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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. Often used in conjunction with Hidden Heart of Gold, Jerk with a Heart of Gold, Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, 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 or Rich Idiot With No Day Job, which are 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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    Anime & Manga 
  • Aggretsuko has the idea of social masks as perhaps the major theme of the show. Retsuko is very much of the variety that doesn't want others to see behind her mask but is completely oblivious to the fact that all of her coworkers are wearing masks themselves. Washimi and Gori, two successful businesswomen at the company, play a major role in helping Retsuko both take off her mask around other people and stand up for herself, while at the same time noting how useful masks can be at times and how they can help you get along better with other people. Gori herself wears a mask at work that very much hides her true, much more vivacious self, while Washimi seems to be the most consistent character, without extreme personality shifts between different parts of her life due to her control over it all (though her personality is naturally very suitable for a wide variety of social situations).
  • Magical Project S: Misao Amano's normal self is that of a stereotypical Shrinking Violet friendless, blue-haired Ill Girl. However, this persona falls away when she's transformed into Pixy Misa, the manifestation of her deeply repressed id: an egomaniacal Chaotic Evil jealous Dark Magical Girl trickster.
  • Death Note: An Alternative Character Interpretation for Light Yagami. The Death Note only showed his true colors. And conversely, even in full-blown Kira mode, he still realizes that he cares a lot for his little sister.
  • Prince Vegeta of Dragon Ball Z was introduced as an arrogant, selfish, coldhearted man. It was later revealed as he was dying that for most of his life he lived as a slave under Frieza, despite his father having promised him he would grow up to become the legendary Super Saiyan and be the one to put an end to Frieza.
  • Naruto:
    • Sakura is a perfect example (as well as the current trope illustrator): her inner side shows us what she actually thinks about something but is not willing to say or do. Although Inner Sakura hasn't been seen since the time skip, and Sakura is now more willing to say what's really on her mind. A bit of a cross between Becoming the Mask and Character Development.
      • One theory is that Sakura broke out of her Stepford Smiler attitude and embraced "Inner Sakura" after it helped her break out of Ino's body switch jutsu during the Chuunin Exam.
    • Meditating at the Waterfall of Truth reveals the depths beneath Naruto's own Stepford Smiler habit. He had truly hated and despised the villagers who treated him poorly and questioned the sincerity of their change of heart regarding him, but he buried those feelings deep down. Due to the Nine-Tailed Fox's presence, they coalesced to form a split personality who would feel all the negative emotions Naruto refused.
      • This aspect of Naruto was hinted at early on when Karin encountered him and got a feel of his chakra. To her surprise, his chakra had three layers: Bright, warm, and comforting; dark, cold and overwhelming; and corrosive, chaotic and sinister. The last one is from the Nine-Tailed Fox's; the first two polar opposites were Naruto's.
    • Played with in Itachi: The first time the mask "slips", he's crazily taunting his brother and showing an obsession with power. It later turns out this was him trying to goad Sasuke into killing him and doesn't resemble his real personality at all. It really turns out that he's an extremely Tragic Villain who despises himself for his Necessarily Evil actions and loves his brother more than anything else in the world, even the love for his village that forced him into destroying the Uchiha clan. The Stoic personality, however, is just who he is; apparently, he was born without the ability to express emotion.
    • Later, in the Ten-Tails Revival Arc, Naruto calls Obito out on this after their chakras link and Naruto learns of Obito's entire past and his true emotions. Obito never truly let go of the Will of Fire he always cherished as a child, but to go forth with the Moon's Eye Plan, Obito convinced himself that he doesn't care about anything anymore, even his Team Minato, when in reality, they meant the world to him.
  • Grings Kodai from Pokémon: Zoroark: Master of Illusions seems at first to be a friendly businessman who cares for his own turns out he's actually trying to destroy said city's ecosystem so that he can renew his ability to see the future and is also horribly abusive towards Pokémon.
  • Code Geass plays with this trope. Lelouch Lamperouge is a Brilliant, but Lazy highschool student living in Area 11, a Britannia-occupied territory formerly known as Japan. When we first see him, he's skipping class in order to do some high-stakes gambling. He seems to regard everything with indifference or disdain, and as we get to know him, it becomes clear that he has a strong sense of justice but has come to accept that there's nothing he can do to fix his government's deep-seated corruption and institutionalized racism. Then he gets superpowers. He maintains his Rich Idiot With No Day Job facade to avoid suspicion, but secretly becomes Zero, a masked freedom fighter dedicated to dismantling the most powerful government in the world. The series heavily contemplates identity and character and repeatedly addresses the irony that Lelouch needs to put on a literal mask in order to take off his metaphorical one.
    • It should also be mentioned that in his conversations with CC, Lelouch strongly implies that he was planning to overthrow Britannia since he was a child, gaining the Geass simply meant that he could start much earlier and move much quicker than he otherwise would have been able to. As such one can say that his hidden personality was already simmering in the depths of his lazy life before the story kicks in.
    • His father's ultimate plan? To remove all "masks" via an Assimilation Plot.
    • Suzaku is the same. When first met, he gives the impression of a Fettered Knight in Shining Armor. But as he's working for The Empire and consistently is hypocritical about how "the means don't justify the ends" despite all he does, it starts becoming clear there is a lot more going on. Turns out he's a Death Seeker and The Atoner due to him having murdered his father - which was covered up as suicide - to stop the do-or-die resistance that would have destroyed Japan. He then manages to get worse. Extra materials reveal that he used to be a brat and when it comes down to it, Suzaku still has that selfish attitude of his child self. This contrasts him with Lelouch who Used to Be a Sweet Kid and deep down is still that gentle, kind person while Suzaku is more self-centred but good hearted in the end.
    • Also happens to be the case with Mao, who we first see as a Wicked Cultured Manipulative Bastard with mind-reading powers. It's only after he Mind Rapes Shirley, beats Lelouch at chessnote , and sets up a Batman Gambit to get the two of them to kill each other (which nearly works) that we discover he's really a deeply-hurt Psychopathic Manchild with a very good Freudian Excuse.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion:
    • Asuka constantly puts up a mask of bold confidence and arrogance to hide she is a very insecure, frightened child. It is visible in some scenes where she is alone (in Episode 8, when she is putting her plug suit on, she is hesitant and worried) or when she is hanging around someone she trusts (like Misato in the hot spring scene in Episode 10). After Episode 22 and her Mind Rape, though, her mask falls apart.
    • Gendo Ikari is portrayed as a cold, calculating, and ruthless chessmaster. But as the series goes on and the audience gets several glimpses behind his exterior, it becomes increasingly clear that he is actually a very lonely and socially awkward man, who struggles with feelings of extreme self-loathing and believes that he is unworthy of being loved. In other words, not that different from his son, Shinji.
  • Essentially everyone in Princess Tutu, but particularly:
  • Gundam Build Fighters has Aila Jyrkiäinen, who appears to be an Emotionless Girl with an icy, detached view of the world. Episode 10, however, reveals her Cuteness Proximity and excitable emotions when it comes to food. In the end of Episode 21, she abandons her stoic masquerade entirely.
  • Beet the Vandel Buster has Grineed, who actually wears a literal mask (more like an extra outer skin) to keep himself calm and composed, instead of the raging beast that is underneath. Needless to say, Beet and the squad bust it out of him pretty quick.
  • In Rebuild World, Sheryl wears the mask of an unflappable, confident queen-like figure once she assumes control of the Sibea gang with Akira's help. In truth, she's an indecisive, backstabbing coward who easily folds under pressure and requires the help of others to protect herself.
  • In His and Her Circumstances, Arima is insanely scared of what's beneath his.
  • Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl has the protagonist who gradually feels more and more free to act more feminine.
  • Seems to be a theme in Durarara!!, where pretty much everyone involved, up to and including the district of Ikebukero, has a hidden second side beneath the personalities they show to the world.
  • Kurei from Flame of Recca personifies this trope, he even wears a mask! He may seem like one of the cruelest, heartless and sadistic characters in the series, but most of his actions are driven by his love for people he cares about.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry sort of plays around with this, where in the first and last arcs of the anime's first season the characters discuss social masks and not speaking about things they don't want to speak about, such as in the first arc, both Keiichi's and Rena's hiding their respective Dark and Troubled Pasts, and in the last arc, Keiichi hiding that he killed Rena and Mion in the first arc. However, it's played more straight with Rika in the second season, where although everyone knows about her place in the Furude family, she acts like a child usually would at her age. At least, the age everyone thinks she is. However, when she's seen alone with Hanyuu, she acts much more like a stoic, or even a Determined Defeatist.
  • Barnaby Brooks Jr. from Tiger & Bunny has two masks superimposed on one another. The first is the guise of a charming, skilled ace that hides a rude, untrusting Ice King beneath it. The rude, untrusting Ice King mask, in turn, hides a traumatized, lonely man who doesn't know what to do with his life beyond getting revenge on the organization that assassinated his family.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya: Sometimes the only way to determine that Kyon has leaked a comment instead of internally snarking it is when another character responds to it. In addition, the title character does not know that he's leading a conspiracy to keep her from her true abilities and so sees the silent snarking as silent support.
    • Also, Itsuki Koizumi is implied to have much more going on under his always-smiling, friendly, easy-going exterior than meets the eye, especially in those few moments when he slips up and lets a little of his anger, stress, or loneliness show. Confirmed in Volume 11 when he goes completely ballistic at Fujiwara for trying to kill Haruhi. Also, Haruhi takes him as her ever-loyal ally without realizing he is The Chessmaster behind much of what goes on.
  • In Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, Fai's personality change following the events of Acid Tokyo is a powerful example of this trope.
  • Several characters in Life are like this, typically to mask their Jerkass side.
  • In Kimi no Iru Machi when Haruto first meets Eba Rin he wonders how such a level headed person could be related to Yuzuki, even if only as step-sisters. Eventually Rin gets tired enough of the mask that she completely discards it with Haruto, in fact, she is more honest with herself around Haruto and eventually Yuzuki that she doesn't put it back on around them, leading her to change just a little bit.
  • Maho Nishizumi of Girls und Panzer typically acts as an Aloof Big Sister to Miho. However, beneath that mask lies a kinder individual, who gets along well with her family maids, is willing to lend Mako her team's helicopter to help her visit her grandmother in the hospital, and strives to live up to being Nishizumi heir mainly so that Miho can live and do tankery the way she wishes.
  • In Toradora! Ami is, to her classmates, a cute, sweet, fresh-faced model that's a bit of an idiot. But to the people that know her well, she's stubborn, sometimes bitchy and actually quite manipulative. It's mentioned several times that she genuinely wishes people would accept her "true" self but is afraid of how people would react.
  • Idola from The Red Ranger Becomes an Adventurer in Another World tries to act cool and poised at all times, but Tougo's antics quickly shatter her composure and make her act a lot more coarse than she would normally. She also tends to keep her more opportunistic side hidden behind a sweet smile when dealing with people like Princess Teltina, who can give Idola a leg up in reclaiming her father's title as the Royal Family's Wand.
  • Sasame from Prétear is outwardly flirty, cheerful and quick to offer up a listening ear, but is secretly struggling with bitterness and depression due to unrequited love. In the anime, his mask eventually comes off after he more or less has an emotional breakdown, while in the manga his mask slips off occasionally, but he continues to try to keep up the act until the end.
  • Bleach:
    • During the Soul Society arc, Byakuya goes to considerable lengths (like, nearly-letting-his-adopted-sister-get-executed lengths) to maintain the mask of the perfect, stoic Seireitei noble, bound by two conflicting vows that could not be resolved until Ichigo intervened. The end of the arc reveals that he really wants nothing more than to protect Rukia. And while he still puts some importance on keeping up appearances in later arcs, we also get to see a much more three-dimensional underlying personality: a Hot-Blooded Bratty Half-Pint with a Hair-Trigger Temper who learns to keep his cool and grows up to be A Father to His Men. He even discovers he enjoys a fight for the sake of a fight.
    • Ryuuken also has a stoic Proud Elite persona that obscures his gentle, protective, and intensely caring inner self. The unique aspect to Ryuuken's lifelong mask, however, is that he has completely reversed it while maintaining the masquerade. In his teens, as heir to a powerful bloodline, he was expected to behave as an example for all Quincies and tended to disguise his true intentions behind a facade of rigid adherence to tradition. At some point during the last 20 years, this flipped to a facade of completely disowning his family heritage, while still hiding the same softer intentions. Uryuu believes his father to be a hypocritical, intolerant, money-obsessed Dr. Jerk who refuses to use his power and hates his son...a conclusion Ryuuken's actively encouraging. Only Isshin seems to know Ryuuken's true intentions and considers him a trustworthy friend.
  • Sailor Moon has Minako Aino. She's always nice and ditzy, a boy-crazy prankster apparently harmless... And yet it's made clear that a large part of this is a well-constructed act: if circumstances require her to act mature she'll show a surprising wisdom and empathy, if you manage to see through the mask and tell her she's more than willing to admit it (and if she doesn't trust you, you'd better start begging before she kills you), and if you piss her off, you're dead-you and everything around you. What she'll never do is show her chronic depression (and boy, she has good reasons to be depressed...).
  • Kobeni's older sister in Engaged to the Unidentified is a model straight-A student at their school, is the Student Council President, and is famous not only for her industriousness at the campus, but for her community work outside of it as well. She has many open admirers among the male and female segments of the student body. However this is a well-constructed facade — at home or with her family, Benio true personality surfaces: a laid back and outright teasing teenager who dotes on her younger sister a little too much, and currently fixates on her much-younger prospective sister-in-law Mashiro.
  • In Attack on Titan, quite a few characters have built up public masks to hide portions of their true personalities or characters, with some even Becoming the Mask as a result.
    • Krista hides her true insecurities by very purposefully acting as The Pollyanna, something that she's repeatedly called out on by her closest friend, Ymir. Ironically, Ymir herself has built up a very intentional facade pretending to be a jerk to keep others at arm's length and conceal her true kindness.
    • Commanding officers such as Erwin, Pixis, and Levi build up a public persona in order to function in a professional manner. For Erwin and Levi, their cold and unemotional masks keep their very human vulnerabilities hidden from public view, while Pixis often behaves like a foolish old man to hide his true cunning and ruthlessness.
    • Annie's cold and aloof demeanor keeps most people at bay, though Eren and Armin both state that she's a much kinder person than she wants people to realize. When her mask finally does slip away, it's particularly unnerving and tragic at the same time.
    • Reiner hides his extensive issues beneath a cheerful and reassuring mask, always playing the reliable big brother so that others will feel more confident. Bertolt, his childhood friend, keeps his emotions hidden beneath a soft-spoken and stoic demeanor. When he finally does reveal his emotions and speaks up for himself, it startles everyone — characters and audience alike. Justified, in that both are Titan spies living in deep cover. Reiner's mask hides a ruthless and deeply pessimistic person, while Bertolt's disguises his true kindness in order to cope with his actions.
  • Rurouni Kenshin:
  • Love at Fourteen: A major theme of the series is the difference between how a person presents themselves to the world and how they really behave, which they can only show around certain people.
  • The Animated Adaptation of Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note shows how Aya feels beneath the socially required Japanese Politeness and stoicism through the heavy use of Hexagonal Speech Balloon. On the other hand, she also hides the fact she's actually a social misfit by playing the role of the local wallflower. She later wondered this latter point is why she doesn't have any friends—she could get along with the other kids, but by oppressing her personality she has too little to be likable.
  • Blue Exorcist: On the surface, Yukio Okumura is calm, polite, and professional. But inside, he's really a big ball of anger, resentment, and jealousy towards his brother Rin. Beyond that, for most people, he puts up a smiling facade, but to those he is closer to such as his brother and Shura, he shows his true colors of having a rather short fuse and being generally grumpy.
  • ViVid Strike!: Rinne may present herself in the public as a stoic, no-nonsense fighter intent on becoming the strongest there is, but underneath this facade lies a sad, lonely girl with a fear of losing everything because of her weakness. When alone in the bathroom after losing to Vivio for the second time, we quickly see that deep down Rinne the "weakling" is still present as she breaks down crying.
  • One Piece: During the Syrup Village arc, we meet Klahadore, the butler and caretaker of the local Ill Girl Kaya. He initially seems to care for Kaya and her well-being... but is soon revealed to be Kuro, former leader of the Black Cat Pirates, who had been planning for three years to kill her and take her inheritance for himself so he could comfortably retire. When Kaya discovers the truth, Kuro outright spells out to her that he absolutely hated every second of his servitude to her and "endured" it.
    Kuro: I, who was once the dreaded Captain Kuro, bowed and scraped to a spoiled little girl, and catered to her every whim... Can you fathom my humiliation?
  • In My Hero Academia, All Might puts on a facade of a totally unflappable hero dedicated solely to preserving justice. However, that's all a mask for a man who genuinely fears for his safety every time he goes out to fight and is deeply worried about passing on his powers. He shows his vulnerabilities more often when he is in his depowered form, and his true thoughts use his depowered voice. Appropriately, Christopher Sabat uses a manly and heroic voice for the mask, and his more natural-sounding voice for his true self.
  • Megumin in Konosuba likes to boast about the destructive power of her explosion magic and how it is the ultimate offensive spell. Underneath this proud facade however, she is quite insecure, being painfully aware of how useless she is in most circumstances.
  • Amai Mask in One-Punch Man 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.
  • This is a major theme in Kaguya-sama: Love is War, with most major characters having a side that they hide from others. This is especially apparent with the two leads, who completely reinvented themselves from the ground up in order to attract each other and fear that the other would never love the "true" them (the irony being that's the part they fell in love with to begin with).
  • Komi Can't Communicate:
    • Everyone thinks of Komi as a cold, aloof beauty, but as Tadano discovers she's really a shy, socially-awkward young woman desperate to make friends.
    • Katai looks like a delinquent, but that was an image he cultivated to avoid being bullied at school, and like Komi he's really a Nice Guy who wants to have friends.
  • Misa in Asteroid in Love has the public face of a cool and composed Teen Genius / Student Council President. That's mostly hiding the fact that she's actually a math/physics nerd with poor communication skills.

    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.

    Fan Works 
  • A Crown of Stars: Asuka had worn a bunch of masks after her mother's death to protect her emotionally-damaged, insecure self. She has worn so many when she trained to become an Eva pilot, when she fought Angels, when she got turned into the plaything of dictators… that she is not sure of what her real self is anymore, and she does not know whether Shinji loves her or one of her masks. Someone else assures that Shinji knows her real self better than she thinks and she can always turn one of her masks into her real self.
  • Advice and Trust: Shinji had noticed Asuka pretended to be harsh and prideful but she was a frightened, vulnerable kid deep-down. After getting together she shows him her kindest, nicest side constantly.
  • Blackened Skies: Kaede presents herself as an Ideal Heroine, determined to unite the others against Monokuma and stop his sick killing games from proceeding any further with Rousing Speeches and boundless faith in her fellow captives. In reality, however, she's more of a Guile Heroine — one plagued with doubts, secretly second-guessing herself and struggling to trust the others. The knowledge that she already failed to stop that awful bear before weighs heavily upon her, shaking her resolve even while strengthening her desire to succeed no matter what this time.
  • In The Legend of Zelda High School A.U. fic Break My Fall, Vaati has been in love with Green for years, and is using intimidation as a means to cover up his insecurities. Not only that, but he was friends with Blue in grade school, making Blue the only person who has even an inkling to what he's really like.
  • Cenotaph plays this in an interesting way. Taylor is already very emotionally remote, due to the abuse she suffered at Emma, Sophia, and Madison's hands. When she wakes up from her coma in Calling Card 1.5, she reflects that she should feel more sadness than she does. After all her father was just murdered because of her, her BSOD fugue lasts until she visits her mother's grave when she finally breaks down. This theme is repeated in Coordination 4.2, during the funeral.
  • The Child of Love: As they talk during the Obon festival, Shinji says Asuka can be very annoying or very nice. Then she says she tries to avoid pain by driving people away, and Shinji muses it is like if they are hiding behind a shield. For a while, after her reconciliation, she showed her sweet side underneath the harsh exterior only to Shinji.
    Shinji: "You're right, Asuka-chan. It's kind of like...we're hiding ourselves from the pain behind a shield."
  • Child of the Storm has Jean-Paul, who affects a harmless camp gay Gratuitous French speaking persona, with a side of Chivalrous Pervert. While he hasn't shown much of what is beneath the mask, it is noted that when matters get serious, he drops the Gratuitous French and all the Camp Gay mannerisms (though Word of God is that he really is fairly Camp Gay). He also proves capable of performing an almost absent-minded Sherlock Scan on someone he barely knows and in a fight, and he will immediately take the most pragmatic and ruthless course available to him - as in, he'll kill without blinking. Harry later states that he's Natasha's Spear Counterpart and combined with his speed, he'd rather fight Dracula (a Vampire Monarch who can match Thor and who's nearly killed Harry twice) again than fight Jean-Paul, and not because Jean-Paul is his friend.
    • Carol projects a spiky aura to people she doesn't know - this is mostly reported rather than seen, as Harry befriends her pretty quickly - but underneath she's got a natural Big Sister Instinct and she's generally a nice person (relatively speaking).
    • Harry himself is noted as coming out from his repressed shell and being freer with his emotions following his being reclaimed by Thor, as well as becoming notably more assertive and confident, with a pronounced temper (though as McGonagall observes, it was always there, just very well hidden). However, he still generally defaults to adorkable... until one traumatic incident too many leads to a nasty case of PTSD.
  • Children of an Elder God: In her first scene, Asuka is interacting with Kaji, someone she trusts implicitly, so her mask is dropped and she behaves nicely. Later she is meeting other people, including her co-workers, so she keeps her mask on and she acts like a harsher, more prideful person. Throughout the story, she gradually falls her mask as she gets closer to other people, especially Shinji.
  • Code Prime: Optimus stands out as being one of the few people who sees through Lelouch's right from the beginning, realizing that Lelouch is a good person beneath all of the issues he has. That being said, Optimus is also able to recognize Lelouch's flaws, which most of his followers never really noticed in canon.
  • In DC Nation, Fauna lampshades this when it comes to Nightwing. After seeing him as Dick Grayson, she wrote in her Character Blog that not many people put a mask on when they want to be themselves.
  • A Diplomatic Visit: As revealed in chapter 9 of the sequel Diplomat at Large, when not in his public persona of an Upper-Class Twit, Prince Blueblood turns out to be an intelligent, loyal nephew of the Princesses, who's been working for years to see the removal of others who would seek to grab more power for themselves and remove the Princesses, and wants nothing more than to travel the world and relax without having to look over his shoulder for threats all the time.
  • Doing It Right This Time: Asuka was a lonely, frightened, vulnerable girl that fabricated a mask of harshness and arrogance to push everyone away so that no one hurt her. After the canon events she has realized it was very counterproductive, so she has dropped it. She is still bold and daring but she no longer tries to look mean.
  • The Emancipators looks at a world where Midoriya Izuku secretly holds a serious grudge against Katsuki for over a decade's worth of bullying and abuse. While he presents the same adorkable, determined and idealistic persona, and that's not completely false by any means, he's using that to mask his darker thoughts and impulses. Such as the fact that he's sworn to personally destroy Katsuki himself... but first, he wants him to suffer.
  • Evangelion 303: When Shinji met Asuka she came across as an arrogant, short-tempered woman. When they started living together, though, he realized that she was hiding a softer, more vulnerable side. Later on, Asuka said that Shinji was the only one who had seen her real self beneath the mask.
  • Fantasy of Utter Ridiculousness: In Touhou Project canon, Yukari is known as a superlative chessmaster with a cunning mind, a brilliantly lazy trickster capable of playing both sides against each other. After the story's final battle, we find out that much of it is a facade; she's aware of Evil Coop's existence and how important Megas really is to Gensokyo, and she's dreading what could possibly happen with the situation completely out of her hands.
  • In The Fifth Act Sephiroth's POV showing that beneath his arrogant aloof exterior, he's deeply lonely, disconnected man. He's Lonely at the Top and desperate to get Cloud, who surpasses him in strength to be his rival. The omakes also show him take great pleasure in letting loose and causing havoc.
  • In Power Girl story A Force of Four, Kara couldn't allow herself to seem vulnerable when she arrived on Earth. She had to behave as a brash, self-assured and tougher-than-nails woman, even if she came across as a bitch with a chip on her shoulder because she didn't want anybody to see the lost, afraid little girl underneath.
    Tough girl, her mental jester mocked her. Everybody thinks you're such a tough girl.
    But she had to be tough. Finding out that so many years of her life were a pre-programmed lie, coming to a strange world, finding only one man of Krypton and then losing him, turning from innocence into grim experience on a planet she never made... she had to be tough, or break. She had to wall the little girl off, most of the time, and put on the casing of the big, tough, capable bitch.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers fanfic Gankona, Unnachgiebig, Unità: Beneath Italy's mask of happiness and silliness, he bore many insecurities and anxieties. His façade only cracked when he saw Germany and Japan beat each other up over him.
  • Ghosts of Evangelion: Asuka often comes across as short-tempered and mean-spirited, even though she doesn't mean most things she says. Shinji and their daughter can see through her mask, though.
  • HERZ: Asuka had created a mask of harshness and abrasiveness to hide her real, vulnerable inner self after her mother’s suicide. However, it prevented her from feeling her mother and Shinji’s love. Rei eventually convinced her that she had to drop it and open up to be loved back and be happy.
    • Some people like Kurumi wondered why Shinji had fallen for such a fiery woman. Shinji liked Asuka’s fierceness but he had also seen her real self under the mask.
  • In Higher Learning, Asuka was actually a nice, caring girl underneath her harsh mask. After opening up to Shinji she displays her real self openly more often, and it annoys Shinji that his classmates all of sudden think that they have a chance with her now they’ve realized she’s not a complete bitch.
  • In Incarnation of Legends, Brunhilde and the rest of Odin's Valkyries are popular Idol Singers who capture the hearts of the people of Altena and beyond with their beauty, voices, and gentle personalities. Out of earshot, they're coarse, eager to beat the crap out of anyone who disturbs the peace, and sneer at those stupid enough to start a fuss at one of their concerts.
  • A Knight's Tale as Inquisitor: Discovering this trope for herself is actually a major character arc for Arturia. After spending so long being the perfect king known as Arthur Pendragon, she now has to figure out just who Arturia Pendragon is in a new world since she no longer has to put on the mask of King Arthur.
  • Last Child of Krypton: Asuka asks Shinji why he likes her and Shinji replies he has seen her real self under her "tough, boastful, rude girl" mask, and he knows she is brave, intelligent, and kinder than she thinks she is.
  • Ferris, the main character of Life Ore Death, usually comes off as serene and at peace with her Dark and Troubled Past. Occasionally, however, someone hits a Trauma Button and she either has a terrifying breakdown or her Blood Knight tendencies spring up and she gets violent. Multiple people have commented on her concealed issues.
  • In Like A Wish, Kallen muses that Lelouch Lamperouge and the Demon King were both masks while Lelouch vi Britannia is dead, meaning Zero was the real Lelouch. She wonders at the irony that the only time Lelouch isn't wearing a metaphorical mask is when he wears a physical one instead.
  • The Lucky Star fic Máscara Sonreindo deals with this. In particular, with Misao being more troubled than she lets on.
  • Seen in a Danny Phantom Fan Fic called Masks in which Danny's double life has caused Mr. Lancer to keep him in school for the entire weekend with Jack and Maddie's blessing in order to find out why he is slipping up so badly. One notable thing that the author does to expand on the superhero masks is that Danny is actually wearing three masks to hide who he is.
  • Referenced in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion doujinshi Matataki no Aida ni. Madoka has always seen Homura as this cool, collected girl; she's surprised to find that Homura doesn't agree.
    Homura: I'm not composed. Ever. [...] When I'm talking to you, I'm always a bit nervous.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide, several characters -Shinji, Misato, Hikari...- comment that Asuka is a very different person than most people think, because even though she may look strong and arrogant... that is a mask; and her real self is hurt, vulnerable and without self-esteem:
    Because, like an frozen, unforgiving iceberg, there was a lot more to Asuka beneath the surface.
  • The Code Geass one-shot Of Siblings and Masks is themed around this. The world thinks of empress Nunnally as The Ingenue. They see her as delicate, innocent, and dedicated to making the world a better place out of the pureness of her heart. Suzaku, however, realizes that this is a mask she puts on. Nunnally's just as jaded and calculative as her brother Lelouch, but she tries her best to live up to what Lelouch would have wanted from her, so she keeps a façade up.
  • In Off the Line Cloud in real life is timid and unassuming while Rainstorm in Terra Online is assertive and brave. Cloud's body language shifts when he decides to "be Rainstorm" when standing up for himself.
  • In episode 5 of Once More with Feeling, Shinji thinks about Asuka’s abrasive and obnoxious behavior and how it was all a lie to hide her real self.
    Then the Second Child had arrived, bringing with her conflict, friction and more than a few painful contusions to his head as she continually let him know exactly what she thought of him as an Eva Pilot, a man and a human.
    All of it a giant lie to shield the four-year-old girl desperately hiding deep behind the moats, minefields and electrified fences she had placed around her heart.
  • The One I Love Is...: In chapter 6 Shinji finally realizes Asuka's self-assuredness and confidence were a mask to cover very fragile self-esteem.
    There before me, from this girl who'd never shown anything but self-assuredness, was a catalogue of failures.
  • In Out of the Dead Land, Bucky initially wears the mask of the person he wants to be (i.e. the old, non-traumatized Bucky that Steve remembers), then the mask of the empty, unfeeling Winter Soldier when the first mask is torn off. His true self ends up being somewhere in between these two extremes.
  • During their wedding in The Second Try, Shinji told Asuka that he had seen under her "tough girl" mask and he realized that she was a vulnerable, hurt girl who he wanted to protect with all his strength.
  • Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: During a heart-to-heart talk with Shinji, Asuka says she has worn so many masks since she was a little child sometimes she is not sure of what her real self is: when she was a scared, lonely child she created a mask of an arrogant, hostile genius and fearless pilot to protect herself; later when she became Power Girl she wore the mask of a heroine; and a short while later she became Supergirl and tried to be a real heroine. However, it drives her crazy trying to be the paragon of morality and virtue everyone thinks she should be so that she asks Shinji becoming her confidant because he saw beneath his mask and did not run away.
  • Tangled Adventures in Arendelle: Elsa has this perhaps the most. Her training and her whole "conceal, don't feel" business has her still putting on masks of indifference or composure in order to keep her true feelings from showing. Trying to project an appearance of control and composure even in the worst of times, and to maintain her newfound control over her powers. However, by the time Frozen's movie plot is over, her more private persona is given more exploration whenever she's around Anna or the Fitzherberts. It's fairly apparent that she's a rather insecure, sad ruler, but also with a lot of passion for her family, and a great desire to move on from the worst of times.
  • In Thousand Shinji, when Shinji met Asuka, she seemed to radiate confidence, certainty, and arrogance. However, he witnessed one of her breakdowns when they were in her mecha's cockpit, and when he probed her mind, he sensed that she was hiding a lot of pain, sorrow, and fragility beneath her feigned arrogance.
  • Inverted by Jack O'Lantern in Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With The Light. Although he wears a public mask to be accepted by his fellow citizens, he also begins wearing a ghoulish pumpkin-headed costume and committing increasingly deadly crimes to reveal his true personality. He is well aware of the irony in wearing a mask to reveal his true face, but he considers himself superior to the pathetic, mindless sheep and cattle that make up most of the rest of society because he's willing to embrace just what he really is.
  • Unbreakable Red Silken Thread: Scarlett appears like an Emotionless Girl in public, but, at her job, she's a very passionate, seductive dancer, and, in private, she is shown to be as crazy as Izzy.
  • In X-Men: The Early Years, a troubled teenager called Sue whom Scott meets during a camping trip attempts to pass herself as an “easy” girl, hoping to find a suitable guy. When she's shown that kind of behavior is liable to draw the same kind of creeps who got her into trouble, Sue drops the act.
  • You Obey is built around this trope, and is all the more chilling for it.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • Shrek:
    • At the beginning Fiona acts like a stereotypical Disney Princess, before slowly revealing herself as an Action Girl.
    • Shrek hides a soft spot too, particularly over his need of love.
  • 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.
  • Frozen:
    • 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.
  • 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.

    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."
  • 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 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 Twilight, 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.
  • 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.
  • The entirety of the Ciaphas Cain 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. 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.
  • 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 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • During his private moments, Renly Baratheon is shown to be more insecure than the confident facade 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.
  • 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.
  • In the original Twilight Zone, the episode "A Piano in the House" featured a magical piano. When it played certain song rolls, the music forced people to show their true natures. The sadistic host who owned the piano loved it. He used it on his party guests, showing a noble man was greedy, how a woman was vain. His comeuppance was when his wife, sick of the abuse going on in the party, put a roll in that affected HIM. He then showed how terrified and needy he was to everyone.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sherlock:
  • Lizzie McGuire displays the title character's duality with an animated version of Lizzie saying whatever Lizzie is really thinking.
  • 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.
  • The Doctor, in Doctor Who. Yes, they wear celery, offer people jelly babies, and have a fascination with Cool 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.
  • In iCarly, Nevel is a polite, nice kid when within his mom's vicinity, but is a complete Jerkass outside of it.
  • Pretty much the entire basis of Hannah Montana.
  • Odyssey 5 has Kurt occasionally show a much kinder side than his usual persona.
  • Effectively everyone of any importance on Babylon 5, as summed up by G'Kar's word of warning to Catherine Sakai: "No one here is exactly what he appears. Not Mollari, not Delenn, not Sinclair... and not me."
  • In 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...
    • In Real Life, David Henrie, Selena Gomez and Jake T. Austin are almost the opposite of their characters, Justin, Alex, and Max Russo. In the show, Justin is actually The Klutz and an uptight Hollywood Nerd, while David is laid-back, boisterous and supportive, inclined towards the cool guy type. Alex is a Manipulative Bastard and apathetic Anti-Villain, whereas Selena is really nice, vibrant and open. Max is a big idiot, dumb enough to misspell his own name, while Jake is smart and studious, much more serious than his cast mates, as seen in most interviews. Selena and David even impersonate each other in a live talk show, and the difference between the representations of their real personalities and their characters' personalities is quite striking.
  • Much of the drama in Hannibal revolves around 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'.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), Jake recognizes that despite Sam's attempt to appear calm and keep them all calm, Sam is really "freaked to hell".
  • While Breaking Bad's Walter White is also mentioned on the other page, the series also invites the viewer to consider whether Walter had broken bad a long time ago and was just waiting for the right catalyst to be set loose, and there's plenty of valid evidence for both interpretations.
  • 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. But when inspired they put on their mask again and go into battle as a true Proud Warrior Race.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Out of all the Whirlwind, underneath all the bad boy swagger, Spike has most in common with his human self—he's still a complete hopeless romantic with an unending loyalty to women he loves, willing to die or shift his entire life's perspective for her. When Buffy bluntly rejects him by stating he's beneath her in "Fool For Love", just as his First Love Cecily had 100 years prior, he chokes back tears.

  • 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."

  • 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 
  • 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 his subconscious constructed a persona to protect his fragile ego 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 has Shadows and Personas both reflecting 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, if you play Harry as running around owning up to his terrible behaviour and being sorry for it, the game will also treat this as just another "copotype" persona that prevents him actually dealing with his problems.
    • Kim appears to be The Stoic but there's a strong implication that he's doing this to serve as The 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.)

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Dahlia Hawthorne. She seems so sweet and innocent. She actually has the most intended murder victims, at seven. One of which was Phoenix himself. She is a very nasty person.
    • 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.
  • 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 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 prmary focus after being neglected in the first two routes where she reveals a much more obessessive, 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 breakng 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 renowned as the kind-hearted, unflappable and quirky headmaster of Beacon Academy, who projects an unshakeable faith in humanity while training the next generation to continue the Forever War against the Creatures of Grimm. To his inner circle, however, he's the grimly resolute Big Good chessmaster who is leading a few chosen allies in a Secret War against an Ancient Evil that most people don't even know exists. Hidden even from his closest allies, he's also a man with a crippling Guilt Complex, and a fear of betrayal that paralyses his ability to trust anyone with the Awful Truth that his nemesis Salem is such an Invincible Villain that even he can't think of a plan to defeat her Complete Immortality.
    • 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.

  • In Sunstone a recurring theme of the webcomic 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.
  • 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.
  • In Ears for Elves, Luero calls out Tanna on her near-constant smiling. He goes on to say "Masking your emotions may be necessary for dealing with most people.".
  • 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.
  • 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.

    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 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Admiral Zhao, though at first considered merely Lawful Evil, was revealed in the season finale to be completely insane, even killing the moon spirit.
    • 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 a secure, strong, cold woman. It was revealed in the last episode that she was a lonely woman that wanted someone to trust, but lost her friends and didn't have anyone to confide in, and was crazy and sad because she wanted her mother's approval. It wasn't a coincidence that when she became more powerful thanks to nearly becoming the new Firelord and getting a power upgrade that it became too much for her to handle.
    • 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.
  • 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 then 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 other 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 ThunderCats (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 is actually constantly freaked out, despite acting cool and calm. She says this is 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, and 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 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 aformentioned accidently shattering of Jasper and losing more and more control of his powers, the mask breaks and Steven accidently mutates himself into a Kaiju. 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 where he'a nwwsws as well as deal with his own mental health.
  • The Miraculous Ladybug character Adrien 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, these hints 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", she 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), after this, 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.
  • 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


Tearin' Up My Heart

Zoey's boyfriend and friends all claim to be fine, but their "heart song" reveals that they long for their absent lovers.

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Example of:

Main / BeneathTheMask

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Main / BeneathTheMask