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Downplayed Trope

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On the left: downplaying reality (overestimation). On the right: downplaying expectations (underestimation). Source

It has been said that "a trope cannot be partially subverted any more than a woman can be a little bit pregnant". Then what do you call it when The Butler Did It, but "it" was eating the last cookie in the jar? Or when a powerful weapon glows so little you can't even notice it in good light?

You call it a Downplayed Trope.

A Downplayed Trope is when a trope is played to a much smaller extent than it usually is. In particularly extreme cases, the lack of extent to which the trope is played is Played for Laughs for the same reason as its antithesis, the Exaggerated Trope. The exact definition varies on a case-by-case basis, but the above works as a general rule. It's also why The Same But Less doesn't really make a new trope, since Tropes Are Flexible.

In case the introduction didn't tip you off, many cases of Not a Subversion fall into this trope's territory. Keep in mind when listing examples, downplaying does NOT mean that trope criteria can be ignored (see Speculative Troping) and that not all tropes can be downplayed.

A form of Playing with a Trope.

Compare Subverted Trope, Parodied Trope.

Contrast Exaggerated Trope.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Yazan Gable of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam downplays the Ax-Crazy and Psycho for Hire tropes. Yazan is a dangerously insane, feral predator who joined the army just so he could get the chance to hurt people and has no empathy whatsoever for those around him. However, he's as rational as a person with that kind of motivation can be, enjoys the company of a few likeminded sociopaths (though he doesn't care at all when they die), follows the orders of those superiors he respects, and is generally portrayed as a brutal uncaring thug rather than the cackling madman that is typical of both tropes.
  • Rei Kiriyama from March Comes in Like a Lion is a downplayed example of The Eeyore. He spends much of his time and narration contemplating over his many issues and is prone to frequent emotional lows. However, he is not unreasonably depressed, and he is capable of showing other emotions for more than just a brief moment.
  • Fairy Tail's Fairy Law is a downplayed, laser-guided Fantastic Nuke. They have the real thing in the Magitek Kill Sat Etherion, though.
  • In Gaiking: Legend of Daiku Maryu, Gaiking's Puncher Grind attack is a downplayed Rocket Punch; it's not propelled, and it can't return to Gaiking after being fired. Daiya has to improvise by using the Zecter Hook technique to retrieve it from mid-air.
  • One Piece downplays All-Loving Hero. Monkey D. Luffy will only go to the ends of the earth to help the people he "likes"; or, in other words, people who catch his attention for some reason or another (usually just being nice to him, especially by giving him food). Of course, being The Hero, it just so happens that he "likes" most of the people he encounters (generally, anybody that's not trying to kill him and quite a few that have). But if you're someone he doesn't like, then your best bet is to run in the other direction as fast as possible. Specifically, Luffy only seems interested in helping those who are willing to help themselves. People who sit on the sidelines and hope for things to get better don't interest him, but those who will put themselves in danger to fight for their beliefs earn his respect. He even patently refuses to help Momonosuke save Wano Country until Momo shows a will to fight, caring more about the willingness to act than being begged for help. Still, as said above, he does not like people who hurt his friends, and given his tendency to make friends quickly, there's a good chance that any bad guy Luffy crosses paths with is about to get his ass whooped.

    Comic Books 
  • Dynamo5: Downplay Jealous Parent. According to Scatterbrain (Gage Reinhart), the supervillain Chrysalis is afraid that her looks are fading and she can't attract men anymore. He said that she is jealous of her daughter Cynthia because of her looks and that she probably can better attract men. However, it appears that Chrysalis does not let her jealousy affect her relationship with her daughter, and they appear to be close.
  • Shazam!: Captain Marvel villain Dr. Sivana downplays the Evil Cripple trope. He's a Card-Carrying Villain and Mad Scientist who walks with the aid of a cane, and whose disability only mildly impairs him.
  • Spider-Man: Downplay Took a Level in Kindness. Mary Jane Watson was always fun and friendly, but the significant event that changed her from a flighty, self-absorbed party girl into a mature and compassionate woman, is the death of Gwen. With the death of her close friend, she realizes that Peter, having just lost one of the loves of his life, needs her to be a better person. In one of her most iconic moments, after Peter unloads on her in the cruelest way possible, to the point that she is sobbing, and he angrily demands she leaves him, Mary Jane slowly walks towards the door, but instead of exiting through it she shuts it, and returns to comfort her grieving friend. From then on MJ is portrayed as a supportive and kind-hearted friend to Peter, and of course, eventually a loving Wife. Made even more clear in the Spider-Gwen alternate universe, where without the death of Gwen, while still a good person,

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Kung Fu Panda downplays All of the Other Reindeer. The Furious Five and Shifu treat him with disrespect for most of the first film. However, during his second day Po earns the respect of most of the Five through his Heroic Resolve, great cooking skills, storytelling, and humor, while Shifu undergoes a Jerkass Realization.
  • Turning Red downplays Gender-Blender Name. While the name "Ming" itself is unisex from having a multitude of readings (read: distinct Chinese characters pronounced the same way), the name typically has more masculine associations among many Chinese-speaking people.
  • Unicorn Wars
    • This film downplays All of the Other Reindeer. Tubby was shown to be made fun of because of both his weight and immaturity in his unit. While all his unit was admiring their bodies, he was insecure about his fat body, and with his brother making fun of him, the unit joined in. Later when Bluey revealed to the unit that Tubby had wet the bed, they all made fun of him, and finally, when do unit learned that Tubby was joining them, they were skeptical about how useful he would be on the mission. Despite this, it appears that Tubby is not constantly mistreated and is mostly accepted by the unit; it's notable that even though his unit was skeptical of his usefulness on the mission during the mission itself, he was never mistreated or an outcast from the unit.
    • This film downplays Parental Favoritism. When Bluey and Tubby unit stop by a town to see their family and friends before leaving to go to war, their father expresses Pride in both his sons, saying that their mother would be proud of them and give each of his sons a pie that was made from there mother's recipe. Bluey received almost the whole pie, while Tubby just received a slice, and he was shown not to be happy about this. Despite that, Bluey and Tubby's father was praising both of his sons; aside from that moment doesn't seem to favor either of his sons and shows love for both of his sons. It's possible he gave Tubby the shorter piece because he was concerned with his weight problems, as others pointed out that Tubby is overweight.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Happy Death Day downplays Death Is a Slap on the Wrist. Every time Tree dies she wakes up she wakes up weaker and weaker and she feels the after effects of whatever killed her last. If the cycle goes on too long she won't even be strong enough to wake up at all.
  • Home Alone 2: Lost in New York downplays Punch-Clock Villain with the concierge played by Tim Curry. He's doing his job and is right that Kevin used his father's credit card illegally to book a room, but he's overly motivated in catching Kevin and it looks like he's doing it out of spite.
  • The Matrix downplays Like a God to Me, where a guy calls Neo a "personal Jesus Christ", but in the context of being polite instead of amazed.

  • Beverly Cleary's sister series Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby downplays Embarrassing Nickname. Beezus and Ramona, which was written in Beezus' perspective, mentions that she'd rather be called her real name "Beatrice", rather than "Beezus". But she never verbally complains about the nickname when her friends and family uses that, so one might assume that she's actually fine with it.
  • Paddington Bear downplays the Bears Are Bad News trope; unlike most bears who appear in this trope, he is rather placid, friendly, polite and mild-mannered, but his naïveté and innocence about both British culture (being a recent immigrant to London from Darkest Peru) and human culture (being, well, a bear) mean that he tends to inadvertently cause trouble for people around him, albeit mainly of the "awkward social situations" nature rather than the "OMG this bear's gonna eat my leg" nature.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Mentalist: The butler was the driver for the socialite who did it, making him an accomplice. Said socialite arranged for the butler to go free if she confessed.
  • Bones: The butler confessed to doing it, but it's pretty likely he's just taking the fall for his employers.
  • Justified:
    • Dickie Bennett downplays Evil Cripple. An injury from high school left him with a limp. It doesn't impair him overly much, and is only noticeable when characters call attention to it. At the same time, said limp is at the core of his anger with the world, and twenty years after receiving it, he still wants payback on the man who gave it to him.
    • Johnny Crowder, conversely, downplays Obfuscating Disability. Johnny really is crippled. A shotgun blast to the stomach left him with a shuffling, painful walk, and it's much easier for him to use a wheelchair. What he is not however, is a full on paraplegic, which is what he pretends to be; if Johnny has to, he can walk.
  • Family Matters downplays A Day in the Limelight. Judy Winslow never really gets one, only a few subplots:
    • In "Fast Eddie Winslow", she must write a book report about Swiss Family Robinson after she doesn't read the book.
    • In "Ice Station Winslow", she feels ignored by her family because of her younger cousin Richie.
    • In "A Thought in the Dark", she ruins Harriette's dress and begs Carl to cover for her.
    • In "Taking Credit", she's in the Framing Device along with Rachel and Richie.
  • McCloud is a literal example of a Cowboy Cop, but otherwise much less so. He's really a Strange Cop in a Strange Land (Taos, New Mexico to New York City) and as such not quite at home with the rules of their department. Just ask Chief of Detectives Peter Clifford.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • David Sarif of Deus Ex: Human Revolution fits this aspect of Corrupt Corporate Executive. He's not a bad guy per se, especially given the setting. He's shown to genuinely care about his employees, but he's also willing to cut some corners that would be difficult to explain in an investigation and to take "creative" interpretations of some of his employee contracts. That said, he's the nicest bigshot you'll meet in the setting and the only one not in cahoots with The Illuminati.
  • Fina of Skies of Arcadia has a small version of a Cleavage Window (because it has a purpose other than Fanservice).
  • In Bastion, you have a Short-Range Shotgun in the Scrap Musket, but those qualities can be downplayed by installing upgrades that tighten the spread and reduce the damage falloff at range. Or it can be further tuned in the other direction with an opposite upgrade that further widens the spread.
  • In Tales of the Abyss, the resident Team Pet comes equipped with a downplayed Breath Weapon. He's too young to use it without an Amplifier Artifact, and even then it's too weak to be useful outside of puzzle solving.
  • The Templar's Ancient Conspiracy status in Assassins Creed 4. The Templars are rich and powerful in the Carribean but not so much that the similarly rich and powerful English Navy and plantation owners can't ignore them at their leisure.
  • The computer opponents generally in Pokémon, and those in the battle facilities in particular are noted for being such blatant cheaters with illegal movesets. Come the Battle Maison in Pokémon X and Y, however, and the opponents use Pokémon and movesets that are all legal. Only two instances of cheating - which aren't really blatant forms of cheating:
    • Pokémon with unreleased hidden abilities - which were programmed in the first place, just not released to the general public, so it's different to tacking on a random ability just to gain an unfair advantage.
    • Their Pokémon also sometimes hold items unavailable in X and Y - but they were all available/used in the previous generations of games - so that's not really cheating either.
  • In the XCOM: Enemy Unknown expansion Enemy Within, dealing with humans terrorists and saboteurs known as EXALT involves a No-Gear Level... For the covert operative you send after them, who needs to be as inconspicuous as possible, and as such can only bring a handgun and two items with him/her, and is forced to go without armor (which includes Power Armor) or main weapon (a shotgun, an assault rifle or a Sniper Rifle, depending on class). The extraction team send to rescue him/her after his/her cover is blown is free to pack as much heat as a supernova though.
    • Further downplayed if you equip your operative with a plasma pistol and a nanofiber vest. If they're the right class (say, Assault geared for close combat or a sniper with Gunslinger and Double Tap) they can more than pull their own weight during the exfiltration.
  • King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!:
    • King Graham in this installment is a downplayed Empowered Badass Normal. The magical fruit he ate in the previous game not only cured him of his fatal illness, but also gave him strength far beyond what his advanced age should allow. However, his abilities are exactly as they were when the series began. This is no longer downplayed when he learns Iconomancy.
    • This game also downplays Takes One to Kill One in the Final Boss battle, where Graham needs to learn Iconomancy in order to successfully kill the Big Bad, himself an Iconomancer. However, the Big Bad is not directly weak to his own element, merely that it's the only means Graham has of being able to fight him on an equal footing.
  • Disgaea: Hour of Darkness downplays Forced Tutorial on a New Game Plus: you're still forced to do the tutorial, but it's really one very quick level that you'll most likely finish with just one move.
  • Baldur's Gate downplays My Species Doth Protest Too Much with Viconia. Your regular MSDPTM drow is a Chaotic Good Eilistraee worshipper. Viconia, on the other hand, is a Neutral Evil cleric of Shar, but fell from grace with the drow society for invoking Even Evil Has Standards while she was an initiate for the much more evil Lolth. Still, she's an angel compared to your typical drow, especially those you meet in Shadows of Amn.
  • Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn downplays Card-Carrying Villain with the Big Bad, Irenicus. He doesn't brag about being evil but knows that people views him as such so he doesn't bother denying it, enough to tell in your face that you "warrant no villain's exposition" from him.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue downplays Outdated Outfit with Caboose, who opted to stick with his Halo 1 armor and weapon when every other main character was upgrading to Halo 3. His armor is only outdated in-universe, while to viewers not familiar with the games he just looks like a custom loadout.
  • RWBY downplays Broken Pedestal. Ruby finds out that her mother, who she always believed to be a do-no-wrong Huntress and who inspired her to become a Huntress herself, actually lied about the severity of the mission that would kill her and is horrified and upset. However, she is reminded of her last words, that she would love her no matter who she is, convincing Ruby that all she needs to do is to Be Yourself and not try to be a perfect Huntress.
  • Share My Story downplays My God, What Have I Done?. When Clara tells the protagonist that she got with Brandon behind his back and they are in a relationship now, she is in tears. However, that does not stop her from kissing Brandon in front of him.

    Web Original 
  • Some of the contestants in Movie Fights have been assigned with Badass nicknames, such as Alicia Malone "The Red Fury", and Dan "The Mad Man" Murrell. However, these names are used so sparingly throughout the show that the less attentive audiences would probably not even know they have them.

    Western Animation 
  • Bluey downplays the trope Butt-Monkey with the character Wendy. While bad things don't happen directly to her, she often bears witness to the Heelers' antics, which she is often mortified by. However, there are a few moments, such as the episodes "Ragdoll" and "Sheepdog" in which she plays along with their games.
  • Futurama downplayed Implausible Deniability in Into the Wild Green Yonder, when the head of the robot mafia isn't denying his wife stole his lucky foot. He's just insisting they need more evidence when the evidence so far is conclusive.
  • Gravity Falls:
    • Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress is downplayed. When Dipper and Mabel run off a cliff, they fall down at a realistic speed, but instead of falling forward in an arc, they go straight forward, then down.
    • The pair also downplay Half-Identical Twins: they're almost the exact same in terms of height, face and body type, but have different hair styles and outfits, as well as personalities. (Also, Mabel wears braces while Dipper has a birthmark hidden under his bangs.)
  • Glitch Techs downplayed Fake Ultimate Hero. Mitch Williams is legitimately talented and can easily fight Miko Kubota on equal terms. His ranking at the top of the local Glitch Techs is repeatedly shown to be heavily based on cheating, killstealing and undercutting his rivals however, not to mention how he's far from the heroic archetype he would like you to think he is.
  • The Hollow downplays Properly Paranoid. When served food by a woman they've just met, Kai is suspicious and asks her what is in the soup. Just vegetables... and Toros bones. The trio don't freak out about it beyond an inital Spit Take and being slightly disgusted that they just ate soup that used bones from humanoid cows. Though later, one of her sisters drops a plate of jello... which contains things like eyeballs and these women are actually witches that want to eat the trio's souls.
  • The Legend of Korra downplays My God, What Have I Done?. It appears that Bolin is so focused on stopping Kuvira that he is not allowing himself to think about how he messed up by trusting her, but he is upset when he meets the innocent people Kuvira is interning in her camps, realizing that he has had a part (albeit unwittingly) in ruining their lives.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's Princess Celestia downplays Princesses Prefer Pink, as she only has a pink outline and pink strands in her hair; she is mostly white. Not that you'd know it, looking at the earliest toys based on her, which depicted her with a pink coat instead of a white one. Thankfully, with the arrival of Princess Cadance, a princess who really is pink, Celestia is now free to have the first toy that actually looks like her made years after her introduction.
  • Rick and Morty downplays Yandere. Morty Smith doesn’t do anything creepy to Jessica or treats her as a possession. However, whenever he finds a scenario where he might end up with her, he goes to pretty sociopathic lengths to achieve it. He gave her a love potion because he couldn’t handle that she was dating Brad, which ended up mutating her and causing Rick to label him as a creep for trying to roofie her. Likewise, one of Morty’s Mindblowers shows that he’s violently protective of her, as he was willing to torture an alien for releasing a worldwide virus that nearly killed Jessica. He’s also willing to sell Rick, his own grandfather, for some trim as he ignored Summer’s concerns about Tiny Rick overwhelming Rick’s mind because he helped him get close to Jessica. Furthermore, upon gaining a death crystal that let him see a future where Jessica comforted him in his old age, Morty committed several atrocities to ensure it happens, up to avoiding resurrecting Rick and killing many cops and military man while acting like an AKIRA.
  • South Park
    • South Park: The Streaming Wars downplays I Have No Son!. While Liane still plans to raise her son Eric, she is resentful that he made her quit her job, causing them to lose their house and move into a hotdog house, and refuses to let him blame her for the loss of their house. When Eric comes up with a plan for them to move in with a rich old guy by Liane seducing him and need her to get breast implants, Liane refuses, pointing out that they don't have the money for breast implants. And when Eric got the money for the breast implants, Liane outright refused to get them, saying that when Eric made her quit her job, she promised herself that she would never give in to him ever again. Liane refuses to give in, even when Eric threatens to either call the police or runway, telling her son she is done with this. And when Eric said that he himself would take the breast implants, while shocked, Liane called his bluff and was annoyed and disappointed when Eric actually took the breast implants. When Eric asks Liana what she will do now that she knows he is serious about his threats, Liane tells Eric that she plans to go grocery shopping. Liane leaves as Eric threatens to go to school with his breast implants. It is implied that while Liane will not abandon her son Eric and will support him financially until he becomes an adult, she has given up on having a relationship with him and closed off emotionally from him.
  • Summer Camp Island downplays The Friend Nobody Likes. At least amongst the counselors. Since Betsy is the nicest, she is the one who stops Susie and Alice from overdoing it, much to Susie's displeasure. However Alice does not seem to care when she stops her from overseeing it and despite Susie's dislike of Betsy's stopping her from going too far, she still cares for Betsy.
Susie: You know, sometimes I really hate you, Betsy...
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003)
    • Downplays Pet the Dog. While Oroku Saki/Ch'rell/The Shredder can throw it away at a moments notice, he seems to have some level of affection toward his higher level lieutenants; he personally raised Karai, trained Hun, rarely ever significantly punished them, and they're the only ones he listens to. He also respected the power of the Foot Mystics, which they reciprocated to some extent, even when they thought he was an "abomination".
    • Downplays Villain with Good Publicity. Bishop's a very secretive government agent and very few people know of his actual existence. However, he has the backing of the United States government and by the fourth season, the unconditional support of the President himself, which makes him arguably as big of a threat to the Turtles as the Foot Clan, if not moreso. He becomes yet another downplayed example by the time of Fast Forward because by that time, everyone knows of his existence and he's extremely well liked by almost everybody on Earth... but by that time, he's pulled a Heel–Face Turn and is no longer an actual villain.
  • Transformers: Prime downplayed Pink Means Feminine by making Arcee blue, with just pink touches.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Downplayed, Downplayed Example



Once Aloy defeats her for the final time, she has the option of sparing Regalla, who subsequently will join her party. Downplayed, as it's made clear that Regalla isn't fully accepting of the alliance, nor does Aloy forgive her for her actions, but Aloy needs a strong warrior like her to help push through Far Zenith's forces and makes it clear that Regalla will be in the thick of the fighting where it's most dangerous, which she accepts as a suitable death when neither Hekarro or Aloy will strike her down after besting her.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / DefeatMeansFriendship

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