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Fantastic Anthropologist

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"What, exactly, is the function of a rubber duck?"

Astonishing as it may seem, not all non-Muggle characters are on a crusade to murder us Muggles. In fact, their motivations will turn out to be surprisingly mundane — they want to see how us crazy Muggles operate. How do we keep from getting cold without any fur? Where does our food come from if we don't have access to Functional Magic? And how do we... reproduce?

This usually non-malicious character type has one primary function in a story—comedy. Because it's hard to beat the humor of someone who doesn't understand human customs trying to make any sort of sense out of them. The Fantastic Anthropologist very rarely has long-term story implications in large part because part of their job is to keep the Muggles in the dark about what's going on.

In terms of narrative, the Fantastic Anthropologist's culture can sometimes be a satire of our own. After all, as wacky as this guy may seem, when it gets right down to it we're not so different.

Depending on the point of view of the story can often come off as Captain Oblivious. Frequently an Amusing Alien character. Compare Fantastic Science, Crazy Cultural Comparison, Intrigued by Humanity, The Xenophile. A subtrope of The Watcher.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Eris from Cat Planet Cuties is sent as a scout by her species the Catians to check Earth as a suitable diplomatic partner. The Catians' outlook is that of tourists: her reports on Japanese cuisine makes the Catian expedition hurry to establish formal relations.
  • Subverted in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. Elma claimed that the reason she got a job at Kobayashi's office was part of a study to see if beings from the other world could assimilate to Earth culture. Kobayashi quickly realized that this was a lie and she was just too embarrassed to admit that she had no way to get back to the other world on her own.
  • Nagisa Aizawa from My Monster Secret was sent to Earth in order to study its culture and determine if her planet can open friendly relations with them. Mostly this means she reads too much manga... I mean "historical documents", but one chapter shows a documentary about her efforts where she struggles to identify the purpose of a baby shower cap before deciding it's a decoration akin to the great frilled lizard.
  • In Sgt. Frog, whenever the Keronians aren't plotting to take over Earth, they're studying its culture, occasionally getting it hilariously wrong: in one chapter, they assume that Natsumi's school swimsuit is an amphibious battle-suit based on Keronian physiology, and in another, they mistake a bowling alley for a military training center.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Little Mermaid: Ariel is hugely interested in what human life is like. However, she's got some very... strange notions about us, mostly courtesy of her seagull friend whose info is completely off base.

  • Animorphs: At one early point, the alien Ax laments that, stuck on Earth, there is no opportunity for military advancement. So he decides he will make the most of the situation and become his species' foremost expert on humans.
  • Isaac Asimov's "What Is This Thing Called Love?": The alien protagonists are abducting humans in order to better understand us.
  • At one point in The Dinosaur Lords, Karyl has an odd encounter with a strange and likely non-human woman who tells him she's visiting dying men to ask them what it's like to be human. Being as he is (amnesiac, naked, cold, and dying), he gives her an unflattering description, which she listens to with interest.
  • Harry Potter: Arthur Weasley has his recurring hobby of studying Muggles as a regular tension reliever in the plot. Mrs. Weasley is not amused when on one occasion he goes so far as to use Muggle medicine to try and stitch up some serious wounds he had incurred.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land: Michael Valentine is a human raised by Martians who returns to Earth as an adult, eventually he discovers that the Martians have been monitoring his thoughts to evaluate humanity's threat potential, and starts a religion to teach Earth Psychic Powers so they can compete with them.
  • Ford Prefect from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy does this for the titular Guide. However, the editors trim down the comprehensive article he wrote about Earth to "Mostly Harmless" (it previously read "Harmless.")
  • In The Shadow Out of Time the Great Race of Yith swap consciousnesses with people from different times and planets in order to learn from them. And evaluate their potential as future hosts.
  • In Robert Silverberg's "Flies", a human space traveler crash-lands on the planet of a race who are able to save him with their advanced medicine. In return, they enable him to transmit the feelings of others so that they can study humans, but tragedy ensues when this enables him to inflict grievous suffering without experiencing any effects of remorse.
  • Spots the Space Marine: Samuel Colt is a non-comic example. While his primary mission is weapons evaluation, he studies human customs as a hobby.
  • In Alien in a Small Town, Paul the Starfish Alien earns his living on Earth as an essayist, writing about human behavior from an outsider's point of view. Human readers seem to like his stuff.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: Mr. Copper from "Voyage of the Damned" claims to be an expert on Earth cultures and leads a tour group of Human Aliens on a visit to London. It becomes obvious right away that Copper is a Know-Nothing Know-It-All whose Phony Degree in "Earthonomics" is from a diploma mill (that also operates as a dry cleaner). He lied about his qualifications to get the cushy job travelling the universe and gets away with it because his employers and customers know even less about Earth than he does.
  • Mork & Mindy: Mork was originally sent to Earth to observe humanity in their natural environment and report back to the other Orkans. Each episode ends with him sending a report to his superior, Orson.
  • My Favorite Martian: Uncle Martin is a Martian anthropologist and the foremost expert on the planet Earth and Earthlings. As Martians are friendly but unbelievably advanced, his views on Earth range from bemusement to frustration with Earth's backwardness.
  • The Outer Limits episode "Controlled Experiment". A pair of Martians investigate the quaint Earth custom of murder by using a time machine to run an actual murder forward and backward in time.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun:
    • Dick and his "family" observe what life is like on Earth and report the findings back to base. Their ultimate goal, however, remains vague throughout the series. We know they're not trained anthropologists, in part because they routinely received poor job evaluations but also because Dick and Tommy are clearly shown to be experts in hard science while Sally is a soldier and Harry is their communication link to the home planet making him, effectively, equipment. Earlier episodes imply that they are not used to running into planets or lifeforms with diverse cultures or complex emotions. Most notably, their initial stay was supposed to last only a few weeks, long enough to copy over the sum of human knowledge and leave. When they discovered there was more to humanity than just the dry facts of our history, they decided that Earth warranted longer investigation and extended the mission in order to explore the "human condition" by experiencing it first hand.
    • On occasion they would run into other aliens. One such alien was a Fantastic Anthropologist with a far more specific goal — determine whether Earth was valuable enough to avoid destroying (since it was somehow blocking their view of part of the universe).
  • The Twilight Zone: In "Mr. Dingle, the Strong", both the Martians and the Venusians conduct experiments on Luther Dingle to see how he'll react when he gains Super-Strength and then Super-Intelligence.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Fraggle Rock: Gobo Fraggle's uncle, Traveling Matt, explores "Outer Space" (the human world), trying to understand the differences between Fraggle-kind and humanity. Every episode, he sends a postcard back to Fraggle Rock with details of a recent adventure he's had involving humans.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Europan Emissaries in Rocket Age immerse themselves into the social roles of different cultures, to gain a greater insight into the other peoples of the solar system.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5e has the Anthropologist background, which may be played as this should the player wish. They could also be interested in genuinly exotic cultures, but most players enjoy the novelty of a Lizard Folk who studies human culture.

    Web Comics 
  • Get Medieval features anthropology student Asher Hane as one of the Human Alien protagonists stuck in 14th century France.
  • Not So Distant stars an alien interning as an archaeologist in a post-apocalyptic Earth, only to find a Time Machine and make the switch to anthropology.

    Western Animation 
  • Pleakley from Lilo & Stitch is an "Earth expert" interested in humanity's life on the planet who, among other things, believes that you eat cereal with a fork.
  • Gus from The Owl House is a big fan of all things human, to the point of having started the Human Appreciation Society at his school, which is dedicated to analyzing the few human artifacts that wind up in the Boiling Isles... often coming to hilariously incorrect conclusions about what they're used for. (For example, he ponders why humans would nail bits of metal to their children's teeth, and concludes it must somehow be beneficial for them to be magnetic.) He's thrilled to meet Luz, who's happy to answer his questions and even comes to a Human Appreciation Society meeting as a guest speaker. (Fittingly, Luz was a huge fan of fantasy fiction before coming to the Boiling Isles and was equally delighted to find out witches and other magical creatures are real.)
  • Ready Jet Go!: Celery and Carrot Propulsion came to Earth to study it. They return to Bortron in 'Return to Bortron 7' and give a report on it.