Follow TV Tropes


Shape Dies, Shifter Survives

Go To

Some people can shapeshift. Usually this is voluntary, but not always. Sometimes people die. And sometimes, people die while shapeshifted. What happens next depends on the logic of the shapeshifting ability — in the case of this trope, it's only the shapeshifted body that dies, and the shapeshifter is simply forced back to normal. The setting may contain ways to get around this.

If they can't change back, it's also Shapeshifter Mode Lock.

Can be the result of a Transferred Transformation. Related to Multiple Life Bars, Body Armor As Hitpoints and Clipped-Wing Angel. For unwillingly transformed people, Beat the Curse Out of Him often applies. Contrast This Was His True Form, where dying entirely reverts a shapeshifted body. Compare Shapeshifting Heals Wounds.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Films — Animated 
  • Ladybug & Cat Noir: The Movie: The gargoyle villain that serves as the first villain Ladybug and Cat Noir fight ends up deakumatizing after being run over by a train. Once the smoke dissipates, the man who was the base of the gargoyle is shown to be unharmed, if a little bit disoriented.

  • In the Dutch tale The dog who wasn't a dog, a dog, who is actually a cursed prince, helps a sailor. In return the sailor helps the dog to undo the curse. The last part involves the sailor killing the dog, after which the dog becomes human again.
  • Dragons in Elcenia that die while shapeshifted lose access to that form and immediately shift back to dragon shape. This forced shift can be dangerous in itself, if their location is inconvenient — Kaylo's parents died when a scoot killed their assumed form while they were standing under a stone bridge. Death by starvation, channeling sting, or a spell that explicitly kills its target will also permanently kill a dragon without even changing them back.
  • In the Brothers Grimm version of "The Golden Bird", a talking fox repeatedly helps the protagonist in his quest, asking only that he cut off its head and feet afterwards. The protagonist refuses out of sentiment until the end of the story, when killing the fox allows it to regain its true form as a human prince.
  • The Nekropolis Archives: Darklord Amon is a shapeshifter with powers far beyond any of the other Lykes in the city, not only allowing him mastery of enough shapes to make him Perpetually Protean in conversation, but virtual invincibility: killing him only results in his current shape being cast off like snakeskin and turning to dust. As such, when Matt and Devona find themselves being stalked by Amon across the Wildwood, they initially think that they're being attacked by multiple Lykes until they notice the uncharacteristic disintegration, and quickly realize that Amon's doing this just so he can exhaust Matt's supply of silver bullets before moving in for the kill.
  • Wild Cards: Captain Tripps is an ace who's power is that he transforms into someone with different powers based on which drugs he takes. In a fight with aliens, the form that he'd taken got killed (meaning he could never again become that particular form), which sent him into a deep depression until one of his friends forcibly shot him up with something to transform him into another one of his personas who was able to talk himself into wanting to live again.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: Polymorph spells and Druids' Animorphism give the target the Hit Points of their new form; they revert if dropped to zero HP, but any extra damage is transferred to their original form (known as the "onion" strategy in fanspeak). A few instant-death effects, like the spell Disintegrate, kill a polymorphed target outright.

    Video Games 
  • In Ben 10: Protector of Earth if Ben suffers too much damage in alien form, he will revert to human form and must dodge enemy blows while waiting for the Omnitrix to recharge.
  • In Breath of Fire III, if Ryu drops to 0 HP in one of his dragon forms, he returns to however much HP he had before entering it.
  • In Cassette Beasts, humans fight the monsters of New Wirral by using cassette tapes to record and assume monster forms. Reducing a tape to 0 HP forces its user to revert to their natural form, but they can switch to a new tape after the current turn, and broken tapes can later be fixed. However, any excess damage that wasn't absorbed by the tape carries over — it's possible to defeat human opponents outright (or be knocked out yourself) by dealing enough overkill damage.
  • The Headhunter in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow transforms by putting on heads from its collection on the walls. Should Soma deal enough damage to kill its current body, it simply grabs another head and transforms again (gaining a new set of abilities in the process), up until Soma kills it in a reptilian form (which may have been its natural state).
  • In Cave Story, defeating Balrog when he has been transformed into Balfrog by Misery simply returns him to his natural form.
  • Kid Chameleon reverts to his normal, powerless self if he runs out of HP while wearing a helmet.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom: The Bubbul Frogs found in the various caves can be attacked and defeated for their Bubbul Gems. Rather than dying, though, the Bubbul Frogs will instead abandon that form (along with the Gems) and revert into the smaller Blupees.
  • Magician Lord: Elta gains a second HP meter when he takes on one of his alternate forms; emptying this one will revert him to his base shape.
  • In Nethack, running out of HP while polymorphed will force you back into your natural form... unless you're wearing an amulet of unchanging, in which case you're stuck and you die. Dying any other way will also kill you for real.
  • Prey: While Morgan is damaged normally using the basic Mimic Matter ability, if they use the advanced versions to mimic a turret or an Operator, they are rendered immune to direct damage while transformed, instead being forced out of their transformation when their machine form takes enough hits.
  • Super Smash Bros.: Due to a bug in Brawl and For 3DS/Wii U's Stamina matches, characters with a transformation for a Final Smash who run out of HP in that state will revert back to normal and be able to keep fighting, though they'll be defeated for real if they touch even a non-damaging hitbox in this state. Pictured here.
  • Warcraft III: The Phoenix unit has negative health regeneration and turns into an egg every time it dies (through enemy action or left alone). But if the egg isn't killed, it quickly turns back into a fully-healed phoenix in a endless cycle.


    Web Videos 
  • Critical Role: As a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Actual Play, polymorph magic provides a new pool of Hit Points for the new form; lethal damage ends the spell and any extra damage rolls over to the original form.
    • Exploited in Campaign Two when a Wild Magic surge transforms Caleb into a sheep. While the others are mulling over what to do, Caduceus kills the sheep with a blow from his quarterstaff, restoring Caleb.
      Caduceus: You know, I'm just going to take initiative. May I? [Caleb bleats] You'll thank me later.
    • This causes some embarrassment in Campaign Three when the City Guards Fearne is spying on in rat form step on her, causing her to revert in front of them.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10: The Omnitrix has a feature that allows Ben to survive by rapidly changing to a different form if he's killed while in alien form. As a rule, Ben loses access to the form he was killed in until he gets a new DNA sample to restore it.
    • In Alien Force, Chromastone is shattered by Vilgax, but the Omnitrix regenerates Diamondhead out of itself to save Ben's life.
    • In Ultimate Alien, Ben as Way Big gets hit by a blast of accelerated time from Eon. Way Big rapidly ages into a pile of dust, with Ben sitting unharmed in the center. Shortly afterward, Ultimate Swampfire gets killed in the same way.
    • In another Ultimate Alien example, one of Charmcaster's magic rituals overloads Chromastone ability to absorb it, and he promptly disintegrates. Ben falls to the floor as a human... and then Charmcaster steals his soul.


Video Example(s):


Eon kills Way Big & Swampfire

Eon uses his power over time to age Way Big and Ultimate Swampfire to dust. Ben survives both times, but loses those transformations in the process.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / ShapeDiesShifterSurvives

Media sources: