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Insecure Protagonist, Arrogant Antagonist

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Good antagonists should contrast the protagonists in some way. While they may be Not So Different, they still need to be different where it counts, so the audience understands why they're meant to side with the character they're following and what stands between each character and reaching their goal. One common contrast is by making the protagonist shy, insecure, and/or inexperienced, and the antagonist arrogant, confident, and in a better position to achieve their ultimate goal.

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This works for several reasons.

For the protagonist, this makes them far more likeable and relatable. A lot of us can relate to having insecurities or social anxieties. This trope plays off of that feeling, making the protagonist immediately more sympathetic to the audience. Their lack of self-confidence doesn't mean they aren't good at what they do. In a lot of works, the protagonist is still highly skilled at what it is they're doing and probably should have a higher opinion of themselves but stand in their own way (compare Skilled, but Naïve). In this regard, they're similar to and overlap with Humble Hero, not considering their abilities anything all that special and disregarding compliments they get about it. In some other works, the protagonist may indeed be a newbie or outwardly a loser, and their Character Development is to build their self-esteem as they become stronger or more skilled. See also Underdogs Never Lose. Occasionally, you may see the protagonist as outwardly confident or even cocky, but they may also (revealed to) be hiding some insecurities and baggage beneath; see Big Ego, Hidden Depths and Inferiority Superiority Complex.

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For the antagonist, on the other hand, this trope sets us against them from the start. Much as we can relate to having low self-esteem, we can also relate to knowing people far more arrogant and egotistical than we'd like them to be. So, just as the insecurities make the protagonist endearing, the arrogance makes the antagonist someone we feel safe rooting against. Much like the hero, they're usually pretty good at what it is they do, especially if the protagonist and antagonist are in the same field or trying to achieve the same goal. This means they're often the Privileged Rival. However, if they don't lose due to their overconfidence, they lose because the protagonist gained their own confidence- so to prevent this from happening, they use the protagonist's insecurities against them, keeping them feeling inferior and useless through bullying tactics. Evil Is Hammy is also related, as hamminess often stems from arrogance or ego.

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That's not to say that the antagonist may not have any insecurities themselves; it's just that, for the purpose of contrasting them against the protagonist, the antagonist's arrogance is more prominent (i.e given more focus) and they may not let their insecurities (if they have any) slow them down, unlike the protagonist.

Contrast Awesome Ego (fans may like an antagonist because of their ego), Villainous Underdog, and Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball: The central members of the Z Fighters like Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, and Future Trunks all deal with their own forms of personal baggage, but strive to overcome it all in order to become stronger fighters and better people to protect those close to them. Many of their enemies like Vegeta (pre-Heel–Face Turn and Character Development), Frieza, Cell, Super Buu, Zamasu, and Jiren all have extremely arrogant personalities and universe-sized egos, care for nobody but themselves, and are easily enraged when there is someone capable of matching their power or outright defeating them in a fight like the aforementioned Saiyan protagonists. Note that Vegeta being on both lists is not a coincidence. His supreme arrogance is in fact the "baggage" he has to strive to overcome even after he's been on the side of heroes for years.
  • In Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Bell is naturally humble and insecure due to his lack of experience and his faraway goal of catching up to Ais Wallenstein. By contrast, most of the adventurers he's pitted against in Orario are far more confident in their abilities to the point of arrogance. Hyacinthos in particular looks down upon Bell while questioning why Apollo is so interested in him, only to get blindsided during the War Game and ultimately defeated by Bell.
  • Jojos Bizarre Adventure: All of the main protagonists and their allies have their own personal issues regarding their own pasts and upbringings, but they're all selfless enough to risk their lives for each other and to protect innocent people who cannot protect themselves. Most of the Big Bads and their subordinates are Smug Super murderous sociopaths who see themselves as being invincible thanks to their Story-Breaker Power abilities until their humiliating defeats by the heroes.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • Midoriya suffers from self-confidence issues due to the pressure of having to succeed All Might and his own lack of experience. By contrast, Shigaraki is overconfident at the start due to having a small army of Mooks and the Nomu tailor-made to kill All Might at his disposal. Midoriya's confidence grows as he continues to master One For All and learn from his peers, while Shigaraki is humbled by his first defeat at USJ and soon becomes more level-headed and calculating, downplaying this trope as the story goes on.
    • Downplayed with Midoriya and Bakugo. Bakugo has always been The Ace at his school. Gifted with a powerful and rare Quirk, athleticism, and the smarts to easily triumph over every obstacle laid before him, the non-stop stream of praise he received for his talents gives him an enormous ego. By contrast, The Hero, Midoriya, has always been meek and insecure due to lacking a Quirk and being mocked for it by his peers. When they both get into U.A., Bakugo is furious at Midoriya for "hiding" his Quirk and goes out of his way to try to defeat and humiliate him during Battle Training. Fittingly enough, Bakugo is placed on the Villain team, becoming the Arc Villain for that exercise. However, as the series goes on, Bakugo becomes more of The Rival than an actual antagonist.
  • Orange: Shy, plain, and insecure Naho is the protagonist who tries to look out for Kakeru. She is contrasted against the haughty and mean city girl Rio Ueda. While both of them are vying for Kakeru's affections, Rio is confident in her beauty and is used to getting what she wants, so she terrorizes the unassuming Naho.
  • Pokémon: I Choose You!: Ash, while somewhat smarter than his TV series counterpart, tends to doubt himself and his abilities, especially after losing against Cross in their battle, but later manages to pick himself back up from it. Cross is an extremely arrogant trainer who values strength above everything else and is frustrated that he never obtained the Rainbow Wing from Ho-Oh like Ash did, causing said wing to become corrupted when he steals it from him, but eventually learns the error of his ways after everything that happens in the movie.

    Comic Books 
  • In Mega Man, the titular hero wasn't originally made for fighting and is uncomfortable with the idea of destroying his fellow robots even though he volunteered to be turned into a combat robot. He spends his first few battles trying to reason with his brothers before reluctantly disabling them. Dr. Wily on the other hand is an Insufferable Genius who is tired of being Always Second Best to Dr. Light, with his robotic rampage being one long tirade to prove himself the most brilliant mind on Earth. Rock gradually becomes more confident and resolute as he continues to battle Wily, but remains naturally humble outside of a handful of times he lets the power goes to his head or is forcibly reprogrammed.
  • This was the original shtick of Spider-Man. He was just a 16-year-old kid who was still trying to figure out being a hero and having superpowers on top of being a high school student and keeping up with his grades and trying to have some sort of social life. Meanwhile, he was put up against adult villains like The Kingpin, a mob boss who confidently ran a vast criminal empire, or the Mad Scientist Doctor Octopus. While Spider-Man has grown substantially more confidant over the years, he tends to revert to this whenever he's put up against some of his more powerful foes, like the Green Goblin or Morlon, since they know his secrets and are exceptionally dangerous foes.

    Fan Works 
  • Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail: Chloe Cerise is the main protagonist who left home after feeling like she is never enough or noticed unless she is into Pokémon whereas Grace Monroe and Simon Laurent are the smug, proud and arrogant leaders of the Apex. Chloe is shown to have kindness and determination as she slowly becomes a powerful warrior to take on the Apex while Grace and Simon later start breaking apart due to Grace developing empathy for Hazel and Simon's unwillingness to change himself for the better.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Aladdin, Aladdin repeatedly doubts himself because of his humble origins; he thinks he sounds stupid to Jasmine, and even once he's wished himself to be a prince and seemingly won her over, he's petrified he'll be found out and thrown back on the street. Jafar on the other hand is a (sometimes literal) example of a Smug Snake from beginning to end, flaunting his power and making cruel remarks to/about others.
  • Animal Crackers (2017): Owen, the protagonist, starts out as an insecure young father. Owen loves the circus his uncle used to own, but his father-in-law, Mr. Woodley, plants the idea in Owen's head that Owen won't be able to support his family by working at the circus. Owen lets Mr. Woodley bully him into taking a job at Woodley's factory that Owen doesn't want. However, Owen goes through Character Development throughout the movie and becomes a stronger person who can stand up for himself. The antagonist is Horatio, Owen's other uncle, who has been an egotistical prima donna seemingly all his life, and schemes to take control of his brother's circus by whatever means necessary.
  • Beauty and the Beast: The two main protagonists are insecure in different ways: Belle feels out of place in her village for liking books and for wanting true love rather than just an attractive partner. The Beast is a dark, brooding Byronic Hero who angsts over his Baleful Polymorph curse and must learn how to love. The antagonist, Gaston, is The Ace in Belle's village, being a narcissistic, overly-macho hunter and the most handsome and beloved man in the village.
  • Frozen (2013): Due to being separated in childhood by their parents out of fear of Elsa's ice powers, Anna Desperately Craves Affection, and easily bonds with Prince Hans, who similarly felt shut out by his 12 older brothers. But when Hans reveals himself as the villain, he arrogantly sows doubt in Anna's mind that nobody loves her, but her faith in Elsa is vindicated by her Heroic Sacrifice, and the sisters reconcile with each other after 13 years of separation. Also during the betrayal scene, Hans reflects Anna's darker feelings of inadequacy coming out in the open, and selfishly forsakes all relationships during his pursuit of power.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Po tends to be self-deprecating and feels he is unable to change because of the constant verbal abuse and put-downs from Master Shifu and the Furious Five, who consider him to be a joke of a kung fu master. But he gains a lot more confidence in himself and his abilities later on in the film, earning their respect. Tai Lung, on the other hand, is a prodigy in kung fu, having huge amounts of praise reaped onto him by Shifu, which wound up giving him a huge ego as he got older. Eventually, this led to him trying to forcibly take the Dragon Scroll and then later suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of Po when he is unable to comprehend the scroll's message. So, on the surface, they play this trope straight, but ultimately they invert it: the humble Po is confident in who he is regardless of how others see him, but the arrogant Tai Lung can't see any value in himself beyond the respect (or fear) others have for him.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Ralph suffers from low self-esteem and despite him being a Nice Guy, is looked upon with fear due to his bad guy reputation. But he accepts his role and does not mean to cause as much destruction in other games as he does and tries to make amends for it. Turbo, a.k.a. King Candy, has a gigantic ego and absolutely cannot stand the idea of someone else showing him up at what he does, even going so far as to try and take over other games and inadvertently destroying them just to receive attention, all the while being totally and completely unapologetic about it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Back to the Future: Word of God describes Marty McFly as a Supporting Protagonist to his future father George in 1955, as Marty teaches the extremely weak-willed George to stand up to cocky bully Biff Tannen.
  • Black Friday: Two of the main protagonists are Becky and Tom, both of whom wrestle with trauma and self-loathing (she because of her abusive ex-husband, he because of his experiences as a veteran and the car crash that killed his wife). The primary (human) antagonist is Linda Monroe, a narcissistic sociopath to the nth degree, who quite literally believes herself to be inherently superior to everyone. Becky and Tom both wish to be loved, but Linda aims to be adored.
  • Camp Rock: The shy and inexperienced protagonist, Mitchie, is contrasted with the far more arrogant Alpha Bitch Tess. Both are super talented singers, but where Tess ends up failing is that her attitude alienates even her closest friends, and doing her climatic song alone leads her to get it wrong. Mitchie, meanwhile, wins over celebrity bad boy Shane with her finally, confidently, singing her song about being herself.
  • In the movie adaptation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Greg is an Easily Embarrassed Youngster like in the books, whereas Patty, his Sitcom Arch-Nemesis, is arrogant and entitled.
  • In High School Musical, Troy and Gabriella have to compete with Sharpay and Ryan for the lead roles in the school musical. Sharpay and Ryan are insanely talented, but also overconfident and manipulative, whilst Troy and Gabriella are struggling to express themselves and be more than their stereotypes would allow them to be. As their confidence and abilities grow, Sharpay and Ryan grow more paranoid and attempt to sabotage their chance to audition, but get thwarted when they show up anyway.
  • James Bond:
    • GoldenEye: As Bond struggles with the post-Cold War reality, he finds himself facing his former fellow double-0 agent Alec Trevelyan, who was presumed dead but has rechristened himself as the international criminal mastermind Janus, who spends the film verbally deconstructing Bond.
    • Similarly, in Skyfall, Bond is injured in a mission gone wrong and goes several months missing before returning to active duty, facing international terrorist Raoul Silva, who like Trevelyan, is also a former MI6 operative and tries to sow seeds of doubt in Bond about his abilities and loyalties.
    • This motif is expanded upon in Spectre. M suspends 007 from field duty for causing an international debacle while trying to stop terrorists linked to SPECTRE from blowing up a stadium in Mexico City. C/Max Denbigh mocks both Bond and M as outdated and thinks Attack Drones and 24/7 surveillance would do a better job than human spies. C is actually trying to give backdoor access of the world's spy agencies to SPECTRE in exchange for more political power. Spectre later reconstructs by stating that spies are just as important as they were during the Cold War.
  • Let It Shine: Cyrus, the protagonist of the film, is so plagued by self-doubt and shyness that he lets his friend steal his rightful spotlight and alias. Meanwhile, the rapping champion, Bling, is incredibly arrogant and boastful, bragging about his wealth and talent while treating everyone else like dirt. In their Rap Battle, Bling spends his verses trying to tear down Cyrus's self-esteem but gets defeated when Cyrus exposes his secret to the audience, making it impossible for him to continue being arrogant once everyone knew he wasn't actually rich.
  • In Lemonade Mouth, the members of the titular band all suffer from various insecurities and social struggles, such as family issues or crippling stage fright. The rival band, Mudslide Crush, contrasts this by being arrogant, popular bullies who have higher status than Lemonade Mouth does as well, being made up of Jerk Jocks who thrive in the school's athlete-focused structure. Lemonade Mouth is constantly being bullied and threatened, but their status as insecure outcasts resonates with other school outcasts, making them popular and helping them overcome their personal issues.
  • Pitch Perfect: The sequel introduces a rival acapella group called Das Sound Machine. They're the current world champions and are quite proud of this, having no trouble insulting Beca to her face. Beca on the other hand is flustered during these exchanges. When she tries to think of a comeback, she only manages to compliment the group's lead singer.
  • Rags :
    • Charlie's main obstacle for Kadee's romantic attention is that she's stuck pretending to date a model named Finn, who acts as a minor antagonist throughout the film. While Charlie is insecure about himself and his abilities and thinks Kadee wouldn't want to be with him, Finn has an It's All About Me attitude and doesn't really care at all about Kadee, drawing plenty of contrast. It's slightly downplayed in that Finn and Charlie don't interact very often, but Finn serves as a famous bad-boy counterpart for Charlie to get concerned about.
    • Andrew, Charlie's older and more antagonistic stepbrother, is an arrogant Big Brother Bully who blames all his problems on his younger brother Lloyd while also gleefully picking on Charlie. Charlie, meanwhile, spends the film struggling with insecurity and is put at a disadvantage- where Andrew is given the opportunity to practice his singing talent and gets a decent amount of praise for his apparent abilities, Charlie isn't able to practice unless in secret and is repeatedly being discouraged and bullied away from his talent. Andrew also shares this dynamic with Lloyd, who is a Peer-Pressured Bully seeking approval where his brother is far more confident and respected.

    Literature 

    Video Games 
  • Mega Man X has quite some baggage: he's a Technical Pacifist who only wished for the Robot War to end, as he's a guy who cares and worries about his enemies as much as he does his allies because he fears of becoming callous and heartless due to having to put his fellow Reploids down numerous times. Meanwhile, the Big Bad Sigma is highly arrogant in both his abilities and his idea of "Reploid evolution", and he feels that humanity is holding them back.
  • Shantae has a bunch of insecurities about herself and tends to put herself down more often than not. Many of her foes, on the other hand, are very confident in their power, with the best example being the Big Bad, Risky Boots, who is the self-titled "Queen of the Seven Seas".
  • Sonic Adventure: Tails' story in the "Rashomon"-Style plot explores his insecurities. While Tails is usually seen as a happy-go-lucky child, this game reveals that he feels guilty because he thinks he can't accomplish anything without Sonic doing it for him, and he wants more than anything to be cool and self-confident like Sonic. He is contrasted by the Big Bad, Dr. Eggman, an Insufferable Genius Mad Scientist who wants to control all of Station Square, the city where the game takes place. In the end, Tails saves the city by himself and drives Dr. Eggman to a Villainous Breakdown.
  • Wild ARMs 1 has all three of its protagonists weighed down by insecurities relating to their abilities (Rudy), Past past failings (Jack) and how others see them (Cecilia) in contrast to the demons who are arrogant enough to believe the heroes are too weak to actually defeat them (along with a heavy dose of Evil Is Hammy). It later gets subverted as some of the more sympathetic villains (Zed, Bomerang, Lady Harken) are also revealed to have insecurities beneath their arrogant facades.

    Theatre 
  • Little Shop of Horrors: Seymour is a shy self-proclaimed slob whose lack of low self-esteem gets lampshaded by Audrey (who is also deeply insecure, believing she doesn't deserve goodness in life). The main antagonist, Audrey Two, is a smooth-talking, self-assured mutant plant who manipulates Seymour's insecurity so it can feed on blood, and in the movie gets a Villain Song boasting about how powerful it is. Audrey's abusive boyfriend Orin is a lesser antagonist but is even more blatantly arrogant, frequently bragging about his wealth and success and always putting down Audrey for not meeting his standards.
  • Be More Chill has an interesting case. The protagonist, Jeremy, is a shy, insecure geek who ingests a supercomputer called a SQUIP, who manifests as a super-chill Keanu Reeves lookalike and teaches Jeremy to be more confident. Over the course of the musical, Jeremy becomes popular and more arrogant, but the SQUIP is soon revealed to be an antagonist who aims to take over the school, intending to create a hive mind where nobody will ever be insecure and uncool again.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: The individual members of the Blood Gulch Crew all have their own personal hangups and insecurities and are constantly bickering and fighting with each other, but underneath it they are all good people who are willing to help those in need. Many of the enemies they face, such as Wyoming, Felix, and Genkins, are extremely arrogant and tend to look down on the BGC for being weak and idiotic, but always wind up getting their asses kicked by them one way or another in the end.
  • RWBY: Ruby and Cinder. Ruby is socially awkward and initially struggles with fighting with a team as well as leading one. She dislikes the idea of standing out amongst her peers, naturally inherited magical power, and has no confidence fighting without her weapon. However, she is compassionate, inspires those around her, wants to protect the people, and only opposes Cinder because it's her duty to fight those who wrong others. Cinder is egotistical, commands others through manipulation, abuse and fear, and seeks to destroy society. Her fighting style is extremely versatile, she desperately wants to be special, and has an insatiable lust for power, having stolen her magical power via unnatural means. Her obsession with seeking vengeance against Ruby and her pathological desire to look down on everyone else makes Cinder her own worst enemy, costing her several victories for both herself and Salem.

    Web Original 
  • Dream Machine: Josie versus Leah in episode 1.04, The Opposite of People. Josie’s insecurities make it difficult for her to insist on Leah helping her figure out her character, while Leah’s arrogance make me feel like she can walk all over Josie and do whatever she wants.

    Western Animation 
  • Gravity Falls: Many of the main characters have some form of insecurities about themselves, such as Dipper thinking he's weak, Mabel's fear of growing apart from her brother, Wendy's chill nature being a way of coping with her family, Stan viewing himself as a failure, etc. On the other hand, Gideon and Bill Cipher, who are the Big Bads of season 1 and the whole show, respectively, are shown to be high on their own egos.
  • The Legend of Korra: After being poisoned by the Red Lotus, it takes Korra two years to recover physically and she's plagued by mental trauma. With the belief that the world no longer needs the Avatar and the effect of her PTSD on her fighting, the formerly confident Korra has become insecure about being the Avatar. In contrast, Kuvira is a master metalbender who's become arrogant and smug after uniting the fractured Earth Kingdom, believing herself to be the only one capable of leading the nation. This was intentional by the creators, who wanted Korra to face a past version of herself.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: Downplayed in the contrast between heroine Marinette and Alpha Bitch Chloe. While she is much more confident and self-assured in her superhero persona, Marinette is self-deprecating and insecure as a civilian, often unsure of her skills and flustered around other people. She even tried to refuse the call when it was first offered to her because she wasn't sure she was up to snuff. On the other hand, Chloe is a wealthy and haughty mean girl who looks down on Marinette and constantly makes her school life difficult. However, Marinette proves to be a better superhero on the whole, as Chloe's overconfidence and pettiness proves to be her undoing.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The episode "Boast Busters" is all about contrasting the bookwormish, shy Twilight (one of the most powerful sorcerers among unicorn-kind) against the flashy, hotheaded Trixie (who's not incapable of magic, but is nowhere near Twilight's league), and having Twilight ultimately save the day.
  • Total Drama: During the fourth season, Revenge of the Island, Mike, Zoey, and Cameron are presented as the heroes of the season. All three are presented as rather withdrawn, with Mike being ashamed of having Multiple Personality Disorder, Zoey being a Shrinking Violet and Cameron having been coddled his whole life and not used to danger. Compared to the villains of the season, Jo and Lightning are both egotistical Jerk Jocks, and Scott being convinced he is the best player ever.

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