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Death by De-aging

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"We'll all get younger and younger until we suffer a Fate Worse than Death: pre-life! Then death."
Professor Farnsworth, Futurama, "Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles"
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The Fountain of Youth seems an attractive idea, especially for the elderly; you get to wind back the clock and prolong your life. However much like a drug, it can come with dangers if overdosed. If it has a continuous effect, the youth could make someone so young they regress to before they were born, becoming a fetus exposed to the world and at severe risk of dying. Or worse, regressing beyond that to the point that they don't even exist!

Maybe it's because someone spent too much time in the Fountain of Youth, causing it to go horribly right. Or the youth continues to decrease someone's age even outside of it. If someone suffers from Merlin Sickness, this might be how it ultimately kills them. Could be considered a form of Harmful Healing, with the "healing" part being healing away age.

When someone's birth is literally undone instead of reverting before it, it's a Ret-Gone situation. Contrast Rapid Aging, where someone rapidly ages and can be at risk of becoming too old to live rather than too young, or No Immortal Inertia, where someone reverts to their true ancient age and dies because of it. This might be part of what makes the Devolution Device so dangerous, though it usually "just" sending someone back down the Evolutionary Levels.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • DC Comics:
    • Legion of Super-Heroes: In Adventure Comics #338, the Time-Trapper provides his agent Glorith with an hourglass that emits "devolutionary radiation", causing anyone who touches it without special protective gloves to regress in age until they become "protoplasmic slime... the source of all life". Fortunately, when Glorith tricks the Legionnaires into touching the hourglass, they are merely de-aged to infancy thanks to the presence of a "Fountain of 1,000 Chemicals". The Time-Trapper punishes Glorith for her failure by tricking her into touching the hourglass without her gloves, and then tries to complete the Legionnaires' retrogression into protoplasmic blobs... but not before exploiting their youthful innocence and still-formidable powers for his own criminal gain.
    • Wonder Woman: The second Doctor Poison reveals that their grandmother, the original who fought Wonder Woman during the Golden Age, died when her reversing drug Reverso was used on her. Doctor Poison II states that she de-aged so quickly that she forgot how to stop the process from happening, until she reverted to a fetus and then nothing.
  • Marvel Comics:
  • Requiem Vampire Knight: On the hellish afterworld of Requiem, people (or at least vampires) age backwards. Hence, especially long-lived characters such as Lord Cryptos look like babies, and it is inferred he will continue de-aging until he truly dies. Only members of Dracula's bloodline possess real immortality.
  • In Phase V of Zenith, Dr. Michael Peyne is cursed with a nice dose of Merlin Sickness by the Lloigor, just so he has enough time to appreciate the reality-warping apocalypse he's caused. Worse still, it actually seems to pick up speed over time. Eventually, writing the final pages of his Apocalyptic Log in a childish scrawl, a very young Peyne crawls into bed for a nap; when Ruby arrives to say goodbye to him, he's just a baby draped in his adult-sized shirt. Gloating, Ruby takes baby Peyne to the balcony to give him one last look at the world he created, whereupon he floats away, shrinking down into a fetus, then an embryo, before he finally vanishes into nothing.
  • EC Comics's Tales From the Crypt: In "A-Corny Story", a man who was fired for being too old sends his youth-obsessed boss a hexed oak tree. As the tree ages backwards, so does its owner... until the tree has ended up as an acorn and the boss has de-aged out of existence.
  • One of Alan Moore's Tharg's Future Shocks strips was about a man aging backwards: he started lying in the street undying of a heart attack, got better, he started a job and got demoted until he was the teaboy, his kids moved into his house and finally vanished (would have been more unpleasant for their mother), split up with his wife, moved home, went to school to forget things... Bonus points for a dramatic birth.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Land of What Might-Have-Been, Madame Morrible and a small cabal of fellow magicians try to gain immortality by stealing some of the Radiant Empress's blood... only to end up condemning themselves to spend eternity oscillating between various stage of youth. However, some of them learn how to devour the life-force of others in order to regain their adulthood, often killing their victims through this trope. In the finale, Morrible tries to pull this on Elphaba and even gloats about reducing her to embryonic goo, but only gets as far as reducing her to the age of eight before Dorothy intervenes, forcing Morrible to return the stolen energy.
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the 2002 film Malefique, a group of prisoners sharing a cell discover a mysterious book that make their greatest wishes come true — albeit with massive caveats attached. The original owner of the book, one Charles Danvers, attempted to use its powers to regain his youth, but as the flashback shows, got more of it than he bargained for: shrinking back down into a toddler, he is quickly reduced to scrambling out of his oversized clothes and hiding under the bed in a futile attempt to escape the effects of the magic; the very next cut reveals that he's transformed into a fetus, which then dissolves into nothingness.
  • Crops up in an unusual way in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. After realizing that he needs to reabsorb Buddy Love in order to restore his own collapsing intellect, Sherman Klump fills a rubber ball with his prototype youth serum and tricks Buddy into chasing it like a dog — exposing him to the serum when he manages to catch it in his mouth. Regressing to a toddler, Buddy manages to escape the room after further antics... only to continue regressing into a puddle of transparent blue slime that continues fleeing the building. Following a chase scene, the slime finally evaporates after being outside for too long, at first making it look as though the story is going to conclude on a Downer Ending — up until the last few traces of Buddy end up in a fountain, which Sherman drinks from to regain his mind.
  • In the 1996 direct-to-video film Past Perfect, a group of assassins are sent back in time to murder a gang of criminals while they're still teenage delinquents. However, the killers all have to wear special molecular coating; without that, they will regress to match the time period - with disastrous results if they hadn't been born yet. As such, when the Dark Action Girl ends up losing her protection in a clash with the heroes, she immediately regresses out of existence, leaving only empty clothes behind.
  • The Poof Point: This is the central plot, where two kids are fighting to figure out what went wrong with their parents' invention while said parents mentally regress from middle age into infancy, knowing that their parents' previous experiments all went "poof" the second they had no further left to mentally regress.
  • In Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, the wounded thief who accidentally frees the Djinn is so terrified by his appearance and the predicament he's been left in that he wishes that he was never born. The Djinn grants his wish in horrific fashion, putting him through painful devolution until he eventually vanishes from existence.

    Literature 
  • Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator: Willy Wonka has managed to develop Wonka-Vite pills, which decrease someone's age by 20 years exactly. Upon being offered some by Wonka, Grandma Josephine, Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina take four, despite some of them barely being in their eighties. Worse still, Josephine is younger than eighty, leaving her to regress to minus years and vanish out of existence; this leads to her reappearing in Minusland as what is essentially a preborn ghost at risk of becoming the prey of Gnoolies.
  • Goosebumps:
    • A variation involving Mental Time Travel occurs in "The Cuckoo Clock of Doom", where the protagonist is gradually sent further and further into his own past by the titular object and has to find a way to reverse the process before he disappears. After managing to undo the curse and return to the present, he finds that his abusive little sister has accidentally been subjected to the same treatment and erased from history as a result.
    • A variant featuring physical regression appears in the Give Yourself Goosebumps novel "The Knight in Screaming Armor." In one plot thread, you and your two friends find themselves falling foul of yet another time-controlling clock and regressing into infancy over the course of the next few minutes. With your friends having mentally regressed as well, it's up to you to stop the clock before it rewinds you to a time before you were born. You manage to stop regressing and restore your friends to their former ages, but for no adequately explored reason, it doesn't restore your age, unfortunately; as such, this plot-line ends with you being cuddled by one of your cousins as you bawl your head off. For now, you're still alive, but it's never made clear what'll happen to you next - if you're stuck reliving your entire life from square one, if you're permanently a baby, or if you really will suffer the Death by De-aging you saved your cousins from.
  • In A Million Adventures, an Alice, Girl from the Future novel, there is a time screen, under which time goes backwards. When it's accidentally left unattended, a rooster comes under the screen, turns into a chicken, then into an egg, then vanishes completely. Heracles, a pithecanthropus, crawls under the screen to eat that egg and barely escapes the same fate.
  • Frank R. Stockton's The Queen's Museum and Other Fanciful Tales, short story "Old Pipes and the Dryad". When a dryad kisses a human being, the person's age is reduced by ten years. People who live in an area where dryads are found are careful to not allow children of ten years or less to wander freely. If a child that young is kissed by a dryad, they will be made so young that they will cease to exist.
  • Red Dwarf
    • In Backwards, Lister has been transported to the Backwards Universe in order to reverse his fatal heart attack in the previous book. After living a long and happy marriage with his girlfriend Christine Kochanski, he is eventually due to be picked up by the Red Dwarf crew in his mid-twenties so he can be returned to the normal universe. Unfortunately, given the crew's predictable screw-ups, they end up missing the window to leave and getting trapped there for the next ten years, during which Lister and the Cat are regressed to teenagers. When they finally get to try again, Kryten is deeply concerned that if they screw up this time, they won't get to leave until the two organic crew-members are toddlers, with any further mistakes resulting in them regressing even further and suffering "a very sticky end." Fortunately, they get it right on the second try.
    • According to both Backwards and Last Human, Lister and Kochanski's children have already experienced this in the Backwards Universe; having been rescued alongside her husband in Last Human and having acclimatized to living in a Forwards Universe, Kochanski can now remember seeing her children shrinking down into infants before being pushed back inside her.
  • In Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix, elderly people are given a de-aging treatment. While they don't know exactly what will happen when they de-age to zero, the tests suggest this trope.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One episode of Dinotopia has a mad alchemist make an anti-aging serum from stegosaurus spikes that causes him to keep aging backwards until he's a baby, and then explode into a pile of dust.
  • This is narrowly avoided in House of Anubis: when Alfie is cursed to de-age, he becomes a pre-teen, and then a baby, with the implication being that if Nina, Fabian and Patricia weren't able to stop the curse in time, he would've been de-aged out of existence.
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: "One of Our Spies Is Missing" involves a biochemist who has discovered the secret of restoring youth, which he uses to restore a retired famous statesman Sir Norman Swickert back to vitality to carry on his career. However, the process puts a considerable strain on the body, with him warning if used too much the machine will "turn you into a boy, a dead boy." He later uses the same process to commit suicide rather than risk his technology being controlled by THRUSH.
  • In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Last Supper", a Mad Scientist kidnaps an immortal woman in an attempt to manufacture a de-aging drug from her blood and heal the scars he gained the last time he captured her. Unfortunately for him, he miscalculates the drug's potency by a wide margin: after a brief Hope Spot in which he appears to have stopped in his twenties, he undergoes an extremely painful and Body Horror-iffic regression process, shrinking back through adolescence, childhood, infancy, before finally dissolving into a a puddle of cells.
  • Referenced in Red Dwarf "Pete Part 2," when Kochanski warns that carelessly playing around with the Time Wand could end up transforming Lister and the others into sperm. The Cat's only objection to this is that none of his suits will fit.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Too Short A Season" features the famous, elderly admiral Jameson having discovered a drug on Cerberus II which can restore youth but carries a high mortality rate at the best of times. Despite initially planning to slowly take it with his wife, upon Karnas, an opponent of his from decades previous, organising a hostage situation and demanding to speak to him. Jameson takes both doses so he'll be young enough to face him. The effect causes him to de-age younger than the point he met Karnas, with the strain of the changes killing him shortly afterwards.
  • Wicked Science: In the very first episode, Elizabeth tampers with Toby's experiment to clone a dinosaur, which causes a Tyrannosaurus rex to grow to adulthood overnight. In the end, Toby manages to de-age the T. Rex past its birth, until it's a pinhead-sized lump of cells.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement Curse of the Chthonians, adventure "The Curse of Chaugnar Faugn". The Time/Space Machine is able to de-age an object or creature, moving it back in time and making it younger. If a creature is moved back to before it was born, it will cease to exist.
  • The De-Age spell in Lamentations of the Flame Princess supplement Better Than Any Man can cause this, among various other potential side effects; what makes it particularly risky is that the amount of de-aging it causes is highly random - a single casting can remove anything from one to over thirty years.
  • The Shadow Of The Demon Lord supplement book, Occult Philosophy, has several new spells as well as rare high-level spells, including the Alchemy spell "Brew Longevity Potion", which allows one to brew an Elixir of Life that can make any who consumes it younger. However, there is a risk that one may grow too young and end up turning into a tiny embryo that dies a few rounds later.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 

    Webcomics 
  • In The Dragon Doctors this happened to most of the research team that discovered the Fountain of Youth, as well as every other living thing in the area. When the water is replicated and mass-produced it includes a safeguard that stops the de-aging process at babyhood.
  • Magellan a woman who obtained deaging powers from a genie nearly does this to hero Gola Beh. While she's stopped before Gola de-ages into non-existence, Gola still winds up as a teenager from it.

    Western Animation 
  • Codename: Kids Next Door:
    • The Delightful Children from Down the Lane threaten to do this by setting the dial on their age-changing ray to "age 0", saying it will make the Kids Next Door vanish forever when they use it on them. They never actually get the chance to try it, though.
    • Leaky Leona tried to kill the Kids Next Door by spraying them with the waters of the Fountain of Youth in order to get rid of witnesses. She was stopped by the Delightful Children from Down the Lane when they destroyed the Fountain.
  • Family Guy: In "Yug Ylimaf", Brian's screwing with Stewie's time machine causes the time to run backward and at an accelerated state. Stewie becomes panicked when he starts to revert in development, and the two are in a race against time to set things back to the normal before Stewie is returned to the womb and gets unmade.
  • Futurama: In "Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles", the crew visits a Neptunian spa so the rejuvenation tar can make Professor Farnsworth less of an obnoxious old man. They end up getting in the tar and turning into teenagers (Farnsworth becomes middle-aged). He attempts to cure them of the tar with bacteria (except Leela who chooses to stay a teen). Not only does it fail, but the bacteria starts spreading the tar, causing them to become progressively younger over time. The crew is in a rush to get to the Fountain of Aging before they regress to pre-life, then death and non-existence. By the time they actually get to said fountain, the affected individuals are fetuses save for Farnsworth, Zoidberg, and Bender, who are a toddler, coral polyp, and blueprint disc respectively.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: "The Halls of Time" has the crew visiting a realm where the hourglasses of people's lifespan is kept. Billy ends up putting his, Irwin and Mandy's hourglasses upside down, causing them to de-age. They become progressively younger until they're reduced to fetuses, and Grim chooses not to turn their hourglasses back to normal so they can cease to exist. Thinking he has the last laugh, Grim learns that Billy put his hourglasses upside down. He's unable to lift his huge hourglass by the time he reaches it, and de-ages out of existence at the end of the episode.
  • In Johnny Test, Bling-Bling Boy threatens Johnny and Dukey with this after creating a de-aging ray gun, turning them into toddlers with the intent of reverting them to embryos.
  • The Mask: in the episode "Little Big Mask," the Mask creates an anti-aging cream and uses it on himself... only for Stanley find that the effects can't be stopped, not even by the Mask's reality-warping powers, leaving him and Peggy Brandt struggling to create an antidote before he regresses out of existence. Towards the end of the episode, Peggy wakes up in the hospital to find that there's nothing left of Stanley but empty baby clothes, and tearfully assumes that this trope has come to pass; to her immense relief, it turns out that Stanley had just been taken away for a check-up and is a perfectly healthy infant... but unfortunately, he's still getting younger, and by now he's too young to wear the Mask - leaving him unable to help in what might be his final minutes. Fortunately, Peggy is able to improvise a cure before it's too late.
  • In The Midnight Gospel episode "Vulture With Honor", it's revealed that Clancy's propety is right next to an extremely dangerous region of "Wobble" where space is divided into multiple dangerous colors, each one with its own lethal reality-warping effects. Steam-colored Wobble fatally regresses any organic lifeform touching it - or as Captain Bryce puts it, it reverts them into "cream," which he demonstrates through Black Comedy Animal Cruelty. Soon after, he and Clancy find a looter that's been trapped in the purple Wobble for so long that his mind has completely snapped, prompting Bryce to Mercy Kill the guy by tipping him into the steam Wobble and allowing him to regress out of existence.
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot: Due to complications involving Time Dilation in "Good Old Sheldon", Sheldon ends up becoming an old man. Dr. Wakeman manages to create a de-aging mechanism based on Jenny's movements, however, she's still fighting once he gets back to his normal age. By the time he's an infant, Dr. Wakeman warns Jenny not to make any movements lest Sheldon be reduced to a zygote, and has to age another 15 years to get back to normal.
  • In the Rainbow Butterfly Unicorn Kitty episode "Fountain of Too Much Youth", Miguel was at risk of dying in this way after going in the fountain of youth. This was inverted in that same episode when Felicity fed him stinky cheese which aged him to an elderly condition. Later, he was returned to normal.
  • In The Real Ghostbusters episode, "Three Men and an Egon", Egon gets caught in the proton beams along with a ghost that ages in reverse, causing them to exchange aging processes. As a result, Egon begins to de-age from an adult to a baby at an alarming rate. Ray, Peter, Winston, and Slimer have to find the ghost and reverse the process before Egon disappears.
  • In the Regular Show episode "Terror Tales Of The Park II", Margaret tells a ghost story of how Mordecai, Rigby, Eileen, and herself joined a party bus, only to soon discover that everyone was rapidly aging to the point of turning to dust. The four try to escape but the bus driver laughs as he refuses to stop. They find a hatch on the roof to climb out of. As everyone jumps off the bus to freedom, they suddenly start de-aging into young adults, then teenagers, then children, then babies, then finally into nothing.
  • Robot Chicken: One sketch has Ra's Al Ghul bragging to Batman that the Lazarus Pit makes him functionally immortal. He enters as an old man and surfaces around middle aged. Batman responds by refusing to let him climb out, forcing him to revert to a teenager, then a child, then an infant, and then....
    Batman: Well, I just killed a baby.
  • Discussed in the Rugrats (1991) episode, "Back to School"; When Didi says she's going Back to School (specifically, to college to master her degree in child development), Angelica overhears and tricks the babies into thinking that everything is going backwards. The babies then overhear Stu telling Dil it's time for him to go back to the hospital, making them believe that Dil is going to be unborn (Stu was really taking Dil to the hospital for a check-up). They also worry that it will eventually happen to them.
  • The final episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series features the crew accidentally getting stranded in a backwards universe, in which the "old" ultimately die at the nadir of infancy; for good measure, in the novelization of this episode, Spock admits to being rather curious as to how obstetrics work in this reality. Later, while speeding towards a nova star that can return them to their universe, the crew of the Enterprise begin to experience the effects of reverse Time Dilation: instead of observing the passage of time at a much slower speed than anything outside the ship, they experience it at a drastically accelerated rate - and because people age in reverse in this reality, the crew find themselves getting younger and younger until they run the risk of ceasing to exist. Worse still, the regressed also lose access to their adult knowledge, leaving them with progressively fewer qualified crew-members to get them to the nova star in time. Fortunately, there's a septuagenarian commodore and his wife on board to save the day.
  • Discussed and subverted in the Steven Universe episode "Steven's Birthday". Overusing shapeshifting to appear older ends up reducing Steven to infancy. The morning after he falls asleep as a baby, Connie finds the shirt that he was wearing lying around and is afraid that he regressed further into a zygote. Steven has actually returned to normal and just changed clothes before she woke up.
  • In the T.U.F.F. Puppy episode "Pup Daddy", a gadget called the Young Gun causes the agents sans Dudley as well as Snaptrap and his gang to gradually de-age from teen to toddler to baby. Dudley has to return them to normal before they age backwards too much that they cease to exist.
  • A mental variant occurs in the Young Justice (2010) episode "Bereft", in which the team is hit by a psionic attack which erases the last few months of their memory. For the vat-grown Superboy, that's all the memory he has, so they end up with a mindless berserker.

 
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