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Took a Level in Idealism

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Taylor: Everything I’ve said in the past stands. Humans are idiots. They’re selfish and injust and unfair, they’re violent and clumsy and petty and shortsighted. Don’t get me wrong. Every part of that applies to me, too. I’m not setting myself above them on any level. But at the end of the day, sometimes humanity isn’t so bad.
Lisa: Sometimes. Took me a while to realize that. The more you find out, the uglier things tend to look. But you keep looking, and it’s not all bad at the end.

The world can seem like a dark place, where No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, where the sinful prosper (for a while) and the brave are humiliated and impoverished. That is, so far, what the character has seen of the world. And yet, there can come a meeting, a moment, where the world proves to the character that things can be right, that the future is worth struggling for, that there is reason enough to bother rising in the morning, and facing life and all its hardships. When that happens, the character took a level in idealism, and can face the world with renewed faith in the character’s principles and righteousness... though not necessarily with renewed cheerfulness (that's a different trope); in fact, the character can remain quite dour and sour. But you can see that the character stands taller!

Lots of overlap with Defrosting Ice Queen. Can also happen if a cynic gets told Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers! and takes the reproach to heart.

Tends to happen in a Japanese Spirit story structure a lot.

A Sub-Trope involving: Heel–Faith Turn

Lots of Love Redeems stories fall under this trope. The Power of Friendship, The Power of Love, and The Power of Trust may be involved, in that the character may feel the need to reciprocate those gifts.

The Counter Trope to Took a Level in Cynic.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • One Piece
    • Jimbei was a cynical fishman who, due to Fantastic Racism of humans, viewed them as monsters and tended to be brutal towards them, kept in check only by his captain, Fisher Tiger, who had a code of not killing any humans. This influence slowly leads him to believe that peace between the two races is possible, and he mellows considerably as a result by the present day.
    • Nico Robin is a very cynical woman when introduced. As we learn about her past, we learn that from the age of eight, she was forced by circumstances to be an Enfant Terrible in a world that was out to get her, experiencing betrayal at nearly every turn. By adulthood, she's become a Death Seeking Broken Bird driven to go on only by her dream of learning the world's hidden history. Luckily, she's since met a crew of True Companions who are willing to go so far as to declare war on the whole world for her sake, and she has become a much mellower, happier person.
    • Nami, of the same crew, used to be a shameless Classy Cat-Burglar with a visceral hatred for all pirates as a result of a very traumatic childhood where she was exploited by the pirate who killed her mother. After seeing the lengths to which Luffy goes to protect and avenge her, she learns to trust the world again.
    • Complete aversion with the Tonatta fairies, who have a congenital, infinite gullibility that will make them believe anything you tell them, to the point of being a Weaksauce Weakness. The only way they can go is down, and they refuse!
    • Tony Tony Chopper is a very naive reindeer. He is initially very mistrustful of humans, due to a combination of being ostracized by both reindeers and humans for being different partly because of a scheme that trapped and ultimately killed his mentor. The Straw Hats' initial interaction with him included trying to eat him. After getting over these issues and helping avenge his mentor, he becomes possibly the most cheerful and idealistic member of the crew.
  • Berserk. Guts got this both times he obtained True Companions. By himself, he's a very broken man.
  • Naruto. The title character starts off as a very selfish jerk, but his traumatic experiences actually motivated him to become a better person and a more respectable ninja. In Shippuden he has a habit of inspiring this in any villain who turns out to be a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.
  • Frequently happens in Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, which takes place in a Crapsack World, understandably leading many characters to feel that there's no hope for anything and that the Big Bad can never be defeated. Takeru does his best to change this, with notable examples including Fujimaru and Ken, both of whom serve the Big Bad due to their aforementioned cynicism, and Makoto, a civilian resigned to his fate as one of the oppressed. On the reverse end, though, Takeru himself Took a Level in Cynic by the end, albeit to a much lesser degree.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Shinji by the end. After spending the majority of the story as The Eeyore and ending the world from his (understandable, given the shit he's gone through) despair, he is forced to reckon with his severe emotional issues while in Instrumentality and eventually resolves that he deserves to live and face reality no matter how difficult it is, as the good can only come with the bad. The series, however, does not remotely act like the road for his emotional recovery (nor the world) is going to be remotely easy, as seen by how his first reaction to seeing another person is to try to choke them and then cry tears of remorse for doing, although her reaction reaffirms his knowledge that she is a real person, making this a prime example of a Bittersweet Ending.
  • Bokura no Hentai:
    • Tamura usually seems more cheerful when dressed as a girl. He Took a Level in Cynic a few chapters in due to regaining his Repressed Memories of sexual abuse but over the course of the series has to learn to allow himself to have fun and feel joy again.
    • Ryousuke starts the series as a melancholy Jerkass due to his older sister's recent death and his mother's problems in the wake of her death. He starts warming up when he befriends Tamura and Marika. After he quit crossdressing due to his mom getting mental help, Ryousuke began opening up and turned quite cheerful.
  • Tetsuo from Yuureitou has a Friendless Background and was mostly a loner until he developed his friendship with Amano.
  • Mitsumi from Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl Adventure! combines this with Took a Level in Kindness and Took a Level in Cheerfulness. She didn't have much of a good childhood being orphaned then raised in Team Galactic to be a Child Soldier but Professor Rowan showed that her humans could be friends with Pokemon.

     Comic Books 

     Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm has Harry steadily regain his previous optimism after he Took a Level in Cynic (several, in fact), after a brutal Trauma Conga Line at the start of the second book. Not only that, but it's more matured and thoughtful, meaning that he becomes an outright Knight of Faith. By chapter 60, he's a genuine believer that Rousseau Was Right - though he admits that he's still reflexively cynical.
  • This trope is very common in Neon Genesis Evangelion fanfics.
    • Advice and Trust:
      • After getting together Shinji and Asuka gradually become more optimistic and less depressed since they know now they are not alone and they are loved.
      • As Rei gets closer to her fellow pilots her outlook changes radically. Before she wished for the peace of oblivion and thought Instrumentality was the only way to achieve it. Now she refuses to allow her friends' bond disappear and is determined to find another way.
    • The Child of Love: As she goes through her pregnancy Asuka finds out she is not alone and she does not need to drive everyone away because there are people who love her.
    • Children of an Elder God: The Children are more optimistic and somewhat happier than in canon thanks to several changes in her upbringing (as an example, Asuka got a good mother figure. Ergo, she still is hot-tempered and tries to stand out but she is not constantly angry and she does not try to push everybody away constantly because she no longer is frightened of bonding with other people).
    • A Crown of Stars: After dying, going through Instrumentality, surviving for four years in a post-apocalyptic war-torn world, and being turned into the plaything of two warlords Asuka had become more broken, more bitter, and more cynical, seeing herself like a failure and a worthless whore nobody cared about. Then she met people who wanted to help her and told her she was not horrible or useless, she was not alone, she did not need to be scared, she deserved being loved and things would get better. After a while, she started to believe them and started healing.
    • Doing It Right This Time: After returning to the past, Shinji, Asuka, and Rei are more sarcastic but also more idealistic: Shinji does not believe he can change things for the better but he wants to try to anyway, Asuka tries to be more carefree and a better friend since her former method to cope with her trauma did not work at all and Rei stops wishing for death and begins to learn how living.
    • Evangelion 303: At the beginning of the story Shinji hardly cared for anything, including his own life. After meeting Asuka he learns the importance of valuing your own life and he even begins to believe he was destined to meet Asuka.
    • Ghosts of Evangelion: Asuka eventually gets over her cynicism a bit and accepts that she and Shinji can actually be happy rather than merely functional.
    • HERZ: Asuka managed to survive the Angel War but she became angrier and more bitter due to her terrible physical and emotional wounds and scars. However she managed opening up to Shinji after his almost death. When the story starts out, they have been married for five years and have a child, and Asuka is happy and feels loved, something she thought impossible back when she was a teenager.
    • Higher Learning: Shinji, Asuka, and Rei learn to be more optimistic and more hopeful thanks to their new homeroom teacher's lessons. Shinji particularly realizes he can choose his own future.
    • Last Child of Krypton: After discovering his powers, Shinji becomes unapologetically idealistic. He believes everyone has some good inside them, fate can be changed and hope and courage will triumph over despair and fear. And he then proves it.
    • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide: Through their struggles throughout the early chapters and gradually getting closer to each other as a result, Shinji and Asuka finally realize that they can be happy if they try.
    • Once More with Feeling: After travelling back in time Shinji learns to not run away and not give up. So that he also helps Rei and Asuka to be more open and be more optimistic and hopeful.
    • The One I Love Is...: Through the story, Shinji, Asuka, and Rei often get depressed, sad, or even hopeless, but ultimately they try to overcome their troubles, open up to other people and gain a more positive mindset.
    • RE-TAKE: Shinji goes from wanting everyone to die because he thought nobody cared about him to fighting to save a world, even if he disappears because the struggle itself is more important than the outcome. And Asuka goes from being utterly cynical, angry, and jaded to realizing someone truly loves her.
    • The Second Try: After going through Instrumentality, Shinji has realized life is pain... but also happiness. During an argument with her, he manages to show that to Asuka. From that point on, their relationship gets better and they gradually get over their many issues and neuroses and become better people.
    • Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: When she became Supergirl Asuka realized everyone expected her being a beacon of integrity, morality, and courage. As she tried to live up to that ideal, Asuka gradually became more optimistic and less negative and bitter.
    • Thousand Shinji: Ironically, becoming the disciple of a dark god of manipulation and trickery when he was a child turned Shinji into someone more optimistic than his canon self. He firmly believes in changing himself for the better, never giving up, and always hoping for a better future.
  • Wonderful (Mazinja): Due to being forced to interact daily with Taylor and a sane Emma, Sophia becomes (very grudgingly) somewhat saner and less cynical. She's still a jerkass, but she isn't a psychopath anymore.
  • one day at a time: In the backstory, main protagonist Jason Todd went through this twice. The first time, it was after the death of his adoptive father Bruce and through the efforts of his older brother Dick Grayson and, to a lesser extent, the rest of his family. Then, after Dick, Tim, and Damian died and his sister Cass left him, Jason was in the Darkest Hour of his life...and then he met Carrie Kelley, the girl who would become his first Robin and would eventually be adopted as his daughter. Meeting her and then reuniting with Cass and saving her from her mother Lady Shiva ultimately restore Jason's desire to be a hero again.

     Film — Animated 
  • Ice Age: Both Diego and Manfred end the movie with a much-improved worldview. The latter had been surly and asocial after losing his mate and his child, but after returning the human infant to his father, he discards his isolationism. Likewise, the former had known only self-serving Social Darwinism under the ruthless Soto. After being rescued from certain doom by Manfred, Diego is told, "That's what you do in a herd: you look out for each other." This "got your back" principle inspires Diego to abandon his mission to betray the group to Soto's pack and actively defend Manfred and the sloth Sid.
  • Treasure Planet: Space Pirate John Silver abandons a skiff full of gold and jewels to rescue young Jim Hawkins. Silver himself said it best: "Just a lifelong obsession, lad. I'll get over it."
  • Zootopia: Nick Wilde starts off believing that mammals can only be what they are stereotyped to be. After spending time with Judy however, he decides to follow her example and becomes a cop himself.

     Film — Live-Action 
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Detective Eddie Valiant starts out jaded and cynical, often consoling himself with booze after his brother's death at the hands of an evil 'toon. After his adventures in clearing Roger Rabbit's name, Eddie is much less of a sourpuss.
  • Han Solo starts out as a snarky, world-weary smuggler in Star Wars: A New Hope, at one point poo-pooing the Force: "No mystical energy field controls my destiny," and later dismissing the Rebel Alliance: "I'm not in it for your revolution; I expect to be paid." Fortunately, Han gets a few rethinks by the climax of the film.
  • Man of Steel: Superman being obliged by circumstances to kill the last of his Kryptonian brethren only results in him adopting a Thou Shall Not Kill code and becoming more idealistic and fettered.

  • This is Vin's character arc in Mistborn: The Original Trilogy. She starts off as a cynical, untrusting Street Urchin, and learns to trust over the course of the series.
  • Vimes from Discworld. He starts as a cynical drunk night watchman and transforms into a loving father who cares for his subordinates and is somehow idealistic about Ankh-Morpork.
  • Cemented and codifed with Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens's work A Christmas Carol. Scrooge starts out a bitter, antisocial miser; he ends up a giddy, affable philanthropist. Amazing what Christmas spirits can do in one night...
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Lancel Lannister starts as a sleazy and spineless lackey to his smarter and more determined scheming relatives, and is disregarded by the White Sheep of the family, Tyrion, as an utterly despicable human being. In the later books, he discovers faith, turns from Cersei's spare lover into a celibate paladin, rejects all lands offered to him by Lannisters and Freys, and throws his lot with a Knight Templar Turbulent Priest, turning against his kin in the name of Seven Gods and the poor people of Westeros. This is not exactly a Heel–Faith Turn, because Westeros runs on Grey-and-Gray Morality and the church may reveal itself to be quite misguided and extremist, but what's hard fact is that Lancel became altruistic and idealistic.
    • Jaime Lannister as a boy wanted to be a Knight In Shining Armour but underwent severe disillusionment when he found out that being a Knight of an Elite Guard means standing around Just Following Orders given out by a psychotic King. This made him cynical, especially after his killing of said king to save hundreds of thousands of people made him despised as The Oathbreaker by almost everyone in Westeros, to the point that he stopped caring about any notion of morality or laws in general. However, after meeting Brienne of Tarth and noting how his family is tearing itself apart he starts thinking about where his life went wrong and slowly becomes more and more knightly in A Feast for Crows discovering that Good Feels Good.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Deke Shaw is a refugee from a Bad Future Crapsack World where he was barely scraping by just surviving from day to day. Once he meets Team Coulson and is brought to the present time, he becomes (slightly) more heroic and selfless.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The First Doctor mellows over time. In one of the early episodes, he actually tries to take a man's life to save his own - a far cry from today's Technical Pacifist.
    • The First Romana thinks she's superior to everyone because she did very well at school and has no tolerance for the Doctor's silliness and Attention Whoring. She does have fun on her travels, but it's mostly because she has a very sardonic sense of humour and likes to mock the ridiculous things and people around her. When she regenerates, she takes aspects of the Doctor's personality and even some of his Character Tics and - while remaining detached enough to call the Doctor out on his bullshit when necessary - becomes way more open to his unique brand of scientific exploration.
  • Supernatural:
    • Happens to Dean in Season 6, even if just for a while. In early seasons, he's a Death Seeker who sincerely doesn't believe his life matters and is outright suicidal in Season 5. After Sam's Heroic Sacrifice in the Season 5 finale he settles into normal life and for a time seems optimistic and happy. It sadly doesn't last.
    • Castiel's arc epitomizes this. When he first pulls Dean out of Hell, he's a typical angelic automaton and willing to smite entire towns if Heaven orders him to do so. The more time he spends with the Winchesters, however, the more he starts to question Heaven's orders and believe in humanity. It gets to the point where he's taken back to Heaven to be brainwashed/tortured into submission, but Dean is nevertheless able to convince him to side with humanity. He has his ups and downs through the various traumas of the later seasons, including a stint on the dark side, but he again lands on the side of idealism when faced with the prospect of killing Kelly Kline and her baby Jack. She and Jack convince him that Jack is going to be a force of good in the world, and Jack chooses him as his adopted father. After that, Castiel never loses faith in his adopted son, who goes on to save the world.

     Video Games 
  • In Mass Effect, during the first game, Urdnot Wrex is as cynical as they come, particularly when talking about the chances of his species, the krogan, making it past another few generations due to a combination of the genophage and the krogans' own self-destructive tendencies. His time with Shepard restores some of that hope for the krogan and he decides to make another attempt to save them from themselves. If Shepard consistently supports him over the course of the trilogy, he becomes more and more idealistic in each game. If the genophage gets cured in the third game, he ends up being arguably the least cynical character in the story.
  • Overwatch has Cole Cassidy, a Boxed Crook recruited by the titular organization who came to genuinely believe in their cause. He continues to support it years after the team's disbandment.
  • Public prosecutor Sae Nijima of Persona 5 became disillusioned with the ideal of justice due to both her father dying in the line of duty, leaving her to raise her sister alone, and due to years of seeing the flaws in the legal system. Eventually, she can be convinced to once again pursue justice and cooperate with the Phantom Thieves to take down the conspiracy that's been exploiting the Palaces to commit crimes.
  • Shin Megami Tensei
    • In between Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey and Shin Megami Tensei IV, the mainline Shin Megami Tensei games underwent a change in direction. Whereas previous games in the series presented the player with a no-win scenario where they had to choose what they felt was the least terrible of several unambiguously crappy outcomes, IV presents the Neutral Route as an unambiguously, albeit temporary, happy ending. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse takes this even further. You kill the franchise's notoriously difficult-to-kill Greater-Scope Villain in a manner that's implied to be permanent with the power of friendship and some good-old-fashioned greatness of the human spirit. Assuming you take that interpretation, you also permanently end the cycle of Full Circle Revolutions that has plagued the world since time immemorial.
  • The Tiamat Sacrament:
    • Az'uar originally started his journey solely to save his siblings, but when he realizes how much Ry'jin's rule hurt the people of Ildria, he decides to fight Ry'jin not just for his family, but to help both humans and dragons.
    • Some of the Great Seven aren't on board with Ilisrei's plan to use the Tiamat Sacrament to empower Az'uar, since that would mean resetting their Blood Memory. They change their mind when they see Xandra risking her life for Az'uar, realizing that it would be selfish if they didn't take the same risk for humans.

     Web Comics 
  • This trope forms a good part of Dominic Deegan's character arc. He starts the comic believing himself to be perpetually Surrounded by Idiots and actually pities Luna when she admits she's still optimistic despite her previous problems. As he goes on his adventures, falls in love, saves the world, and sees people who are willing to fight for the greater good and their beliefs, he gradually comes out of his thinking and becomes someone who does the right thing because it needs to be done.

     Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has Discord, who starts out as a ridiculously powerful, fiendishly deceptive, but ultimately hollow Mad God only interested in sadistic "entertainment". After Fluttershy befriends him, he starts finding more meaning to his life than the simple spreading of chaos and seems to adopt a Trickster Mentor attitude toward the ponies.
    • This gets deconstructed after getting tempted by Tirek to betray the ponies with the promise of regaining his former glory, but in the end, gets ultimately betrayed himself. Played straight after Discord saw Twilight sacrifice her power to save her friends, including him. Considering that Twilight greatly dislikes Discord (if not downright hates him) at this point in the series, this act makes Discord realize there's no greater thing to have than friendship.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender this happens to Team Cynic Sokka for a short while after the Gaang finally get Appa back because he feels like their life is finally looking up, and he actually agrees with Aang's plan to talk to the earth king. Naturally this gets lampshaded by the rest of the cast and the episode ends on an ominous note.
    • In The Legend of Korra Kai goes through this when he becomes an Air Nomad. While he was initially a thief who only traveled with the gang to escape legal punishment, he later went on to become one of the most devoted of the Air Nation converts and fully embraced the lifestyle.
  • During the pilot episode for Star Wars Rebels, Ezra Bridger has Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers! drilled into him by the other main characters. The sentiment sticks.
  • Prowl begins Transformers: Animated as a stoic loner who saw little value in working in concert with his teammates and believed that he couldn't count on anyone. When Bumblebee risks his life to save his and Sari, a stranger, revives him he changes his outlook and begins to open up.


Video Example(s):


Peter Prickly and T.J.

After having helped to save Summer Vacation from Benedicts' machinations, Principal Prickly and T.J. have a little heart-to-heart as Prickly remembers why he decided to get into teaching in the first place: because he cares about kids.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (16 votes)

Example of:

Main / TookALevelInIdealism

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