Kevin Flynn: The thing about perfection... is that it's unknowable. It's impossible, but it's also right in front of us, all the time. You wouldn't know that because I didn't when I created you.
A common motivation of villains is the perfectly understandable desire for a perfect world—one where their little sister wasn't murdered and people are all nice to each other, a world where everyone ascribes to their political philosophy. A work is usually set as they try to achieve it, with the protagonists opposing, or after their goals have had some measure of success, and the protagonist has to make others see how imperfect it is.
The reasons perfection is impossible are myriad- existence becomes boring, people are chaotic and changing them is either impossible or requires fundamentally changing them, such as an Assimilation Plot. The most basic reason is that everyone has a different perception of perfect.
Occasionally, even though the characters feel they have found perfection, it may not jibe with what the audience would consider perfect, requiring euthanasia or some other societal taboo.
Sometimes the point will be made that, while perfection is a worthy objective, it is an inherently unattainable one and any who claim to have found it are deluding themselves. This can be turned around to a positive. Perfection may be impossible, but the improvements to yourself make the pursuit worthwhile.
Related to Utopia Justifies the Means. Compare Perfection Is Addictive for examples in which perfection is achievable, but it comes at the cost of losing the ability to enjoy anything of lesser quality. Also see the Perfect Solution Fallacy, in which the insistence on a perfect outcome blinds someone to a less perfect but still attainable result.
- Bleach: In-Universe example between Mayuri and Szayell Aporro Granz, who claims to be 'the perfect being'.
Mayuri [to Szayel]: There is nothing in this world that is truly "perfect"... To true scientists like you and I, "Perfection" is tantamount to "despair". We aspire to reach greater levels of brilliance than ever before, but never, NEVER, to reach perfection. That is the paradox through which we scientists must struggle. Indeed, it is our duty to find pleasure in that struggle.
- Later, when Nemu dies, Mayuri has a hallucination of Szayell Aporro calling him a hypocrite. Mayuri hates perfection yet he considered Nemu to be his perfect creation. Mayuri comes out of his despair after that and decides to make another Nemu.
- Death Note: Light's inability to accept this fact is pretty much the root cause of everything that happens in the series, from his descent into villainy, to the lives he destroys. If he just simply acknowledged at the start that killing was wrong, that he of all people made an honest to goodness mistake (granted, killing someone, even if they're assholes, is a hell of a mistake to make) and went through with getting rid of the Death Note, the entire story would never have come to pass.
- In the live action films, Light's initial motives for killing was because the legal system was abused by those with connections. Soichiro acknowledges that imperfect people will create imperfect laws, but calls out Light for thinking serial killing will lead to perfect justice.
- Medaka Box: The Flask Plan is devoted to figuring out how to artificially create the perfect (complete) human being. Leaving alone their willingness to use normal students as sacrificial test subjects, this very foundation is the main reason Kurokami Medaka (a person super-talented enough to be mistaken for "perfect") calls the project nothing more than a pipe dream. Why? Because if a person where to have all their flaws removed, they would no longer be a person at all. Thus, the very idea of a "perfect person" is an oxymoron. The closest to a "perfect person" Medaka had ever met was, in fact, the "perfectly imperfect" Kumagawa Misogi, a living example of how dangerous a fixation on unreachable perfection can be. Later in the story, it is revealed that Ajimu Najimi started the Flask Plan fully aware that its goal was unachievable, and that its express purpose all along was to fail.
- Hugo Drax's fatal error in the James Bond film Moonraker; he uses Jaws as a henchman, but when Jaws realizes that he and his love interest will be disposed of as imperfect he helps Bond foil Drax's plan.
- In TRON: Legacy, CLU was given the directive to create the perfect system, by a young and foolish Kevin Flynn who believed that it was possible. CLU turned the Grid into a dystopia instead, and exterminated the miraculous ISOs because they were an imperfection.
CLU: I took the system to its maximum potential. I created the perfect system!
Kevin: The thing about perfection is that it's unknowable. It's impossible, but it's also right in front of us, all the time. You wouldn't know that because I didn't when I created you.
- This is the reason why Nina in Black Swan starts going through an emotional breakdown.
- Hot Fuzz and the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance.
- The machines in The Matrix first tried to create a perfect simulation to keep the humans in it pacified.
Smith: It was a disaster. No-one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world...but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering.
- Serenity showcases the horrible side effect of the Alliance trying to create utopia.
- The overarching plot of The Bible is about working around this trope.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birthmark, where a man grows obsessed with removing his wife's (small, rather cute) birthmark and rendering her "perfect", and ultimately kills her in the process.
- In The Giver, the creators of the society sought to eliminate war and prejudice, among other things, but in the process they give up many freedoms, the ability to see color, and kill anyone that doesn't fit in.
- In Harry Potter, Voldemort saw death as an imperfection. In trying to free himself from it he both brought it upon other people and destroyed his own soul, which over time made him lose what was important in living in the first place.
- In Thief of Time, The Auditors create a female body for their agent. They mean to make her attractive but since they don't really understand the concept of beauty, they keep "improving" the original design, removing birthmarks and smoothing the skin and hair until she looks like porcelain doll that reeks of Uncanny Valley. Later it turns out that all their human bodies have another flaw - their senses are so perfect that any food that isn't completely bland kills them with sensory overload.
- Judge Dee has a conversation with an artist he doesn't really like, telling him there's no point in perfection, as otherwise there'd be nothing left to do.
- Animorphs features the Howlers, a race of super-warriors who serve Crayak, supposedly exist to kill, and who have never been defeated. It doesn't take long for the Animorphs to question whether an entire race could be pure evil or have a perfect war record. It turns out Crayak edits their shared memory to prevent concepts like "compassion" or "defeat" taking root.
Jake: The Howlers had never been defeated. So they believed, but I knew that wasn't possible. Somewhere, somehow, someone had to have beaten them, at least once. Perfection was impossible.
- The 1982 children's book Be A Perfect Person in Just Three Days! by Stephen Manes is all about a young boy following the advice in a book, "Be A Perfect Person in Just Three Days"... which forbids him from skipping ahead as he follows the instructions. By the end, he's learned important lessons about embarrassment, self-control, and that nobody is perfect... and that not being perfect isn't a bad thing.
- Utopia (which you might recognize as the Trope Namer for Utopia) seems to be a simple unironic description of a hypothetical perfect society. However, its name is a pun; in addition to straightforwardly meaning "good place", it's one letter away from meaning "no place" — strongly implying that Thomas More thought it was impossible.
- Babylon 5: The Ikarran civilization created living weapons programmed to destroy anything that wasn't "Pure Ikarran". None of them lived up to their own standards.
- In Star Trek, the Borg are driven to assimilate more peoples and cultures so they can reach perfection (using all the best parts of each culture and their technology). Of course this leads to mercilessly killing, assimilating, and destroying civilizations. The Borg also venerate the Omega Particle which they see as an icon of perfection. Every attempt to synthesize one ended badly, since the particles are so unstable they only last for an instant before exploding with enough force to wipe out a Borg fleet and permanently damage subspace in the area (making warp travel impossible).
- Kamen Rider Double: The insert song "Nobody's Perfect", sung by Sokichi Narumi/Kamen Rider Skull, is all about this. One of the lines even declares that not being perfect is "just the proof that you're alive".
- The Good Place: This turns out to be the problem with the Good Place itself. It gives you literally anything you want, when you want it. That's great... for a few centuries. The problem is that it lasts forever. After enough time, it is impossible to keep anyone satisfied. The sheer ennui that results renders those in the Good Place as mindless "happiness zombies", incapable of most forms of higher thought.
- Common in Dungeons & Dragons.
- In Dragonlance, the attempt to create a perfect good world resulted in morally questionable attempts to get rid of evil, culminating in the Cataclysm.
- Likewise in Dragonlance (and later taken with them out into the Spelljammer setting), the tinker gnomes of Krynn have a variation on this: a "perfect" invention, as rarely as they may produce one, is considered a failure because it means that future generations of gnomes can no longer improve on it.
- Lawful factions in Planescape often commit major screwups in the name of perfection.
- The Phyrexians in Magic: The Gathering created a society based upon seeking perfection (and on worshiping their power-mad leader). "Perfection" involves removing most human body parts and replacing them with machines and rotting zombie flesh, turning themselves into horrific zombie/cyborg patchwork abominations designed to be the "perfect" killing machines. Their sense of aesthetics is based solely on how efficiently any given "design" can kill things. Most non-Phyrexians are understandably horrified by the results.
- In New Phyrexia, the White and the Blue Faction carry on this design in two different flavors.
- In the Old World of Darkness game Changeling: The Dreaming, this is the whole problem of Nocker equipment. They're so dedicated to perfection that they'll keep tweaking and tweaking only to have some tiny quirk or hiccough elude them.
- In Exalted 2e, the Unconquered Sun has perfection as part of his purview. Unfortunately for old Sol, this manifests partly as him being so virtuous in each Virtue category that he often has to suppress one just to properly function, and part of the reason for his addiction to the Games of Divinity is the fact that they were made by the Eldritch Abomination Primordials, and thus one of the few things he doesn't win all the time. So, in this case, it's more "Perfection Is Difficult".
- Prior to their reluctant betrayal of the Emperor, this was part of the Alpha Legion's philosophy in the Horus Heresy tie-ins for Warhammer 40,000: while of course they served the Imperium, they didn't buy into the utopianism of the Emperor's Grand Vision, preferring to deal with the flaws of humanity on an individual basis. Unfortunately for all parties, the 40K universe not only doesn't do "perfection", unless of course you are an Ork, "adequacy" is a bit of an ask and things tend to settle down somewhere around "unending hellscape".
Pech: You cannot engender, or force to be engendered, a state of perfection. That line of action leads only to disaster, because perfection is an absolute that cannot be attained by an imperfect species.
- In Telltale Games' adventure series Back to the Future: The Game, this is what Hill Valley becomes after Marty inadvertently sets it up. People aren't killed, but a brainwashing program has just recently started (with Biff being the first victim, and Jennifer getting brainwashed later), and completely innocuous things like pinball, bubble gum, and even dogs are outlawed by the mastermind behind it all who likes none of those things. At one point, said mastermind uses Biff's reprogramming to force him to attack an unarmed man to steal surveillance tapes that show the unhappiness of most of the populace, just to prevent another powerful character from seeing said tapes.
- Like the Borg, the Zerg are dedicated to the pursuit of genetic perfection by assimilating the DNA of the most advanced species in the galaxy, their end goal being the Protoss (with humans as an afterthought). Upon the overmind's death, Kerrigan took up the mantle as the more literal Hive Queen and became more liberal on what the Zerg could assimilate.
- In StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Abathur states that perfection is impossible, but pursuing it as a goal helps improve the Swarm regardless.
- Saber of Fate/stay night tried to be a perfect king for her country, always making the correct and fairest decisions while disregarding any personal feelings that might cause her to falter. But the more perfect her decisions became, the less she was able to relate to the people and understand how they would feel about her decisions and the more they came to question her ability to lead. It all came to a head when her "son" Mordred revealed her identity to her at Morgan's prodding and was rejected on the grounds that she didn't have the capacity to be a king. A correct decision in that Mordred really wasn't ready for that yet, but the way Saber worded it trampled on both Mordred's admiration for her and desire to be loved and the resulting resentment became one of the main causes for the kingdom's fall.
- Sluggy Freelance's 4U city showed an attempt at Utopia derailed by the technology behind it Gone Horribly Wrong.
- In One-Punch Man, the central conflict is that the main character has achieved a certain type of perfection, in that he can take out any enemy with one punch — and as a result, he is bored out of his skull.
- In Sailor Nothing, this is the background of the entire Yami-Gaia; a priestess tried to purify herself of corruption, but instead gave it physical form as the Queen.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Azula is an interesting example. For a time, it seems that she is absolutely perfect and unbeatable. However, the minute her friends Mai and Ty Lee turned against her, she starts to become more unhinged until her Villainous Breakdown in the finale.
- In Central Park, Season 1 "Hot Oven", The Tillermans sings "Imperfectly Perfect". Owen and Paige sings that Molly and Brendan's love doesn't have to be perfect by using Owen's messy pizza as a metaphor, and then the whole Tillerman family sings how it's better to prefer the imperfection.
- Courage the Cowardly Dog: "Perfect" had the poor dog go through a near nervous breakdown trying to please a mysterious old-school teacher into being perfect yet failing miserably each time, much to her anger and frustration. Afterwards, the teacher warns him that on his final he will either pass the test or else everywhere he will be known as imperfect. Due to the pressure, Courage ends up having nightmares, one of which is the infamous "perfect trumpet thingy" found in the nightmare fuel page. However, with encouragement from a friendly fish in his bathtub (it's a weird show) who tells him that that there is no such thing as true perfection, and that he could do anything, despite his imperfections, Courage is able to best his test using unorthodox methods and the teacher melts and vanishes into the ground screaming in rage at Courage's success.
- The Flintstone Kids, in one of Captain Caveman's episodes, show Perfect Man, a Flying Brick that presents himself as much better than Captain Caveman in every aspect; not just more powerful but also handsome, smarter and more educated (not that takes that much to beat Cavey in these aspects). After a while, and having replaced Captain Caveman (and Son) as the city's hero, he reveals his Smug Super and JerkJock-like tendencies, and starts implementing several laws of his own and jailing even those committing minor infractions in order to make the city as 'perfect' as he perceives himself, plus making clear he is beyond the formal authorities' capacities to stop him and that he's willing to use force against them. When the police chief asks Captain Caveman back to save the city, it's a Curb-Stomp Battle with Cavey on the receiving end until he has one of his Genius Ditz moments and makes Perfect Man to realize he really isn't perfect because nobody likes him, the realization being enough to cause a Villainous Breakdown on Perfect Man to the point he no longer opposes resistance and gets jailed without problems.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- In The Point of No Return, Twilight Sparkle spends the entirety of the episode fearing that she got her favorite librarian fired after failing to return an Extremely Overdue Library Book before moving to Ponyville. It later turns out, however, that the librarian, Dusty Pages actually chose to leave her job after Twilight's mistake made her realize she'd spent almost her entire life trying to maintain her perfect record and was missing out on other exciting new things to try. For bonus points, the book that Twilight borrowed, and had never even bothered to read is aptly titled, Perfection, the Impossible Pursuit.
- Steven Universe:
- In "Historical Friction", Mayor Dewey writes a play about his ancestor William Dewey, the founder of Beach City, and portrays him as perfect and flawless. Not only is this depiction historically inaccurate, the audience really likes the more flawed portrayal Steven does after Pearl helps rewrite it. Steven also drives it home by saying that everyone makes mistakes, and the important thing is to get back up and try again.
- It ultimately turns out that White Diamond believes herself to be the one flawless being, and that the only way for other beings to be perfect is to be extensions of her. She ultimately has a breakdown when she realizes that she herself is not perfect, but is more willing to hear out what Steven and the other Gems have to say once she does.
- Among the many parts of the US Constitution that make it impressive is the phrase "to form a more perfect union". Not perfect, more perfect, setting an actually attainable goal.
- Logic, quite rigorously, in the form of Godel's Incompleteness Theorems. Logical systems are constructed to be able to prove all true statements and no false statements. Instead, Godel proved that any systemnote that proves all true statements must also prove at least one false statement - and if the system is fixed to eliminate false statements, it stops being able to prove at least one true statementnote . It's a dilemma between completeness (all truth) and consistency (only truth). Or being unable to do arithmetic.