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"So are they, in reality, on all fours, just roaring, and they just think they are standing upright? Or do the humans notice that they are standi — you know what!? Animated movie with ambiguously defined rules!"

Usually we're meant to take character designs at face value but this is not the case. In-series characters see each other in a different way from how we see them, even ignoring art styles.


  • Charlie Brown Baldness often occurs when a character appears to have almost no hair but canonically has hair, anything ranging from a buzzcut to a full head of hair.
  • Characters with Black Bead Eyes are often shown to have actual eye colors at one time or another.
  • Characters with Four-Fingered Hands are often assumed to have five fingers like normal humans.
  • Hair Color Dissonance is when a character's hair looks a different color than it actually is.
  • Suddenly Blonde is for when a video game character's canon hair color doesn't match their sprite or model.
  • Visible Invisibility is where the audience is able to see a character who is supposed to be invisible to others.
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  • Characters who are The Noseless or characters who have No Mouth usually do actually have them, but they're simply drawn without them.
  • Characters who suffer from Animals Lack Attributes or Barbie Doll Anatomy usually are meant to actually have the parts that are missing.
  • Alleged Lookalikes occurs when characters are meant to be similar looking in-series but aren't for the viewer
  • Your Size May Vary and Not Drawn to Scale occur when things are depicted as a different size than intended in canon.
  • Furry Lens occurs when the characters who are actually humans look like animals to the audience.
  • Fully-Clothed Nudity may involve character treated as naked plot-wise, even though they're at least partially-clothed from an audience perspective.
  • Animated World Hypotheses questions whether animated (or illustrated) characters perceive their own world as an animation.
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  • Musical World Hypotheses: Characters in a musical number may not necessarily be singing in-universe.
  • Suddenly Obvious Fakery is when a disguise or something similar looks totally convincing to both the audience and the in-story characters but suddenly looks very fake when the deception is revealed.
  • Sprouting Ears is when a character suddenly sprouts animal ears and/or a tail to emphasize a certain personality trait, i.e. a mischievous character sprouts a fox's ears and tail (as opposed to Little Bit Beastly or Unusual Ears, when a character really does have animal parts).
  • Every Pizza Is Pepperoni: Every pizza in animated works will have red spots on it even if the toppings are specifically called out and do not mention pepperoni.

Contrast to Appearance Is in the Eye of the Beholder and Rule of Perception. Using a Fourth-Wall Portrait is a way to draw a more accurate version of the character. May be a sign of a Lazy Artist or Stylistic Suck.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Shinigami eyes in Death Note are red eyes characters receive when they take a Deadly Upgrade. Word of God is that it's stylistic and In-Universe their eyes don't change color.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, the various Breathing styles of swordfighting used to fight demons are named and themed after various elements, and their techniques are visually depicted as though the characters are manipulating those elements (i.e., Water Breathing techniques are often shown with water swirling around the sword's blade). However, it's been confirmed that none of the demon slayers actually have any Elemental Powers, and the elemental effects are purely for visual flair.
  • Gokicha: The eponymous protagonist is depicted as a cute human(oid) girl with only the antennae and outer wings of a cockroach. The in-story human characters, however, see her as a a regular Creepy Cockroach and react accordingly.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Although Koichi Hirose is canonically 157cm (roughly 5'2"), he is always presented to the audience as being comically small, sometimes barely taller than the protagonist's knees.
  • Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt uses so many different styles that it's an impossibility to decide which one is the "true" one.
  • The characters of Free Collars Kingdom are regular stray cats and they're viewed and treated as such by the humans they interact with, but the cats see each other as catboys/catgirls.
  • Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san is a semi-autobiographical manga about employees at a bookstore. To protect their anonymity, the author not only changes all names, but draws herself as a living skeleton and the others as always wearing bizarre masks. No one ever reacts to either, and the series is otherwise entirely mundane.
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: One of Kaguya's "personalities" is Kaguya-chan, a version of her that acts very cutely and childish thanks to feeling a strong sense of happiness and escapism plus sleep deprivation. She's drawn in a Super-Deformed art style, making her look much smaller and child-like; the narrator however lampshades that this trope is in effect and to everyone else she just looks like an absent-minded Kaguya. Taken to a hilarious degree when Shirogane copies her in an attempt to communicate with her — while the readers see two adorable Super-Deformed characters repeating each other's names, Iino sees two young adults behaving in a really creepy manner.
  • The Nakano sisters of The Quintessential Quintuplets have their whole gimmick based on the fact that no one can tell them apart, even though they have different hair colors and voices. As such, their having different hair colors is only for the reader's convenience; in-universe it's all the same shade.
  • So I'm a Spider, So What?: In the anime, Kumoko's Residual Self-Image means that when seen from her point of view she's a cute-ish spider with a highly expressive face and body language. Later perspectives from humans show us what she really looks like: A horrifying spider abomination with a nightmarish face that jitters about unusually.
  • Chibi-Neko from The Star of Cottonland is a regular kitten and the human characters treat her as one, but she's only ever depicted to the audience as a Cat Girl due to her strong desire to become human.
  • Thigh High: Reiwa Hanamaru Academy: The manga is a typical gag moe series, but all the cute girls the show would focus on are now boys, ranging from Hunks to Bishōnen, though they still wear things like bras, panties, and skirts. It's unclear whether the characters are actually women being drawn as men for the benefit of the audience, or if the story is set in a world with very different gender roles (despite the characters' feminine clothing and mannerisms, they still have traditionally masculine given names).
  • Ai of Oshi no Ko has pupils drawn like six-pointed stars, and her two children Aqua and Ruby have one eye each the same. In-series, her eyes are mentioned as having a distinct look, but nothing so completely obvious as to connect the three characters (even by one person who notices their family resemblance). When Akane imitates Ai for her on-screen persona, her eyes look the same to represent how close a match she is.

    Asian Animation 
  • In the animated adaptation of Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation: Mo Dao Zu Shi, when the deceased protagonist Wei Wuxian is summoned back to earth, his new body (which belonged to the man who summoned him, Mo Xuanyu) looks nearly identical to his old body in his first life (the only differences being the shorter hair and the smaller, less muscular build). This is solely for the audience's convenience — In-Universe, the two men do not resemble each other and everyone who previously knew Wei Wuxian do not recognise him in his new body.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Hobbes appears as a Funny Animal to Calvin, but a stuffed toy to everyone else. Whether Hobbes only comes to life when he's alone with Calvin or is Invisible to Normals is left for the reader to decide, and is one of the reasons given by Bill Watterson for not allowing merchandising or adaptations.
  • Played with in the "Flatter-matic" camera plotline in Angus Og where the camera prints out pictures that look more realistic than the usual caricature art-style. The characters get confused, and the reader is supposed to think it is because of the style switch, but then, it turns out that these pictures are just incredibly flattering.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • At points in Blade Runner, the eyes of Replicants (and other artificial life-forms, like the owl) are seen to glow unnaturally. The director has said that this is a stylistic effect and is not visible to the other characters in-universe.
  • In Wonder Woman 1984, Diana wishes for her lost love, Steve Trevor, to come back to life, and he does so by possessing another man's (played by Kristoffer Polaha) body. While Diana and the audience see him as, well, Steve, everyone else in-universe see the man in his original appearance.

  • Pyramids: The embalmers explain to the apprentice that their clients' representations are always touched up to remove imperfections.
    Embalmer: Certainly they'll notice. But they won't say anything. They expect us to, er, improve matters.
    After all, you don't think they're going to step up and say, "It's all wrong, he had a face like a short-sighted chicken", do you?
  • So I'm a Spider, So What?: The protagonist is reborn in the body of a spider monster, but she is presented in illustrations and in the manga and anime adaptations as a relatively cute animal: big anime eyes, human mouth, humanoid movements using her frontal legs as arms. The viewers are led to believe this is her true appearance; however, whenever the story is shown from someone else's perspective, it's revealed that she is actually as monstrous as the other spiders, and her cute traits are just there for the viewer to have an easier time empathizing with her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Often on How I Met Your Mother Older Ted confesses that things look different in his flashbacks because that's how it seemed to him at the time. For example, when Robin dated an older man, he is first introduced as being in his late forties, but then Older Ted says that to him and his friends he looked much older, and the boyfriend appears as a senior for the rest of the episode.
  • In an episode of Bones the Victim of the Week, when we finally see her headshot objectively, is superficially similar looking to Brennan. However, Brennan sees her as her exact double and therefore so do we, until the end of the episode. When other characters look at the headshot they don't see any similarity, which confounds Brennan and confuses the viewer - since we see the headshot the way Brennan does.
  • Spoofed on 30 Rock when new high-definition cameras are put in that show the characters in greater detail. Liz and Lutz look old and wrinkly, Kenneth is a Muppet, and Jack looks like a younger Alec Baldwin.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • Andrew Hussie has stated that the images in Homestuck are merely stylistic representations of the characters that don't accurately portray their actual size, shape, or race. This makes sense regarding the sprites, which are obviously stylised videogame-style images, but this trope apparently holds true even for the 'hero mode' images where the characters are drawn with cartoony, but semi-realistic proportions. As a result, it's very easy to find wildly differing character designs for the characters, sharing only the most basic identifying details.
  • In Nebula, the characters (who are the Anthropomorphic Personifications of various planets) are all depicted to the viewer as having Non Human Heads of what they personify, though they apparently all have regular faces and can read each other's expressions just fine.
  • In-Universe for Scandinavia and the World. We see the Nordic countries as themselves, but America sees four Swedens. This is, of course, a reference to how Americans tend to see these countries as interchangeable.
  • It's implied in Drowtales that the glow of of tainted eyes and the white spirals seen in the eyes of certain characters who are tainted in a specific way aren't visible to the other characters are and purely for the reader's benefit. This is most obvious when shapeshifter Ariel pretends to be her crazy half-sister Kalki and changes her eye color to red but lacks the glow and spirals but no one except Kiel (who not only has them but has fourth-wall knowledge) seems to notice this. For comparison, the red glow seen in the pupils of all drow was originally thought to be this until another character specifically pointed it out in the eyes of Liriel, who looks like a dark elf but has the glow like a drow, meaning it's likely eyeshine.
  • In Ava's Demon, the Hosts don't have strangely-shaped irises in-universe and are only there to indicate to the viewer of their true nature.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: It is supposed to be impossible to photograph Dr. Alto Clef's face. His official profile photo shows him with a spider's head, but he apparently appears human in-universe.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted with The Powerpuff Girls. Multiple jokes and references make it clear they really don't have fingers or noses, and have abnormally large eyes. In fact, they're ostracized by their classmates for this very reason.
  • Original LEGO animated shows such as Ninjago and Nexo Knights typically retain their stylised minifigure appearance as part of the brand. However, due to the fact that the art style doesn't impact the aforementioned shows in any way, it's implied that the characters are actually human in-universe. This doesn't apply to The LEGO Movie, in which the characters are treated as LEGO minifigures in-universe as well.
  • South Park often jokes that the choppy, cutout animation is only perceived by the audience, and the characters see themselves as real people. The ninth season's Free Willzyx pulls off a Fourth-Wall Portrait of the main characters and the eighteenth season's Grounded Vindaloop ends in a Medium-Shift Gag where the live-action boys suggest the South Park animation style is just crummy graphics in a virtual reality setting. There are exceptions, like the freshly-shaved boys being unable to distinguish one another in Super Best Friends, which are done for Rule of Funny.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Squidward goes anywhere typically pantsless (except on occasion where he may have a different clothing). And his... genitals are never seen note . A few episodes play with this, such as in "Bossyboots", where Squidward, in anger of being a mascot, tears off his costume, only for the police to immediately come to him and put a fine note on his crotch.
  • Gems in Steven Universe cannot shapeshift their gemstones like the rest of the bodies. However, when they fuse together to make much larger individuals, the gemstones appear to grow along with them (for instance, Jasper's gem seems to grow from a few inches to bigger than a watermelon when she forms Malachite). The show's staff have specified they're not literally changing size, it's purely for the sake of visibility.