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Replicant Snatching

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Usually the process isn't this cute.

So you're a plucky highly advanced cyborg, and you want to bring about the downfall of humanity through propagation of your own kind. Good for you!

Unfortunately, there's a problem. Because you're a physical being, you can't flat-out possess someone. Even if you can shape-shift into a perfect replica of a human, you can't just integrate yourself into normal human society, without any form of identity. Sooner or later you'll get the cops on your tail, and all they need to do is put you through a metal detector and it's Game Over. Even perfectly imitating a real individual will cause problems if the original shows up.

Then you see a Genre Blind Innocent Bystander mooking his way down an alley. Hmm.

The Innocent Bystander's family doesn't notice anything. Why should they? He's the same as he always was. As long as they don't check the one dumpster where you left his skinless corpse and his removed, scanned-for-memories brain, you're safe. In all your plucky advanced cyborg glory.

A Sub-Trope of Face Stealer. See also Dead Person Impersonation, Kill and Replace, and You Are Who You Eat.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • How the Akuma of D.Gray-Man gain their human forms. To add to the horror of it, though, the body they use is always the one who called the soul powering the Akuma back from the dead — which only works if they are someone the deceased cared strongly for. So the traumatized soul ends up in a robot body wearing their beloved's skin and with no free will of their own. Nightmare Fuel much?
  • Kira Yoshikage of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable pulls this off after their identity is revealed, but not by his own power. They run into a beauty salon with literal Magic Plastic Surgery, force the salon owner to change they face to that of someone else in the shop, then blow up the shop, killing everyone inside, so that no one knows the new identity.

    Comic Books 
  • The Archaeologists in Requiem Vampire Knight are resurrected with no skin and have to spend most of their time floating in tanks; when one of them needs to venture outside their servants promptly flay some poor schmuck alive (with lots of screaming and thankfully some discretion shots) so the master can wear their skin.
  • In ROM: Spaceknight, Dire Wraiths don't have to kill the people they replace, but they prefer to for obvious reasons. Their preferred method is to drill their tongue into the victim's brain to absorb his memories.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Invoked in Big Business (1988) when the twins meet after being Switched at Birth.
  • Quirky Miniboss Cobalt Claw does this to an Office Lady Alpha Bitch in the Cutey Honey live-action movie. She then proceeds to wear the "suit" backwards while crawling on the ceiling, so apparently it was just For the Evulz.
  • The premise of Impostor is that look-alike copies of key people can be sent after targets, exploding violently once contact is made. The hero is accused of being one such impostor.
  • If the Invasion of the Body Snatchers films fit anywhere, it's here.
  • The Edgar-Bug in Men in Black skins and wears an "Edgar Suit" that rapidly decomposes throughout the movie.
  • Terminator:
    • Terminator 2: Judgment Day: The T-1000 kills its victims and mimics their appearance.
    • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: The Terminatrix (T-X) has the ability to replicate the appearance of her victims. The T-850 even lampshades it.
    • Terminator Salvation has Skynet use Brain Uploading and the tech used to build the Arnies to resurrect Marcus. He's essentially a cloned and genetically modified human brain, heart and skin over a termie endoskeleton. So it's not that he's a cyborg with artificial limbs, but a robot with artificial flesh. Yikes.
  • It's implied in the Transformers Film Series that the Decepticons make a point of destroying the vehicles they mimic, partially for infiltration reasons (Blackout caused a great deal of confusion by being a helicopter that was previously destroyed) and partially because they have no regard for human life. The Autobots are, unsurprisingly, more discreet about acquiring their vehicle modes.

    Folklore and Mythology 
  • Older Than Print: The Fair Folk were said to operate this way in English folklore, kidnapping babies and replacing them with lookalikes of their own kind known as "changelings".
  • Asian Fox Spirits do this in Eastern mythology:
    • In Korean Mythology, accounts vary, but typically the fox finds someone with the right skull dimensions, kills them, eats them, and then puts on their skull and assumes their identity. How long they do this depends on the purpose; maybe just long enough to get into the house and eat your baby, maybe longer.
    • In Japanese Mythology, foxes are considerably less Always Chaotic Evil, and much less likely to need your skull to impersonate you, but their doing so can still have negative effects on the impersonatee. (Skull size is a factor for them in matters of possession, mostly.)
  • Believe it or not, this trope might've originated with Aesop, although his characters don't do the Replicant Snatching themselves; the disguises (in this case, animal skins) are already lying around.

  • Etzali of A Certain Magical Index has a spell that allows him to do this. He actually only needs about 10 square cm of the target's skin for it to work, but he usually kills them to prevent complications later on. He also states that he usually shadows his target for a while to get a handle on their habits so he can convincingly act like them.
  • Codex Alera's "watercrafting" can be used to imitate the appearances of others. This leads to a shock for one of our protagonists; Tavi discovered that his friend Gaele was killed and replaced before he ever met her, and the young woman he knew for two years was really a spy named Rook. His superior decides to let the spy think their cover is intact and feed them misinformation.
  • In Philip K. Dick's short story "The Father-Thing", an alien takes the place of the protagonist's father and eats his insides, leaving only a dry, dead skin behind.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort's familiar (a snake named Nagini) lies in wait for Harry and Hermione by hiding inside a dead body that Voldemort preserved and reanimated.
  • In John Dies at the End, Korrok's clones kill/replace the originals and proceed to go about their lives with all the memories of the original. For added authenticity, although the clones can be remote-controlled in emergencies, the replacements themselves lack alien memories and have no idea they're not the originals. This eventually leads to a Tomato in the Mirror situation.
  • Mistborn: The Kandra are a protean species who can eat the flesh off a body, assimilate its bones, and take its form, making them deadly effective as the Lord Ruler's infiltrators. The process doesn't give them any knowledge of the victim's personality, so they often begin with a comprehensive interrogation before moving on to the eating.
  • In War of the Dreaming, selkies refer to the skins as "jackets", and they can be made from any species' flesh. Weirdly enough, this is also played for comedy: high-ranking selkie switch skins so often the lower ranks are perpetually confused about their identities.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons' eponymous Mysterons fit this trope to a T. "Possessing the ability to re-create an exact likeness of an object or person — but first, they must destroy."
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "Aliens of London"/"World War Three", the Slitheen kill people, skin them and wear the 'suits' using gas compression technology. However, they are 8 feet tall and can only compress themselves so much, so they can only disguise themselves as obese people, and the sound of the escaping gas gives the impression they all have terrible flatulence.
    • Played much more tragically in Series 6. At the end of "The Almost People", a man who died and left a child behind is replaced by his duplicate, who has all the original's memories and feelings, but knows he's a duplicate. In a heartwarming reversal of his earlier position, the dying original insists the duplicate really is close enough to count as the "real" dad too and makes him promise not to let his identity issues or artificial origin interfere with being a father to the kid.
  • In one episode of Earth: Final Conflict, Augur's girlfriend gets assimilated by an alien probe. She seemingly recovers by the end of the episode, but during the season finale she suddenly turns back into the probe to deliver a message to Augur and Liam that the species that sent the probe wished to enter into an alliance against the Taelons with them. They probably could have chosen a better way to do so.
  • Happens from time to time in Kamen Rider Kabuto, as the Worms can shape-shift into a perfect copy of any human. The most famous example is Tsurugi Kamishiro, Kamen Rider Sasword, who we later learn is a Worm who lost his memory as a Worm, Becoming the Mask in the process.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Homefront", Sisko convinces the president that security measures are needed to prevent just that. It all was actually orchestrated by an evil admiral, though changelings do disguise themselves as people.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles:
    • Cromartie pulls a similar schtick; growing a new synthetic skin, undergoing plastic surgery to resemble an out-of-work actor, then killing him and assuming his identity.
    • Another Terminator, Vick Chamberlain, replaced a married man. Said man died in a car accident, and this terminator seems to explain his strange behavior by claiming brain damage.
    • Another Terminator replaced Catherine Weaver, and is currently running her company with employees who knew her from before and has adopted Weaver's daughter!
    • In "Allison from Palmdale", it is revealed that Cameron is a machine doppelganger of Allison Young, a resistance fighter from the future who was "close" to John Connor. Cameron interrogates Allison and learns about her past, becoming an exact copy of her in mannerisms, and then kills her. Later on, after being captured by the human resistance, Cameron suffers damage to her processor that results in her confusing herself with the "Allison" persona.
    • In "Automatic for the People", Carl Greenway is introduced. He is a power technician. Skynet makes a Terminator that looks exactly like him and sends it back in time to kill him, replace him, and blow up the nuclear power plant where he works. Luckily, he and Sarah bond over the cancer that he survived. He has a scar on his arm from having his lymph node removed, which the Terminator does not have.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is the central concept of 44, in which the PCs are people who've had a close relative or friend replaced by a robot, and the GM controls the Section 44 conspiracy. Brilliantly, player characters can be replaced during the game, and join the GM on the bad guy side.
  • Chronicles of Darkness:
    • The Dread Power "Skin Taker" from the corebook allows you to give an antagonist to your Chronicle this ability. It also is a common ability for Claimed.
    • Werewolf: The Forsaken has a Wolf Gift facet appropriately named "Skin Thief", which allows werewolves to skin an animal or person alive, then put on the skin, using their shapeshifting to fit inside and perfectly impersonate the victim.
  • One Deadlands adventure includes doppelganger-like monsters whose natural form is of skinless humans and who need to steal the skins from other people to assume their shapes.
  • Die Laughing has the "Pods!!!" monster sheet, which translates this trope (and accompanying movie reference) to gameplay by having killed player characters replaced with a pod person replicant that can be inserted into a scene once before the end.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Tsochar in the Lords of Madness supplement are tentacle monsters that can insert themselves into a humanoid host and either tag along harmlessly or violently usurp the original person.
    • There are also doppelgangers, changelings, demonic and ghostly possession, several magic spells... Inventive players or DMs can find dozens of ways for a character or monster to replace someone or wear him like a puppet, with varying degrees of survivability for the victim.
    • A variety of Hag introduced in the 3rd edition "Oriental Adventures" sourcebook can't shapeshift like other hags; instead, she skins women and wears their hides to assume their forms.
    • Pathfinder has several monsters who do this, including an undead monster called the Ecorche and the Blood Hag.
    • In the Ravenloft setting, one of the local monsters is the Skin-thief, a sort of bear/wolf-man with eight clawed fingers to each hand who flays humans so they can wear the skins as disguises. According to "Van Richten's Guide to the Walking Dead", some Dread Revenants have a similar ability. Subverted with the Red Men of Falkovnia; ghoul-like walking dead created when somebody is killed by flaying. They also skin people and plaster the skin on their own raw tissue, but this is an impulse to try and soothe the pain of their existence, much like the hunger of conventional ghouls, rather than a deliberate attempt at disguise.
  • Exalted has this as an ability of the Lunars; they can become another creature if they ritualistically stalk it for hours, kill it, then drink its heart's blood. They can do the same thing for humans, but they can only pick up the specific form of the human they killed. However, there are Knacks that allow them to shift the appearance of a form they've acquired, and, if they're feeling humane, Knacks that allow them to assume a form temporarily after partaking of a non-lethal amount of blood from their target, or take a human form permanently after knocking them out, or even sleeping with them.

    Video Games 
  • The Soultaker from Limbo of the Lost stole the Mayor of Darkmere's skin to hide itself from the populace.
  • Snatcher provides the page image, albeit one that oversimplifies the eponymous robots' preferred method of impersonating humans: grafting the replica skin and muscle tissue of their quarry over an exoskeleton in a People Jar.
  • In the North American version of Streets of Rage 3, Mr. X's latest scheme involves lethally replacing police officers with robotic duplicates, which is first revealed when the heroes fight a robotic clone of Axel at the end of Stage 3. This plot point doesn't exist in the original Japanese version, which has a completely different plot and the robot Axel is just a small part of the overall scheme.

  • Played with in Commander Kitty. The Zenith project is replacing people tagged with iKnow devices with android clones in an attempt to "eliminate imperfection across the galaxy." (Fortiscue thought it seemed like a good idea at the time.) It only goes wrong(er) when his assistant Zenith gets a little too obsessed with her directive to eliminate imperfection and starts using them as her own personal army.
  • In the webcomic Starfire Agency, Denver discovers that The Greys that have been periodically abducting him replace some people with clones that have a hidden sleeper personality and keep the originals in tanks. He recognizes one of the people in tanks as his girlfriend, who was replaced when she was ten, and another as himself.
  • In Willow's Grove, people kidnapped by the Nexus are replaced by android replicas. In addition the Starblazer creates replicants of Fred and Becky to keep Max and Bob company while they're trapped on board.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Batman Beyond episode "Zeta" introduces us to an android whose purpose is to kidnap then, using a hologram emitter built into his body, impersonate targets. He keeps the targets alive in case they have important info he might need, at least until the assignment is done, after which they are no longer useful. However, living with one target's family convinces him that he no longer wants to kill, so he goes rogue. By the time Batman has his first encounter with Zeta, he's on the run from the government, who want to disassemble him. The character was popular enough that he was given his own spin-off series, The Zeta Project.
  • Darkwing Duck has an episode with alien cabbages. The cabbages sprout a clone, then devour and capture the original.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Changelings like to capture victims and hide them in pods before taking on their appearance. They can mimic anyone and anything without capturing them (during the battle for Canterlot, several dozen changelings take on the form of the Mane 6 leading to a very confusing fight), but securing the original makes impersonating them easier. Some fanon argue that keeping the original alive is necessary in order to mimic their personality more accurately, and makes it easy to absorb love from them.