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Took a Level in Cynic
aka: Took A Level In Cynicism

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"In every cynical person there is a disappointed idealist."

The character gave the world their love, their care, their trust, and, in return, was somehow back-stabbed, deceived, taken advantage of, used. Some of their old optimism breaks, and they take it to heart that they should not trust others so easily. There is, however, a readjustment in expectations on how the world works towards the pessimistic, not an outright surrender, and not necessarily a change in methods either (an incorruptible character may choose to be a Doomed Moral Victor rather than adjust their methods) or even a change in attitude (The Pollyanna is perfectly aware of living in a Crapsack World, yet refuses to let it bring them down), let alone a Face–Heel Turn, as any Anti-Hero can attest.

A Broken Pedestal can result in this; in a meta sense, the character perceives all of humanity to have failed to live up to his expectations, and revises them accordingly. The cause of the event is the Cynicism Catalyst. The result is usually the acquisition of Jade Coloured Glasses. Can result in a Broken Bird, or, worse yet, a Despair Event Horizon. See also Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!. See also Innocence Lost.


Contrast The Anti-Nihilist, Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers! and Took a Level in Idealism.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Code Geass, Lelouch acquires this at age eight, when his mother is murdered in what may be a court intrigue, about which his father the Emperor does nothing. When Lelouch calls him out on this, his response is to send the kid over to an enemy country as a hostage and bargaining chip. Not long after, he invades the country that is hosting his own child, in a very bloody war. No wonder the kid ends up the way he does.
  • Flashbacks reveal that Homura from Puella Magi Madoka Magica started the series as cheerful, klutzy, and a Wide-Eyed Idealist. Repeated failures to save Madoka in timeline after timeline caused her to slowly withdraw her faith in the world, turning into The Stoic character she is today.
  • In Naruto, Sasuke Uchiha ends up taking several of these, falling all the way down to omnicidal insanity and looping back into being an Anti-Hero and wishing to become the ruler/protector of the village, deciding that he will do better than his callous, brutal predecessors.
    • He's got nothing on Obito, who went from being a carefree, happy-go-lucky kid to wanting to force the entire world into a dream world because he saw hope and peace as laughable concepts.
  • All three of the main cast in Cowboy Bebop had such an event horizon long before the plot starts; they were all betrayed by a close friend or a romantic partner, and as a result have closed themselves up to the world. It takes them a long time to learn to care about each other, but, in the end, that's not enough to save them.
  • Ciel Phantomhive from Black Butler was a Cheerful Child when younger, but after his parents died and became enslaved for a year, he became grim and brooding just like in the present day. He's basically Bruce Wayne if Alfred were a demon and the Waynes were a Black Ops. dynasty.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion's entire cast have had theirs before the plot even starts (well, almost; one of them gets it over the course of the series, and the resulting change in loyalties is crucial to the ending of the story). Some of the relevant moments were revealed in-story, others in supplementary materials.
  • Kaze no Stigma: Following the Death of his love interest as a sacrifice for a demon, Kazuma Yagami went from being a Nice Guy to being a cold and brutal Anti-Hero who wouldn't allow anyone to get close to him emotionally, even his own younger brother.
  • In The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, a few days of interacting with Haruhi Suzumiya is enough to wear Kyon down.
  • Mikeala of Seraph of the End used to be an incredibly optimistic and cheerful kid... at least until his plan to save his "family" gets them all killed and he's forced into becoming a vampire and being separated from his best friend for years. Oh, and he also learns that humans may not be a whole lot better than the vampires. Suffice to say that his current self is a very jaded and self loathing pessimist who trusts no one.
  • Occurred to Ryuuken Ishida in the backstory of Bleach, when the dark secrets of the Quincy that he was idealistic about the future of hit him all at once, killing both his wife and past love interest/cousin.
  • Deconstructed in Dragon Ball Super. During the Tournament of Power, Toppo of Universe 11 becomes more and more crushed as the Pride Troopers are eliminated and those he considers "evil" remain standing. When Freeza attacks him and destroys his uniform, Toppo decides to screw all that and embrace the power of a God of Destruction. When he battles Vegeta after pummeling Freeza and Android #17, he mocks the Saiyan Prince for his promise to Cabba and boasts that he threw away all of his morals as "unnecessary". Vegeta is so incensed at that that he powers up and overwhelms Toppo, calling him out for his stupid way of thinking.
  • Psycho-Pass: Initially, Akane Tsunemori was your typical Wide-Eyed Idealist. After all the crap she went through, involving her best friend's death and learning the truth of the Sibyl system, she has become a battle-driven and jaded veteran.

    Comic Books 
  • In Runaways This happens to just about everyone (except Gert who was a horrible cynic from day one).
    • Nico goes from being naive and trusting of just about everyone to very closed off, cautious, and suspicious. She also becomes progressively more snarky as the series goes on.
    • While Chase always had some issues to begin with, he still managed to come across as an irrelevant Jerk Jock and when paired with his cynical girlfriend, came out looking like the positive one. His world view becomes less bright when grieving Gert and in Avengers Undercover goes back on his promise not talk about the events of Avengers Arena because everyone knows what happened anyways and from where he was standing that meant Arcade already won.
    • While present! Molly is mostly her hyperactive, happy to face the universe self, future! Molly from Battle of the Atom hits the Despair Event Horizon after President Dazzler is killed and becomes evil, abandoning her childhood belief that she could be a hero and save everyone despite who her parents were.
      • The trope is later Enforced and then Subverted by the reveal that Molly and the other future Brotherhood members are the mind-controlled pawns of Future!Xavier and have had their personalities altered by him.
    • Karolina is mostly unchanged, but more willing to acknowledge anyone is capable of evil or having bad things happen to them and is, like her teammates, much less naive and trusting than at the beginning of the series.
  • In Way of the World, Supergirl fights Aftermath, a villain who used to be a normal person who thought there were good and bad people and bad things only happened to bad people. Then he got crippled when Superman fought Doomsday, and decided his outlook was a lie and his duty was to bring the so-called heroes down.
    Aftermath: Once upon a time the world was simple. There were heroes and there were villains and bad things only happened to bad people. And then Doomsday came. "Luckily", I survived the attack, but by then I'd come to realize—that sometimes the bad can even afflict the good. And that while we may believe in heroes, there really is no such thing. But why couldn't everyone else see that?
  • Batman made it his life-long mission to personally fight crime because of his parents' murder, which he witnessed as a child. Depending on continuity, this causes Child!Wayne to "grow up in a big hurry" into different degrees of cynicism:
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Ratchet, who was originally shown with a bad case of Chronic Hero Syndrome, has become this, what with the events of the last several years, and the fact that his hands are beginning to seize up. He's become much grouchier and snarkier as a result.

    Fan Works 
  • Tashigi in This Bites! becomes considerably more jaded throughout the story as she learns the atrocities the World Government has committed. By the Enies Lobby arc, she's not shocked or disgusted any more, merely angry.
  • Harry Potter in the backstory of The Havoc Side of the Force learned to stop helping people out of the goodness of his heart because they will inevitably take advantage of his kindness. As a result, he's a far more cynical and bitter (though still benevolent) mercenary who refuses to do anything for free. Notably, early in the story Harry rescues over a hundred slaves from the Hutts and uses his good deed as a bargaining chip when the ship he receives as payment for a related job is given back stripped of it's shields, weapons, and engine upgrades.
  • Sonic in Entropy and even more so in its sequel Chaoskampf.. Both fics portray an ongoing struggle against the forces of darkness and have tonnes of Mind Screw. A combination of horrible events ( Including the deaths of his two closest companions) and a Cryptic Conversation churn Sonic from being the hero we all know and love who fights on to save the world out of fun and genuine vigilantism to one who only fights out of obligation. He feels the world keeps piling on the hurt time and time again, as it seems like no matter what he does, he can't seem to control and get the outcomes he expects to happen. It eventually comes to a point where the only person he really cares about anymore is Amy, who's gone through equal amounts of trauma, but still fights for the world's salvation, because, well, it's Amy.
  • Tonks in For Love of Magic managed to keep some level of idealism for years, but events conspire to slowly erode it away until she's a Broken Bird. While things like learning that the DMLE doesn't actually pursue people who rape muggles greatly lessened her idealism, the straw the broke the camel's back was Voldemort taking the Weasley family hostage then launching a massive attack on London. After failing to save the Weasleys and the catastrophic damage done to London, Tonks listlessly states that they should have ignored the hostages as they would've died anyway and it'd teach Voldemort not to bother using hostages against them.
  • In Thieves Can Be Heroes!, Izuku spent his entire life clinging to his dream of becoming a Pro Hero after being declared Quirkless. He finally breaks down in tears during his second night at Cafe Leblanc as he realizes that it's an impossibility after being labeled a criminal for trying to help a woman who was being sexually assaulted. He regains most of his optimism and cheer after he realizes that he could use the Metaverse to help people. But his time at Shujin makes his worldview more cynical as he sees Kamoshida abusing his students with impunity, showing that even the Heroes that Izuku looked up to his entire life haven't solved all of society's ills. This is what motivates him to take matters into his own hands and right the wrongs that Heroes like All Might can't.
  • In A Prize For Three Empires, Carol Danvers decides she can't trust the Avengers when they allow Marcus take her away without realizing she was being mind-controlled by her rapist. Later she quits the X-Men when they let Rogue, who nearly killed her, join. She becomes so jaded that she decides to leave Earth for a while.

  • Though overworked and underpaid as a waitress, Sarah Connor still harbored hopes for a brighter future in The Terminator. Then Kyle Reese spelled out a horrid, brink-of-doom future with the Terminator as proof. By the sequel, Sarah has developed enough cynicism to stockpile weapons and munitions galore in caches dotting the Western seaboard for her son John to use against Cyberdyne's machines.
  • 12 Years a Slave's protagonist, Solomon, takes one level after another, often one with every unfair, brutal beating. Most of his fellow slaves are already over the Despair Event Horizon. But he keeps a sliver of hope, and it pays off, as the people who knew him and cared about him went to great lengths to rescue him. Nevertheless, the fact that he never obtains reparation for the horrible suffering he's been dealt, cannot possibly have helped his view of this world.
  • In the first trilogy of the Transformers Film Series, Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, was a firm believer in humanity's potential for good, and held a strict Thou Shalt Not Kill policy towards them, even if they antagonized him and his team. By Transformers: Age of Extinction, years of his kind being hunted down by humans has caused Optimus to lose much of his faith in them, to the point where he will not hesitate to kill humans in self-defense.
  • In Tomorrowland, Frank undergoes this, changing from an optimistic child who builds a jetpack because he thinks it will inspire people to do great things to being a bitter recluse who has his house filled with traps and laughs at Casey for being so naive as to think seeking out Tomorrowland would be a good idea. The change seems to have been caused by learning Athena - who he was very strongly attached to - is actually a Ridiculously Human Robot, inventing a machine that basically shows when the end of the world is coming, and then being kicked out of Tomorrowland for it. His time with Casey does seem to help him, though.

  • Just about all of the Animorphs, except for Marco who was always somewhat of a cynic. Initially, they all had firm limits, lines that they absolutely would not cross, but as the war progressed, they made increasingly hard and morally grey decisions, believing that they were doing what was necessary.
  • Arya and Sansa Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire start the series as naive and idealistic, but their father's beheading only kickstarts chains of events that will result in disappointment after disappointment for both of them. By the fourth book they've both acquired Jade-Colored Glasses. The result? Having both given up on their initial idealism, Sansa is now learning to manipulate people in order to come out on top, while Arya is graduating to Professional Killer levels.
  • In Discworld, this trope probably happened to every character in their earliest childhood, except maybe for Captain Carrot, and some nice characters who are too dumb to know better; everyone takes an extremely cynical view of the people around them, and the ways to prosper in this world, and the straight heroes usually range from Good Is Not Nice to Knight In Sour Armor to Dirty Coward-Cowardly Lion to outright Pragmatic Villainy, which in a world of Stupid Evil comes off as actually benevolent. This is interesting because the stories themselves are very idealistic, with few if any Karma Houdinis, and fair retribution to all good and evil deeds.
  • In Harry Potter, Harry has horrible stuff happen to him every year, but in his first few years at Hogwarts, he still bounces back and has a tendency to believe that everything can turn out all right and trust the teachers for help. As the series goes on though, people he's close to actually start to die, things aren't nicely fixed by the end of each book, and the adults he previously trusted are either corrupt or well-meaning but unable to do much. Of note is how the later books, particularly the last one, show his crumbling trust in Dumbledore. A younger Harry sees Dumbledore as an impressive authority figure who can solve any problem. When he gets older, Harry is forced to accept that not only is Dumbledore not always in control and always know what's going on, but had a history that was about as far from noble and heroic as one could get.
  • Lady Centipede from The City Without Memory used to be a gentle, kind girl. Then she was kidnapped by a forest robber who forcibly married her. Initially she tried to influence her husband and instill some good in her children, but by the time of the novel’s plot she’s given up on it completely, is tired of everyone and just wants to be left alone. Her good heart, as a couple of Pet the Dog moments show, is still there somewhere… only very deep down.
  • In The Mental State, 'Zack' has a much darker view of the world than 'Zachary'.

    Live Action TV 

  • In Poets of the Fall's "Nothing Stays the Same," the singer describes facing disillusionment after conversing with supposedly respectable people.
    I've talked to the men of high regard
    In rooms ever white and my soul grew dark by their words
    Softly sweet as kissing lips
    A kaleidoscope of no consolation at all

    Video Games 
  • Alice: Madness Returns:
    • Alice has become a Broken Bird after her insanity returns and ruins her life. She almost got over the loss of her family, but her therapist,Dr. Bumby believes that she requires more psychiatric help and forces her to undergo more therapy with him. She eventually realizes that her therapist is the Big Bad and kills him, resolving her main issues. However, she hasn't fully recovered just yet.
    • To a lesser extent, the Mock Turtle as well. He goes from the lovable ally in the first game to a depressed resistance fighter after he loses his job as conductor and fights for the safety of Wonderland.
  • Villainous example, in Batman: Arkham Knight the Scarecrow has gone from an Ax-Crazy Giggling Villain in the original game to a stoic Soft-Spoken Sadist who doesn't laugh at least once. He's very likely darker because of his near death experience from his encounter with Killer Croc and humiliating defeat from Batman prior to that. However, because of his new cynical viewpoint, he's become very cunning in his attempts to kill Batman.
  • Devil May Cry: The death of their mother had a very polarizing effect on the Sons of Sparda. While Dante eventually becomes more of a Knight In Sour Armor, Vergil plays this trope straight adopting the belief that "Might controls everything. And without strength, you cannot protect anything. Let alone yourself."
  • This is kind of a game mechanic in Dragon Age: Origins: at different points of the plot, you can choose to "harden" your two token idealistic companions, Alistair and Leliana, via dialogue, which makes them much more tolerant towards more amoral actions you can take later on (and incidentally, makes Alistair a better king). In both cases, the catalyst is a betrayal, by family and by a mentor, respectively. Of course, you can just as well reaffirm their inherent idealism instead.
  • Throughout The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, Rean remains optimistic that one day he can bring Crow back to Thors Military Academy after he revealed himself to be the leader of the Imperial Liberation Front and sided with the Noble Alliance at the end of the first game. Crow dies after teaming up with Rean to fight the Vermillion Apocalypse. Immediately after Crow passes away, the man who Crow attempted to assassinate to avenge his grandfather, Chancellor Osborne, is actually not dead despite being shot in the chest. Rean then learns that Chancellor Osborne is his real father. Rean then goes off to help Erebonia complete its invasion of Crossbell using his Ashen Knight. When he returns to Thors after Osborne annexes Crossbell, Rean has lost his optimism. Promo art for Cold Steel III shows Rean with a not quite dead look in his eyes like Joshua had in Trails in the Sky, but he is certainly a changed man.

  • Looking for Group: Cale is very idealistic, innocent, and naive at the beginning of the comic, but he starts to become more cynical after he's forced to kill a child in the past to maintain a Stable Time Loop. Similar events that come afterward only serve to make him become more and more on the cynical side on the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism as the comic continues.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: In the very first segment of the Just Before the End Distant Prologue, that takes place in Norway, the Rash is officially a fast-spreading but non-lethal sickness. Because of this, the characters act quite light-hearted about it, treat Iceland temporarily closing its borders to avoid an epidemic on its soil as a bold move that only a few countries in the world can pull, and consider that an ogoing storm that has already broke the only road may be more than enough to isolate their village. The following segments take place in Denmark, Finland and Sweden, with each making it more and more obvious that the Rash is actually a very bad case of The Plague. There is a small Time Skip between the Sweden and Iceland segments, which is shown via a Photo Montage of the characters from the four non-Iceland countries bracing themselves for the Rash. The most radical change of tone compared to the actual segment comes from the two Norway photos: the characters previously taking the Rash lightly are now seen setting up chainlink fences with barb wire and learning how to use rifles.

    Web Original 
  • After years of being a bouncy Wide-Eyed Idealist, Chester from Bum Reviews seemed to give up and hit the cynicism pretty hard after The Nostalgia Critic died.
  • In her Fallout: New Vegas Let's Plays, Rainbow/Queen Latifah, became more willing to solve problems with violence and stealing supplies, after Veronica and Rex died.
  • Jamie in Twig is kind and gentle up until he suffers a Loss of Identity, forcing him to go on without many of his memories. After reading his journals from before, he decides to be more wary of the world than he used to be, not wanting to make the same mistakes. This sets him up to become a Defrosting Ice King to his friends.
  • In Noob, Arhtéon started out with a backstory where he used Real Money Trade because of a Can't Catch Up situation with a guild that eventually went on to become the best of the game. After the incident, he ended up being the Reluctant Ruler of the game's worse guild and spent years being the optimistic one regarding their progress. However, a couple of bad events happen close to each other around the end of Season 4: his first love pulling a virtual ruanaway bride on him and his guild proving to be unable to function smoothly in his absence. These, combined with lingering resentment against his former guildmates, give him a much grimer outlook on his life and the people he had been hanging around with. Unfortunately, this does not combine quite well with the one positive piece of karma he got by the time of Noob: Le Conseil des Trois Factions: he's basically in charge of finding a way to end the divine conflict that causes a big part of the game's story and destroying the planet that serves as the setting is one of the possible means to do this.

    Western Animation 
  • This was the backstory of Billy from Adventure Time: he came to believe that heroism is a sucker's game, as fighting off evil would always result in a new evil taking its place. It takes Finn and Jake learning a personal aesop to break him out of that shell of cynicism.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Katara spends the first two seasons giving inspirational speeches about hope and love. After Prince Zuko royals betrays them by claiming to be a better person only to let Azula hit Aang with what should have been a fatal shot of lightning, betray his uncle, and rejoin Fire Nation nobility, she is the last to trust him when he claims to have made a Heel–Face Turn for real this time and almost kills the man that killed her mother in cold blood.
  • Batman Beyond: Subverted; Bruce Wayne becomes a grouchy, depressed old man with no hope in the world after realizing that his actions as Batman has done nothing to change Gotham for the better. But in all honesty, Bruce was pretty grouchy and cynical long before getting old. Luckily, Terry takes on his mantle and the series begins.
  • The Boondocks' protagonist Huey Freeman starts off very cynical, but also proactive and hopeful in improving things for the better. By the third season, though, it's clear that he's given up hope, and he's resigned himself to let the rest live on in blissful ignorance.
  • DuckTales (1987): As shown in "Once Upon a Dime", Scrooge McDuck started his career trusting enough to be scammed more than once. By the start of the series, he's a cynic. One of the points of the story is his friends and family sending him through a level in idealism; while he remains more guarded than some of the others, he learns there are some people he can rely on and opens up to them.
  • The Legend of Korra: Toph was never a Wide-Eyed Idealist in the first series, but the older Toph now believes that Avatar isn't needed because no matter what good he/she does, because evil and injustice never give up. However, seeing her family in danger gave her more hope in those who are willing to continue fighting and sacrificing themselves for loved ones.
  • Samurai Jack
    • After season five's fifty year Time Skip the now ageless Jack has lost all hope of killing Aku and going back to the past after decades of constant failure and is even willing to abandon a village in need and only goes to help them after hallucinations of those he couldn't save chastise him, they are all dead by the time he gets there.
    • Funnily enough, Aku himself has been affected by the stalemate and due to the fear of Jack's magic sword constantly hanging over his head (though he has no idea Jack had lost it), he doesn't come out of his palace anymore and can no longer find any joy in the evil he does. He will only come out once he gets news that Jack is dead, or (which actually happened) gets news of Jack no longer having his sword.
  • The Simpsons: In the episode "In Marge We Trust", it's revealed that when Reverend Lovejoy first showed up in Springfield, he was a go-getting down-to-earth pastor who wanted to "rap" with his parishioners. Then, Ned Flanders started bugging him all the time, wearing him down until he just stopped caring about anybody. "Luckily, by then it was The ’80s, so no one noticed."
  • While Sofia from Sofia the First is still a kind, caring person who will do anything to help other people that she loves, she has also become a more cautious, less naive person who often feels she should go things alone. The reason for this is because of the many times where trust was either broken or nearly broken from people who have betrayed her in some way, not to mention how she's becoming a protector, meaning more responsibility and more adventures.
  • TRON: Uprising: The title character definitely leveled up here. Watch the 1982 film and/or play the Space Paranoids level of Kingdom Hearts II. Then keep in mind that character shocking his apprentice unconscious so he could pursue revenge and pinning down the enemy who tortured him is the same character that's trying to convince the Tower Guardian that Master Control can be defeated or hugging Sora, Goofy, and Donald goodbye.

    Real Life 
  • Real Life: This trope might as well be called "Loss Of Innocence"; there's a concerted effort to create a protected environment around children where the adults at least appear to be trustworthy. Then puberty and adulthood hit, and things are not so simple any longer. It can be quite a struggle, to keep one's spark bright through all that.
  • Service industry jobs, especially customer service or retail jobs, tend to make some people that work in such places become incredibly cynical due to them being exposed to the public/community and seeing the worst things about them and/or dealing with incompetent managers. After dealing with so many customers day after day (including those that make outrageous demands or get verbally nasty with the employees), it's not surprising to see someone's mood on the job be in a constant sour state and it's a lot more noticeable if an employee who had an idealistic or positive outlook about their job become cynical after working there for a while. It is also quite common to have long time employees in service based jobs jokingly tell newcomers something to the effect of "Welcome to Hell."
  • Medical careers, social service careers, and teaching also get smacked with this frequently. You go into it with the desire to change the world. But in medicine, there's the endless parade of drug-seekers, the good patients you can't save, the paper-pushers in insurance and hospital administration, and the challenge of too many patients and not enough time or resources to spend on any of them adequately. In social services, there's the revolving door of people who get help only to fall back into old habits, the kids who get shuffled from bad home to bad home instead of being with their addled or abusive parents in a worse home, mountains of paperwork, too many cases and not enough time or resources to spend on any one adequately, and it pays much less than medicine, too. Young teachers? They want to do what's right for the students and maybe be the hero for some kid who was about to give up on their lives. But there's 30 students per class, six classes a day, they have to pay for supplies out of their own pocket (and their pay is on the low-end, only slightly better than the social worker), the asshole parents who blame the teacher if their little angel is slacking off, the kids who refuse to learn and disrupt everyone else, and the school bureaucracy. Teaching and social work have a high turnover rate, as a lot of the people in those professions go Screw This, I'm Outta Here! and get a job that pays better within five years or less. Medicine tends to keep people in, but mostly because it pays better.

Alternative Title(s): Took A Level In Cynicism


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