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Beneath the Mask

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Be careful around this girl. She will kick your butt, because looks aren't everything...

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes.
Paul Laurence Dunbar

Virtually everyone has to wear a public mask in order to be accepted by others. That's a simple fact of human psychology. When circumstances (such as anonymity, strong emotion, or sufficient power) allow a character to take off that mask and act in complete accord with their inclinations, they reveal what's beneath the mask.

The secrets this mask hides are varied and are not always dark. A villain, for example, may be hiding a soft spot.

Sometimes a person may never know they had a hidden self before the mask comes off. The change is even a surprise to them. Other times the person is well aware of their hidden self and are determined to keep it hidden. This hidden self that people don't show to others is what Beneath the Mask is about.

This hidden self is sometimes portrayed as "the real self". Occasionally the person actually wants someone to see their hidden side (the "real me") but for some reason can never get people to see it. More complex works might argue that the hidden self is just a part of the real self and that the public self is also part of the real self.

The concept in Western philosophy originated with Carl Jung, who referred to the mask people wear in public as the "persona" (Latin via Ancient Greek for "mask"), and their hidden desires as their "shadow."

In Eastern philosophy, this is considered synonymous with the concept of "Face". Every person has two sides: a persona they must wear for the good of society, and another which expresses their own desires (in Japan, these concepts are referred to as "tatamae" and "honne"). Juggling both is considered important; too much tatamae can leave a person seeming fake or shallow, or with dangerously-repressed desires, but too much honne can make a person look like an idiot manchild at best and a complete sociopath at worst.

Related to GIFT and What You Are in the Dark. Supertrope to Painful Persona. Often used in conjunction with Hidden Heart of Gold, Jerk with a Heart of Gold, Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, Evil All Along, Good All Along, Sugar-and-Ice Personality, Sad Clown, Stepford Smiler, Undercover When Alone, Broken Ace, and The Proud Elite. Obfuscating Stupidity and Obfuscating Insanity can be subtropes, as can A Darker Me.

Not to be confused with Hidden Depths, which is about skills and roles rather than personality. Compare and contrast Becoming the Mask, where the facade itself actually becomes part of the character's personality.


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    Asian Animation 
  • Careful S. from Happy Heroes is often The Stoic and acts cold, but actually has a caring personality that he tends to hide even from his friends. He's done several kind acts throughout the series, from taking care of a cat despite being allergic to them, to pretending to be Doctor H.'s dead father to comfort him, to bribing a stranger with a lollipop to help Smart S. regain his confidence.
    Kalo: He doesn't talk much, but he's still willing to be friends with everybody.

    Comic Books 
  • The Sentry, though he pretends to be a Lawful Good hero, has a dark side that manifests against his will.
  • Jean Grey's Phoenix persona was retconned to be her actual innermost personality, not a separate entity. It is very different from her public persona. The notion that it was a separate entity was itself a Retcon, and Phoenix was always supposed to be Jean Grey's more passionate, "dark" side. Mastermind's messing with her head was originally what made the "superpowered side" evil.
  • In Superman story arc Superman: Brainiac, Clark and Lois talk about their co-worker Cat Grant, who became a very different and unpleasant person after losing her son. They suspect that she is trying to hide her pain behind a mask.
    Lois: The way she's acting...
    Clark: Cat left the planet after her son died. Everything she's wearing right now, everything she's pretending to be, she's using it to cover up. I don't need X-Ray Vision to tell me when someone's hiding behind a disguise.
  • Black Adam of Captain Marvel was chosen as a champion of justice, but when he received superpowers he didn't react as his patrons expected him to.
  • Anya's Ghost is largely about hiding behind masks. Anya goes to great lengths to hide her nationality and blend in at school, while Elizabeth hides her knowledge about her boyfriend Sean's wandering love life to maintain the illusion (and delusion) that her relationship is an envious one, and Emily hides her nature as a Yandere (and murderer) so that she can live through Anya vicariously.
  • Outwardly, X-23 is The Stoic bordering on an outright Emotionless Girl, and many characters (even people who are ostensibly her friends) treat her like she's nothing but a cold, unfeeling killing machine. Underneath the cold facade, however, she's a confused and suicidally depressed jumble of loneliness, heartbreak, and rage. Her detached persona is there entirely because she doesn't know how to handle what she feels, and to protect others from her anger.
  • Deadpool is known as the merc with a mouth due to his wit and constant and often nonsensical talking. This carefree and jovial nature is actually a mask under which is severe depression and self-loathing resulting from the many, many tragedies and tortures he has endured. It has compounded more so in recent issues with the death of his former love interest and the possible death of their daughter.
  • A common portrayal of Batman is that "Bruce Wayne" is just a front he uses to fit into society. The Dark Knight is his true personality. The same was true of Clark Kent in the Silver Age (i.e. the wimpy "Clark" being a front for Superman). Modern interpretations tend to portray it the other way around, with the mighty, godlike Superman really being a humble farm boy from Kansas at heart.
  • Ray of Plutona is a jerk to everyone. Turns out underneath that facade he's just another kid afraid people will mock his terrible family situation. He jumps at the chance to hang out with actual friends.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Bad Guys (2022), Mr. Wolf's suave, charismatic exterior when committing crimes disguises his bitter resentment for how the world sees him and his friends as villains just because of their species. When Diane accuses him of being too gutless to redeem himself, he lets his frustration loose, saying there's no point in him reforming if the world will always see and treat him as a monster anyway.
  • In Beauty and the Beast:
    • Gaston is not as nice as he seems to be, his handsome and charming attitude a facade to show how rude and manipulative he is.
    • The Beast is the opposite; he appears to be as monstrous as his appearance suggests he is, but it turns out he's broken and depressed by his appearance and only acts this way because, until he met Belle, he had given up on ever being human again.
  • A literal version in Catwoman: Hunted. Batwoman has the curt stoicism of her Distaff Counterpart when dealing with Catwoman, but once the police have left Selina Kyle starts flirting with her and lifts off Kate Kane's mask and wig to reveal she's red like a tomato underneath. Notably this is the only time we see Kate without her mask in the entire movie.
  • Coco: Héctor is introduced as a flaky, selfish conman with a winning smile and cheerful demeanor. In actuality, he's a miserable, desperate father whose only goal has been to see his daughter one last time before he dies for good.
  • Many of the Madrigals in Encanto deal with this, but Luisa and Isabela get hit the hardest. Luisa is the super-strong and tough one, but inwardly she's insecure and worn down by the pressure of literally carrying the weight of the town. Isabela is the beautiful, graceful, perfect child (although she's kind of a jerk to her sister) who sprouts flowers everywhere she goes, but she's also railing against the pressure of conformity and longs to be a little wild.
  • Frozen (2013):
    • Elsa is repressing all her emotions in an effort to control her Emotional Powers. After losing her temper and shooting ice at her sister in front of other people, she runs away from the kingdom and sings the musical number 'Let It Go', during which she lets her hair down and takes enjoys playing with her magic. Her much more open behaviour after this point in the film contrasts with her repressed behaviour earlier.
    • Prince Hans appears to be a Nice Guy who cares about Anna but reveals he, in fact, wants Arendelle's throne by marrying one of the sisters and is willing to have the actual heirs killed for it.
  • Megamind thought Titan would be a lot more heroic than he turns out to be.
  • Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas seems to have shades of this trope. To the citizens of Halloween Town, he's the charismatic, self-confident, terrifying Pumpkin King. What they don't know is that Jack is very unhappy and bored about doing the same thing every year and longs for something different. Then he discovers Christmastown...
  • Rise of the Guardians:
    • As much as he would like to have everyone believe his irresponsible, devil-may-care act, Jack's transformation into the spirit of winter also caused him a lot of grief, due to becoming invisible, intangible, and inaudible to normal people for 300 years, and given no purpose with it, causing him to feel unnecessary. When his act slips, Jack is a depressed teenager who suffers from abandonment issues, and his bouts of mischief are a desperate attempt to be noticed by someone.
    • Similarly, Pitch Black has moments when it seems he is not that different from Jack; his nature as the Boogeyman made him feared by the world, and while he was able to deal with it at first, the appearance of the titular Guardians made him feel like he was now obsolete. What ultimately separates the two is while Jack decided to be a carefree prankster, Pitch decided to have a Face–Heel Turn.
  • Tangled:
    • Gothel appears to be a loving though overprotective mother towards Rapunzel. But when Rapunzel finds out she was the lost princess and Gothel had kidnapped her all along, she reveals her true greedy nature that she would do anything to keep Rapunzel's power to herself, even murder.
    • Flynn's daring, thieving personality is also a mask. As well as everyone at The Snuggly Duckling.
  • In Turning Red, Ming normally portrays herself as a Proper Lady and her true personality is only seen when she is interacting with her mother.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Bridesmaids Helen is the typical Alpha Bitch. At least that's what it appears on the surface. But when she breaks down crying, she reveals she's in a loveless marriage, and just gets invited to weddings because she's good at organizing events.
  • Enter the Dragon: In reference to Han, the villain, whose martial-arts tournament is a front for a really nasty operation: "You must remember... the enemy has only images and illusions, behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image, and you will break the enemy."
  • Final Destination 5: Olivia acts flippant and unaffected by all of the deaths in the movie, but while talking to her optometrist, she implies that it's affected her a lot more deeply than that and has made her reassess her life.
  • The basic premise of The Mask is that putting on the mask unleashes your id, not only making you act as you've always wanted to, but do anything you want, cartoon physics and all.
    "It's like it brings your innermost desires to life. If deep down you're a little repressed and a hopeless romantic, you become some kind of love-crazy wild man."
    • When Stanley puts on the Mask of Loki, he becomes The Mask who loses his inhibitions and acts the way he always wanted but he still retains his empathy and morals as well becoming a good-hearted, wild, love-crazy man along with being a gentleman as well showing he has not lost his manners and his politeness. When Dorian puts it on, though, he loses his pretenses of being an old-school Mafioso and goes straight demonic.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean Tia Dalma initially helps and even cares for Jack Sparrow, but in the third movie it is revealed that she is actually Calypso, a sea goddess. When she regains her full powers she becomes a destructive force of nature who doesn't care much about the various factions' petty struggles.
  • Red Eye: Jackson Rippner eventually doesn't even bother holding up the mask.
  • In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the darkness tempts the main characters, showing their hidden desires.
  • The knights' elaborate, mask-like helmets in the John Boorman film, Excalibur, show the real personae of the wearers.
  • A major theme of Wild Things. Sam appears to be an honest, upstanding educator, but he's really a sleazy, exploitative pervert. Kelly appears to be an all-American teenage girl next door, but she's actually an angry, sexually confused cokehead who hates her family. Ray appears to be an honest if overzealous cop, but he's actually a Dirty Cop who enjoys prostitutes and is quite willing to murder anyone who pisses him off. Suzie appears to be a white-trash loser, but she's actually a brilliantly calculating Chessmaster who manipulates everyone else. Lampshaded by Ray, although in reference to another character.
    Ray: People aren't always what they appear to be, Jimmy. Don't forget that.
  • Psycho - everyone, the hard-working secretary who isn't, the local cop who pulls over a woman for speeding, but really they are role-playing for a more intimate encounter, everyone. Especially, of course, Norman, who is really only a more extreme case.
  • In The Hunger Games Katniss displays a poker face except in her house and in the wilderness because she fears other people might notice her thoughts or emotions of contempt and hatred for the government and report her to the authorities.
  • The World's End talks about how adults often hide their unhappiness behind outward success, houses, money, etc., as the characters reveal the problems in their seemingly successful lives. Then there's Gary, whose outward facade of cheer and energy cannot hide his depressive state.
  • Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen: The Pretender Alice. At first glance, she's just a pretty and popular if strange fellow student who attends parties and — if her carried books are any indication — studies just like everyone else. Of course, she's actually a misanthropic Decepticon spy who's more than willing to drop that façade in a heartbeat to kill if it means completing her mission.
  • X-Men: Apocalypse: Quicksilver's jovial facade hides some deep-seated daddy issues regarding his estranged father, Magneto.
    Peter Maximoff: He left my mom before I was born. I met him ten years back, but I didn't know it was him. By the time I figured it out, it was too late. Then I saw him on TV again, and I came to the house looking for him, but by the time I got there... (sighs) Late again. You know, for a guy who moves as fast as me, I always seem to be too late.
  • Throughout the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters, Jillian Holtzmann comes off as a confident, flirty, cocky and light-hearted eccentric who casually throws herself into danger, is barely fazed by anything and takes eager delight in teasing and Trolling everyone around her. Until the very end, when she eagerly stands up to make a toast to her fellow Ghostbusters in a bar — and, much to their surprise, awkwardly stammers out a heartfelt and sincere tribute to her newfound friends and how much having them in her life means to her, while being on the verge of tears all the way through. It's a suggestion that beneath her self-assured cockiness and charm, she's a much lonelier, insecure and vulnerable woman than she'd previously let on.
  • In Shredder Orpheus, Linus is very high-energy and camp at Orpheus's wedding and when trying to negotiate gigs over the phone, but in private conversations with Orpheus he's much more serious and reflective, sincerely expressing his frustrations and begging him to get help.
  • Secretly, Greatly: Underneath his simpleton persona, Deep Cover Agent Ryu-hwan has a running commentary on how idiotic he thinks the South Korean villagers are. He does care for them, however.
  • Tower of Terror: The prologue makes it seem as if child star Sally Shine is a bit of an Attention Whore, but her ghost implies otherwise by happily talking about how her sister was her best friend due to not caring that she was a star (or so she thought).

  • In Dragon Bones, Ward has been Obfuscating Stupidity for the past seven years, but that is not the only mask he wears. He eventually tells Oreg that he has been imitating a famous ancestor when acting as leader, and his father while fighting and doesn't even know what his own true self is. Oreg says he knows Ward's true self. To the reader, it is rather obvious, as Ward instinctively saves his enemy, (little surprise, as saving people is a habit of his), and also when he consents to kill Oreg, something which Oreg counted on him to do. It Makes Sense In Context. He acts rather consistent over the course of the novel, in his actions, if not in his words and feelings. Ward's younger brother Tosten was a bit creeped out when Ward took a break from acting like a mentally retarded Gentle Giant, in order to stop Tosten from committing suicide, the one time Ward broke out of the mask prior to his father's death. (He did the pretending in order to make his father consider him harmless and not try to kill him again.)
  • In The Twilight Saga, Rosalie Hale. Though she seems superior, emotionless and shallow to Bella at first, it is revealed that she actually envies Bella and is very much capable of deep feelings, loving her family, and being sad on the inside because of her inability to get pregnant.
  • Discworld's Wintersmith gives this trope its own name: Boffo. It's called "Boffo" because the first boffologer we see, Miss Treason, gets the skulls, spindles, and other sorceries which trick people into seeing what they expect her to be (a terrifying witch) rather than what she really is (a blind lady, whose only terrifying feature is her age), from the Boffo Novelty and Joke Shop. Annagramma later follows her footsteps with a full Boffo kit, and she doesn't just do it on others but herself, masking her fear that everyone is out to hurt her by convincing herself that she is better than everyone. Tiffany, however, can almost always see through their façades for who they really are.
  • In The Dresden Files, wizards have two major abilities related to this.
    • A Soulgaze is a one time per person link. When initiated by the wizard staring into someone's eyes for a few seconds, each sees the other's True Self.
    • The Sight shows the essence of how things are — magical workings and their aftereffects are visible, people's mental and emotional trauma and strengths, etc. Anything seen with the Sight is permanently etched into the wizard's brain.
  • Sherlock Holmes puts up a cold and stoic façade, but shows a softer side from time to time.
  • Ciaphas Cain:
    • The entirety of the novels is about a HERO OF THE IMPERIUM who secretly regards himself as a Dirty Coward whose every action was motivated by self-interest. Whether or not you believe that depends very much on how you interpret his true character.
    • Inverted, in a fashion, for most of 40K's xenos races. In Cain's stories, we see these races as they would appear to someone who can't get inside their heads. We Terrans see the Orks as comic loonies because we can see through their eyes, but Cain sees them as ravening barbaric brutes. We see the Necrons as Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds because we know what their lives look like from the inside, but Cain sees them as omnicidal eldritch abominations (note that this characterization was acccurate before the retcon that turned them into rebellious slaves of the C'tan rather than their obedient Omnicidal Maniac servants). In short, Cain's stories allow us to see what 40K looks like when you can't see Beneath the Mask.
  • In Under a Velvet Cloak, we see Nox (the Mistress of Secrets) automatically knows EVERYONE's secrets, such as how God has tuned out of the mortal world, or even how Satan is at heart a good man who honors his agreements to the letter (twisted though that letter may be), despite being highly effective at his job as an Incarnation. Nox also has the power to reveal anyone's secrets, which she uses very rarely.
  • In Elias Canetti's book Crowds and Power, he speaks in detail about masks and hiding of a true-self in relation to power. For Canetti, everyone wears a mask and for this reason, a ruler is never able to truly trust in anyone, which is a cause of paranoia regarding betrayal. For Canetti, the "unmasking" is crucial in the movements of power.
  • John le Carré takes a very dark look at this in the Karla trilogy. The protagonist, George Smiley, appears to be a slightly myopic, helpless, and generally tragic old man who is genuinely sick of all the betrayals and lies that constitute his profession and that has wrecked his personal life. Only occasionally do we see why he's still in the Circus: he is brilliant and very, very good at what he does, i.e., the betrayals and lies that constitute the intelligence life. His opponent, Karla, appears to be an iron-willed fanatic for whom taking advantage of the opposition's humanity is part of the job. It is not until Smiley's People that we see the crack in his mask: his love for his illegitimate daughter, Tatiana, who is driven insane by her inability to recognize the spymaster as her father. The ending of Smiley's People implies that beneath their masks, Smiley and Karla are pretty similar- a revelation that drives Smiley to retire for good.
  • In The Gun Seller, the protagonist notes that a certain revolutionary leader puts on a different mask for every member of the cell. To one true believer, he's a fiery and passionate Che type; to the Southern hick, he's a rock and roll adventurer; to another, he's a philosophical seeker after truth. His true self is only hinted at when he instinctively strikes a small child on an airplane.
  • Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho wears the mask of a sociable, high-flying yuppie to hide his murderous desires.
  • In The Pale King, Meredith Rand is so gorgeous that no one realizes how many issues she's hiding. That is until she starts talking...
  • In Beachwalker, the titular character spends much of the book pretending to everyone, including herself, that she can handle everything. Underneath, it's starting to take its toll.
  • Joan Foster muses on this in Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood: having reinvented herself several times in her life, she's not particularly interested in seeing what's beneath the facades of the people she encounters, having decided that "facades were just as truthful" as what they hide.
  • This is where the title comes from in Yukio Mishima's Confessions of a Mask. One of the biggest themes is how the main character tries to appear normal in World War II Japan and the reader is the only one to see his inner workings.
  • In The Legendsong Saga Solen realises that one of the dangers of Glynn's muteness is that he talks to her as though to himself, risking lifting his mask and exposing the fact that his personality as a wastrel is just an act. Particularly in the Citadel, it is said that courtiers just wear layer upon layer of masks. The protagonists' allies are notable for having the fewest masks and liking them the least.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Reynard is, outwardly, a Deadpan Snarker, who likes to trade Witty Banter with his foes while engaging in dramatic swordplay. When he loses his cool, however...
  • In Words of Radiance, we get to see, just for an eyeblink, Shallan Davar's true face:
    An image formed in front of her, born of Stormlight, created by instinct. She hadn't needed to draw this image first, for she knew it too well.
    The image was of herself. Shallan, as she should be. Curled in a huddle on the bed, unable to weep for she had long since run out of tears. This girl... not a woman, a girl... flinched whenever spoken to. She expected everyone to shout at her. She could not laugh, for laughter had been squeezed from her by a childhood of darkness and pain.
    That was the real Shallan. She knew it as surely as she knew her own name. The person she had become instead was a lie, one she had fabricated in the name of survival.
  • In Twig, Genevieve Frey, a Mad Scientist on the run, acts kind and courteous to the narrator, Sylvester, when they first meet. He observes that, given what he knows she's done, she must have a far more bloodthirsty and dangerous side, which she acknowledges, but she rejects the idea that this side of her is hiding:
    This isn’t a duality. I’m not one of the Balfour Academy soldiers, drinking a potion to become virile, ugly, and monstrously strong. There isn’t a lever inside me that determines which of me you’re talking to at once. A knife can cut or stab. The label doesn’t change. It’s still a knife.
  • In Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note, Aya plays the role of the wallflower to hide the fact that she can't fit into the class, so as to avoid to be seen as a weirdo. As her interactions with the male cast shows, despite being quite self-conscious, she isn't really shy.
  • Star Wars: Kenobi: Ben puts on a pleasant front, but occasionally allows himself to grow solemn and sad, given Annileen a glimpse of the Obi-Wan Kenobi who was forced to kill his best friend just a few weeks ago. Annie notes that most people on Tatooine are the opposite—hiding any pleasant parts of their personality under a layer of abrasiveness.
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer:
    • Tade, a physician at the hospital where Korede works, is handsome and friendly but completely oblivious to Korede's feelings for him. Korede is heartbroken when he becomes interested in Ayoola, but then she realizes that his interest in Ayoola is based on her looks.
    • Korede herself. She is known as the responsible sister, but she helped her sister cover up for her murders, and she prepares herself for the possibility of having to deal with Mr. Muhtar now that he is awake. And her loyalty to her sister leads her to help put Tade in jail.
    • Kehinde, Korede and Ayoola's father, comes across as a Cool Old Guy to the boy who visits Ayoola. In reality he is violent and abusive towards his wife and daughters.
  • The Girl from the Miracles District: Nikita puts a front of an Aloof Dark-Haired Girl - and, to some extent, she is one, but inside, she's also a woman scared of her father and wishing for a normal life.
  • Several characters in StarCraft: Liberty's Crusade would discuss what Mengsk could be like under the mask - as Kerrigan points out, he's unreadable. When Raynor calls him out on sacrificing Kerrigan, he engages in his well-known tirade prompting Liberty to remark that Mengsk has finally shown his true face: that of a power-crazed madman.
  • A Tie-In Novel for Frozen called A Frozen Heart indicates Hans's arrogant demeanor during his Evil All Along reveal is another mask hiding a serious lack of self-esteem from being severely abused by his family.
  • In The Belgariad, not only does 7,000-year-old sorcerer Belgarath put on the grandfatherly storyteller persona of "Mister Wolf" to put people at ease around him but for people who are aware of his true identity, he wears a second mask. He claims to have a much longer perspective than others (which he clearly does), and that this perspective has changed him to the point where he no longer acts based on normal human emotions like compassion or charity, that he's willing to sacrifice anything or anyone in furtherance of the greater good. And yet, in the course of his adventures, his traveling companions are able to peel back even this layer to see that, far from being compassionless, he's actually developed a far deeper compassion for all life, even the lives of monsters and villains. Whenever one of them calls him out on this, he admonishes them to keep it to themselves, as he does have "a reputation to maintain".
  • Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner has the Atma Virus, which gives the ability to infected by it to transform into an Asura. Asuras are stated to be the incarnations of a person's true nature.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Doctor, in Doctor Who. Yes, they wear celery, offer people jelly babies, and have a fascination with hats; seems like another harmless eccentric fellow, right? Yeah - that "harmless eccentric fellow" can quite literally tear the heavens asunder and reshape reality if they really feel like it. Still want to piss them off? To add to this trope, despite the Doctor and his silly gimmicks, the Steven Moffat era has made it quite clear how much the Doctor hates himself for some of the difficult calls he has to make.
  • Thomas Barrow on Downton Abbey is manipulative, dastardly and downright cruel, but whenever his mask of indifference and rudeness slips (usually on occasions involving death or spurned affections) he's shown to be a lonely man desperate for affection and to actually have something resembling a heart.
  • Firefly:
    • Niska is fond of quoting the mad Chinese philosopher Shan Yu, who once said "Live with a man for 50 years, share meals, spend every waking hour with him. Then one day take him and dangle him over a volcano's edge, and on that day, you will finally meet the man." In his second appearance, he made the mistake of dangling Malcolm Reynolds over the volcano and was terrified of who he met.
    • Mal himself presents himself as a hard-edged heartless mercenary of a Captain, but pretty much everyone on his crew knows he's mostly a softy at heart, provided you do not betray him or his own.
    • Jayne really is a heartless mercenary, but as the show goes on, it is revealed that he sends money home to his mother to care for his family.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • During his private moments, Renly Baratheon is shown to be more insecure than the confident façade that he projects in public.
    • Varys drops the Sissy Villain act when he gets really serious.
    • In private (and once when confronted by Tywin in a deleted scene), Pycelle drops his infirmity, elderly befuddlement, and rambling old man monologues to reveal a virile, cunning man playing a part to avoid unwanted attention.
    • In "The Gift", the High Sparrow declares it his intention to strip away the "finery" of the great houses and see them judged for what they truly are. More subtly, the same episode removes the High Sparrow's own mask: he is still a man of simple conviction and extreme piety, but his affable humility diminishes through his conversation with Olenna culminating in an implied threat and when he arrests Cersei his posture, expression, and eye contact become much more confrontational, revealing the fanatic zeal that lets the apparently gentle old man command the violent Faith Militant.
    • Arya suggests that for all his talk, the Hound really doesn't like half the things he's been forced to do and acts as a brutal thug and hurls insults around, as a coping mechanism. For his part, the Hound actually is a little bit taken aback by this, suggesting that this might not be too far off the mark.
  • Pretty much the entire basis of Hannah Montana.
  • Much of the drama in Hannibal revolves around Dr. Hannibal Lecter's carefully constructed public life as an affable, erudite gourmand and socialite. His former therapist (who has more of an inkling than most people, and therefore fears for her life) calls it his "person suit."
  • House:
    • This is a major premise, as all the main cast including the patients are not always what they seem to be, in the case of the patients their lies often complicate the medical procedures of the team, while House himself dedicates his time to discover the secrets of his co-workers. House certainly thinks that this is humanity's natural state, given his famous quote "...Everybody lies".
    • In one episode Thirteen finds a very depressed-sounding poem written by a young patient that starts "Beneath The Mask that others see..." and thinks he's depressed/suicidal. She uses this to browbeat the patient's parents into agreeing to something they had been refusing to do. It turns out that it was for a writing assignment, and wasn't how the patient personally felt at all. What the parents did just made the patient feel worse.
  • In iCarly, Nevel is a polite, nice kid when within his mom's vicinity, but is a complete Jerkass outside of it.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022):
    • "In Throes of Increasing Wonder...": Because Louis de Pointe du Lac is a gay African American in 1910, he has to put on a different façade depending on whom he's interacting with, and having to do this on a daily basis is detrimental to his mental health. Lestat de Lioncourt is infuriated that Louis is whittling himself away by pretending to be something he's not.
      Lestat: This primitive country has picked you clean. It has shackled you in permanent exile. Every room you enter, every hat you are forced to wear — the stern landlord, the deferential businessman, the loyal son — all these roles you conform to and none of them your true nature. What rage you must feel as you choke on your sorrow.
    • "...After the Phantoms of Your Former Self": Towards the end of the honeymoon phase of their relationship, Louis was concealing from Lestat the full extent of how uncomfortable he was with vampirism.
      Louis: And I was still very much under [Lestat]'s power. We would drain the tenor for hours that night. Lestat completely enthralled. Myself, pretending to be. Afraid to disappoint. Lestat was wrong. I was never going to be a natural. I was never going to savor the aftertaste. I was a shame-ridden second, a... a fumbling, despondent killer, a botched vampire.
  • Lizzie McGuire displays the title character's duality with an animated version of Lizzie saying whatever Lizzie is really thinking.
  • Odyssey 5 has Kurt occasionally show a much kinder side than his usual persona.
  • Sherlock:
  • Smallville:
    • Major Zod pretended to be an ally to Clark and a caring leader until he received his superpowers, revealing his hidden lust for power. "Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven."
    • Lana Lang once received Clark's superpowers, using them to try to expose Lex's secrets, discredit him in the media, and when all else failed kill him. Then again, given the absolute hell he'd put her through just to steal her from Clark, can you blame her?
    • There was an episode with a flower that made people act out their secret desires. There was also the red kryptonite for Clark.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "The Cage", the telepathic Talosians put Captain Pike in a fantasy where he's a decadent Orion slave trader with a Green-Skinned Space Babe dancing erotically for him. Earlier Pike had been griping about The Chains of Commanding and let slip a thought about giving it all up to be an Orion captain.
    Vina: A person's strongest dreams are about what he can't do. Yes, a ship's captain, always having to be so formal, so decent and honest and proper. You must wonder what it would be like to forget all that.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Subverted in "The Wire" when Dr. Bashir is treating Garak — ostensibly a tailor but strongly implied to be a covert operative for the Cardassian government. While suffering the agony of withdrawal symptoms, he apparently reveals what lies beneath 'plain simple Garak', but shrouds it in lies so Bashir can't get a proper handle on him.
    • Zigzagged in "Soldiers of the Empire". Klingons underneath their swagger are lonely, overworked soldiers grumbling about their lot just as much as human soldiers do. However, when inspired, they put on their mask again and go into battle as true Proud Warrior Race Guys.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One", Jake recognizes that despite Sam's attempt to appear calm and keep them all calm, Sam is really "freaked to hell".
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): The episode "A Piano in the House" features a magical piano. When it plays certain song rolls, the music forces people to show their true natures. The sadistic host who owns the piano loves it. He uses it on his party guests, showing how a noble man is greedy, how a woman is vain. His comeuppance comes when his wife, sick of the abuse going on in the party, puts a roll in that affects him. He then shows how terrified and needy he is to everyone.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place:
    • Behind her facade, Alex is an insecure, dependent, and scared teenage girl, who desires to be accepted (somewhat by her peers and definitely by her parents, but mostly by Justin).
    • Harper's facade. Throughout the series, we see glimpses of truth where she hints at things that...are rather depressing for a kid's show...

  • The Beatles' "I'm a Loser":
    Although I laugh and I act like a clown
    Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown
  • Boyce Avenue "More Things to Say": "All we know is the mask and not your face"
  • Electric Six has stated that they play disco dance music because it's "exactly what we are not."
  • The track "The Mask" by The Fugees on The Score is about people pretending to be somebody or something else behind a mask.
  • Billy Joel's "The Stranger" is about what a person is beneath the mask. "We all have a face, that we hide away forever / And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone..." He gets pretty cynical about it; the song is about how no matter how close you are to a lover, there are some secrets you never tell, and you shouldn't be surprised if they're hiding their nature from you — because you're doing the same to them.
    • Adding the qualifier: "We may never understand how the Stranger is inspired / But he is not always evil, and he is not always wrong."
  • Lady Gaga's song "Poker Face" is about this; the title refers to how it's customary to mask emotions as much as possible when playing poker to avoid giving anything away.
  • The song "True Colors" from Cyndi Lauper makes a mention to this trope.
  • Pink Floyd sang of this trope in their song In the Flesh: "So ya, thought ya might like to go to the show/To feel the warm thrill of confusion—that space cadet glow/Tell me, is something eluding you, sunshine? Is this not what you expected to see?/If you wanna find out what's behind these cold eyes, you'll just have to claw your way through this disguise!"
  • Queen's "The Show Must Go On". "Inside my heart is breaking; my make-up may be flaking but my smile still stays on."
  • R.E.M.'s "Imitation of Life" is about how people tend to hide their insecurities while trying to be happy. The music video is a 20-second clip set at an outdoor party played backwards and forwards, with dozens of smaller events going on, many of which aren't immediately apparent in the first viewing.
    "That sugarcane that tasted good, that's who you are, that's what you could. Come on, come on, no one can see you cry..."
  • Slipknot's song "The Devil in I" certainly gives off this feeling.
  • Britney Spears' "If U Seek Amy" video shows off how conflicting public and private selves can lead to confusion in the media. How certain people put on an act to maintain a fanbase or a group of supporters.
  • The song "Mr. Roboto" by Styx uses this trope. "I am the Modern man/Who hides behind a mask/So no one else can see/My true identity."
  • Tears for Fears: In the song "Watch Me Bleed", the narrator behaves normally on the surface, but there's great emotional turmoil underneath his calm facade.
    You see the torture on my brow
    Relates to neither here nor now

    Although my face is straight, it lies
    My body feels the pain and cries

    Here, the table is not bare
    I am full, but feeling empty
    For all the warmth, it feels so cold
    For one so young, I feel so old

    It's not allowed to be unkind
    But still the hate lives in my mind

    I'll make no noise, I'll hide my pain
    I'll close my eyes, I won't complain
    I'll lie right back and take the blame
    And try to tell myself I'm living
  • Vocaloid:
    • The song "Fantasy Pianist" by Hitoshizuku-P is about a professional musician who hides his self-loathing behind a smile. At different points in the song, the protagonist claims that he has to hide his "rusted scissors," his "screaming fingers," and his "true feelings" behind a smile, thinking that because he can't remove his mask, he must be the "perfect entertainer." In the stanza following the guitar solo, he affirms his conviction to keep his true self hidden by literally covering up his cutting scars. A nagging voice in his head asks him, "Wouldn't life be easier if you revealed everything?" He brushes the thought aside with a dismissive "as if!" and invites his audience to join the charade. The song itself is a metaphor for how we all wear smiling masks to hide our insecurities, thinking that society will reject us for revealing them or admitting to having them in the first place.
    • The song "One-eyed Ripper Murder Case" provides a rather literal example of this trope. The protagonist, a schoolgirl named Mebuki Meme, is walking home from school when, after diverging paths with her friends, she is attacked by a serial killer wearing a one-eyed mask. After waking up in the hospital, her friends, Tabako Haruhiko and Minowa Chifuyu, reveal that the killer had already murdered two of her male classmates. Having observed that her younger step-brother, Akihiro, had been acting more possessive of her than usual recently, she expresses her suspicion to Haruhiko that her little brother was the one behind the killings and her attack. Haruhiko, having a crush on the girl, swears to protect her. We then see an exchange between presumably Akihiro and Haruhiko in which the two express their suspicion of each other and warn the other not to lay a finger on Meme. Meme, wanting to lead her brother back onto the right path, walks with him home from school, only to find the body of Chifuyu in the same alleyway where she was attacked. Realizing that her brother couldn't have been responsible, she sees the shadow the real killer looming over her and Akihiro. They turn around, and the killer removes his mask to reveal himself to be Haruhiko, in reality a Yandere who sought to "protect" Meme from the people he perceived as getting in the way of their love. In that vein, he kills Akihiro and states that now he and the horrified Meme could finally be together.
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra have "Behind The Mask" from their album Solid State Survivor, later covered by Michael Jackson of all people, with very different lyrics. Lyricist Chris Mosdell said: "I was talking about a very impersonal, socially controlled society, a future technological era, and the mask represented that immobile, unemotional state."

  • Agnes from Jasper in Deadland. She's set up as the one person in Jasper's hard life who brings him hope and is able to remind him that the world isn't that bad. Jasper implies that her optimism is the result of her having a happy childhood, with a famous doctor for a father and a beautiful step-mom - so it comes as a bit of a shock to him when Agnes reveals that her father is actually physically abusive, she has no love for her step-mom, and she'd rather stay in Deadland than return home to her life.
  • Explored deeply in Jekyll & Hyde, most notably with the song "Façade" and its numerous reprises.
    There's a face that we wear in the cold light of day/ It's society's mask, it's societies way/ And the truth is... That it's all a facade.
  • Fiyero in Wicked pretends to be a carefree, "brainless" playboy, but there's more to him than meets the eye, as Elphaba reveals after they rescue the Lion cub. Cue the beginnings of Character Development.
    Elphaba: You could have just walked away back there.
    Fiyero: So?
    Elphaba: So no matter how shallow and self-absorbed you pretend to be—
    Fiyero: Excuse me! There's no pretense here. I happen to be genuinely self-absorbed and deeply shallow.
    Elphaba: No, you're not. Otherwise, you wouldn't be so unhappy.

    Video Games 
  • Thoma from Agarest Senki. On the outside: Casanova Wannabe with Obfuscating Stupidity and invoking Open Mouth, Insert Foot. On the inside: Cultured Badass, very romantic man who likes deep meaningful conversations. Dyshana outright warns him not to become the mask because he'll lose all his good qualities if he does.
  • In Batman: Arkham Origins, after Batman rescues Alfred from the rubble in the Batcave, and it appears too late to save Alfred from dying in his arms, the Dark Knight suffers a Heroic BSoD before discovering that he has to revive Alfred with the Shock Gloves. While Batman is doing so, the subtitles identify him as "Bruce Wayne" rather than "Batman", as he is on the point of giving up Batman's status.
  • Borderlands series:
    • There's a moment in the Borderlands 2 DLC Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage where Mad Moxxi makes some innuendo that relates cunnilingus to literal cannibalism, and manages to disgust herself. She apologizes and says that her innuendo talk is "just a defense mechanism" and her part of the radio goes silent for a while.
    • The fact is, Moxxi wears a mask because she's ashamed to have been born into the Hodunk clan and tries to resemble her relatives as little as possible in public. This is contrasted with her daughter Ellie, who has just as much distaste for the Hodunks but insists on being herself, to Moxxi's disappointment. In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, Moxxi is mortified that the PCs get a peek beneath the mask by walking in on her without her trademark exaggerated makeup, wearing dirty overalls, and singing in her natural redneck accent as she works on a robot.
      Nisha: I hereby promise not to tell people the slutty clown is also a slutty mechanic.
  • In BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm, several characters have masks that only start to slip in the final act of the game, and sometimes only in optional scenes that you have to go pretty far out of your way to find. Til is a snarky, headstrong Tsundere with crippling social anxiety, who drives people away because she’s terrified to let them in. Tyalie is a bubbleheaded Genki Girl who knows she’s a video game character, and plays the fool to try and make sure you won’t forget her when the game ends. And then there’s Cornelia, a cheerful and caring Benevolent A.I. who was created as a weapon, and secretly still despises herself for it, even long after her Heel–Face Turn in the previous game.
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2: General Shepherd betrayed Task Force 141 and killed them, revealing himself to be a Well-Intentioned Extremist. Very hard for Price and Soap to bear, though not too hard to believe.
  • Deltarune:
    • Berdly reveals that underneath the persona of being the smartest one in class and a supposed intellectual, deep down, he's insecure of the fact that his reputation is all thanks to Noelle and frightened of a scenario in which she's not there to uphold it.
    • We see glimpses of Spamton's true face in the few instances when his unique Verbal Tic and CAPS LOCK speech have completely faded. Behind the eccentric salesman's face, there's a haunted soul that's seemingly just a puppet for some higher entity. His backstory only further evidences this.
  • Digital Devil Saga has the Atma Virus, which allows the bearers to transform into demons, which are their true selves.
    Jinana: What is a demon?
    Angel: The essence of your true selves. Your Karma.
  • Disco Elysium:
    • While Harry's exact personality is left to the player, he starts the game as a pathetic Disco Dan who loathes the results of his nihilistic, suicidal party behaviour on his life and friends, but justifies it with a variety of absurd personas, galaxybrained ideological fixations and Windmill Crusades. While the player has a lot of input into what these obsessions end up being, it's generally consistent that he tries to act out a form of embarrassing, immature machismo. The player can also have him face up to what he is and make a genuine attempt to change, such as by shaving his 70s cop muttonchops or quit his horrendous drug abuse habits. It's worth observing that even if you do play Harry as regretful and trying to make up for his bad habits (the 'sorry cop' copotype), it's left up in the air whether this is genuine or just another affectation that he'll eventually backslide on, as several side characters comment that this isn't Harry's first attempt to get sober.
    • Kim appears to be The Stoic but there's a strong implication that he's doing this to serve as a Foil for Harry's antics, and also that he's just as protective of his own fantasy of being cool as you are. (Some of this is implied to be insecurity about the nerdish appearance foisted on him by his horrible eyesight and other people's racial stereotypes.)
    • Evrart Claire is portrayed as a detestable person who always gloats at the idea of having Harry under his thumb, using him as a pawn for his dirty tricks and hiding behing "jokes", false pleasantries and crystal clear self-serving intentions. Under that, however, he and his unseen twin are The Chessmaster and diehard socialists, playing dumb to hide their real goals: allowing the people of Martinaise to thrive and free Revachol from the Moralintern, gearing up for a second communist revolution. While caught off-guard by Lely's murder, he quickly uses it to push Wild Pines towards firing the first shot, swaying PR in the favor of the Union. He's also genuinely worried for Harry's health and missing gun, congratulating him if Harry kicks off the bottle.
  • Laharl from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness tries his very best to be completely perceived as an evil demon, but his more positive qualities, like his forgiving, noble and strangely kind nature, is regularly provoked to the surface throughout the game.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Zevran in Dragon Age: Origins appears to be a smart-mouthed skirt-chaser, but closer inspection reveals a mess of homesickness and guilt.
    • Dragon Age II:
      • Isabela has got an honorable side buried under all the greed and selfishness, and under her carefree sex-without-attachment persona she just wants to be loved.
      • Implied with Aveline and her tough-as-nails guardswoman persona. She's a very private woman who refuses to elaborate on her feelings and regrets after losing her husband, and has a similar attitude towards the party after she remarries.
      • Hawke, if played with a sarcastic/charming personality, acts flippant and irreverent to mask deep-seated feelings of loneliness, due to all the loss they endure over the course of the game. Their status as a Sad Clown is even more noticeable after the murder of their mother.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • In Final Fantasy VII, lead character Cloud Strife spends some 2/3rds of the game under a mask; a persona-based seemingly on his deceased best friend, Zack Fair and former commanding officer Sephiroth. Only after a Journey to the Center of the Mind does Cloud finally become "Cloud" again, admitting that the combination of the Jenova cells, Sephiroth's will, and his fragile ego are behind the construction of his fake persona after his breakdown.
    • A classic case is Squall from Final Fantasy VIII. On the outside: cold, cynical, mean, rude, and very much a Determinator. On the inside, he is collapsing: constantly questioning himself and why he continues to do what he does, and cripplingly insecure about how other people perceive him. He uses his anti-social exterior to hold others at arm's length rather than risk the pain of rejection or loss because such feelings devastate him.
    • Zolku-Azolku, an NPC in Final Fantasy XI, discusses the concept:
      We all wear masks because deep down inside we are nothing but beasts. The question I ask you is, to which do you submit — the mask, or the beast?
    • Emet-Selch in Final Fantasy XIV is an Ascian that, unlike his fellow brethren, seems to enjoy being a massive Troll towards mortals and his antics wouldn't be too out of place if he were in a dramatic play. During the Shadowbringers story where you get to learn more about him, it's revealed that beneath his trollish nature lies a man that is very bitter, angry, and depressed towards mortals since they represent only a fraction of what used to be his people. Emet-Selch yearns for the old days where his people were powerful, intellectual, and had a utopian society. To him, the present-day people may as well be a mockery of what they once were and he is willing to do anything to bring the glory of his people back no matter the cost.
  • Halo:
    • In Halo 3 the normally calm Prophet of Truth shows his true colors as a mad alien willing to kill his fellow prophets and an entire race of aliens while trying to reach godhood. This is a result of Becoming the Mask; in Halo: Contact Harvest, Truth doesn't come off as particularly pious and initiates the Human-Covenant war simply to conceal humanity's status as 'Reclaimers' and gain control of the Covenant. He's been lying for so long and with such conviction that by the time he dies, even he believes his lies.
    • Forerunner AIs Guilty Spark and Medicant Bias both hid their true intentions until their betrayals due to rampancy.
    • The Gravemind acts as a calm, pragmatic, smooth-talking individual with a high love for poetry, but when the Master Chief is penetrating through the its defences at High Charity, the Gravemind slowly reveals itself as the hateful, crazed and murderous monster it actually is.
  • In Harvest Town, Duke Evans's in-game profile states that underneath his friendly and easy-going disposition, he has no real friends, is Terrified of Germs, Hates Being Touched, and dislikes noisy babies and nagging old people. He never outwardly shows these hidden personalities, however.
  • Heavy Rain has Lt. Blake and his boss, Captain Perry, liking By-the-Book Cop Norman Jayden. However, their true selves revealed that they don't like him.
  • A bittersweet one for King's Quest: despite his return to Daventry, his rank of prince, and his joy of being a free man with a loving family, Alexander considers that identity as "a cloak." The Kings Quest Companion establishes that he still considers himself to be "Gwydion," the name he had as Manannan's slave. In the series guide, he makes a concession to both identities by signing his name Alexander-Gwydion.
  • Bastila from Knights of the Old Republic is arrogant, bossy, and Holier Than Thou about being a Jedi. However, she adopts this attitude because she feels enormous pressure to be a perfect Jedi, because of her rare Battle Meditation ability and the crucial position it puts her in despite her youth.
  • Throughout the Mass Effect series, as the commanding officer, Commander Shepard is forced to constantly show an air of calm, confidence, and no fears or worries. As Mass Effect 3 goes along, this mask begins to crack more and more, as s/he is slowly broken down by the pressure of stress of having an entire galaxy on his/her shoulders, and begins to show a great deal of worry, fear, exhaustion, loneliness, and begins to question whether s/he can actually pull it off and defeat the near unstoppable threat of the Reapers.
  • Overwatch: As revealed in the short "Shooting Star", Hana Song/D.Va's Genki Girl personality is only a front she puts on as a Propaganda Hero. Off-camera and off-stream, she's a workaholic and a worrybug who is all too aware that her line of work is incredibly dangerous, and that she and her fellow MEKA pilots are the only things standing between Korea and destruction.
  • This trope is a staple of the Persona series, right down to the title: it comes from the Latin word for "mask".
    • At the beginning of Persona, Philemon states that each person has innumerable masks that they use in daily life.
      Philemon: Are you aware of the multiple selves hidden within you? The self filled with divine love... The self capable of demonic cruelty...
    • This statement is repeated in Persona 2, with the plot this time involving literal masks. The funny thing is that the actual objects represent the characters' repressed memories, and thus their hidden selves.
    • Persona 4 is all about what we have behind the mask (the "shadow" self, both in game terms and in Jungian psychology) and facing it. Interestingly, the characters achieve happiness not by rejecting the mask entirely, but by reconciling it further with their stifled feelings.
    • Persona 5:
      • Shadows and Personas both reflect the true feelings of their other selves. For the villains, they generally show the characters' true sociopathic, twisted desires. For the heroes meanwhile, they generally expose their Revenge Before Reason, Well-Intentioned Extremist desires to change the society and adults that have wronged them; they even awaken their Personas by literally ripping a mask off their face. There's even a song in the game called "Beneath the Mask", with the singer not really knowing who they are without their mask.
      • The stark difference is perhaps best personified in Joker, the protagonist. Few who see him in his normal life would suspect that the quiet, unassuming, glasses-wearing shy student with a shady past is actually a flamboyant, confident, daring, justice-seeking thief with a flair for the dramatic at the best of times. Some characters debate which one is the real him, but based on his characterization, it’s both.
  • While most of Dutch's Sanity Slippage throughout the course of Red Dead Redemption II is left open to interpretation, this is an In-Universe theory about it. Most of the characters think he truly changed throughout the story but some think he was always a madman who simply was able to hide it until he cracked under the pressure of his own bad decision-making. John Marston thinks that he saw "a man who got found out... for who he truly was." Though he believes the former theory in the first game in the series.
  • In Senran Kagura, Murakumo is quite a literal example. When she is wearing her hannyuu mask, she is a ruthless, stoic shinobi who will kill anyone ordered to. Remove the mask, and she instantly turns into a Shrinking Violet manga artist, who seriously cannot go on without having something covering her face.
  • Sly Cooper has one in Penelope Mouse. On the surface, she's a sweet person who's helpful and compassionate, if a bit prideful. In reality, she's a chilling description of a sociopath, who's very possessive of Bentley, but shows no love or care towards him, and only desires his amazing skills to profit from war and terrorism. She's also purely selfish, completely lacks empathy, and is willing to endanger trillions of lives and risk countless paradoxes from time traveling just for the chance of an extra buck.
  • Tales Series:
    • Zelos from Tales of Symphonia at first appears to be a Skirt Chasing pervert who uses his rank as the Chosen to bring Ladies to his bedroom and simply just relishes the limelight. Inside, he's really a calculating individual who suffers from self-loathing due to an EXTREMELY messed up childhood, which involves his mother telling him "You Should Never Have Been Born" just before she dies.
    • Tales of Legendia: Grune starts off as an Amnesiac who is basically the teams personal Cloud Cuckoolander. Later on, even though she tries to hide it when she figures it out, it is revealed that Grune is really a goddess of time whose only purpose is to battle with her evil counterpart in order to determine the fate of the world.
    • Tales of Vesperia. After his Face–Heel Turn and subsequent redemption we get to see the person behind Raven's sleazy-selfish-pervert mask. After revealing, he does return to the mask though, because he much prefers that persona.
  • Yakuza Kiwami 2: Shoko the hostess is a Consummate Professional known as "the Perfect Queen" who does not make mistakes. Ever. While dealing with people is part of her job, and she is very good at it, she never lets the real Shoko interfere with her dealings with her clients. If you manage to get a peek beneath the mask, you find a very sweet young woman with seriously geeky hobbies and a delightfully goofy sense of humour.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Matt Engarde is very well aware of his public image, and puts a great deal of effort into maintaining it. When he decides he doesn't have to, he's one of the most Obviously Evil people in the games.
    • Dahlia Hawthorne looks the very picture of an innocent ingenue, complete with butterflies floating around her. She's a Serial Killer with the most attempted murders in the games at 7, though only three succeed. When she's found out at the final trial and decides it's pointless to keep up the mask since she's dead and being channeled, the only emotions she shows are smug superiority with a side of spite and anger during her Villainous Breakdown.
    • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney has Kristoph Gavin, who's a good enough actor to keep up a facade of cool, detached competence even when indicted for murder. But when you finally drive him to a Villainous Breakdown, he makes up for lost time by dropping his mask (and hairdo) to reveal that he's really a ranting madman with a superiority complex and an obsessive hatred of Phoenix Wright.
    • We also have Phantom from Dual Destinies. Beneath the mask of a cheery, hammy detective lies more masks. And beneath those masks, each coated with sociopathy and ruthlessness, there's nothing.
  • Lesteena in Aselia the Eternal - The Spirit of Eternity Sword isn't sure whether her normal personality or the one she pretends to be when she gets a chance to relax is the real one. The answer seems to be both and neither.
  • Danganronpa
    • Sayaka Maizono. On the outside, a sweet and cheerful Girl Next Door with a few goofy quirks. This is really the image she's trained to portray as an Idol Singer; when she isn't keeping it up, she reveals she's desperately lonely, dependent on her idol friends, and has done some dirty things to get ahead in the industry. Her amiable nature and desire to make others happy isn't fake, but she's a lot more of a Broken Bird than she likes to let on.
    • Celestia Ludenberg calls herself the Queen of Liars, and it's no surprise that her entire persona is a complete fabrication. For starters, her name isn't Celestia Ludenberg, it's Taeko Yasuhiro, and her Elegant Gothic Lolita appearance is a desperate attempt to make herself seem special. She's also not anywhere near as stoic as she seems- she feels trapped and powerless in the killing game and is absolutely desperate to escape, and she occasionally displays flashes of temper when questioned. This ultimately leads to her becoming chapter 3's murderer.
    • Nagito Komaeda spends most of the second game's first chapter as an Ordinary High-School Student, much like Makoto Naegi- but once his role in the first murder is sussed out, he reveals himself as a dangerously unstable and obsessive individual.
    • The Big Bad Junko Enoshima displays several different personas with highly varying sprites to match (the first game has Royal, Dio, Punk, Smart, Kawaii, Gloomy, Monokuma, and Pervy, and the second game adds Playful, Doraemon, and Crying), but when confronted with something they don't understand (usually Makoto), they immediately revert to a monotone and neutral-expressioned sprite, which is implied to be their true self behind all the persona switching (which they do just for the fun of it).
  • Nicole:
    • Jeff Ryan, who acts helpful and charming in public when his real personality is much more snarky and rude towards people. But he upholds his mask in public because he's simply doing what he must to get along well in the world.
    • The kidnapper himself, considering he has repeatedly kidnapped women but has yet to be caught or figured out. All the while acting like a regular college student.
  • Tohsaka in Fate/stay night is a bit of a funny example. She acts like a perfect and kind student, but beneath that she's irritable, dishonest about her feelings, Not a Morning Person, selfish and something of a troll. However, beneath that is something she doesn't seem entirely aware of: She values people's lives a great deal, will die for others, values fair play and honesty and is actually rather kind. Nor is she as ruthless as she thinks she is.
    • Sakura is a much darker example. On the surface she seems like your average Yamato Nadeshiko and shy girl with a crush on Shirou. Then you get to the game's third route where she's the primary focus after being neglected in the first two routes where she reveals a much more obsessive, vindictive, and violent side. This is the result of the horrible amount of abuse she suffered from her adopted family growing up and finally reaching her breaking point.
  • Almost every character in Hatoful Boyfriend is putting on a front of some kind. All the main characters appear to be dating sim stereotypes - the Childhood Friend, the Rich Kid, the Popular Kid et cetera. They're all hiding facets of themselves that the player can discover slowly. The Childhood Friend is struggling with questions of lifespan, the Rich Kid cares less for his family's wealth and more for talents he's been forbidden to develop, the Popular Kid is a Teen Super Spy and a Stepford Smiler and The Atoner.
  • Virtually every main character in Nameless is hiding something beneath their masks, whether it be friendliness masking yandereness or confidence masking identity issues. Even the protagonist is hiding her doll-collecting hobby from her friends out of fear that she won't be accepted otherwise.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • Weiss's haughtiness is a defence mechanism; her aloof, ambitious, judgemental persona hides a vulnerable, lonely and pitiable girl who grew up in an unhappy home. Controlled by an abusive father and neglected by an alcoholic mother, she's witnessed board members of her father's company be murdered in the war between her family and the White Fang, and suffered the consequences of his frustration. It's easy for characters such as Flynt Coal, whose father was driven out of business by her father, to initially dismiss her as a spoiled, uncaring brat; even her closest friends like Yang don't fully appreciate just how dysfunctional her family upbringing is until she corrects their assumptions. She is aware of her own flaws and how her father's corruption is slowly destroying her grandfather's company and founding ideals. She's extremely loyal and protective of the friends she does make and, when she sacrifices herself during a tournament to save her team-mate, even Flynt Coal is impressed. She even revisits her prejudice against the Faunus as she develops relationships with individual Faunus, such as Blake, Sun and Velvet, and eventually apologises to Blake for what her father's company has done to the Faunus of Mantle and her original complacency about it.
    • Professor Ozpin is the kind-hearted, unflappable and quirky headmaster of Beacon Academy who projects an unshakeable faith in humanity while training the next generation to fight the Creatures of Grimm. His inner circle, however, views him as the grimly resolute Big Good chessmaster who leads a small Benevolent Conspiracy in a Secret War against a mysterious Ancient Evil. Secretly suffering a crippling Guilt Complex, his fear of betrayal paralyses his ability to trust anyone with the Awful Truth: his nemesis Salem is such an Invincible Villain that even he doesn't know how to defeat her Complete Immortality, and the only thing standing between her and humanity's continued survival is his increasingly fragile ability to defy the Despair Event Horizon.
    • Mercury projects himself as a carefree, laid-back asshole who only wants to watch the world burn and joined Salem because he felt like it. Underneath that, he is extremely bitter and angry over his father's abuse of him and the things his father took from him. Despite having killed him, Mercury has not recovered from his trauma; Tyrian even suggests that Mercury didn't join Salem for fun, but simply because he's only ever known pain and violence and is too afraid to forge a new path.
    • Cinder Fall spends most of her screentime in Volume 1-3 behaving as a composed, calm, and elegant villainess with flawless plans and incredible poise, with only hints of anger showing underneath. Then she is maimed by Ruby in volume 3, and her prior confidence is shattered, revealing the real personality beneath: an angry, sadistic, deeply insecure young woman desperate for any shred of power she can steal. It soon becomes clear that her initial personality was a front based on her boss Salem, who Cinder mimics to feel strong, but the woman herself is fragile, volatile, jealous, and self-sabotaging when her trauma takes over.

    Web Comics 
  • A significant part of Antimony's character in Gunnerkrigg Court. For the first six chapters, she seems like an Emotionless Girl, but she finally breaks down sobbing with her new best friend Kat over her mother's death and her father inexplicably cutting off contact with her. She maintains her stoic persona around everyone else most of the time, only taking it off around Kat, Reynardine, and in the Forest. Flashbacks show that her father Anthony had similar tendencies when he was her age.
  • Vriska in Homestuck tries with all her might to live up to the example of her famous ancestor, Marquise Spinneret Mindfang, preferring that everyone view her as the Spider8itch than risk showing a hint of weakness. Even she doesn't realise this until she kills Tavros, and either sadly or happily depending on your opinion of the character, it's too late.
    • Everyone who has the knight class is typified by this.
  • One-Punch Man: Amai Mask looks and acts like a charming and handsome idol, actor, and singer most of the time. When he fights monsters and villains, his true vicious nature is revealed. His features even distort themselves as his eyes become bloodshot and veins bulge out of his body. It fits his Hero name, really.
  • In Sunstone a recurring theme of the comic is the presence of masks and how, despite the fact these characters use persona in their BDSM, beneath these masks they are all perfectly normal (and in Ally's case, adorkable) people.
  • Tower of God: Lero-Ro. He is actually quite angry about some of the decisions his boss Yu Hansung makes and how things work in Evankhell anyway, but manages to hold his criticism back and presents himself in a calm demeanor.
    • Rachel. She acts like she still is Bam's friend, but in truth, she already sold him out for her own dreams.
    • To the new characters introduced in Season 2, Bam. He acts like an emotionless sociopath who won't hesitate to kill or fail everyone to pass the floor tests but that's because if he fails any of these tests, one of his friends will be killed by FUG. And he'll only know how many of his friends survived when he reaches the top. Which makes it even sadder because while the readers know that at least some of his friends are still alive, for all he knows, they could already have been killed (by the fierce competition in the Tower or by FUG) and he's doing everything for nothing.
  • Wastelanders Anonymous: Felix literally where's a mask and when he takes the mask off, his personality changes dramatically. The mask is part of his attempt to gain acceptance among the other plague doctors.

    Web Original 
  • In Neopets: Xandra in the "Faerie's Ruin" plot initially has a facade of a helpful and nerdy innocent appearance with anger issues (even using glasses to appear more innocent pictured here. However, she is revealed to be a Well-Intentioned Extremist with a completely "Machiavellian" and egomaniacal personality pictured here.
  • Iron Star of the Whateley Universe. He's a hero in the Future Superheroes of America club at Superhero School Whateley Academy. He's really a massive jerk who is in the superhero game for what he can get out of it. He's already stringing along three different girls in the Future Superheroes of America club and who knows how many elsewhere.
  • In Worm, Rachel Lindt, also known as the supervillain Bitch, is about as violently antisocial as a human being can get ... because her powers have overwritten her ability to parse normal human interactions with canine social instincts. As her Interlude reveals, given the choice, she actually wants to have friends — she just doesn't know how.
  • Parodied by The Onion, reporting a study that found that the average person becomes an unhinged psychotic when alone at home.

    Web Videos 
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog has elements of this in both the Hero Antagonist, who looks like The Cape but is really an arrogant bully; and the Villain Protagonist, who's trying to woo the girl of his dreams as Billy, but is also trying to Take Over the World. Both masks come off at the end, with tragic results. Both Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer actually have three layers to them. On the surface, Billy is just Billy, leading a normal life, trying to woo Penny, underneath that he's the power-hungry Dr. Horrible, but even deeper down he's just Billy. As Penny mentioned, she first thought Hammer was just a big jerk, but he became really sweet later on. However, he really is just a Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk.
  • Ask That Guy with the Glasses is a nicely layered version of the trope. The "mask" is a distinguished gentleman, underneath that is a bastard who likes playing with people, underneath that is an invoked Complete Monster, and underneath that is a cesspool of self-loathing and damage.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Admiral Zhao, though at first considered merely Lawful Evil, was revealed in the season finale to be completely insane and suicidally power-hungry, even killing the moon spirit without a hint of regard for what would happen to the world, including the Fire Nation.
    • Toph Bei Fong pretends to be a weak well-mannered girl in front of her parents, but is a very powerful Earthbender and much more informal with her friends. Sometimes Played for Laughs.
    • Princess Azula infamously pretended to be secure, strong, cold. It was revealed in the last episode that she was a lonely girl that wanted someone to trust, but lost her friends and didn't have anyone to confide in, struggled with wanting her mother’s love she didn’t feel she had due to her nature, and the final straw was her father who she loyally served and wanted approval and love from discarded her when she was no longer useful.
    • Prince Zuko as well, especially in season one. He is introduced as a ruthless, conceited bully of a prince who only cares about himself and seemingly looks down on everyone, including his superiors. In reality, he's just a good-natured kid who wants his father to be proud of him. Over the next two seasons, this facade begins to gradually break and by the final episode, it has disappeared completely.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: Eddy seems confident and manly, but it's shown that it was all a mask to hide the inferiority complex he got from his brother's abuse. A mask he made in naive belief that he would be popular if he acted like he did.
  • Helga from Hey Arnold! expressed her true feelings for Arnold when alone.
  • The Fairly OddParents:
    • Trixie Tang was secretly a tomboy that liked comic books and disguised herself as a boy because she had fear of being judged and rejected due to the fact that she is a popular girl and the Alpha Bitch of her school. Unfortunately, though, this layer fell victim to Flanderization, and Trixie became a flat, one-note Alpha Bitch with no redeeming values.
    • In a Bad Future where Mr. Turner rules the world and Happiness Is Mandatory, the one thing that can break Mr. Turner's outward smile is being reminded that he didn't win the trophy in that race when he was a kid. Of course, he set up an empty display area to note just that, so he's just asking for this.
    Mr. Turner: And this is where I'd put a trophy... IF I HAD ONE! Sorry, lost the happy, but the happy's back!
  • In Phineas and Ferb, there are numerous examples:
    • Candace Flynn is secretly a fan of a series called Duckie Momo (a parody of both Hello Kitty and Pokémon). She used to wear a costume in order to hide her love of the series from her friends, going as far as lying to both her boyfriend and her best friend.
    • Isabella has a crush on Phineas, something both Ferb and Candace are aware of. However, in front of him, she pretends to be Just Friends.
    • Perry the Platypus acts as a non-sapient animal (where it is not uncommon for someone to claim; as a platypus, he doesn't do much), but in reality, he is a very skilled and smart secret agent.
    • Suzy, the sister of Jeremy, pretends to be a dumb innocent girl, but in reality, she is very smart and cruel to whoever threatens her relationship with Jeremy.
  • In Teen Titans Raven keeps her emotions largely in check, rarely expressing any sentiment more passionate than a sarcastic quip. Then the episode "Nevermore" gave her a Journey to the Center of the Mind, where we got to see all the different sides of her personality. One side is perpetually depressed and endlessly apologizes for all the mean things she's said. Another side is a Blood Knight who just loves to fight. Another is a gigantic demon made of pure rage. And, most disturbing of all: a perky, giggling Raven who loves the color pink and thinks Beast Boy is funny (something Raven would normally rather swallow her own tongue than admit to). Another side of her is a protective side towards her friends. Good luck if you make her mad by messing with them.
    • Part of this is due to the fact that it's a buffer against two things: One her powers, which run on emotion, from going haywire (Shown best when she and Starfire swapped bodies, Starfire's unbridled emotions caused things to break with Raven's powers. Conversely Raven had trouble using Starfire's powers as they ran on joy and other emotions she normally suppressed). And Two: Her demonic heritage from Trigon left her with an inner demon that when "let free" is dangerous and terrifying to anyone around her. (It accidentally "Escaped" once leaving Dr. Light with a crippling fear of her, and was willingly let free to fight Terra, but still lost). Three times in the series she's able to get to a level of control where she's able to stop these from happening signified by a switch to a white robe. None of them last longer than the episode for varying reasons (1. In her inner fight with her inner demon after fusing the other personalities into the main one. 2: While training under Melchior, whose teachings she abandons when he betrays her, and finally after she is reborn after Trigon kills her.)
  • In Danny Phantom, there are several cases:
    • Vlad Plasmius has a facade of being a Nice Guy in front of the Fenton family (except Maddie) and the general public by being a well-known billionaire and later mayor.
    • Danny Fenton had a facade of indifference and naivety over his secret identity in front of his sister and his parents. This was mainly to protect them.
    • Dash's best friend, Kwan, has a facade in order to be accepted among the popular crowd. Deep down, he is insecure and unsure about the things he does (bullying and whatnot).
  • The Flash in Justice League is about the only character who wears a literal mask, but not a metaphorical one. He's the same fun-loving guy whether in or out of his civilian identity.
  • Young Justice:
    • Artemis definitely has a facade, as Red Arrow points out. She is even willing to let a villain escape because of it.
    • As does Impulse. His personality during his introductory episode is more or less an act that he uses to hide the fact that he comes from a Bad Future.
  • Kevin Spencer, in his confrontation with Love Interest Shawna, states that beneath all her sociopathic, murderous tendencies, she's really a popularity-obsessed bitch.
  • Casper the Friendly Ghost, in one of the older cartoons, Fright from Wrong, is force-fed a huge jar of "Mean Pills" by his mean uncles, who want him to be a mean ghost to humans. But Casper spends the rest of the short putting them through the wringer (both literally and figuratively). It would appear that this example wouldn't count since Casper was drugged to act like that, right? Ehhh, not so much... he reveals at the very end that he never took the pills; all the cartoonish brutality he'd unleashed on his uncles was all him just trying to teach them a lesson! The little Friendly Ghost has a vicious side hidden under the "friendly".
  • In Thunder Cats 2011 Rascally Rabbit the Drifter is an always smiling, Brilliant, but Lazy man who's facade is one of carefree, perpetual mild amusement. In actuality, he's deeply depressed and grieving a personal loss, to the point of fixedly attempting to save others from duplicating his mistakes by delivering Adventure Rebuffs and an unending stream of unsolicited advice, all the while peppering his speech with his insistent "I don't care."
  • Gravity Falls:
    • Wendy admits in "Society of the Blind Eye" that her cool, laid-back attitude is a put-on: She is actually constantly stressed out because of her family.
    • Pacifica. She is introduced as an Alpha Bitch, but the true nature behind that is not pleasant. Her whole family consists of liars, cheaters, and thieves, who hide behind the claim that Nathaniel Northwest was the founder of Gravity Falls (he wasn't). Her parents encourage her Alpha Bitch attitude and Pavlovian trained her to respond with obedience to a bell, and she is shown to be quite terrified of it.
    • Stan himself. He is shown to be grumpy and greedy but actually cares about his family because it's the only family he has left.
  • Steven Universe:
    • A comedic example occurs in "The Kindergarten Kid". Even as Peridot's various plans to capture a gem monster fail, she remains indefatigably confident and upbeat...until Steven points out a flaw with her latest one. Peridot abruptly screams, "I'm doing the best I can, Steven!"
    • Also parodied in "Beach City Drift", in that episode's climax, Stevonnie snaps at Kevin, asking him why he's always such a jerk. Kevin confesses that he's just acting to cover for his sick brother and Stevonnie is immediately sympathetic to him... until Kevin laughs and reveals that he doesn't even have a brother and simply acts like a jerk because he thinks it's funny.
  • Steven Universe: Future:
    • Subverted with Jasper. Throughout the original show, several villains are redeemed from stoic evil bastards as their secret emotional sides come out and are met with sympathy. At the beginning of Future this is set up very heavy-handedly with her, as Steven devotes a lot of his energy to trying to get her to lower her strong and emotionless facade to figure out what insecurities she's hiding so he can make her feel welcome in modern Gem society. However, after he shatters her in a fit of rage and subsequently combines all the Diamond powers to heal her Gem, she finally respects him, bowing down to him and revealing she truly had no secret facets to her character and really only truly respected brute strength the whole time.
    • Steven Quartz Universe himself becomes an example of this as part of the Decon-Recon Switch of Future. Throughout the entire series, Steven has been an unflinching Nice Guy, who always helps his friends as well as his enemies deal with their personal traumas into becoming better people. But when his friends have started settling into their new lives, Steven starts discovering that he's repressed a lot of his own issues and finds himself being overwhelmed by the stress of being The Chosen One. Since Steven's powers are dictated by his emotions, he begins to suffer from Power Incontinence. He attempts to keep the mask up for as long as he can, but after the aforementioned accidentally shattering of Jasper and losing more and more control of his powers, the mask breaks and Steven accidentally mutates himself into a monster. After his friends and family all band together to give him a giant Cooldown Hug, Steven leaves Beach City and his friends behind to see more of the U.S. as well as deal with his own mental health.
  • The Miraculous Ladybug character Adrien Agreste is the "superhero as true self" variant of this trope. As Cat Noir, he's an adventurous, wisecracking Casanova Wannabe. As Adrien, he's a lonely child at the mercy of a neglectful father who forces him to maintain a somber, perfect reputation. Activating his Miraculous' disguise gives Chat the freedom to act in ways that he never could otherwise (although many of 'Adrien's' insecurities definitely carry over).
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Rainbow Dash is a big example. At the beginning of the show, she actually has two masks, presenting a Book Dumb, tough, completely emotionless exterior. While even in the first season, there are plenty of hints that this is not what her true personality is like, they mainly come when she is alone because she doesn't even like acknowledging her emotions to herself. An example of this is shown in "May the Best Pet Win", Rainbow has a What Is This Feeling? moment when her soft side briefly surfaces. The "book dumb" part of the mask starts going away by season 2 when she finds a book series she loves (prior to this, she would call anyone with a book an egghead - no more after this) and she loses her fear of others seeing how intelligent she actually is. The emotional part of the mask takes longer, but this eventually comes to a head in "Tanks For The Memories". She is going through the 5 stages of grief regarding her pet tortoise having to brumate for the entire winter, and she Hates Being Alone. At one point, she is still appearing completely unemotional and sulking, but her attitude is "whatever" and no one can get through to her. Fluttershy decides to apply some tough love by telling Rainbow that her winter is going to be petless, causing her emotional mask to shatter. She bursts into tears for several minutes, eventually pulling Fluttershy in too. After this moment, she starts acknowledging her emotions and her softer side, and she is no longer afraid to display them (at least to those that care about her), and she is no longer embarrassed about crying in front of others.
  • The Owl House: Behind Amity Blight's aloof and stuck-up Academic Alpha Bitch persona lies a lonely and vulnerable (and kinda dorky) girl who's crushed by the expectations of everybody around her, especially herself.
  • Nodded to in The Spectacular Spider Man with the Green Goblin taunting Spider-Man when the latter claims to know who's under the former's mask:
    Green Goblin: We all wear masks, Spider-Man. But which one is real? The one that hides your face, or the one that is your face?
  • Ready Jet Go!: Mitchell's arrogance, snark, and bravado is his mask. Beneath it is an extremely lonely person with issues making friends and not being loved/popular. Indeed, he has a heart of gold deep down, and it takes the friendship of Jet, Sean, Sydney, and Mindy to uncover it.

    Real Life 
  • The Rorschach test is an old test that psychologists used to use to find insights into an individual's personality through their interpretations of ink spot patterns. Indeed, this is/was the whole aim of psychoanalysis.
  • All Stepford Smilers, naturally.
  • This concept is widespread in East Asian cultures, where it's referred to as one's "face", meaning their dignity, pride, etc. Causing someone to "lose face" by embarrassing them is a big faux pas, since it destroys their social standing.
  • In astrology, Your Rising sign (determined by where the sun is on the horizon when you are born) represents how people perceive you. Your Sun sign (determined by time of year, which can be determined through any newspaper horoscope) represents how you relate to people (your persona). Your Moon sign represents who you are when you are alone (your shadow).
  • This tends to be quite common among autistic people who are neurotypical-passing; oftentimes the pressure of maintaining an image that appears neurotypical to allistic laypeople results in one behaving considerably differently around them as opposed to around close friends or family, to the point of seeming like a completely different person. Neurotypical-passing autistic individuals also tend to have a better time expressing their true personalities online, as the lack of required nonverbal body cues in talking with others over the internet removes the amount of barriers put up when passing and makes it easier for autistic individuals to show their true selves without fear of scorn or ridicule.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Hidden Self, True Self


Julia tells off a raptor

Finding herself cornered by one of the raptors that are hunting all the campers, Julia, who until that point had presented herself as a calm, positive and friendly girl, decides to fiercely chew it out, showing what she really is like for the very first time as well.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (18 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheReasonYouSuckSpeech

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