So General Ripper is a bad guy. A really bad guy. Why are they so bad? Because they said so, and they would know, right? They kick puppies, drop kicks babies, and isn't afraid of any Knight in Shining Armor. They're no Harmless Villain. They're a potential Big Bad...
Except they're not. And when a situation comes up where they prove it, nobody is more surprised than they are. That's right. You're actually a good guy.
Whereas Heel Realization is where a character finally realizes they are, in fact, the villain of the story, Face Realization is the opposite. It's distinct from You Are Better Than You Think You Are, in that the character realizes it on their own, without anyone needing to tell them, because they prove it with an indisputable act of goodness and heroism.
Why was it so hard for them to see this? Maybe they spent so much time pretending to be a not-so-nice guy and hiding that golden heart of theirs that they started to believe it themselves, or perhaps after being turned down by the heroes they decide to embrace villainy but finds that kitten eating doesn't really suit them no matter how pissed they are at the hero. In other cases, Good Feels Good can creep up on you — but sometimes it takes a while to sink in past the pretence that it's all a front.
Generally, there are two ways this can end up:
- The villain realizes that they can't live as a villain any longer, and they turn to the side of good. Obviously more common in works on the ideal side of the spectrum, but has become increasingly popular even in more cynical works.
- The villain realizes that they have been doing good all along, but instead of embracing it, they are ashamed or repulsed by the fact. They may consider themselves a "disrespect" to evil, and will either step down or try to live on as a villain despite this. Particularly popular with Pragmatic Villains.
Occasionally overlaps with What You Are in the Dark.
- Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z was a murderous, egotistical, power hungry bastard, but after getting married and raising a family, he found it hard to go back to his more villainous (and in his opinion more powerful) self. He had to cut a deal with an evil wizard to make himself evil again, and even then, he was still too good. It finally sinks in that he is no longer the villain he used to be when, after asking the Namek Dragon to restore every person on earth who was killed by Majin Buu except the evil ones, he is brought back to life along with them.
- Angel Densetsu:
- Played for Laughs with Ikuno, who realizes that rather than 'accidentally' beating up thugs, she is to her surprise, "a lot nicer of a person than [she] thought".
- This also happened with Yuji toward the end of the story. One of his old delinquent friends notes that his delinquent activities with Kitano involve things like studying and community service and no actual delinquent activities at all. Yuji finally realizes that Kitano isn't really a delinquent and that he no longer is one either, and it doesn't bother him.
- Played with by Evangeline in Negima! Magister Negi Magi. She insists that she is a Big Bad no matter how much evidence is presented that would disprove it. It may be that she just doesn't want to admit it out loud. That and she's powerful enough that few characters can call her on it, with the exception of Albireo, who relentlessly trolls her.
- Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water: Grandis and her two henchmen: Hanson and Sanson. They initially serve as the antagonists, constantly in pursuit of Nadia and her gem. Despite this, it doesn't take long to see they're a Quirky Miniboss Squad, rather than an actual threat. So it came as little surprise to anyone (but themselves) when they turn over a new leaf upon joining the Nautilus crew. Due largely in part to Grandis falling head over heels for Nemo.
- During his brief stint as an Arc Villain in Fairy Tail, Laxus tries to finish the fight against Natsu and Gajeel by invoking Fairy Law, a spell that annihilates anyone the caster sees as an enemy. Laxus is shaken when the spell fails to hit not only them, but the rest of the guild or even anyone inside the town of Magnolia, originally thinking that something went wrong with casting. The realization that he couldn't kill anyone simply because deep down he didn't want to sends him into Unstoppable Rage and trying to kill Natsu the old-fashioned way. He only accepts this as fact after he's defeated and calms down.
- During the AXIS event, an Inverted Sabretooth has this during a story focused on him in the miniseries Axis: Revolutions. An also Inverted Nightcrawler picks a fight with him that eventually swings in Sabretooth's favour, but when he has a clear chance to kill Nightcrawler, he hesitates and lets him go. The story ends with him walking off musing about it.
Sabretooth: Huh. Guess I ain't the man I used ta be.
- In Thunderbolts, a series about a group of supervillains posing as a superhero team as part of a scheme by their leader Baron Zemo, most of the team have this realization sooner or later. When Zemo reveals their secret, most of them turn against him. Atlas at first thinks himself still loyal, but when Zemo goes to kill Jolt, he revolts.
- An important plot point in Star Wars Episode I: The Familiar of Zero is Louise's Sith familiar realizing that she's not actually evil and is willing to help others without any tangible benefit for herself.
- General Hummel in The Rock eventually finds himself unable to go through with his plot to blast San Francisco with a deadly toxin. Of course, his (former) co-conspirators don't quite see things his way, and you know what happens then...
- Played with in Night Watch (Series). Arina at some point realizes that she is doing mainly good deeds instead of Chaotic Neutral, so she changes alignments.
- In addition to being one long Heel–Face Turn, the movie Megamind could be seen as this for the titular character. When push comes to shove, he actually ends up being a better hero than a villain.
- Despicable Me is all about a supposed Evil Genius gradually realizing that he's actually a good guy.
- In Return of the Jedi, in the very last moment of his life, Darth Vader says to Luke, "You were right about me." While his Redemption Equals Death move doesn't exactly scrub away his countless Kick the Dog acts, on the whole, his tragic life actually produced many good things, culminating in the destruction of the Sith.
- Igor. The Beleaguered Assistant Igor of the Mad Scientist realizes there's more to being evil in their setting where Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad.
- In Kamen Rider: The First, the movie remake of the original series, Hayato Ichimonji is constantly telling Takeshi Hongou that he and only he will beat Hongou. Then he will take the girl and return to Dai-Shocker. That is until the climax of the Film when they raid the Dai-Shocker together to rescue the reporter girl. During the fight, Hayato tries to run, but when he sees Hongou continuing to fight, he comes back, leading to this conversation:
Hayato: I didn't know. So I'm really a good guy.
Hongou: Yeah. That's what I said.
- Long-John Silver in Treasure Island and many of its various adaptations. After developing a fatherly relationship with Jim throughout the ship's journey, when the time comes to mutiny he finds himself unable to kill the boy. Where it goes from there depends on the work itself:
- Downplayed in the original novel as he essentially becomes The Bad in The Good, the Bad, and the Evil for a while, before making a deal with the protagonists. He's still an awful person though, and ends up stealing a chest of loot and running away after they've escaped the island
- Some child-friendly adaptations have Long-John eventually turning on the rest of the pirate crew and becoming a good guy, if not always a great guy.
- Zig-Zagged in Muppet Treasure Island as Long-John only turns on his crew long enough to let Jim escape. He weasels his way out of a Black Spot and remains the main villain. After being defeated he manages to escape from the ship with a chest full of gold, after Jim decides to look the other way as long as Silver never contacts him again. (Laser-Guided Karma does the rest, thanks to a leaky lifeboat)
- This seems to be used regularly in works by David Gemmell. He would often have a character who because of a tough life thought of himself as a mean bastard who only did things for selfish reasons. The character would join the protagonist(s) because it seemed to benefit him. However, at the end, he would find that he really is a good person though it often preceded a Heroic Sacrifice.
- Morningstar had the titular character constantly proclaim that he was only doing things to get rich or to save his life. It's only after he becomes a legendary hero revered by a nation that he realizes that he did all of these things because he is a good person.
- Waylander has a scene where a known liar, thief and murderer is scanned by a pair of telepathic villains who deem him no threat to their evil plans and proceed on their way. The idea that these mooks would consider him as morally irredeemable as themselves offends him so much that he performs a Heroic Sacrifice just to prove that there is some good in him.
- In the book series The Sisters Grimm, Puck is often seen shouting that he is "a villain of the worst kind", and playing pranks... but when it comes right down to it, he's one of the most heroic characters, to the point of nearly getting killed to save Sabrina's life — more than once! When other characters point out how heroic he is, he flips out and sulks for a while, then tries to prove how evil he is with a prank or two. and then the cycle repeats.
- Jherek from Threat From The Sea trilogy was a hard case. Tried long and hard to convince everyone starting from himself that as a pirate's runaway son he can't possibly be any good, before being forced to admit the painfully obvious (for everyone else) fact that he's a paladin and when he happens to heal someone with a touch, it's not because of some cheap amulet.
- In Going Postal, Moist imagines, at the end, running off and returning to his con-man life. Instead, he lets Adora Belle hold his hand, and he tells himself that it's enough to be able to tell himself that he can leave at any time.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: Realizing that stealing all the Who's presents did not stop them from celebrating Christmas, the Grinch realizes that "Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." In both the animated special and the live-action film, the realization comes as he tries to stop the sled with all the presents from going over the cliff.
- One of Dumbledore's running schemes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is to save Draco Malfoy by convincing him that he doesn't belong with the Death Eaters. At the moment of truth, when Draco has Dumbledore dead to rights...he can't bring himself to do it. The moment Harry saw Draco lower his wand, Harry stopped seeing him as a hated rival and started pitying him. Though Draco doesn't quite manage a Heel–Face Turn in the next book, he's extremely unhappy with all of the torture and murder happening around him. The same applies to his parents. Once they get him back they basically go neutral although Narcissa was never all that evil to start with.
- In Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie, Stephen Farraday's courtship and marriage with Lady Alexandra Hayle are a coldly calculated Batman Gambit on his side, and he is aware he has married her solely because of her family's immense political influence. That is, until his gorgeous but ditzy lover begs him to elope with her. It suddenly dawns on him he can't do it, and it's not the thought of a ruined career that scares him most but the thought of losing his wife, whom, he realizes, he has really loved from the moment he saw her.
- In Xena: Warrior Princess, Joxer comes from a long line of warlords and tries his best to be evil, but he just can't do it. He's the White Sheep of the family, and quite embarrassed about it.
- In the Doctor Who episode The Woman Who Lived, we find Ashildr, the girl who the Doctor gave immortality to save her life, has over 800 years become 'Lady Me', an amoral shell of her former self, and is willing to kill a man for her own crimes in order to leave the earth behind and roam the galaxy. However, her Leonian benefactor turned out to be a lying lion, and used the portal created to invade the planet. As his people fill the sky and slaughter civilians, Me is most horrified to discover she actually cares about their lives.
The Doctor: It's awful, isn't it? It's infuriating. You think you don't care, then you fall off the wagon.
- Seeing how a face is generally considered to be any wrestler that gets cheered for, any wrestler who finds themselves getting cheered for consistently will realize they are a face. That said, face doesn't always mean "good person" in professional wrestling. William Regal will always be a dirty rotten scoundrel with hate in his heart, no matter how much you all cheer him. Then again, even he can look "good" next to, say, Evolution or La Resistance.
- Macaela Mercedes, taken aback by the fact the fans of the Apocalypse Wrestling Federation were actually cheering for her, felt inspired to wrestle cleanly from there on out.
- Místico tried his hand a being a rudo, liking the "all is fair in love and war" philosophy he learned his Arch-Nemesis Averno was living by when they were forced to team up by CMLL and declared he was defending Mexico City. However, after trying to live it out, Mistico realized he was no good at it and went back to wrestling as a tecnico.
- Kevin Steen tried to reform but when that didn't work, he drove Jimmy Jacobs and Steve Corino off the right path and started Suffering Ugliness Chaos Mayhem (SCUM) to destroy Ring of Honor to show the triumph of evil, spite Jim Cornette and act as a stepping stone to the toppling of the whole industry (Chikara would be next). But after declaring Steen a failure and kicking him out of the group in favor of Matt Hardy, Steen watched them go on to try and destroy ROH without him and realized he still liked the promotion.
- His match with Caleb Konley on EVOLVE 32 was when Lenny Leonard came to the realization that Johnny Gargano had become a baby face. Gargano wouldn't realize it himself until EVOLVE 33, when he realized he couldn't sit back and watch the Premier Athlete Brand torment and attack Rich Swann any longer, even though he didn't like Swann.
- Jake Roberts was once tormenting Miss Elizabeth in ways so despicable and terrifying that The Undertaker, the Biggest Bad, was moved to intervene.
Jake "The Snake" Roberts: Hey, whose side are you on, anyway!?The Undertaker: NOT YOURS.
- In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, Gabriel Belmont/Dracula, who has been doing various semi-heroic things over the course of the game while believing he had resigned himself to villainy long ago, remembers the Memory Gambit he and his son Alucard had come up with when Alucard touches his shoulder while he is about to go and kill Guido Szandor. The smile on his face says it all.
- Rin Tohsaka in Fate/stay night is constantly trying to be a typical magus (many of whom aren't that nice) while belittling Shirou for trying to be a hero. But in every route, she realizes that that's just not the person she is. Most tellingly, in Heavens Feel, where she can't bring herself to kill her sister Sakura, even though she's become an Eldritch Abomination who's been (at first unknowingly) killing everyone around her. She acknowledges that she no longer has any right to berate Shirou afterwards.
- In the He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special, Skeletor makes a slow Heel–Face Turn thanks to the charms of a robotic puppy and two children. When it comes time to deliver the children to Horde Prime, he instead attacks Horde Prime, and exclaims "I don't know what's come over me!"
- During the second "Boiling Rock" episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Mai pulls a You Shall Not Pass! to save Zuko. After being captured, she prepares to face Azula's wrath. Which is when Ty Lee surprises everyone, including herself, by blocking Azula's chi to prevent her from killing Mai.
- The Legend of Korra: While more of a Token Evil Teammate than full villain, Varrick is entirely upfront about being a greedy profiteer/mad scientist, but he eventually finds a line that even he won't cross when he discovers that the spirit vines are being used to create weapons of unimaginable power, power the likes of which he feels that no man should have.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: SpongeBob and Patrick try to reform Mermaid Man's archnemesis Man-Ray, who is prevented from doing evil by a tickling belt. After many tests which Man-Ray fails, the belt goes haywire and Man-Ray begs to be freed, even saying "Please", which for SpongeBob is good enough to consider him rehabilitated. Man-Ray immediately packs all the weapons he can find and goes to the nearest bank with the intention of robbing it. However, he finds that every time he tries, he just breaks out in laughter. Realizing that "the urge to do bad is gone", he gives up being evil for good. (Or at least until his next appearance.)