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Belated Backstory

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"He had thought he knew Dumbledore quite well, but he was now forced to conclude that he barely knew him at all. Never once had he imagined Dumbledore's childhood or youth; it was as though he had sprung into being as Harry had known him, venerable and silver-haired and old. The idea of a teenage Dumbledore was simply odd, like trying to imagine a stupid Hermione or a friendly Blast-Ended Skrewt."
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows note 

A newly introduced character who has had little backstory or Character Development undergoes a sudden shift in characterization that becomes their "established" self for the rest of the series. Common with the Ensemble Dark Horse and Ascended Extra.

What separates Belated Backstory from normal Character Development is that this change in characterization happens without warning and little justification from what had already been shown of that character. However, since it usually occurs early on in a series, it's often accepted by fans as a needed Retool to change the character along with the not-yet-solidified flow of a new series; in other words, a Sub-Trope of Early Installment Weirdness. Really, just mix and match from the Backstory Index.

This phenomenon is not really Character Derailment, as producers often state that they just didn't know the character back then, and a more complex and interesting character usually arises from retooling of the initially more flat portrayal, instead of the other way around (though not always).


This happens a lot in webcomics when attempting Cerebus Syndrome, to overcome a previously flat cast. See also Divergent Character Evolution. Not to be confused with Origins Episode. If the character change came earlier in the series and the characterization of a character in Flashbacks matches their present day characterization, but not their original characterization, that's a case of Backported Development.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Buso Renkin: Tokiko's full origin as the Sole Survivor of a homunculus attack on her school and got her scar when attacked while being treated for her wounds is not revealed until the Dénouement chapter of the manga.
  • This happens in the last episode of Seitokai no Ichizon to the main character Ken Sugisaki, as he explains to the in-story defictionalized Nakameguro how he got to be where he was (a Harem Seeker in the besides him all-girl student council): after two-timing two girls, he became a social outcast in his old school. After switching schools, he met Kurimu, who inspired him to make everybody around him happy, Minatsu, who told him to seek his own strength instead of just looking up to her, Chizuru shared mutual comfort with him when they were at their low-point and Mafuyu who saved him from freezing to death. This made him fall in love with each one of them, so to be with them, he became the valedictorian to occupy the last seat of the student council, into which the girls were recently voted. Cue the first episode and the first words he said to them as a group. That he loved them all and would make them all happy in his harem. Since the entire series was more of a screwball comedy, this was seen as a memorable ending.
  • Many of the villains underwent this in Inuyasha, with personalities in their later appearances very different from in their first appearances. Most notably, Sesshomaru went from Evil Gloating to The Stoic, Koga went from Smug Snake to Noble Demon, Naraku went from Manipulative Bastard to Evil Evolves, and Kagura became The Starscream.
  • One of the most famous examples of this is Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z with Son Goku's backstory as a Saiyan.
  • In One Piece, after almost 20 years, Sanji's full backstory is finally revealed. For the longest time, Sanji was just Sanji, much like Nami is just Nami, and the fandom began to think the author had nothing up his sleeve beyond that - he was Sanji, and that was it. No one really expected anything more past that because his initial backstory was deceptively intricate enough as is, but two thing burned at people's minds - he was the only Straw Hat without a personal death under his belt, and he revealed he was not native to the East Blue. Turns out, he's kept mum about his surname Vinsmoke and all the bad memories associated with it, because his own father specifically told him never to mention them ever again, and indeed, it included the memory of a late mother dying for his sake. It just took a certain interest in his familiar background to open the can of worms.
  • Despite being one of the two protagonists since Pokémon began in 1997, Pikachu's life before he became Ash's partner was never explored until the start of the eighth generation in 2019. He was an abandoned orphan as a Pichu, who was eventually Happily Adopted by a kindly Kangashkan and raised alongside her joey, eventually leaving the family and striking out on his own when he realized the extra passenger weight was slowing the mother down, evolving out of his love for them. How he ended up in Professor Oak's possession where he first met Ash remains a mystery, however.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27, but was not given an origin until Detective Comics #33.
    • The Joker and Catwoman are also examples of this. They both debut in Batman #1 and had their origins revealed in Detective Comics #168 and Batman #62, respectively.
  • Wolverine is definitely an example of this trope. We got bits and pieces of his back story throughout his rise in popularity, but his full back story wasn't finally fleshed out until the origins miniseries was printed in 2006.
  • Magneto's backstory as a Holocaust survivor, though now considered an essential part of his character, is actually this. He's been the X-Men's archenemy ever since the series' first issue in 1964, but his tragic backstory wasn't revealed until Uncanny X-Men #151 hit the stands in 1981.
  • Judge Dredd's Origin Story wasn't written for nearly thirty years.
  • Libra, a two-issue villain with no background details from the Justice League of America comics of the early 1970's, was reintroduced in the 2008 crossover Final Crisis, and finally given a back story.

    Fan Works 
  • In Lovehammer Inc a conversation about the customs of a planet Angron conquered years before has him casually mention he's been married at least twice, which came as a complete shock to most of the rest of the Imperial Family. It doesn't seem to matter particularly to him, perhaps explaining why he hadn't mentioned this before.

  • Late in the third act of R.O.T.O.R., the protagonist reveals that he spent much of his childhood on an Indian reservation. This appears to be an attempt to justify his ability to find R.O.T.O.R. in the woods.

  • This is exactly what happens to Fernald (The Hook-Handed Man) in A Series of Unfortunate Events.
  • Huckleberry Finn, when he transitioned from supporting character in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to main character of his own self-titled novel.
  • Angel from the Charlie Parker Series is initially described as being able to "steal fluff from under the president's nostrils". Later books give him a backstory as a rubbish thief with plenty of jail time under his belt, whose talent with locks and security systems gave him the potential to be a good thief. His partner Louis also gets this to an extent, going from ruthless, amoral assassin to a mama's boy who suffered from racist attacks and homophobic bullying as a child and is very picky about who he kills, refusing to kill women or children.
  • Yellowfang from Warrior Cats doesn't have her backstory explained until the second book, and her characterization changes to reflect it afterward.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Despite being three of the major characters in the series, we learn next to nothing about the pasts of Snape, Dumbledore, and Voldemort until the last three books. All Harry knew about previously Snape was that he and his dad never got along. One of the first things Harry learns about Dumbledore is that he defeated the Predecessor Villain named Grindelwald in 1945 and he mentions his brother in the fourth book but that’s about it for his past. Granted, we did get an early peek at Voldemort's past in book two, but it was pretty vague until book six.
    • Although fairly minor characters, Harry begins to learn more about his parents in the third book, learns more about his dad in the fifth, and then fully comes to understand his mother in the last book.
    • Neville, whom we know very little about until Goblet of Fire. Much of what we learn makes things in the first three books Harsher in Hindsight.
  • Sam Vimes in Discworld apparently only learns his own backstory as the books go on. In Guards! Guards! he's vaguely surprised to learn Ankh-Morpork ever had kings and doesn't seem to feel strongly about them either way; Men at Arms is both the first mention that the last king was executed by Suffer-Not-Injustice Vimes and the first book where Sam expresses anti-monarchist views; and by Feet of Clay a large part of his character is his fierce egalitarian beliefs and pride in his otherwise despised ancestor.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Danni Sullivan from Scrubs is a rather less successful example of this happening; her initial character was fun, likable and sensitive but when she reappeared she had turned into an obnoxious, slutty, vapid party girl.
    • The attempt to write around this is distinctly odd as well - apparently she was pretending to be somebody she thought JD would like. Which is weird seeing as she's well in character by the first time she and JD meet and neither Jordan (her sister) or Dr. Cox (her brother in law) seem to notice any change in her personality.
  • Harmony Kendall from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an interesting case: in her earlier appearances her main defining trait was her meanness, especially when she took over leadership of the Cordettes from Cordelia. After becoming a vampire her (considerably expanded) role focused mostly on her stupidity and clinginess instead. In fact, aside from the whole bloodsucking, no problems with killing thing, she actually became far less obnoxious. This was taken even further when she started appearing on Angel and developed into a likable, if highly incompetent, ally of the good guys. Even her rather ineffectual betrayal at the end is done without rancour on either side (Angel actually counted on her betraying him as part of his plan, and writes her a letter of recommendation).
    • In an even more noticeable example in the same series Anya (a former demon turned into a human) had no major difficulties adapting to human customs early on, but as soon as she took on a larger role she suddenly started using Spock Speak and had had tremendous problems grasping human things like tact and mortality. Later a Flashback shows that she was always like this, even before she became a demon.
  • Happens to Pythagoras in Atlantis who goes from innocent, triangle loving, loyal friend to Jason and Hercules, to suddenly being revealed to have accidentally killed his father after pushing him away, trying to protect his mother from one of his father's drunken attacks, causing his father to fall hard and hit his head, killing him instantly. However, after he is forgiven by his younger brother, who spent the entire episode trying to get revenge on the mystery 'burglar' who he was told killed his father he goes back to being his innocent, dorky and long-suffering genius character once more...
  • This happened to Cameron of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles as regards her noticeably more advanced socialization skills in the series pilot. This was due to the large time gap between the production of the pilot and the rest of the series, during which the writers decided that pulling her back would make for a more interesting long-term character arc.
  • Taylor Townsend from The O.C. underwent a lot of changes between her introduction at the start of the third season and joining the main cast at the beginning of the fourth. Early on (when she was clearly a villainous character), she had an affair with a Sadist Teacher, which was promptly forgotten about when she settled into her established Genki Girl personality. The development of a fairly one note villain into a sympathetic character seems to have been thanks to the unexpected charm of the actress (Autumn Reeser) and the writers deciding to run with it.
  • Many of the less major characters on the American version of The Office exhibit this: Meredith's alcoholism, Toby's "Sad Sack" attitude, Angela's religiousness, the entirety of Kelly's personality... the list goes on.
  • When casting Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the specification for Dr. Julian Bashir was, "We're going to need a doctor, maybe someone with an accent?" They really had no plans for him, and his defining characteristics (his friendships with O'Brien and Garak, his genetic history) were all added later.
  • The Doctor of Doctor Who. For the first six years of the series he's not given an on-screen backstory, apart from being cut off from his home planet, but the assumption appears to be that while his people have access to vastly advanced technology, including what will become regeneration, they're essentially indistinguishable from humans. Then the Time Lords are introduced, he's revealed to be a Time Lord who was on the run from his people, and he's demonstrated to have a very different biology from humans.
  • Supernatural:
    • Despite being the Big Bad during the first two seasons, we learn nothing about the Yellow-Eyed Demons motivations until season 4. Hell, we don't even learn his name until season three: Azazel.
    • Castiel is a downplayed example. We never really get much about what he was doing in Heaven prior to meeting the Winchesters, but in season eight, four seasons after his introduction, we do find out that he's been a problem for Heaven many times in the past and Naomi has scrubbed his mind each time to rework him into a proper soldier. Which leads to some interesting speculations on his superiors' suspicions of him in season four, and why he appears to be a bit of an odd duck even to the other angels.
  • Charmed: Chris. He claims to be a time-traveling half-Whitelighter trying to prevent a Bad Future, but refuses to give details about it. The first chunk of season six is largely devoted to him being cryptic and doing evil things behind the girls' backs, sometimes displaying powers that no other Whitelighter has. Eventually it's revealed that he's Piper and Leo's yet-to-be-born second child (a decision almost certainly influenced by Holly Marie Combs' pregnancy) and that he's definitively good. I guess we're just supposed to forget about him killing that Valkyrie, huh? Also, this reveal comes with the fact that in Chris' timeline Leo abandoned his family for some reason, and as a result Chris suddenly hates him. Prior to this the two had actually bonded a lot after Leo went through a period of mistrusting him.
    • In season eight, Billie is eventually revealed to have a sister who was kidnapped by demons when they were children, at which point finding her becomes her main story arc.
  • Daredevil: While we're dropped plenty of hints throughout the first two seasons that Karen Page has plenty of skeletons in her closet, it's not until late season 3 in a limelight episode that we are given the details as to what really happened.
  • Criminal Minds: The cast started out without much backstory. Gideon had the most, as the former lead agent who lost most of his previous team in a bombing and was suffering PTSD as a result; Hotch formerly led the Seattle field office and took over for Gideon; Reid was a child prodigy; Morgan was the only survivor from Gideon's previous team; JJ, Elle, and Garcia were just sort of there. "Natural Born Killer" and "The Tribe" gave hints at Hotch's backstory, but nothing stuck in a meaningful enough way to change his characterization. Then, at the end of season 1, "The Fisher King" seemed to go out of its way to reveal cosmetic backstory for them (JJ collected butterflies, Gideon went to every White Sox game with his dad, etc.), with a major revelation about Reid. His relationship with his schizophrenic mother became a defining part of his characterization from then on. In season 2, the aptly-titled "Revelations" went further at fleshing out Reid's backstory, while "Profiler, Profiled" took care of Morgan's. Season 3's "Penelope" covered, well, Penelope Garcia. JJ had to wait for Season 5's "Risky Business" before her sister's suicide and its impact came to light. Prentiss, introduced in season 2, had to wait until season 6 for anything prominent about her backstory to be introduced, and then it was done as a way of writing her out.

  • The radio version of New Dynamic English gives backstories to almost all of the cast from the software. Max and Kathy were given more personality as we see them interact in the Story Interludes.

  • Numerous examples from BIONICLE, which had a pretty in-depth story aspect for a toy line.
    • The six main heroes, the Toa Mata, started out with amnesia and were fed legends and half-truths about their own origin. Though they were generally well rounded already, it was only 7 years into the series that the full extent of their mission was revealed. This completed their leader Tahu's development from a temperamental hot head to a wizened leader who understood there were things greater than him.
    • The Turaga elders had two full years dedicated to their past lives, four and five years into the series. Turns out they also used to be Toa, and had carried secret knowledge of the past under their all-knowing elder guise. This was such a big twist at the time that an entire chapter book was written just to set it up, about the Turaga discussing the reprecussions of disclosing their past, as they feared it could change how their people view them.
    • The line's 4th year gave a glimpse into Big Bad Makuta's past, hinting at him once having been a benevolent force. This was meant to be elaborated on in its own flashback arc, but that didn't happen. Instead, his backstory as a former protector/governor/scientist made out of living artificial ooze ("antidermis") and his status as a member of an entire Makuta species were revealed gradually across years 7 and 8. So was his actual name, Teridax.
    • The Bohrok swarms and their Bahrag queens never got a fully developed origin story, but their true past was unveiled 6 years after their introduction. They haven't been evil after all, they simply performed their task of cleansing the Mata Nui island without being aware of the world beyond them.

    Video Games 

    Web Original 
  • When The Karate Kid began, all that was really known of Johnny Lawrence was that he was part of a generic Gang of Bullies (though they were shown with issues). What was shown in Cobra Kai was a volatile home life (though he got along beautifully with his mother), which in turn inspired him to train at the dojo under a hard-nosed sensei with a win-at-all-costs attitude. Martin Kove's arrival in Season 2 indicates Kreese is set to receive one of his own, which could explain what shaped his own attitude and teachings and in turn how and why Johnny turned into a jerkass.

    Western Animation 
  • While Bob from ReBoot was a very popular and interesting character, some fans quickly caught on to small changes to his personality to better fit the backstory revealed in season 4. That could partially be blamed on the three plus years between seasons.
    • Specifically, during season 4, Bob adamantly believed that viruses could be cured rather than merely deleted and that "deletion" should be avoided at all costs. This initially seemed like Character Development, but then multiple flashbacks during that same season made it clear that he had always been that way, even though he had made several genuine attempts to kill Megabyte in earlier seasons.
  • Doctor Zoidberg from Futurama went from being a normal (well, alien) doctor with a humorously poor understanding of human anatomy to the very essence of a Butt-Monkey (...with a humorously poor understanding of human anatomy). He now is perpetually poor and hungry, is generally disliked by just about everyone, and is put into question whether he actually is a doctor or not.
    • His doctorate is in art history.
    • This is discussed several times in Futurama's notoriously good DVD commentaries, more from the angle of 'why did Hermes start hating Zoidberg'
    • The Professor doesn't hate him, but... that's about it.
    • His latest backstory shows he was an MD and was even competent, until a Yeti tried to crack his head open
  • In the first two seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Avatar Roku is basically only known as the Avatar before Aang. It isn't until season 3 where we learn more about him.
  • Early in Steven Universe, Rose Quartz was presented as the kind, selfless mother of Steven who gave of her physical form to give birth to him. However, as the series underwent Continuity Creep, she was revealed to have been the leader of the Gem rebellion, fighting Homeworld alongside Garnet and Pearl thousands of years prior. It's not until "Back to the Moon" that it is revealed that winning the war came at the cost of Rose shattering Pink Diamond, the Diamond who owned the planet. However, when Steven is put on for the assassination, his defending Zircon brings up several factors that point to the true facts of the case being covered up. Later in the same season, Pearl tells everyone the secret she's kept for millennia: Rose was Pink Diamond, who upon realizing all the life that existed on the planet, tried to persuade Yellow and Blue Diamond to let her abandon the planet, but when that failed she assumed the form and name of a Rose Quartz and started the rebellion, later faking her shattering to win the war.


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