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Broken Smile

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"What's with the face? It is happy, yet at the same time, disturbing."
Mark Chang, The Fairly OddParents!

Any Stepford Smiler worth her immaculately groomed Power Hair has a smile capable of withstanding a nuclear blast worth of shocking revelations with amazing Dissonant Serenity. Anything and everything could happen, the president is assassinated, the detective finds the basement graveyard, the in-laws visit unexpectedly, and still the smile stands.

Then there are times when that perpetual and creepy smile... breaks. Maybe the cookies got burnt, a lock of her hair has fallen out of place, or her perfectly manicured family just did something dreadfully embarrassing in public. The point is, it's the last straw and her smile, like her composure, has been shattered into so many pieces archaeologists will be puzzling it out for millennia.

Something snaps inside her head; she gets Hidden Eyes, and her smile suddenly becomes frozen and forced, with teeth grinding in a rictus of a Cheshire Cat Grin... or worse. The smile is only still there because the sheer shock has prevented any new expression from reaching her face. A deer in the headlights of an eighteen wheeler has a similar expression. She may develop a twitchy eye. Occasionally accompanied by the sound of shattering glass to help punctuate the situation.

Cross-Popping Veins optional for comedic examples. Usually this is followed either by a Heroic BSoD or something to make those responsible forever Beware the Nice Ones. Often shown by Yandere. Compare with Technically a Smile and The Un-Smile. Not to be confused with the Stepford Smiler, which is for a smile meant to conceal unhappiness.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day: Happens to Menma's mother Irene when Jin-Tan, Poppo, and Anaru go to talk about the plan to build a firework in Menma's memory, not knowing that Irene is still mentally broken even after years of Menma's death..
  • Attack on Titan:
    • Erwin Smith sports one of these, when it's revealed that the Titans once were humans. He also has a huge reason for that: his father had already guessed it and was executed for such reasons; basically, the recent discovery proved Erwin's dad right all along.
    • Eren sported a brief one upon learning that Marco was dead.
  • Azumanga Daioh: A more comical variant happens when Osaka manages to convince Chiyo that Sakaki somehow stole her height. Chiyo simply stares at Sakaki, repeatedly saying "You took it, didn't you?" with a big grin on her face.
  • Battle Royale:
    • A young Shuya and Yoshitoki notice that the girl who won that year's Program is smiling, but she doesn't really look happy. She does look very creepy.
    • Yoshimi's adorable smile at finding Yoji again quickly becomes very creepy when he's shot in the head.
  • In Bleach, Hinamori is visited by Hitsugaya and she has one when she starts ranting about how Aizen might merely be manipulated by Gin.
  • In Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, Lucy has a subdued yet utterly heartbreaking one when she is on the moon hallucinating David. While she’s thankful to have reached the moon, her life’s goal is completely stained with the fact that her lover got killed in Arasaka Tower, a tragedy she may never recover from.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya: Ryoko Asakura, if you look closely enough (in the anime, at least) during her fight with Yuki. When Yuki causes her knife to dissolve, she betrays shock and amazement, immediately followed by a leap 5 metres backward. You can see the brief look of shock again when Ryoko has got Yuki seriously injured with those weird tentacle-light thingies and Yuki announces the commencement of Ryoko going bye-bye. Of course, since this is Ryoko we're talking about, she recovers pretty quickly both times with her Stepford Smiler ways, even as she dissolves away the second time.
  • His and Her Circumstances: One day, Yukino's two younger sisters are walking home from school. One suggests to the other that they may be being followed. They both turn around at the same time to barely catch a silhouette stop and retreat behind a wall. Cut to the two of them nervously smiling at what they just saw.
  • Karakuridouji Ultimo: Rune has this after his confession to Yamato and during his fight with him.
  • Macross Frontier: Happens to Ranka when she runs to the deck thinking that Alto loves her... and stumbles into Alto hugging Sheryl, not knowing that it's because Sheryl's illness kicked in. "It can't be..."
  • Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi: Arumi usually does this, if only for a second, before attacking Sasshi with her Paper Fan of Doom.
  • Martian Successor Nadesico: Seen on Yurika after her first taste of three new pilots, generally behaving even more strangely than the crew she's already gotten used to.
  • In My Hero Academia, after Izuku Midoriya found out that he was quirkless at four years old, the child spent the night on watching videos of heroes on the web, crying, and he tried to say that maybe he could still be like them while wearing this. That smile is actually the image for the tearjerker page of the anime.
  • Naruto:
    • Gaara tried to maintain one after discovering his uncle Yashamaru had attacked him, but it was soon wiped off his face by Yashamaru's faked confession of hatred.
    • Naruto himself is a Stepford Smiler and does this at times.
    • Sakura's had her fair share, namely after Sasuke betrays the village and lands Naruto in the hospital, and much later when Sasuke comes back, and she's happy and can trust him. Sai of all people calls the resulting "smile" a lie.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Shown above is Asuka at age 4 after she walks in on what should be the happiest day of her life so far, with what she believes to be proof she is a worthy daughter, only to find that her mother has committed "murder"-suicide, hanging herself with a doll of Asuka.
  • PandoraHearts: Leo flashes a lot of these after Elliot's death.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Sayaka has one right before she becomes a witch.
    Sayaka: I was stupid... So stupid...
  • Usagi does this in Sailor Moon R when Mamoru is breaking up with her.
  • Sakuran: O-Rin sports one of these after she finishes crying upon finding out O-Some, the closest person she had to a friend, died, likely from suicide.
  • SHUFFLE!: Kaede displays this around episode 19 where her extreme depression and loneliness starts taking a toll on her sanity.
  • Tokyo Ghoul:
    • Kaneki is a Nice Guy who has some serious psychological problems. He smiles often in a carefree manner, as a way to try to cover up his issues, even when things have gone to hell. Also, in Chapter 59 of the sequel he makes an incredibly sinister smile while talking to Eto's manager. It's especially jarring because it's become increasingly rare to see him smile, and that the way it's drawn and the context makes it increasingly apparent that poor Ken's sanity is going down the toilet.
    • Mutsuki demonstrates they are going through major Sanity Slippage by sporting a few of these, most notably in chapter 123 when Kaneki refuses to go back to the CCG with Mutsuki.
    • Kaneki also sports one while crying when he's telling his hallucination of his best friend Hide and his maternal figure Akira that he's lonely.
    • Akira does the same when confirming to Kaneki and Amon that they're lonely.
  • Uninhabited Planet Survive: Not really a Stepford Smiler, but Zilba only stops smiling when her cheek is bruised.


  • Gamzee in Brainbent has a one when he thinks he's made Sollux hate him. He's a bit of a type-a Stepford Smiler overall, depressingly enough.
  • Spike sports one at the end of Chapter 12 in Zenith when he discovers that Celestia knowingly sent Twilight to the location where the Pillar of the Sun was at.

  • Best Friend: Arthur does this at the end after a traumatic encounter with a mugger which led him to getting a new Best Friend installed on his head.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer's character Velma Von Tussle displayed a wonderful example of this in the 2007 remake of Hairspray, at the moment when her daughter failed to win the Miss Hairspray contest.
  • In Broken Blossoms, Lucy forces herself to smile like this several times, including while dying.
  • In the 1999 film adaption of The Cider House Rules, this is Arthur's reaction when Homer asks him if he's been sleeping with his own daughter.
  • At the very end of Midsommar, Dani smiles at the sight of the fire temple burning down. While the image is certainly meant to be open to interpretation, the script confirms that it is a smile of "surrendering to a joy known only to the insane".
  • At the end of Joker (2019), as Arthur sees the angry mob he incited with his murders cheering for him, he realizes that his actions have finally given him the audience and admiration he craves as he gives them a deranged smile smeared with blood.
  • Pearl ends with the title character delivering a very unnerving one, which she holds on as the credits roll.

  • Gorgas in The Belly Of The Bow by K. J. Parker: he is confronting his brother who has killed Geogas' son in an unspeakable way. Gorgas decides that there's no sense in crying over spilt milk and confronts his brother wearing a smile like the one the body of his dead son is wearing.
  • Used with some frequency in Discworld, when the smiler realizes that events are not going the way they ought to be. Often with a description like "The smile remained, but the face pulled back, leaving it quite alone."
  • Go to Sleep (A Jeff the Killer Rewrite): Overlapping with Stepford Smiler; after Jeff succumbs to his insanity, he reveals his outstretched bloody smile to Liu, saying he carved it himself in a playful, yet sad voice. His words and pained behaviour as he proceeds to stab Liu suggest that he feels forced to kill his family.
  • Happens to Kenzie on several occasions in Ward, when her Stepford Smiler facade and Think Happy Thoughts attitude fracture in the face of overwhelming trauma. When accompanied by Mirthless Laughter, it generally heralds the sort of breakdown that sends her into a Tinker Fugue.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Richard Hammond's expression of glee on Top Gear gradually morphs into one of these when the Reliant Robin Space Shuttle's external fuel tank fails to separate and the assemblage plummets to earth in a gigantic fireball.
  • Joy (while on happy pills) in My Name Is Earl, when a neighbor's beer can came through her window & hit one of her kids in the head. Her neighbors won't be doing that again, to say the least.
  • Nashville: When something dramatic/inconvenient happens in Juliette's life you can bet her gleaming smile will slowly turn into a Oh, Crap! expression or look of horror.

  • Mentioned by name in the chorus of Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved."
    I don't mind spending every day
    Out on your corner in the pouring rain
    Look for the girl with the broken smile
    Ask her if she wants to stay a while
    And she will be loved

    Video Games 
  • In Catherine, Katherine gives a small one when she breaks up with Vincent mid-way through the game.
  • Darkest Dungeon:
    • The Caretaker is a broken man having gone through the Despair Event Horizon sporting a deranged, pained grin in most screens.
    • Another example is the Rapturous Cultists in the titular Darkest Dungeon, who are so twisted (mentally and physically) in service to their god that their default expression is a demented grin as their arms constantly sway upward, ever giving tribute to the dark power they serve.
  • Disco Elysium has The Expression. One option you can take if you unveil it is that it is an expression of pain. The narration will step in and agree with The Detective if you do so. Successfully ridding yourself of The Expression with a difficult Electrochemistry check leaves The Detective a Perpetual Frowner instead.
  • Drakengard: Caim is often seen sporting a Slasher Smile that, while disturbing, just looks... Well, have a look
  • Undertale:

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night has Sakura Matou. She is not a Stepford Smiler in that she only cares about preserving her Yamato Nadeshiko mask for Shirou rather than her peers in general, but through a combination of love and severe abuse she eventually snaps, learning how to put on that dangerous smile, among other things.
  • In the final two routes, Tsukihime 's Kohaku starts to show her broken smile to the protagonist, and plays the Stepford Smiler straighter than the above example.
  • Ace Attorney's
    • The normally perky April May gets this along with a Twitchy Eye periodically during the first game's second trial, usually when confronted with a contradiction in her testimony. Her full breakdown causes her to lose the smile entirely.
    • In one court section of Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, Kira laughs and smiles maniacal when she starts losing it knowing that Phoenix keeps getting closer and closer to exposing her murder tricks, aibiet without a concrete evidence. Her voice acting pins it home how broken she's become.
    • And there's also young Athena Cykes, in one of the cases. Imagine a child putting her dead mom's corpse in a robot-repairing machine and casually saying that she was going to fix her. That's what Simon Blackquill had to witness.
  • ef - a fairy tale of the two. has Yuuko in her story with this caused by her traumatic past experiences of being continually raped by her brother figure Akira.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • The 7D has Happy give one of these. The incident occurs when Little Red Riding Hood seeks help from the Seven D after allegedly being chased through the woods by three bears "for no reason at all." They allow her to stay and she quickly makes herself at home. She ravenously eats everything at the dinner table, acts reckless and deliberately breaks the things they own. Each time one of the men insists that she leave, its Happy who defends her and pleads with them to give her another chance. This continues until she breaks Happy's guitar. Cue this trope. Happy's smile remains intact as always but his body visibly shakes for a few seconds before deciding that she has to leave. For anyone familiar with the character, it can come off as pretty creepy.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Joo Dee, a regular old brainwashed Stepford Smiler, had one of these when Aang and co got off the leash.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: Eddy wore this when he was savagely beaten up by his own brother in front of everybody else in the movie.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: Wilt is almost always smiling, but if he gets pushed too far, it becomes a broken smile, complete with Twitchy Eye.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: This is pretty much constantly the expression of Billy's Mom. The few times she doesn't have it is when she either goes stark raving, or when there isn't any other character in the room to drive her mad.
  • The Legend of Korra: Tahno, normally a textbook Smug Snake, has his bending taken away by Amon, putting him into a massive BSOD. When he meets up with Korra again, he puts on a weak smile and, rather meekly, repeats his previous words "See you around, Avatar."
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has at least two of these. First up is Pinkie's smile at her tea party of one, complete with eyes drifting in opposite directions and with shrinking pupils. In "Lesson Zero", Twilight goes equally crazy, with increasingly shorter periods of time between each new, insane smile.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998) had Marianne Smith. Her smile broke when the girls ruined her neighborly dinner, and when her husband got out of jail, (for threatening to blow-dry the professor to death), she had created a whole supervillain family, kids included.
  • The Ren & Stimpy Show: Ren ends up with this smile as the Happy Helmet takes hold...
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
  • Wander over Yonder:
    • In "The Birthday Boy", Lord Hater cracks one of these after Wander evades every trap in Hater's Doom Arena and every attempt by Lord Hater to break his spirit, then launches into a cheerful birthday song.
    • In "The Matchmaker", Sylvia cracks one of these when, after her constant attempts to stop Wander from delivering a love note from Lord Hater to Lord Dominator, Wander reveals he wasn't going to hand-deliver the love letter, but just put it in the nearest mailbox.