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Flashy Protagonists, Bland Extras

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"Really, both of them seemed very ordinary, almost generic. They weren't especially good-looking, although they appeared reasonably well-built, and neither one had any particularly distinguishing features. They were people who would probably blend into a crowd with zero difficulty, with the kind of faces you might see on unimportant background characters in a manga or anime."
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In media, often times the major characters will have flashy designs while background characters have more generic ones. This ultimately ends up making the protagonist look like they have a Non-Standard Character Design.

This trope is used to make sure the viewer knows which characters are important and to make sure the main characters don't blend into the scenery. In anime and manga this often results in the protagonist having bright blue Anime Hair while the characters around him have brown hair and more average haircuts. In other works, specifically in school or military settings, you can tell who is who because the main characters use Non Uniform Uniforms or Custom Uniforms while the background characters don't.

This trope is a major reason for a Hair Color Spoiler, as a character will be introduced with a design too noticeable to make them a random extra or minor character.

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Sub-trope to Distinctive Appearances and related to The Law of Conservation of Detail. Compare to Faceless Masses, which goes even more extreme and makes the background characters have little-to-no features, and Hero with a Unique Name, where the protagonist has a stand-out name. Contrast with Vanilla Protagonist, Ridiculously Average Guy, and Cast of Snowflakes, where every character got a distinctive design. In some cases, the protagonist is Stylized for the Viewer and not "really" meant to look abnormally designed.


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Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • A long running campaign for Kelloggs' Special K was built on the premise that The Special K Girl really is special in every way. She is the centre of attraction in her social circle - vibrant, attractive, happy, the girl everyone wants to be with. And it isn't just due to the breakfast cereal she chose: she stood out in her circle of girlfriends as the taller, prettier, one who invariably dressed in bright eye-catching red, when all her mates were confined to white, grey or pastel coloured clothing...

    Anime and Manga 
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure takes this to a ludicrous degree. It started out relatively tame with the main character being an 6ft 5 buff dude with anime hair, but it got more and more obvious as the series evolved. By the time of Part 5, most, if not all important characters, are dressed in an such an outrageous, Lady Gaga- esque fashion that they wouldn't look out of place in a Gucci fashion show, and that is putting it mildly; many fans even joke about how Stand users can be identified by how fabulously they dress and pose, and how having a Stand can change one's sense of fashion. In contrast, most background characters and non-Stand users have more-or-less mundane fashion senses.
  • School-Live!:
  • Background characters in Yu-Gi-Oh! anime tend to have generic looking designs with brown or black hair. This only makes the infamous Anime Hair of the main characters stand out all that much more.
  • Subverted in Nurse Angel Ririka SOS. Ririka's blonde hair is not just to note that she's sweet and heroic. It's plot related foreshadowing. Most characters are brunettes, with the Human Aliens having technicolor hair and Ririka being a blonde. Ririka's blondness stems from her being the reincarnation of the original Nurse Angel.
  • Pretty Cure:
    • At the start of Glitter Force it's very easy to tell which characters will be main characters during the classroom scene. All the random background students have black or brown hair in mundane styles, while the protagonists have hair colors like bright yellow and purple.
    • Everyone in Yes! Pretty Cure 5 has mundane hair colours except for the leads. Rin and Urara have natural hair colours that are unusual for Japanese people. The others just have oddball hair colours.
  • Naruto:
    • Background characters and Red Shirts in Naruto rarely have hair colors other than brown or black. Their hairstyles can be flashy, however most of the time they don't have Anime Hair like the important characters.
    • Subverted in the Spin-Offspring series Boruto. While they still mostly have black or brown hair, most of Boruto's classmates in the ninja academy have individual designs that stand out.
    • Subverted in the Naruto (1997) pilot. Naruto's blonde hair and blue eyes are specifically because he's not human—he's a kitsune. All the other characters have mundane designs.
  • A variant done in One-Punch Man, where The Protagonist Saitama actually has a simpler, sillier design compared to all other characters who look more realistic. Only when he gets serious, does he get more pronounced and defined facial designs.
  • In Princess Princess, the protagonists stand out from the rest of the plain, brown/dark-haired students. Tooru is blue-hairednote , Mikoto's hair is reddish pink and Yuujirou is blonde and got longer hair than the others. The only other important student, Sakamoto, got green hair.
  • Youtuber ErynCerise noted this trope regarding Love Live! - the premise (high school girls becoming idols) would seem to indicate the show would be about ordinary girls being transformed, but almost all of the main characters were already very distinctive, complete with brightly-colored hair and unusual hairstyles, even before the show starts. Only Hanayo, with her short bobbed light-brown hair and meek personality, resembles the show's extras more than her teammates.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • Inverted. Freckled, round-faced and green-haired Izuku Midoriya is singled out as "plain-looking" by most of the other members of his class, who are often more distinctive (i.e. Tokoyami has a bird head, Shoji has multiple arms, and Mineta has sticky purple balls growing from his head). Played straight when comparing 1-A as a whole to numerous background extras, who often have black and brown hair and mundane hairstyles.
    • Double-subverted in some of the larger crowd scenes. As, there are always a few people with visibly WEIRD quirks.
  • In SSSS.GRIDMAN, Yuta stands out from the rest of the human cast thanks to his brilliant red hair. Similarly, Akane has lilac-colored hair and paled red eyes, marking her as a major character as well.
  • Sailor Moon: Only major characters tend to have Anime Hair and out-there hair colours.
  • In Bakuten Shoot Beyblade, background characters have mundane hair and features while major characters have brighter designs. It's most notable when characters are part of the audience and sit amidst backgrounders.
  • Most background characters in Pokémon have duller coloured designs than the main characters. One major exception is Ash. He looks like a fairly ordinary Japanese boy besides his stylized Anime Hair. This is in part Early Installment Weirdness because Kanto had more down-to-earth designs than future generations (especially in the games).

    Comic Books 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Canon Foreigner characters in Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog are usually more humanoid than the Funny Animal SegaSonic characters. Even those that aren't still don't quite look on par with the Sonic Team-designed characters (for example, Furry Female Manes are common with Archie's original but extremely rare in game canon). This was fixed when the 2013 Continuity Reboot allowed for redesigns of all non-game characters. The characters were given more SegaSonic-looking designs, though they still look a bit different.
    • Sonic the Comic doesn't even try to blend in its cartoony SegaSonic characters with the Canon Foreigner cast. Though the Freedom Fighters such as Tekno and Shortfuse blend in well enough alongside Sonic and Amy, others are much taller and more humanoid than the Sega-created characters.

    Film — Animation 
  • Frozen: Inverted. The main characters are styled completely differently from the background and minor characters. Leads like Elsa, Anna, Hans, and Kristoff have filled out bodies as men or traditional, slender, Disney ones as females. Background characters have a wide range of body types and are drawn more cartoony.
  • A Show Within a Show example occurs in Bolt's introduction. Bolt was the sole White Shepherd out of a litter of German Shepherd puppies.
  • Downplayed in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The background characters and minor characters have generic black eyes, while major characters like Quasimodo and Esmeralda have eye colors. This is most noticeable in the ending scene. The little girl gains Innocent Blue Eyes for her close-up, only to go back to black eyes in the subsequent scene.
  • Played straight in most of The Lion King. The actual characters in the movie all look cartoonish, whereas the background animals all look realistic. Averted in the "I Just Can't Wait to be King" Disney Acid Sequence, in which all animals look cartoonish.

    Video Games 

    Web Original 
  • Parodied in a Tumblr post where a girl was born looking like a typical, pink haired anime protagonist. She goes out of her way to avoid becoming one.
    • Other variations of the post invert this by setting it in a world where everyone has a unique design, but the main characters are the ones who dyed their hair and changed their wardrobe to blend in. This trope kicks in when it's shown that while the artificially unique characters are visually distinct, the natural-born flashy ones are walking stereotypes.
  • This has led to the meme "Spot The Main Character". The meme is where people post particularly noticeable examples of anime characters having implausible hairstyles and designs compared to background extras.
  • RWBY:
    • RWBY plays this straight. In the first season, background characters were literally black placeholders (allowing you to pick out main characters simply by being actual human beings instead of placeholders), before they started using generic models for crowds in the second season. This makes the Hair Color Spoiler for Pyrrha all the more obvious.
    • Volume 4 and 5 subvert this. It introduces many mundane-looking important characters and even the main characters get drabber clothes. This is to emphasise how darker the world gotten after the Wham Episode finale of Volume 3. Volume 6 downplays this by introducing more brightly coloured characters.

    Western Animation 
  • Jem is bad at featuring major characters with bright pink or green hair in heavy contrast to extras who have brown or black hair. This would normally be justified under the characters dyeing their hair to have '80s Hair, however flashbacks show that their hair is natural. Raya has pink hair despite her parents and siblings having dark hair, while Clash was the only one in her family born with abnormally purple hair. Even Riot stands out from his parents as he is a tan blond while they're lighter skinned and brunettes.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has a somewhat complicated relationship with this trope:
    • One an individual level, this trope is largely inverted. Background ponies and supporting characters who only show up for one episode are just as colorful and have designs just as complex as the main six ponies. Further, the main six all have the same generic female body shape, while background ponies and one-shot characters in later seasons of the show often get completely unique proportions.
    • On the other hand, this trope is played much straighter on a broad scale, as the background character crowds tend to have very obvious cases of Only Six Faces. The show's use of Flash animation makes it very quick and easy to create new character models by taking preexisting ones and adding or removing features: thus, background ponies are made by taking basic mare and stallion body types and adding a mane and tail chosen from a number of preset styles; these models are further modified by being recolored multiple times and having horns, wings or neither added on.
      • The result is that it is common for background crowds to include characters that, while individually as visually complex as the main characters, look identical to each other in every detail but their color schemes or in one being a pegasus and another a unicorn. Further, a given finished model can often be copy-pasted multiple times in a single crowd shot — it's far from uncommon in early episodes to see various characters each appear three or four times in a single shot, or to have a large crowd consisting almost entirely of only six or so distinct character models. The main cast, by contrast, all have unique models of their own that are very rarely, if ever, Palette Swapped to make background ponies. The main characters do not have inherently flashier designs than background characters, but they stand out by virtue of being much more distinct and unique.
      • Further, more or less the same finished background pony designs are used for filling background crowds regardless of in-show location, with minor modifications for settings with specific themes — in the cloud city of Cloudsdale, the background ponies are the usual ones all turned into pegasi; in the Wild West town of Appleloosa, the background ponies are again the ones seen everywhere else but with cowboy hats and bonnets added; and so on.
  • Jay Ward's cartoon series The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle center upon a flying squirrel and an upright moose bumbling through the United States, which is filled with nondescript human people. Almost everyone in-universe regards our heroes as an Unusually Uninteresting Sight. Of course, Jay Ward produced these cartoons on a shoestring budget, so background and incidental characters are drawn only slightly more fleshed out than Noodle People as one of many Limited Animation measures.
  • The Simpsons inverts this. The Simpsons themselves look quite cartoony, with Sphere Eyes and stylized hair, while many supporting characters are drawn more realistically. This is due to the series' Art Evolution. In the first season, the Simpsons family blended in with background characters, however new characters began looking more realistic starting with the second season.
  • Background human characters in Steven Universe have Black Bead Eyes, making them look more simplified than the ones with names—although sometimes even the main characters will be drawn that way when they're shown from long distance.
  • The Loonatics Unleashed are Funny Animals with superpowers and Color-Coded for Your Convenience in a City of Adventure called Acmetropolis that's inhabited by mostly normal muggles that tend to flee from the Monster of the Week. Aside from the Rogues Gallery and the Loonatics' mentor, Zadavia, all other characters appear slightly more detailed than henohenomoheji and do little more than stare in awe and flee in terror, rarely even speaking any lines.
  • Oddbods: The main seven Oddbods have the seven colors of the rainbow with different antennae in the top of their head, while background Oddbods are Gray with no antennae at all.
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