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Shapeshifting Trickster

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"There was one time when we were children, he transformed himself into a snake, and he knows that I love snakes. So I went to pick up the snake to admire it, and he transformed himself, and he was like, 'Yeah, it's me!' And he stabbed me. We were eight at the time."
Thor about Loki, Thor: Ragnarok
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The Trickster is a character who is cunning, manipulative, deceitful, and crafty, all traits that make them as hard as possible to understand and pin down. Shapeshifting, by definition, is the ability to alter the appearance of something, and is often used in fiction as a means for a character to disguise themselves or trick others. Thus, it is extremely common for tricksters to also be shapeshifters, using their powers to become others to further manipulate those around them.

These characters may be unconventional in their use of powers, and they may not even be interested in trying to disguise themselves so much as to surprise or frighten those around them. As is natural for a trickster, they must have an interest in messing with people, though how they go about it varies from case-to-case.

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At best, these characters may be somewhat mischievous but overall well-meaning in their schemes and often an asset for the protagonists. These types will most likely use their powers to benefit their allies or cause minor drama. At worst, they are dangerous Manipulative Bastards who use their powers to ruin people's lives and cause havoc. Villainous ones will usually cross personal and moral boundaries with their shapeshifting and tricks, making life hell for those they decide to torment.

Oftentimes, these characters are very powerful and can be very difficult to stand up to if they decide to raise hell. If that's the case, expect them to be, or be related to, some sort of deity and capable of creating far more chaos as a result. Characters fitting into this group usually have an array of powers, but must be able to shapeshift to qualify for this trope.

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This is a subtrope of Shapeshifting and The Trickster. Compare (and may overlap with) Shapeshifting Seducer and Shapeshifter Guilt Trip. Not to be confused with Tricking the Shapeshifter, in which the shapeshifter in question is manipulated into taking on an easily-defeated form. Overlaps heavily with Voluntary Shapeshifter.


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Ancient Magus' Bride Shapeshifting is apparently a standard ability, though not often shown, for the fae, who have Blue-and-Orange Morality and are prone to giving humans the run around simply because they can.
    • Ashen Eye enjoys tormenting humans and routinely puts them in harmful situations because he finds it amusing. He will give people a chance to beat him by leaving clues to win his games, but is still incredibly capable of causing misery. He doesn't shapeshift often, but apparently can as he transforms into a scorpion monster when he makes a contract with Stella.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • Envy is a villainous example. In their debut, they impersonate Father Cornello to manipulate the people of Liore to kill each other, immediately demonstrating their psychopathic personality. Later, they kill Hughes by turning into his wife and then shooting him. Please note turning into Gracia was not necessary, as Hughes would have been powerless either way.
      • Envy plays it a little straighter in the 2003 anime, as he is portrayed as far more intelligent and often relies on tricking his opponents and combat pragmatism than brute force to further his plan like in the manga. During a fight with Ed, despite already being a skilled fighter, he transforms into a variety of people to shock the alchemist and give him an opening. It works.
    • Truth also counts, as they appear as a blank version of whoever they are interacting with. They are effectively God, and take body parts from people who attempt human transmutation, all the while mocking their victims and always taking an ironic price. That said, Truth is not malevolent, they want to teach people alchemy isn't everything and to accept what they have, so when Ed decides to give up his Gate for Al, Truth is overjoyed that someone finally figured it out.
  • Inuyasha:
    • Shippo is a fox demon, and can therefore shapeshift, though being the fox equivalent of a seven-year-old prevents his magic from being particularly effective. His powers revolve around toys and he enjoys pranking and messing with Inuyasha, which unfortunately usually earns him a beating.
    • Naraku does not shapeshift often, but did so pre-series in order to drive a wedge between Inuyasha and Kikyo, manipulating them into killing each other. He is an extremely malicious demon who frequently creates cruel schemes made to cause as much suffering as possible.
  • Pokémon: Zoroark: Master of Illusions: Zorua and his mother Zoroark both take advantage of their species' ability to use illusions to shapeshift, with Zorua mostly using it For the Lulz while Zoroark uses her powers for more practical purposes (mainly trying to trick the Big Bad). Zorua being a baby means that he can never hide his tail, which will change him back when pulled on (though he will usually giggle afterward). Zoroark is not immune to Zorua's silly habits however, as she joins in on one of her son's pranks at the end of the film by disguising herself as Zorua while he disguised himself as Ash.

    Comic Books 
  • Exiles
    • Original team-member Morph is essentially a friendly Blob Monster with the ability to transform into just about anything; he's also a cheeky, impish, Fun Personified Manchild who loves using his powers to play tricks on people: he turns into a catapult so he can dump a load of water balloons on sunbathers, he shapeshifts into a pretty woman so he can beguile a hotel desk clerk into giving him a free suite for his fellow team members, and he even transforms into John Travolta while out clubbing so he can drive the tabloids crazy.
    • Played very darkly when Proteus appears in the comic: already a Reality Warper, he successfully takes over Morph's body and - overjoyed at having a body that won't burn out for once - he exploits Morph's powers to become a monstrous shapeshifting trickster with a propensity for sick headgames.
  • Loki is Marvel's version of the Norse deity of the same name. He is notorious for manipulating people through lies and blackmail, and where Thor uses brute force, Loki uses his mind and magic. He is also a shapeshifter, often using his powers to disguise himself to further his own goals.
  • Malchemical in The Boys, an Alternate Company Equivalent of Metamorpho. He was a shapeshifter who could alter his body into any form he chose, even other people, which he abused frequently. He was kicked off his superhero team for performing a Bed Trick on the leader's girlfriend, and after he's reassigned to the "short bus" hero team Superduper in an attempt by Vought to make their comics Darker and Edgier, he terrorizes the leader by enveloping her in his body (to reenact her trauma over being smothered) before attempting to rape her and her female teammates.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • Moana has Maui, a demigod who uses a magic fishing hook gifted to him by the gods to change shape. During his introduction, he uses his shapeshifting to steal the Heart of Te Fiti, and Tala's narration refers to him as a trickster. Later, when Moana attempts to force him to help her restore the Heart, Maui deceives her into walking into his cave, then blocks the exit and runs off with her boat.
  • Madame Mim in The Sword in the Stone is a witch who uses her powers to shapeshift, and takes pleasure in frightening and confusing people. She and Merlin fight each other in a Shapeshifter Showdown, where she used Exact Words to justify turning into a dragon (which was against the rules), though is defeated anyway.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: Loki creates complex plots to get what he wants, which often involve a high body count, however, he is also capable of minor forms of trickery. He is well-versed in magic and can shapeshift, which he usually uses to mock people, although he did use it to fake his death and impersonate Odin for a few years to rule Asgard with no one the wiser.

    Literature 
  • The Darksword Trilogy has Simkin, who is hinted to be the very personification of magic itself. The very definition of Chaotic Neutral, Simkin has near limitless power and will often trick his way back into Joram's adventure by taking the form of some innocuous item being carried by the heroes. Bites him in the butt at the end of the third book when he switches places with Joram for a lark, only to wind up literally Taking the Bullet for him in a clear analogy of technology killing magic. Were it not for Joram's actions after, Simkin would have remained dead into the fourth book.
  • The Gloamglozer from The Edge Chronicles is a malevolent shapeshifter, who is a self-admitted trickster. It is also a horrifying monster who is extremely intelligent and does things For the Evulz.
  • Mulgarath from The Spiderwick Chronicles is a shapeshifting ogre bent on world domination. Mulgarath is known to be incredibly vile and untrustworthy, and uses his shapeshifting to disguise himself to get what he wants, and even attempts a Shapeshifter Guilt Trip on the kids by transforming into their father, though they see through it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The First Evil from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a malicious entity who can take on the form of anyone who has died, even if they are currently alive. It exploits this power to manipulate the Scoobies and their allies, usually by guilt-tripping them with their failures, or using it simply to spy on them. The First is incredibly dangerous, but due to its inability to interact physically with the world, relies on schemes and its henchmen to achieve its goals. During its introduction it tries to convince Angel to kill himself, and later on torments Buffy, Willow and Dawn simultaneously with its tricks.
  • One of the signature abilities of Cora and Zelena on Once Upon a Time is to shapeshift into other people, and they’ve pulled off some impressive schemes by appearing to be known good guys like Lancelot or Marian.
  • Star Trek has the Changelings from the Gamma Quadrant who vexed the crew of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A race of shapeshifters and rulers of the Dominion they would sow discord by impersonating people in the Alpha Quadrant.

    Mythology 
  • Huehuecoyotl in Aztec Mythology was a shapeshifting deity who often pulled pranks on the other gods, and started wars out of boredom. Often considered the Mexica equivalent to Coyote.
  • The pooka from Celtic Mythology are fairy spirits known for taking the forms of various animals, usually a horse, often depicted as taking pleasure in confusing and planking humans. However, while many stories state they are benevolent entities, there are a good few that characterize them as dangerous or even bloodthirsty.
  • East Asian folklore
    • Kitsune and other foxes are shapeshifters who frequently use that power to seduce and otherwise deceive men.
    • Tanukis from Japanese Mythology are shapeshifters sometimes considered to have superior powers to the foxes and enjoy pranking humans with their illusions and disguises.
  • In Native American Mythology shapeshifting is a trait commonly attributed to Coyote and sometimes Raven, both of whom are well known trickster deities.
  • Norse Mythology has Loki, who is famous for being one of these. He was known for his ability to transform into anything he wanted and his ability to deceive. Many myths feature him trying to con or trick other deities, often using his powers either to aid in his schemes or to hightail it the second things go awry.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar & Warhammer 40,000: The Changeling is a daemon of the Chaos God Tzeentch who embodies his masters need to deceive and scheme. The most talented shapeshifter in existence, the Changeling spends most of his time sowing discord, breeding mistrust and playing fatal practical jokes on mortals and daemons alike by taking the form of anyone from great leaders to lowly servants. He's even dared to play practical jokes on the other Chaos Gods, in one tale cutting Slaanesh's hair, and in another, sealing Khorne's famous brass gates shut. While Tzeentch does occasionally give him a specific mission, the Great Schemer prefers to let the Changeling cause havoc as he sees fit as his meddling makes the Great Game between the Chaos Gods a lot more entertaining.

    Video Games 
  • In Fallout 3, pre-war scientist Dr Stanislaus Braun has been kept in a state of suspended animation in Vault 112 while his mind is allowed to indulge itself in a virtual reality simulation: here, Braun can use his administrator privileges to transform himself into just about anything, usually just for the sake of novelty; along with his Reality Warper-like power over the simulation itself, he has been using these privileges to screw with his fellow residents in progressively more sadistic ways over the centuries - ranging from breaking up marriages to enacting bloody massacres. By the time you meet him, he's taken on the form of a spiteful little girl called Betty, and he's more than happy to manipulate you into amusing him.
  • A few from Fire Emblem:
    • Loki from Fire Emblem Heroes is able to transform into whoever she wants and like the deity she is named for, does her best to manipulate the events surrounding the warring kingdoms and even messes with Veronica.
    • Xane from way back in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is the only unit that's had mimicry actually built into a game mechanic for them. He can change into anyone he wants, and as a unit, he can't attack until he has copied another character and can then use all of their abilities. He's also fond of pranks, imitating and trying to fool the rest of the army for the hell of it.
  • Mega Man X: Axl is the cocky Baby Of The Bunch with an ability called A-Trans that allows him to take on the appearance and abilities of other Reploids his size, which as far as gameplay is concerned is him turning into certain enemies for a short period of time. His first appearance in his debut game has him kill a smuggler before taking on his appearance to kill his accomplice, and he much later takes on Red's appearance to give himself the opportunity to take out Sigma, brushing off his near-death experience by laughing and asking X and Zero to "give [him] some credit".

    Web Animation 
  • No Evil: All of the spirits have both human and anthropomorphic animal forms, though Wrip is notable for her use of potions to generate illusions disguising her for mischief. Huey might share the name of a trickster god but he's more of a clumsy kleptomaniac.
  • RWBY: Neo's Semblance enables her to use illusions which she often employs to disguise herself. This makes her a superb infiltrator and highly successful villain. Despite her status as a Consummate Professional, if she can, Neo enjoys giving others the runaround and toying with them in battle, further accentuated with her silent snarking. During season seven, she uses the Shapeshifter Guilt Trip ploy on Ren by imitating Nora, to great effect.
    • Subverted with Emerald, whose Semblance causes people to hallucinate. She has a penchant for pickpocketing and no qualms about lying to someone's face. While fighting Ruby, who would much rather attack Cinder, Emerald uses her powers to appear as the Fall Maiden, though it turns out she just created a decoy so she could launch a surprise attack from another angle.

    Webcomics 
  • Coyote in Gunnerkrigg Court routinely shapeshifts, to the point of even changing the art style he's drawn in. He's also a master trickster, screwing up everything for everyone usually just for shits and giggles, though he is very capable of putting together Batman gambits with people's lives on the line.
  • Trickster from Heroes of Thantopolis has an array of unique powers, including shapeshifting though he is subject to Morphic Resonance. He is Cyrus' friend and tends to be a slacker who does things mainly to amuse himself, often breaking Helene's rules and unintentionally exposing Cyrus to danger in the process. Additionally, he frequently lies about the extent of his powers, hinting he is far more powerful than the average ghost, and might not even be a ghost at all.
  • Boss Leader from Paranatural has powers within dreams which she often uses to shapeshift, usually freaking people out. She is in charge of the Activity Consortium and likes to play pranks on her underlings for for fun and to glean information.
  • In Pebble and Wren, Pebble uses his shapeshifting abilities to play pranks on people, most often Wren.
  • Yokoka's Quest: Copycat is a spirit, and can change into anything he can imagine, but tends to take the forms of 'pretty' boys. After catching his attention, Copycat begins stalking Mao and makes many attempts to mess with him, including appearing in his dreams, replicating his appearance and randomly popping out of the shadows and pulling him in. However, Mao eventually figures out Copycat just likes attention, and learns how to annoy him in return.

    Western Animation 
  • The titular character in Beetle Juice is a rare, Involuntary Shapeshifter example. He delights in messing with others whether or not they deserve it, and causing general havoc. As a Reality Warper, he can change the world simply by speaking, but as a Literal Genie, using metaphors or similes will cause him to become whatever he said, which is actually exploited at one point in an attempt to off him.
  • Downplayed in The Dragon Prince. Lujanne is an eccentric and skilled elf illusionist who occasionally messes with Callum. When she begins her return to the Moon Nexus, she decides to make herself look like a human for kicks.
  • Gargoyles:
    • Proteus of the New Olympians is a particularly twisted version of this trope. His Establishing Character Moment has him mimicking the father of Taurus, the island's head of security while in his jail cell and pleading to be let out in front of Elisa. It's later revealed Proteus killed Taurus's father who was the previous head of security. He later escapes by tricking Goliath into thinking he's Elisa so the gargoyle will open his cell, knocking him out, then impersonating him for Elisa to get her help.
    • Puck is part of the Third Race, the fairies, and as such is capable of shapeshifting, which he uses to appear as Owen Burnett. He absolutely loves to raise hell, and in one case, despite being upset by Demona forcing him to serve her, after messing with all of New York by purposely misinterpreting her wishes, he was willing to give her a freebie just for giving him a good time.
  • Bill Cipher in Gravity Falls is capable of changing his appearance, and even the bodies of others. However, being a Psychopathic Manchild dream-demon, this is often done to horrifying effect and is almost exclusively for his own entertainment. He screws around with everyone in the series, taking sadistic pleasure in it and even just barely failing to trick Ford into opening a portal to allow him into the physical world.
  • The titular mask of The Mask transforms Stanley Ipkiss into a good-hearted trickster called The Mask with reality-warping powers, shapeshifting being one of them.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Discord, the Spirit of Chaos, possess the ability to shapeshift, amongst many reality warping abilities. In his first appearance, he uses this ability to manipulate and deceive the Mane Six. Even after reforming, he still uses his shapeshifting abilities to tease, trick, and play jokes on them.
  • Samurai Jack: Aku, the Shapeshifting Master of Darkness, serves as a villainous example who occasionally uses his powers to deceive Jack on his journey. Downplayed as Jack was only ever deceived the first time, and was much more savvy in all following encounters.
  • Double Trouble in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a shapeshifter with a severe case of Blue-and-Orange Morality seeing drama as the most important thing in their life. They constantly to stir up as much chaos as possible via their ability to perfectly mimic whoever they want in both appearance and personality.
  • Imp from She-Ra: Princess of Power is both a trickster and a shapeshifter and will often use his skills to fool the rebels so he can infiltrate and sabotage their camp as well as Castle Brightmoon itself. Apparently the power of Whispering Woods to keep evil out doesn't apply if it hitches a ride with the good guys.
  • Steven Universe:
  • Transformers:
    • Some of the Transformers make extensive use of their shapeshifting abilities to tricking members of the other side and their human allies. The two exemplars of this are Soundwave and Blaster who, while being fairly well known, never fail to get taken where they want to go. Blaster's commercial even has RUMBLE of all 'Cons being the schmuck to carry Blaster into the Decepticon base, much to Soundwave's annoyance.
    • Transformers: Prime introduced Makeshift, a more traditional shapeshifter who could transform into any other Cybertronian he wanted to, allowing him to fudge being Wheeljack and infiltrate the Autobots' base. Of course, with such a Story-Breaker Power, it goes without saying he was killed off.

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