though, admittedly, there are comic relief sections, it's still one hell of a contrast.
  • The setting in Naughty Bear. Even before the main character goes on his killing spree, the whole place is populated by tremendous Jerkasses.
  • Night in the Woods is rendered in a flat, paper cutout style, of the sort used in school decorations and children's books, with Funny Animal characters inspired by the works of Richard Scarry. It delves into depression, mental illness in general, sociopolitical issues, and an Eldritch Abomination that may or may not be real.
  • Odin Sphere. The bright and colorful visuals belie the very dark and serious story that effectively explains The End of the World as We Know It and how The Magic Goes Away.
  • Phantasy Star II has the darkest narrative in the series while it has the most colorful design and environment. In contrast, Phantasy Star IV's settings are rather barren and darker, but the story is shonen anime-like and characters crack a joke and tease each other frequently.
  • Pokémon, especially with titles such as Pokémon Platinum, Pokémon Black and White, and Pokémon Sun and Moon. With the cutesy look and the bright colors who would expect such a series to be so darn right horrific and depressing? The Mystery Dungeon spinoffs are especially bad, as they center around the incredibly cute Pokémon in an apparently idealistic land but are in a league of their own.
  • The Professor Layton series, which has a cute and quirky art style... and yet often features topics such as revenge, government coverups, tragic pasts, implied murder, and the loss of loved ones. In one of their games for the iOS, Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, it isn't even implied murder anymore. All their cases deal with homicides (among other things) but it still remains its cheery, bright art style though at least it has a 12+ age rating.
  • Quest Arrest is an RPG game by The Retro Room Roo where you take the role of recently-promoted detective Allison Bennett as she tries to save the city of Strange Meadows from Athena and her gang. Although the graphics somewhat resemble classic Game Boy RPG games like Pokemon and Final Fantasy Adventure, it has some strong language, a dead body must be examined after a murder occurred, and a person is contemplating suicide unless they are talked out of it. These are some of the examples in the game among others.
  • Raze's Hell features mostly cutesy art... since you play as a monster bent on fighting the cuddly Evil Army bent on destroying ugly creatures.
  • The bootleg games Mario 3: Around the World and Mario 4: Space Odyssey are odd examples of this. They're styled like the official games, even ripping graphics from some installments, yet they have a distinctly creepy atmosphere: the music is dark and electronic, Mario screams when he falls down a bottomless pit, and the continue and Game Over screens are jarringly morbid.note 
  • Some of the Super Mario Bros. games fall into this. All of the Mario games utilize bright colors and cutesy character designs, but Nightmare Fuel abounds in this series and whenever there's anything more than an Excuse Plot, it tends to be somewhat dark or scary. Especially Super Paper Mario, which has one of the brightest art styles of the series, but one of the darkest stories of any Nintendo franchise.
  • The whole Tales Series is like this:
  • Team Fortress 2 is a class-based first person shooter where a group of mercenaries (most of whom probably have varying degrees of mental instability) are continually fighting a frankly pointless fight over a worthless piece of land thanks to rather ruthless (and somewhat evil) contractors. The artistic style? It looks like a cartoon. This is complete with ridiculous animations (a building/upgrading Sentry, for starters) and Ludicrous Gibs. This was because during development, Valve was having trouble producing something that would give players a Willing Suspension of Disbelief, so they decided to make it look like a universe where ridiculous things are supposed to happen in it, such as how certain abilities (such as rocket jumping) are possible, or why some seemingly arbitrary rules are in place (like, for some reason, you can't jump over a 3 foot high fence that leads out to a sprawling field), hence the reason why they chose a more "stylized" art direction: so that you won't ask yourself these questions in the first place. This also helps it fit in with Valve's dark, irreverent, and somewhat... silly sense of humor. This sums it all up nicely.
  • Terraria takes much the same philosophy as Minecraft and gives it the backdrop of a cutesy cartoon style. Want to build that nice, big 8-storey house filled with expensive furniture and decorations and gold bricks? Well, then be prepared to face those zombies and skeletons and Demonic Spiders that made Minecraft a living hell, only this time with Eldritch Abominations thrown into the mix.
  • The Touhou fangame Koumajou Densetsu features a very dark artstyle, but the story and characters are every bit as nutty as the main series.
  • Transistor tells a bleak story of death and devastation, set in a Scenery Porn-laden city and accompanied by soothing music.
  • Undertale goes the Earthbound route of goofy, childish graphics (to the point that one of the very first characters you see upon starting the game is a talking flower) juxtaposed with dark themes such as horrific scientific experiments, suicide, killing children, going insane after living life trapped in a body incapable of love and stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop, and potentially genocide and the destruction of all of existence. It says a lot that the same game allows the player to outright commit genocide, and that doing so permanently changes your game, even if you start a new save file and play a different route; the game itself refuses to forgive you for your actions.
  • Valkyria Chronicles. Anime characters colored in a beautiful faux-watercolor style, on top of a story about the horrors of war where Anyone Can Die (yes, even your squad members.)
  • WildStar has Nexus, the bright, colourful, vibrant, and lush planet of wonders and extremely dangerous predators, plants, and predator plants. Not counting the locals who would love nothing more than to kill and/or eat you, you also have the Exiles and the Dominion who are waging an all-out war on each other, plus the numerous criminal cartels and third parties rushing to the planet to get a piece of the "homeworld of the Galaxy's most advanced civilization" pie. There's also what killed the said most advanced civilization, who are still lurking around...
  • Yandere Simulator is set in a brightly-colored school populated with the usual assortment of cute technicolor-hair and eyed anime students... who you can kill in gruesome ways to prevent them from taking your Senpai.
  • Yesterday: The artstyle is rather dark and cartoony, in contrast with the game's content.
  • Yggdra Union does this intentionally. Kiyuduki Satoko's Puni Plush art style helps to conceal the dark nature of the game until the player gets whacked in the face with it.
  • Some of the dream worlds in Yume Nikki fall under this, but the most notable one is the Pink Sea. Pastel colors, balloons, gentle BGM... how could this area - of all the other areas in the game - be so scary?

    Visual Novels 
  • Corpse Party. Super-Deformed, cutesy character sprites; deep, psychological, gory horror story.
  • Doki Doki Literature Club!'s cute character designs and the upbeat soundtrack juxtaposes with its morbid scenes and the genre it falls under: psychological horror. You are greeted with a warning upon game startup: "This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed".
  • Ghost Trick's art style fits its quirky humor, but is about you being a ghost wondering why he died and saving people who might know from dying. It has people being shot, crushed, executed, and even dying from a terrifying and even realistic heart attack. Yet the art style is colorful and cartoony with almost no black and gray.
  • Some have said that the contrast between the cute moe art and the bloody, psychological horror plot is part of what makes Higurashi: When They Cry so creepy. It's even worse in the original visual novels, whose art style can best be described as "Weird looking chibi-Puni Plush mix". Hard to imagine that cute little style is from one of the darkest series to come out of Japan in The Noughties. The remakes make it look like a normal romance, possibly harem, visual novel but there's not a lick of sexual content and any romance isn't the focus at all.
  • Liar Liar is a very cute looking, Puni Plush style visual novel with lots of bright colors. It's also a gory game about a middle school girl trying to kill her boyfriend.
  • The main Live Powerful Pro Baseball games tell slice-of-life Baseball stories with chibi doll-like characters. The Pocket sister-series, however, went on a Darker and Edgier route with nebulous crime conspirations, horror-themed stories and characters dying with depressing epilogue/game over scenes if you played badly. Most notable was the Happiness Island story from Power Pro-kun Pocket 6, where the protagonist is sent as a slave to a not-nazi camp for 100 days to pay off outstanding debts and finds the officers performing human experiments and executing underperformers via firing squad. Every game got an All Ages/CERO A rating in Japan regardless of content.
  • Long Live the Queen is about an adorable pink-haired magical girl princess... in a world filled with Eldritch Abominations, Villainous Incest and more assassination plots than you can count. The death images take it Up to Eleven, featuring cute Super-Deformed Elodies being shot, stabbed, strangled, poisoned, blown up... It tends to be marketed with warnings that this is really, really not meant for kids.
  • My Harem Heaven is Yandere Hell lives this trope. If you were to check it out yourself, you wouldn't know offhand that a brightly-colored and upbeat novel like this will turn into a horror mystery novel, featuring some gruesome death scenes.
  • Purrfect Apawcalypse has an extremely cutesy art style for its adorable cat and dog characters. It's also filled with graphic (if cartoonishly depicted) violence as some of these adorable characters happen to be Cute and Psycho killers who you will almost certainly die a gory death to a lot in each game.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • Axe Cop uses a slightly-exaggerated but fairly realistic style à la most mainstream comic books. But since the plots are written by a six-year-old, the actual content of the comic is completely insane.
  • Commander Kitty has bold colors, rounded character designs with goofy facial expressions, and is indeed in theory a comedy. This not only belies the occasional outright creepiness and Body Horror, but the sheer amount of Existential Horror to boot. Half the galaxy have been kidnapped and replaced with robotic doubles who don't know they're any different from the original but can be deactivated at any given time, and that's just for starters.
  • The Complex Adventures of Eddie Puss is about a young anthropomorphic cat who has an Oedipus Complex, and it's drawn with a very cartoony art style reminiscent of The Loud House. That last part is justified, given that both works were created by the same guy.
  • Cyanide & Happiness focuses mainly on Mind Screw or Vulgar Humor comparable to South Park, yet the comics and animations are drawn in an incredibly simplistic stick-figure style. The simplisty lessened over time, but they still kept the cartoony stick-figure designs.
  • Dolan comics are poorly drawn comics with horrible spelling that look like they were made by a three-year-old. But don't let that fool you; they're actually blackly comedic comics about an Ax-Crazy Donald Duck.
  • Hooves of Death takes this trope and trots away with it. Even when zombies are being cleaved in two and a human child is succumbing to infection before the unicorn Glitter's horrified eyes, the art style never stops being clean, colorful, and cutesy.
  • I Don't Want This Kind of Hero has bright colors, clean art, and while it's generally humorous, it touches on topics like slavery, human trafficking, obsession, and more.
  • Kagerou starts out this way, with extremely bright colors and cartoonish art contrasted against the dark plot and tendency towards gore. Eventually, though, the art evolves into a more realistic but still brightly colored style.
  • Kaiten Mutenmaru: The cutesy art style of the series belies at least one backstory featuring social inequality, Star-Crossed Lovers, civil war, and the Death of a Child.
  • Kevin & Kell. A cute, quirky world of Funny Animal characters... where fangs are more powerful than ideals and savage instinct triumphs over reason and empathy. By the world's local ethos (it's ok to kill as long as you eat it) ethnic cleansing could just be another name for a BBQ.
  • Kit N Kay Boodle is drawn in a cute cartoon style, yet features near constant furry sex. Many readers find this extremely jarring.
  • Learning with Manga! FGO is a cute chibi gag series with all the brightness and cheeriness such a spin-off would imply, right? It is, if you consider constant complaints about the game, raunchy dialogue, a sociopath Master that cares more about rolling the gacha than taking care of her servants, and so much infighting it actually causes an inter-service Grail War "cheery".
  • Nana's Everyday Life has very cutesy, somewhat chibi-like art. It is also based on Elfen Lied, starts out as a Black Comedy, then gets worse.
  • Niels has the same cutesy style as Scandinavia and the World by the same author, despite having much darker subject matter. The author's third comic is in a different style, so this is clearly a deliberate choice
  • Nineteen-Ninety-Something is designed to resemble newspaper comics from the 1990s, with its actual art direction being reminisent of comics such as Calvin and Hobbes and Zits. However, NNS is clearly aimed at a more mature audience with its colorful language, fanservice, references to drugs and sex, and rampant usage of pop-culture that no kid would likely understand.
  • The Order of the Stick has a cartoony, stick-figure art style that befit the joke-a-week Excuse Plot that the early strips had. However, it soon began to develop an actual story, and once it began undergoing Cerebus Syndrome, things got dark fast.

    Web Original 
  • The Bad Webcomics wiki has a very negative view of this trope, or more specifically, the use of a "cute and cuddly cast" for dramatic webcomics.
  • Justified in the Creepypasta The Little Pink Backpack. Read it for yourself to see the disturbing content.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time has a simple and childish cartoon design, with generally idealistic and upbeat characters. However, it is also violent, set After the End, and has adult humor and Black Comedy throughout.
  • Archer is much more lewd, shrewd, and crude than its sleek '60s look would have you believe.
  • The 2003 animated short, Boys' Night Out, is smoothly animated and the stylized and relatively simplistic art direction is strongly reminiscent of the works of UPA. The actual short itself, however, involves a man sneaking his underage son into a strip club.
  • Clone High is an animated Teen Drama parody featuring clones of real-life historic figures, rated TV-14 and for good reason given its rampant crude humor and sexual references. This despite the show sporting a geometric art style akin to the kid-friendly Powerpuff Girls and Dexter's Laboratory.
  • Danny Phantom, to a degree. It sometimes wants to be taken seriously as an action cartoon, but its stylized design, reminiscent of the less-than-serious Fairly OddParents note , can make this difficult for non-phans.
  • Drawn Together has a fairly simplistic art style. However, it is a very dark adult comedy, filled to the brim with content that's not entirely for the faint of heart.
  • Invincible (2021) has a bright, colorful art style akin to the early seasons of Young Justice but it's incredibly violent and visceral just like its source material.
  • Making Fiends has a very simple, childish design but it's about an Enfant Terrible who lives in a bleak and depressing town where everyone is afraid of her and the monsters she makes. It's rather dark for a kids series, though the original web shorts are a bit ambiguous on whether it was even meant to be one.
  • Terry Gilliam's animations for Monty Python's Flying Circus married images collated from early 20th Century shopping catalogs and similar found art from the period 1890-1920, with some very distinctly 1960's-70's surrealism. The collision of style and content makes them oddly memorable.
  • Moral Orel is definitely this. Despite having a claymation style similar to that of Davey and Goliath, with the titular Nice Guy heading the show, the story also has him live in a Dysfunction Junction of a town, in which his abusive father is the mayor. The show itself contains lots of mature humor, which includes Orel injecting his semen into other women so that he can masturbate without disobeying God. The third season takes this trope to another level, with the show exploring topics such as trauma, abortion, and the cycle of abuse.
  • The Powerpuff Girls had a very similar artstyle to Dexter's Laboratory (not to mention the cute designs of the girls themselves), but it also had a lot of Family-Unfriendly Violence (complete with minor blood spurts). This was moreso in earlier episodes, while later episodes tend to downplay the violence in favor of comedy.
  • Ready Jet Go!: The show has a somewhat simplistic but stylized art-style that appeals to young children, but the show itself is full of edgy antics and quite a bit of Nightmare Fuel. Some mature themes are also implied such as PTSD, anxiety, racism, addiction, toxic parent-child relationships, and possibly more. Then again, Tropes Are Tools.
  • The Ren & Stimpy Show uses the angular graphic styles of cartoons of The '50s and The '60s, evoking memories of longtime kid favorites such as Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Flintstones. However, it features some of the most graphic violence imaginable outside late-night TV (for instance, skin being ripped off and disemboweling), as well as some horrifying and grotesque facial expressions, tonnes of dirty innuendo, and enough Toilet Humor to clog the New York sewers. Like The Simpsons above, it was all the more shocking when it premiered back in 1991... on a kid's network no less.
  • Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World is a stop-motion series built using LEGO-like blocks. It's also a very adult Dark Comedy themed around gay couples.
  • There's also Rocko's Modern Life, which has a very cartoony artstyle that lacks straight or parallel lines. The show itself, however, had demographically inappropriate humour by the boatload (possibly even more than The Ren & Stimpy Show, one of its contemporaries) and a fair amount of Black Comedy compared to most kids' shows out at the time.
  • While cartoons aimed at more adult audiences are not really all that unusual today, when The Simpsons first aired in 1989 it raised many eyebrows. This is because audiences were so used to the Animation Age Ghetto that it seemed bizarre and ironic that Springfield is a bright and vibrant town with an Amazing Technicolor Population consisting mostly of yellow people, with idiotic, apathetic citizens, an incompetent police department, a deplorable, low-rate school, a shady and lecherous mayor, and an evil, possibly satanic Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • South Park is notorious for its vulgar, black-humored style, coupled with crude, primary-colored cutout animation.
  • Spider-Man:
    • The Spectacular Spider-Man is drawn in Sean Galloway's simplistic, yet stylized art direction. As a result, the young-skewing show is often cited to be one of the most fluidly animated interpretations of the webslinger to date. Yet, despite receiving additional praises for its surprisingly dark high school and family themes and combination of past Spider-Man mythos into a tightly-knitted storyline, viewers felt the show's content would have been better reflected with a more serious-looking aesthetic.
    • Ironically, its successor, Ultimate Spider-Man, had the opposite reaction from viewers. The show's art direction features detailed character designs and background art, but the episodes are far less grounded in reality compared to Spectacular, with Cutaway Gags and Silver Age-styled stories. While the show does (occasionally) lend itself to tackling dark themes, its bread and butter deals with kid-friendly tales with minimal continuity.
  • Steven Universe is a very bright, colorful cartoon series with simplistic character designs, gentle pastel backgrounds, and is mostly a very idealistic show from a young boy's perspective. But it doesn't take long for the series to start delving into the nastier sides of its well-meaning characters, and include suggestive dancing, frank discussions of consent, trust issues, multiple instances of impalement (albeit bloodless), the difficulties of relationships between its characters, psychological complexity, abuse, parental neglect, several clear parallels to racism and a backstory with war, genocide, and ambiguous morality. The movie and the follow-up series Steven Universe: Future use a slightly more refined version of that art style and contain much of the same, with Future in particular focusing heavily on trauma and how the protagonist deals with it.
  • Teen Titans Go! is a brightly colored, chibi-style cartoon spinoff that seems like a Lighter and Softer reboot to the 2003 Teen Titans... So why the TV-PG rating, especially since the original was TV-Y7? Watch a few episodes and you'll quickly notice it lacks Never Say "Die", thrives on Black Comedy, and has a lot more risqué content.

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