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Innocent Bystander
aka: Innocent Bystanders

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"Hey, I'm just an innocent bystander innocently standing by!"

Ah, the Innocent Bystander: where would villains be without them to use as Human Shields and the heroes to rescue in a Hostage for MacGuffin? This noble profession has been much maligned by its incredibly high mortality rates and penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In a setting where being the hero is a major pain in the rear, these characters have a rare talent for making things more difficult for the hero. Bonus points if these bystanders are super unappreciative.

Though similar to Muggles, the main difference is that the Innocent Bystander is not necessarily clueless or mundane (superheroes, wizards, or mutants can be innocent bystanders in the right, or wrong, circumstances), they just happen to be near a situation most qualified heroes would be hard pressed to escape alive. Essentially, they are those who must be protected, rescued or saved from a villain who will eat, kidnap, torture, or kill them. Since they're pretty expendable, it's even odds a few will be killed just to show how evil the bad guy is.

Not surprisingly, these folks are often the crux for heroes having to operate with a No-Harm Requirement. Stomping the bad guys would be a cakewalk for our heroes...if only it didn't mean that their efforts would result in unfathomable amounts of Collateral Damage and threatening the lives of the very bystanders they're trying to save. If you often find yourself wondering why the hero has to hold back against evil doers all the time, this trope is often why. Often the heroes' go-to solution is to take the fight AWAY from the helpess innocent folks and their property so that they can finally go all out.

If the Bystander gets dragged along for the ride (be it as a hostage or a press-ganged helper for the hero), they may get upgraded to Mauve Shirt. If a Running Gag is made of how the same Bystander(s) keep running into the heroes, it's an example of a Yuppie Couple. If there's a whole bus full of these, it's a Bus Full of Innocents. Despite their squishiness, they may use a Defiant Stone Throw in the hero's favor.

Quite a few series start with this premise. Arthur Dent of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is essentially an Innocent Bystander caught up in events he can't understand. By the end of the series he becomes something of a Heroic Bystander, though. They do get a chance at the spotlight sometimes though; check out Innocent Bystander Series, and its cousin trope the Lower-Deck Episode.

Innocent Bystanders are often the targets of:

Compare with the Action Survivor (who is essentially an Innocent Bystander as an action movie protagonist) and Unlucky Extra (when the same poor guy shows up multiple times).

Contrast Badass Bystander, Invulnerable Civilians. Not to be confused with the Living Prop, who has no bearing on the scene whatsoever besides adding to the scene's atmosphere.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Okajima Rokuro in Black Lagoon — who just so happens to be the main character.
  • Subverted in the first episode of Elfen Lied where The Ditz secretary Kisaragi, is beheaded and used as a body shield by the main character Lucy, possibly showing how ruthless and sadistic she is. Then again, it's Lucy we're talking about. The same Lucy who ruthlessly murders whole families simply because she needs a place to sleep. Even if you can get her doing it to the cruel orphanage kids as she both gets broken and finally gains access to her powers, the Kisaragi deal and the families are... not as justified/understandable/ whatever. Even more so when this also includes Kouta's father and sister.
  • Akumetsu, no matter how extreme his plans get, will never let the innocent become involved. It's part of what keeps him from Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
  • Rushuna's first run-in with the Jester in Grenadier is a straight example, with the Jester even doing a bit of Lampshade Hanging as he notes that while Rushuna can dodge the blasts of his gun, her less-than-super friend sure as hell can't.
  • These sorts of characters are often used in Chrono Crusade to show just how dire the situation has gotten—or how badly the heroes have screwed up. Near the beginning of the series, innocent bystanders are caught in the rubble after a fight Chrono and Rosette have with demons — luckily, Azmaria has healing powers. Later in volume 5 of the manga, several civilians are caught in a battle between Aion, Viede, and Chrono in the middle of an Unstoppable Rage. Many of them are killed because of CHRONO'S actions, and not the bad guys as much.
  • Winry's parents in Fullmetal Alchemist. Winry nearly becomes one of these herself when she overhears that Scar killed them.
  • Poor, poor Rangyaku and Keikei in The Twelve Kingdoms.
  • Saji Crossroads and Louise Halevy from Mobile Suit Gundam 00 are cruel deconstruction of this trope.
  • Penguindrum has Asami Kubo, a young girl whom Kanba meets up with in episode 4. She's pushed down a metro escalator. She lives to tell, but ends up being given Laser-Guided Amnesia.
  • Urusei Yatsura had Mr. Noodle and Miss Soup, who were always trying to have a romantic moment, but were constantly interrupted by aliens, demons, monsters, and teenagers rampaging through.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Astro City story "Pastoral", the villains menace the people attending a carnival in an attempt to draw out local hero Roustabout.
  • Supergirl:
    • Red Daughter of Krypton the Red Lanterns fight back against an alien invasion in planet Grax, and Supergirl saves an innocent little girl who was about to be killed. Later on, Supergirl enemy Worldkiller-1 threatens with body-snatching an innocent bystander unless Kara lets it take over her body.
    • In Supergirl Volume 2 #23, when Supergirl fights a mutant, the super-villain shoots at random bystanders to keep her distracted.
      Supergirl: Good Lord! Don't you care what happens to these people?
      Barry: Frankly... NO!
    • Bizarrogirl: After arriving in Metropolis, Bizarrogirl tears up the place. Her rampage killed one person and hurt plenty more. Once she understands human concepts of "right" and "wrong" she is devastated and falls apart.
    • In that same story, Kara feels guilty about the thousands of innocent people killed by Zod and his army during the climax of New Krypton.
      Supergirl: I didn't tell her that's exactly how I felt after New Krypton. After my people killed thousands of innocent bystanders.

    Fan Works 
  • Hellsister Trilogy: Satan Girl's first action is killing off the crew of a United Planets starship. Her second action is smashing a pleasure cruiser full of innocent civilians into pieces just because wanton destruction arouses her.
  • Jimmy's Visit With Dr. Franklin: Richie was the one who got shot, even though he wasn't Jimmy's target.

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), John mentions that he's killed fifty or sixty people (though he doesn't keep track), and asks his wife not to be intimidated. She interrupts that she's killed three hundred and twelve.
    Jane: Some were two at a time.
    John: Are you counting innocent bystanders?
  • Todd and Margo in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation may be a couple of obnoxious jerks, but are just going about their lives when, due to their crazy neighbor, their carpet is ruined, their window gets broken, and the police invade their house by mistake.


    Live-Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the character of Jonathan is the go-to innocent bystander whom Buffy saves several times per season until he decides to become a super-villain himself.
  • Subverted in Prison Break when Michael and Lincoln's father appears to be an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time when Paul Kellerman is about to try to kill Lincoln. Kellerman gets ready to kill the old man, but can't even turn around before copping a shovel to the back of the head.
  • Happens in Doctor Who on occasion, with some random civilian getting dragged into the villainous plot of the moment. A typical example is Arthur Ollis in "The Three Doctors", who ends up getting teleported away along with the various Doctors and their companions. At least his job as a wildlife warden means he's got a shotgun with him...

  • MAD once did a superhero parody with a character named, literally, Innocent Bystander, something along the lines of: "Officers! The jewel thieves went down that alley! You can easily head them off!" "You've saved the day again, Innocent Bystander!"

  • Joy Division's "Shadowplay" features such a protagonist:
    "As the assassins all grouped in four lines, dancing on the floor,
    And with cold steel, odour on their bodies made a move to connect,
    But I could only stare in disbelief as the crowds all left."

    Newspaper Comics 
  • An early Peanuts strip had Linus (then a baby who couldn't walk or talk) getting blamed for something, and another character protesting, "He's just an innocent by-sitter!"

    Video Games 

  • The creator of Union of Heroes once invited his readers to become Innocent Bystanders of his photocomic by sending him portraits which were later included in the story.
  • In Sluggy Freelance the Main Characters are actually responsible (though usually accidentally) for quite a few Innocent Bystanders biting the dust. In fact, once two fans of the strip won the right to have a cameo appearance in the story. Pete Abrams, the writer/artist, honored this agreement, and had them crushed to death by Aylee.
  • Waterworks: The workers of the eponymous facility, which was invaded by a gang of thugs, are initially this, but they provide the characters with increasing amount of help throughout.

    Web Videos 
  • World War II: The sub-series the "War Against Humanity" gives focus to the millions of civilians who are wounded and murdered as a result of the war and atrocities such as The Holocaust related to the war.

    Western Animation 
  • The Yuppie Couple of Gargoyles, Margot and Brendan were frequently made innocent bystanders. It happened so often they even began getting snippy at each other when their ideas for a quiet getaway turn into a run in with monsters or kidnappers or robots or what have you.
  • In the Darkwing Duck episode "Planet of the Capes" exactly one person on a certain alien planet isn't a superhero; he's named Normal Guy and the planet's superhero population devote themselves to protecting him. And only him. In the end, he becomes a supervillain just to get them all off his back.

    Real Life 
  • This trope is what signaled the eventual doom of the cigarette industry. When the health threat of second hand smoke was proven by the 1980s, it was a fact that no PR firm could spin about the need to restrict smoking. After all, the tobacco companies could manipulate their addicts to ignore scientific evidence, but there was no way they could do the same to non-smokers.

Alternative Title(s): Innocent Bystanders