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Pre-Insanity Reveal

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The Reveal that the mad/demented/mentally-challenged character was a different person before he went insane. Often turns out to have been someone important, such as a long-missing hero, genius or villain.

This is a Backstory trope: if the character is first shown as sane, then it's Sanity Slippage or one of the other Madness Tropes.

Can be a Tear Jerker or Fate Worse than Death, since the character's mind has been destroyed without affording him the peace of death. If he is still aware of what's happening it may be And I Must Scream.

How he went crazy is not always that important, although it often involves some form of uncontrolled magic or Phlebotinum, or With Great Power Comes Great Insanity. It is also possible for a character to use Obfuscating Insanity in order to hide his past, although it doesn't count if he is still working undercover.

Related to Hidden Depths, Loss of Identity, Was Once a Man, Sanity Slippage, and Used to Be a Sweet Kid. May also involve Cerebus Retcon, Riches to Rags, Two Aliases, One Character, or Amnesiac Dissonance. Can result in the character becoming Insane No More.

Examples will contain spoilers by default. There are no spoiler tags.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Delicious in Dungeon: Thistle, the "Lunatic Magician" controlling the dungeon and its voracious monsters, was originally a Court Mage who loved the king like a brother. When he turned to forbidden magic to save the kingdom from a threat, allowing a demon to meddle with his mind, he quickly degenerated into a cruel Sorcerous Overlord, trapped in the delusion that he's protecting the people he's tyrannizing.
  • Karakuri Circus: Bai Jin is introduced in the manga during the France arc as an insane old man who destroyed an entire village in a futile attempt to make the automaton Francine laugh. The China arc reveals that he used to be a cheerful young man before he snapped.
  • The Evil Matriarch Precia Testarossa we get to see in the original Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha was driven psychotically (and abusively) insane by the death of her daughter Alicia, which also served as her Start of Darkness. In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, as well as The MOVIE 1st, we are then shown flashbacks of Precia from before that, when she had been an all-round nice and hard-working single mom who doted over her daughter like no tomorrow.
  • In the second season of Re:Zero, it's revealed that once upon a time Petelgeuse Romanée-Conti was not only sane, he was on good terms with Emilia's village, and was even developing a budding romance with Emilia's foster mother Fortuna. But when Pandora showed up, he pushed himself close to the limit absorbing and using the Witch Factor to protect Emilia and Fortuna. Then, thanks to an illusion induced by either Pandora or the Witch Factor, in the end he accidentally killed Fortuna himself, thinking he was attacking Pandora. When he realized what he'd done, it only took the tiniest nudge from Pandora to make him completely snap. 100 or so years later, he's the insane, grotesque, sadistic, murderous, self-mutilating, cackling Archbishop we're all far too familiar with. The only thing that hasn't changed is his conviction that he's fueled and motivated only by endless love and devotion.

    Comic Books 
  • It's mentioned several times in The Sandman (1989) that the youngest of The Endless, Delirium, was once Delight, the personification of joy and happiness, but changed to Delirium long before the onset of the story for reasons unclear. She's a bit of a Mad God. In a few flashbacks, we get to see her before her Madness Makeover.
  • Batman:
    • Harley Quinn was once a promising young psychologist (or psychiatrist occasionally), and while she was definitely a bit arrogant and narcissistic, she didn't go fruit loops until after she tried to cure the Joker.
    • The Joker himself, depending on the version, may have been an ordinary comedian (or a ruthless, but still sane criminal) before he went crazy and became a super-villain.
  • In the comic book version of Wanted, Mr. Rictus was a highly moral and religious man until a Near-Death Experience showed him that there was no afterlife, so he became an Omnicidal Maniac.
  • Early on in the "Dead End Kids" arc of Runaways, Victor is pursued by Tristan, a hideous and seemingly deranged man with giant metal wings who seems to hate him for reasons he can't figure out. After the team is sent back in time to 1907, Victor meets Tristan's younger self, who's far more normal, or at least as normal as a big dude with metal wings can get. Unfortunately for Victor, Tristan has designs on Lillie, a local girl who becomes smitten with Victor, and he thinks Victor's out to steal "his" girl. Furthermore, the Runaways end up inadvertently causing a catastrophe that leaves Tristan horribly disfigured.
  • The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: It's eventually discovered that the Pet of the Decepticon Justice Division is neither a tame Sparkeater nor a simple turbofox, but a lobotomised, mode-locked Transformer. Specifically, it's Rewind's missing husband and Ultra Magnus's brother, Dominus Ambus, who had infiltrated the Decepticon Justice Division as Agent 113, then been found out and subjected to Mind Rape as punishment. Chromedome tries to restore him, but when it becomes clear that either Dominus or Chromedome isn't making it out, Rewind severs Chromedome's arm to save his life.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. When Dr. Emilio Lizardo first appears he's locked up in an insane asylum and acts crazy. While he's undergoing self-inflicted electroshock therapy there's a Flash Back of what happened to him. He was originally a scientist who worked with Professor Hikita to develop a prototype version of the Oscillation Overthruster. During a test of the device he was possessed by the Red Lectroid leader Lord John Whorfin.

  • The Beyonders: The Blind King invokes this by pretending to be a crazy old man who thinks he's king. If his true identity as the Prince were found out, he would be hunted down and killed.
  • The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness: The Walker appears as an insane, old and unhygienic hermit who just wants to be left alone with the little animals he keeps as pets and names each as Narik. The final book reveals that he's actually Narrander, the former mage of the Otter Clan and the Soul Eater who was believed by everyone to have died in the Great Fire that took the life of his son Narik and his sanity.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Neville's parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom. They were members of the first Order of the Phoenix and participated in the First Wizarding War, during which they were tortured by the Cruciatus Curse for so long they lost their sanity, and had to be committed to St. Mungo's for the rest of their lives. They can't even remember their own son, something that Harry feels is much worse than him being an orphan.
    • Ariana Dumbledore was a normal girl once, but then she got assaulted by Muggle boys as a little girl, an experience which twisted her pysche to an extent that she permanently lost control over magic, as it tended to break out whenever she had a breakdown.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is a prime example. Originally a hobbit named Sméagol, he was corrupted mentally and physically by the Ring by the time Bilbo meets him in The Hobbit.
  • Ciaphas Cain: One of Amberley Vail's retinue is a soldier named Simeon who was implanted with a remote controlled drug dispenser and transferred to a penal legion (where Vail found him). Simeon flinches every time he sees Cain's commissar uniform, so Cain asks what his deal is. She tells him Simeon snapped under pressure and started executing men for failing to salute a superior officer... while on the receiving end of an artillery barrage. Cain notes that preventing that sort of breakdown is why they have commissars in the first place. Vail then says Simeon was the commissar.
  • In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham used to be sane, but went mad after discovering that her fiancee had swindled her out of her fortune and run off on what was supposed to be their wedding day. She shut herself off from the rest of the world, never leaving her house or even changing out of her wedding dress, and eventually conceived of a plan to adopt a girl so that she could raise her to break men's hearts the way that her fiancee broke hers.
  • Ben Gunn in Treasure Island. Once a part of Captain Flint's crew, though unliked by his shipmates. He knows the location of Flint's treasure, but no one believes him. Marooned on a deserted island, he becomes more than a little addled, talks in the third person and has an obsessive craving for cheese.
  • Inverted in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In the first half of the book, oblique references are made to a character named "Phaedrus"; we're told little about him except that "he was insane." This turns out to be the narrator himself before he was hospitalised and given electroshock therapy.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A downplayed version in Doc Martin with PC Penhale, who was by all accounts a competent and professional police officer before he was kicked in the head by a horse and became the goofy, quirky, lovable dullard we all know.
  • In the Doctor Who serial "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" the mad character Dead Beat is really the shellshocked former leader Kingpin. He regains his sanity at the story's climax.
  • Babylon 5
    • In "The Long Dark", crazy homeless doomsayer Amis (played by Dwight Schultz) is arrested early in the episode for disturbing the peace. When Amis starts saying "Incoming! Incoming!" in his sleep, Garibaldi realizes he's a Minbari War veteran.
      Guard: How do you know?
      Garibaldi: I've had that same dream.
    • A major plot point in "A Late Delivery from Avalon". The man who arrives on the station convinced he's King Arthur returned in Britain's hour of need is really David McIntyre, a retired EarthForce gunnery sergeant wracked with guilt over firing the shots that triggered the Minbaris' Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Dr Walter Bishop, the avuncular Mad Scientist of Fringe, gets a few flashback episodes showing him to have been a much calmer and much darker character before the personal tragedy that laid the way for the series. It turns out he deliberately had part of his brain removed because he didn't like what he was becoming.
  • To most people's surprise, in Game of Thrones. In a vision Bran Stark sees Hodor as a kid behaving perfectly normal and speaking in full sentences. His name is revealed to be Wylis.


    Video Games 
  • Bendy and the Ink Machine: Players first meet the head of the studio's music department, Sammy Lawrence, through an audio recording in which he is talking about how Bendy, the studio's cartoon demon, is his savior. However, soon after, we can play a recording in which Sammy sounds much saner, complaining about 1) how Joey Drew's ink machine keeps flooding the music department, and 2) how Joey's solution is to install a pump in Sammy's office, thus insuring that his work will be continually interrupted. By the time the Player Character, Henry, falls into the music department, Sammy has not only started worshipping Bendy, but in addition to having been turned into an ink being, he has undergone a Madness Makeover by dressing like Boris and wearing a mask of Bendy's face. He also chants about sacrificing sheep.
  • Playing through the Story and Arcade modes for Arakune in the BlazBlue games reveals that the crazy, incoherent, black blob that he is was once a normal human scientist who dedicated his life to study of the Boundary. Even as he was exposed to seithr the closer he came to the Boundary, he became aware that he was transforming, and that he couldn't stop. In his final moments as a human, it was business as usual as he continued recording his research and studied the Boundary.
  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! shows what Jack was like before he became series Big Bad Handsome Jack. The game shows that Jack was always dangerously ambitious and more than a little manipulative, but was at the very least rational with some redeeming qualities, in contrast to the utter scumbag he turns into when he becomes Handsome Jack.
  • Crisis Core shows more of what Final Fantasy VII Big Bad Sephiroth was like before going insane and trying to destroy the world. As in the flashback sequences in Final Fantasy VII, pre-insanity Sephiroth is cool and somewhat detached but does show genuine care and humanity, especially towards his few friends.
  • In Escape from Monkey Island, the deranged hermit Herman Toothrot is revealed to be Elaine's grandfather, the former Governor of Melee Island, who has been missing for years and presumed dead, but actually just got shipwrecked and lost his memory.
  • The very well-hidden sidequest Chapter 18xx in Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade does this. We see what is heavily implied to be the Big Bad Nergal as a loving father in the past, telling his two children ( Nils and Ninian) that he's going to find their mother. Their mother was a dragon, so Nergal studied dark magic to open the Dragon's Gate. Tragically, the dark magic slowly drove him insane to the point where he can't even remember why he wanted to open the Dragon's Gate to begin with. By the time we meet him during the story, he's so far gone he's acting like a Generic Doomsday Villain.
  • In the Usborne type-in game Island Of Secrets, the unnamed scavenger is actually the missing scholar Median; his memory can be restored by giving him the correct two objects and saying "Remember old times".
  • In Undertale, the Ax-Crazy Flowey turns out to be Asriel Dreemurr, the son of Asgore and Toriel after losing his soul and thus sense of empathy, combined with realizing he has the ability to reset the world and thus none of his actions are permanent or matter.
  • In the Warcraft universe, Drek'thar mentored future Warchief Thrall in the ways of the shaman, and serves as the chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan. Despite his blindness, he was an extremely powerful shaman, fierce fighter, and wise leader. However, he became senile with age, and now his rare moments of lucidity are indications that something is about to go very, very wrong.
  • In Watch_Dogs Aiden meets two former CtOS employees who helped develop the operating system but later fell into obscurity and became shunned by Chicago.

    Visual Novels 
  • According to the protagonist of Double Homework, there’s a story about why Henry is so stupid. However, he never tells it.

    Web Animation 
  • While Freelancer Agent Maine from Red vs. Blue wasn't the nicest person, he was still a loyal team mate. However, he gets shot in the throat on one mission, losing his ability to talk. The AI called Sigma was implanted into him so he could have a sort of voice through Sigma. But as time went on, Sigma's ambition for Metastability (the point where an AI could be considered human) drove the Maine mad as Sigma corrupted him, and he began killing others under Sigma's control. At that point, Agent Maine became the Ax-Crazy Meta. Even when Sigma and the other AI fragments were destroyed, the Meta was still an Empty Shell bent on carrying out Sigma's goal.

  • Emergency Exit. Cloud Cuckoo Lander Eddie is revealed to have forced a portal into his own head in order to keep the Big Bad from getting it, which is what made him into the nutty Manchild we know.
  • Mituna from Homestuck was a powerful psionic with strong prophetic abilities. He constantly (and correctly) warned his friends that they were doomed, until "one day he lost all those abilities when he badly overexerted himself." What exactly he did is unknown, but it seems to have been some great act of heroism. Now he barely has the mental capacity to speak understandably and constantly goes back and forth between being completely passive and spewing incoherent vitriol.
  • In Gaming Guardians, the Scarlet Jester, the Joker-like foe who kills main character Graveyard Greg's best friend, or is killed by a time-traveling Greg before he can do so, is eventually revealed to be the time-traveling Graveyard Greg himself, losing the last of his sanity after being sent into the past as punishment for the crimes he committed in setting up his first time travel.
  • In Romantically Apocalyptic, it's revealed that Cloudcuckoolander Manchild Pilot was originally a DEX private investigator hired to assassinate Snippy, before a grenade going off in his face left him amnesiac and severed his connection to ANNET, basically resetting him into being a child mentally.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: The Ice King was a historian named Simon Petrikov until he put on the Ice Crown, which gave him ice powers and immortality but made him slowly lose his mind. This has been a real Tear Jerker throughout the series.
  • One Bugs Bunny cartoon had a man escape the clutches of "Pirate Sam" (Yosemite Sam). The scraggly, ratty looking man in chains looks at the viewer and says "I was a human being once!" before running away. Kinda dark for a Looney Tunes cartoon.
  • El Tigre. The several-generations-back original holder of the belt buckle started out sane, but slowly lost his mind from trying to decide whether to be good or evil. We finally meet him in the Day of the Dead episode. Because he's been dead and without the belt buckle for so long, he's mostly lucid, but the insanity is still lurking under the surface.
  • Gravity Falls
    • Old Man McGuckett was an inventor who worked with the writer of the Journals, until he invented a memory ray to erase his memories of whatever it was that he was involved in. Repeated use of the memory ray eventually made him crazy and with no memories at all.
    • The Society themselves have also been using the mind wiping device, but are mainly experiencing holes in their memories, rather than the wholesale devolution of their minds, though Lazy Susan seems to be showing some Sanity Slippage.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons framed as an Up style documentary, we meet Eleanor, who is both a doctor and lawyer—and then see burn-out turn her into the Crazy Cat Lady.
  • Wakfu: Nox's Start of Darkness Origins Episode gives us an utterly heart-rending look at the man he once was in the beginning before the Eliacube drove him mad.