It's a common sight gag in humorous animation that fish, insects and other swarms have an amazing ability to coordinate movement into very exact shapes. This is especially impressive with fireflies in the night. In older Western animation, this is especially common when swarms of bees appear.
This one is interesting because you can see a little bit of how it works. The idea of fish schooling up to form words is pretty ridiculous, but because we are used to seeing schools of fish performing coordinated movements, we can easily suppress disbelief and accept a more complex and coordinated version of a real phenomenon. Ditto, the flocking of birds, insects, etc.
This is kind of Truth in Television as real-life swarms/schools/flocks can move with amazing coordination, and maintain a shape (usually a sphere or some other simple geometrical pattern) even when disturbed.
Common gags include:
- Asking a swarm if they've seen something, and the swarm helpfully forms an arrow pointing to the direction it went.
- The target of a swarm (usually bees) is hiding, and when they can't find it they form a question mark for no apparent reason except for the benefit of the audience.
When the swarm looks and acts like a single living thing, it overlaps with The Worm That Walks. When it's bees (or other stinging insects like wasps or hornets) that are swarming, it overlaps with Scary Stinging Swarm. Expect this to happen if someone disturbs or walks into the Hornet Hole.
- Motu Patlu: In "Motu Patlu Ka Fashion Show", John the Don provides Motu and Patlu with honey shirts so that he can release a bunch of bees on them. The bees form into several shapes, among them the shapes of a rocket, hands, and teeth, as they aim for and sting Motu and Patlu.
- Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: In Mighty Little Defenders episode 5, Huiertai accidentally releases a swarm of bees from a beehive who form into such shapes as a hammer and a mace as they chase after him.
- Blame: Issue 7 has the main character briefly interacting with a swarm of microorganisms, which assumes various simple forms — :) for "hello", O for "yes", X for "no", etc — to answer his queries. Justified, in that the swarm is actually controlled by an AI, in a highly futuristic world where this kind of trick is pretty common.
- Domo TV: One of the shorts on Nicktoons TV has the title character going ice-skating and following a school of fish swimming just beneath the ice.
- Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt has a swarm of flies forming into a human hand... who gives Chuck a full-scale swatting (after he did so with one of them), throwing Chuck into a microwave, topped off with the swarm giving him the middle finger, complete with Written Sound Effect "FUCK!"
- Disney Animated Canon:
- Finding Nemo: A school of moonfish (voiced by John Ratzenberger) does a series of impressions for Dory and becomes an arrow to give her and Marlin directions to Sydney. Lampshaded when they mention that they've practiced their impressions.
- Happy Heroes: In the second theatrical film, Happy Heroes 2: The Battle of Planet Qiyuan, Big M. is one of the participants of the Superman race and has his Life Meter slowly lowered by a bunch of bugs that are flying toward him in the shape of a syringe. Happy S. helps Big M. by punching the bugs away.
- Rango has the Mole Clan do this while riding bats to prey on Rattlesnake Jake's fear of hawks.
- Storks has a wolf pack that is capable of forming a suspension bridge, a boat and even a submarine, to the complete bafflement of the protagonists. However, when they try to form a plane they just plummet to the ground.
- Ant-Man: Hank Pym controls ants to show Scott Lang just how much time he has to escape, with the ants forming numbers representing seconds.
- Ant-Man and the Wasp: To track the lab during a car chase, Pym has flying ants form an arrow pointing to it.
- The Matrix: In the third movie, the sentinel robots make a hand-like shape. Later, robots form a face and it talks to Neo. Probably Justified because there is just that much computing power guiding them.
- Nutty Professor II: The Klumps: The professor proposes to his girlfriend by attracting fireflies into the words "Marry me?" using a synthesized firefly pheromone.
- The Suicide Squad: The weird, multicolored jellyfish-like aliens from an aquarium in Jotunheim copy the outline of King Shark's body through the glass, to the later's great amusement.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Irish mascots at the Quidditch World Cup, a swarm of flying leprechauns that forms shapes to amuse the audience. They get pissed off when Bulgaria does well, eventually forming a hand making a "very rude gesture indeed."
- Lorenzo: A school of fish looks like a big fish and scares the sharks away. One of them is an odd-colored fish, so it has trouble staying away from predators until the other fish agree to make it be the eye.
- The Neverending Story: Ygramul the Many, a swarm of poisonous beetle-like bugs which forms a devilish face, a giant scorpion, a fist...
- The Power of Five: Some of the Old Ones take the form of a swarm of flies that mould themselves into the shape of sword-wielding men on horseback. If anyone tries to strike the figures, the swarm just dissipates and re-forms, and one of the protagonists wonders whether when they attack their swords stay solid or separate and sting their victim to death.
- Prey has nanobot swarms that do this, and it's mentioned that their AI is based on insect swarms. By the end of the book, they do it convincingly enough that a swarm can be mistaken for a human being.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events: The swarm of snow gnats can take on forms like hoops and arrows when attacking people, whom they enjoy stinging for no good reason whatsoever.
- Lexx: Mantrid's Drone Arms periodically do this, forming a hammer, polygonal shapes, and the distinctive Cluster logo.
- Pushing Daisies: In one episode, following a case where a woman says she was attacked by a "terrifying bee man", Ned speculates about being chased by a human-shaped swarm of bees. Turns out it was actually a person covered in bees.
- Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues: Jenna can command the swarm that composes her new body to form various shapes. The default, of course, is a humanoid-esque form, but they're shown to react subconsciously to her thoughts: when she gets knocked over, for example, they form into a cartoony ball and splat against the ground.
- 720°, an arcade game, has a swarm of bees that chase the player if he hangs around the hub world for too long. The swarm takes on various threatening shapes including a hammer, a skull, an arrow, and a pair of scissors.
- Castlevania: The Giant Bat, a recurring boss, is sometimes made of a lot of normal bats (such as Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow with Bat Company).
- Evil Genius: Bees from the bee hive trap will form a question mark if no targets are in range. When they spot one, they form an exclamation point before attacking.
- Kirby: Squeak Squad: One of the enemies is a swarm of small black insects called Uja that form themselves into various threatening shapes, such as Master Hand or a sword.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: When a swarm of bees is turned hostile, it forms itself into an X shape and flies towards Link. It will temporarily scatter if struck, but will quickly return to formation if it wasn't enough to defeat it.
- Logical Journey of the Zoombinis: The "Fleens!" puzzle requires you to bait a group of three specific Fleens off a tree branch which has a hive hanging from it. Their jumping off will eventually agitate the bees living inside into chasing off the other Fleens, taking the form of a pair of scissors, an arrow, or a storm cloud. In the remake Zoombinis, the swarm usually takes the shape of a vicious shark.
- NEO: The World Ends with You generally avoids this trope when it comes to Noise enemies. The Soul Pulvis are another story, being small bird Noise born from the Dissonance stored in Rindo's Player Pin. Because a single Soul Pulvis poses little threat on its own (case in point, Minamimoto effortlessly crushes one in his hand two separate times), the murder of these little ravens take the shape of other Noise the Wicked Twisters encounter, and there's so many of them that you won't run out of the little blighters to erase even if you tear into such large numbers at once. This is a plot point, and after you've erased enough, Kubo just directs the entire flock at you to wipe you all out.
- Pikmin: Each game's title screen features the Pikmin forming the logo from a top-down view.
- Pokémon: Wishiwashi is a scrawny, weak fish that has an ability where it forms a school into a larger, much more powerful form resembling a submarine (to the point that it's considered The Dreaded). The school can even launch individual fish from its sides like torpedoes. The school will scatter if it takes too much damage.
- TimeSplitters: Future Perfect: The Shoal is a school of fish swimming through the air around a larger whale wearing a tophat and smoking a pipe. The Shoal holds weapons using several small fish's bodies as hands.
- The Wonderful 101 uses this, with full-on costumed superheroes, as the game's core gameplay mechanic. The primary power of the Wonderful 101 allows them to use this technique to form actual, functional, giant-sized weapons.
- Yoshi's Story: The swarms of bees in the Jungle Hut stage form a large open palm to prevent you from passing by them.
- Worm: Skitter can command swarms of arthropods to form complex shapes. She has put it to use on several occasions, creating warning of impending danger and acting as a form of ad hoc command and control during crisis situations.
- Ask a Ninja,: According to the Ninja this is a power of killer-killer bees, which are "killer bees that kill killer bees." One unfortunate victim of theirs tried to escape a swarm by diving into a pool of water. The killer-killer bees then formed into a bee submarine, dove into the water, and shot the man dead with a bee-torpedo.
- Barney Bear: Wild Honey has a swarm of bees forming a bomber plane (a "Bee-19") and dropping "bombs" on Barney. They also form a bow and arrow to sting him on the butt with.
- Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers: "Risky Beesness" has a swarm of bees forming not only flying hearts on behalf of the queen, but also stealing musical instruments while hypnotized by a thief playing a mind-controlling tune.
- Donald Duck: In "Inferior Decorator", Donald gets into a feud with a bee. Toward the end of the cartoon, it calls on all its friends, which swarm out of the hive and form a question mark, as if to say "Yeah, what do you want?"
- Dragons: Riders of Berk: In Dragons: Race to the Edge, "When Darkness Falls", the Night Terrors are small dragons that fly as a swarm to form the shape of a bigger dragon in order to frighten their predators. For this, though, they need the presence of their leader (a white Night Terror that the Dragonriders name "Smidvarg") to command the flock and takes the position of the "eye" of the mock dragon.
- Life with Louie: One episode has a scene in which Andy teaches a swarm of bees to spell his name, and has to correct their spelling after the first attempt ("Andie").
- Mickey Mouse: In "A Flower for Minnie", a swarm of bees forms a fist to smash Mickey and pick up the flower he's carrying.
- Miraculous Ladybug:
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- "Swarm of the Century": A small Parasprite swarm clinging to Rainbow Dash forms things like a beard and a bikini on her body before she shakes them off.
- "Fall Weather Friends": Rainbow Dash gets chased by a swarm of bees, and they form a "?!" when she manages to hide from them.
- "Castle Mane-ia": Downplayed. There are no geometric shapes or letters but, when the beekeeper retrieves his bees, they follow him as a single airborne blob instead of scattering.
- The Pink Panther: One cartoon has the title character annoy a swarm of bees. While taking cover inside a house blocks them, the bees take a form of a drill, and create a hole in the door that they fly through.
- Popeye: "Insect to Injury" has Popeye trying to stop a swarm of termites from eating his new house; he traps them under a garbage can, but they escape when they form a car jack to lift it up.
- Rick and Morty: In "Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender", one of the Vindicators is named "One Million Ants" and is literally millions of ants forming a human being.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: "Plankton's Army": Lampshaded: Plankton rallies his extended family to aid him in finally stealing the Krabby Patty secret formula.
Mr. Krabs: Curse you Plankton, and your ability to join together to form a working human ear!
- TaleSpin: In "The Incredible Shrinking Molly", after getting their stingers ground off by the propellers of the shrunken-down Seaduck, the hornets form "OW!".
- Tom and Jerry: The ants that invade Spike's picnic are quite organized, which helps them walk off with the entire food supply... and Spike's son.
- One news story talks about a flock of starlings in a Flipping the Bird formation.
- Swarming in military strategy is the act of striking at an enemy force with mobile elements which hit and run, perpetually disrupting the enemy and destroying command and control by preventing the enemy from being able to react before the situation has changed. This is not a simple Zerg Rush of throwing troops at an objective in rapid waves, but an extremely complex, difficult to coordinate, and devastatingly effective plan to cause confusion and disorientation.
- Marching Bands.