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Not all characters are important to a story. However, those that aren't are normally not developed that well, while plot relevant characters are. On the other hand, sometimes it can go the other way, and minor, undeveloped characters (or a two-dimensional main character) can set the plot in a new direction. This trope takes that to its logical conclusion.

This character has an effect on the plot; however, they're never introduced or named or possibly even shown in the background. This is usually the result of them being a Red Shirt or Unwitting Instigator of Doom in someone's backstory (so what they did or what happened to them is only relevant for how it influenced the character whose backstory they appeared in). However, in the most extreme examples, their existence may only be implied (for example, someone who left their MacGuffin or Emergency Weapon lying around for The Hero to find).

Note that while this character might be revealed and fleshed out later, there isn't usually any mystery about who they were; their role is fulfilled just fine by them being just another face in the crowd and they need not have any further effect on the story. The best way to identify a character as this trope is if they can only be referred to by their contribution to the plot and in the past tense, making it clear that they're little more than the reason something happened (e.g. "That guy who gave Bob his sword" or "That urchin who stole Alice's wallet when she was buying her dead sister's medicine"). Indeed, the only reason they exist is the fact that they did something that had to be done by someone, and in this case that someone was nobody important.

Compare The Ghost, who functions as any other character would (and might even be part of the main cast), but is simply never shown on screen (they can overlap; the main difference is that characters who fall under this trope don't have any characteristics, while the ghost can still be a fully fleshed out character), Posthumous Character for already dead characters who are still important to the plot, and the Featureless Protagonist, who can become this trope in sequels. A Badass Bystander will often become this if they don't appear subsequently and aren't given any characterization beforehand. If they become a recurring character in later works or adaptations, they will often evolve into He Who Must Not Be Seen or The Ghost as a nod to their earlier characterization (or lack thereof). Contrast Lower-Deck Episode and Day in the Limelight for when less developed characters are fleshed out by the plot. Often overlaps with a Cryptic Background Reference or Diabolus ex Nihilo (for malicious examples).


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In One Piece, somebody has made level 5.5 of Impel Down using his Devil Fruit ability. Later chapters and an SBS reveal him to be Morley, an okama giant and West Army Commander of the Revolutionaries, whose Oshi Oshi no Mi powers allow him to mold earth.
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex:
    • Aoi aka "The Laughing Man" reveals that he himself was arguably the second part in the eponymous "Stand Alone Complex" (an event where many people spontaneously start copying something which wasn't there in the first place) and the real "Laughing Man" was an unknown person whose email exposing the micromachines company's coverup was found by Aoi.
    • In the episode "Embraced by a Disguised Net – CAPTIVATED", a member of an Organ Theft gang accidentally kidnaps the daughter of a politician who was denying their existence. The rest of the gang are never shown, but it turns out the entire episode's plot was orchestrated by a rival who had given her a list of kidnapping targets which included the girl so she'd be branded a traitor.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Jotaro's father, Sadao Kujo, is mentioned once at the beginning of Part 3 as a jazz musician currently on tour. He is never seen for the rest of the series.
  • The second generation of Get Backers. They give Ban and Ginji their name, their car, and their analogy of a retrieval being like a jigsaw puzzle, but the only reason they exist is because the identity of the first generation is a major plot twist and a surprise to the cast.
  • Fairy Tail
    • At least four generations of the Dreyar family have been shown, and all of them have had at least some significance to the story. However, we only ever see the male side of the family—Yuri, Makarov, Ivan, and Laxus (from oldest to youngest)—with the exception of Yuri's wife, Rita, who only shows up for one pivotal scene before her death; the rest of the Dreyar women go unnamed, and it's never once mentioned where they are now.
    • Ankhselam is a god of life and death who spends the entire story as The Ghost; the most we know of this character is that they're the source of the Curse of Contradiction, which turns the afflicted into an undying Walking Wasteland as punishment for defying/controlling the laws of death. Yet he is the definitive Greater-Scope Villain of the series for cursing Zeref and Mavis: the former for daring to undo the death of his brother, Natsu; and the latter for saving a friend by casting a Dangerous Forbidden Technique that effectively does Ankhselam's job for them.
  • In the background of Fullmetal Alchemist, the War of Ishvalan Extermination was caused by the Ishvalans uprising against the Amestrian military. It's later explained that they did this because an Amestrian soldier shot and killed an Ishvalan child for no discernible reason, but no one knows who this soldier was and the Amestrian military claim that the Ishvalans made him up as an excuse. Later still, the trope is actually subverted when it's finally revealed that the "soldier" was the disguised homunculus Envy, who deliberately started the war as part of the Big Bad's plan.
  • Lupin III has his father, Lupin the Second. You'll often see Lupin mention his grandfather, but never his father, despite being his immediate nearest relative in the family bloodline.
  • In My Hero Academia, Izuku's father can breathe fire. That's all the main story tells us about him. Supplementary material adds that his name is Hisashi Midoriya and that he works abroad, but he still has absolutely no scenes, no one ever talks about him (other than once when Inko mentions his quirk), and there aren't even any pictures of him around.
  • Naruto:
    • We can clearly infer that the third Hokage had another child, who is Asuma's sibling and Konohamaru's father. For the entire series proper we never see his face, we never get his name, and he is never even referred to indirectly — not even in the otherwise comprehensive databooks. Eventually he has the dubious honor of being mentioned in passing, unnamed, in a one-shot spin-off, after the story proper had already concluded.
    • There's a more recent example that's been subjected to several memes: the identity of the Sage of the Six Path's father. The final arc contains a lengthy backstory about the Sage, real name Hagoromo, who was the son of Kaguya, an extraterrestrial princess and the first person to awaken chakra, which she used to bring world peace. However, the story then cuts to her giving birth to her twin sons, Hagoromo and his brother, Hamura, exactly with whom is never addressed. This predictably gave birth (no pun intended) to such Epileptic Trees as the beau being also an alien like her, a mere human, or even Jashin, the evil god that Hidan worships. While there are still others who get this treatment, Kaguya's beau is the most significant because he's supposed to be the equivalent of the companion of the person who gave independence to a world and the father of the person who would revolutionalize the same world forever, and yet the readers know nothing about him. At least before he was introduced in anime filler.
  • Pokémon: The Series has Ash's father. Mentioned a few times in universe, even as recently as Movies 20 and 23, he's never been seen, named, or described in any canon source. A few non-canon sources have said a thing or two about him, but they conflict pretty badly. The original head writer suggested he was a loser failure who skipped out of town while later head writers would suggest he's a trainer of some skill. While there have been interest by writers to make him more known, over twenty years later and occasional references are all we have of him.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has many of the Witches - not the characters themselves, but the girls they once were - as the mystery of who they were has never been answered. What were their names? What did they wish for? What weapons did they use? How did they witch out? Only the staff know, and they’ve kept it a huge secret.

    Comic Books 
  • Joe Chill, the mugger who murdered Bruce Wayne's parents, sometimes functions as this, particularly if his identity is still a mystery to Batman. In other versions of the story, Bruce eventually finds him and he gets dealt with.
  • Everybody knows that Barbara Gordon is the daugther of Comissioner Gordon, but remarkably little is known about her mother. She only makes sporadic appearances and recieves little characterization, and even then her presence doesn't affect the story in any significant way. Perhaps because of this, some adaptions opt to have her dead from the start or just never mention her altogether.
  • The (usually) unnamed robber who killed Spider-Man's uncle Ben. He's literally responsible for Spidey's entire career, but he's generally only ever referred to as "the robber" or "the burglar".
  • Green Lantern: Whenever the Green Lantern Corps appears in force, the background will be littered with unnamed Lanterns who exist simply to fill out the Corps' numbers and give the artist an opportunity to draw weird aliens (and give the bad guys Lanterns to kill other than the ones with names and speaking parts). Sometimes one will strike a chord with an artist or the readers and appear enough times to get a name, but many will only ever appear in one issue, or even one panel.
  • In Disney comics Huey, Dewie and Louie's father was only mentioned in the very first stirp they appear in. Even Don Rosa fameus family tree has his face and name covered by the tree branch. Even the newer animated adaptation of Duck Tales that feature the boys mother Della, 100% ignored the father and never spoke of him. He is by far series biggest enigma and one no one wishes to touch on.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Little Red-Haired Girl in Peanuts, Charlie Brown's always offscreen, always silent, always unrequited crush. She was briefly shown and named Heather in one of the animated specials, but this is not canon. A 1990s strip showed her in silhouette, dancing with Snoopy.

  • The Chancellor from Maim de Maim and, besides asking who she is, there's also the question of what she is. She has ties to Kiryuuin family and, from what it seems, Ragyo doesn't like dealing with her much, along with that we don't even know if she's human or not.

    Film — Animation 
  • The hunter who kills Bambi's mother, also known as "Man", in Bambi. He never appears on-screen, with the only indicators of his presence being the camp that sets the forest on fire and his pack of dogs, which has the effect of making him seem even more inhuman.
  • The sorceress in Beauty and the Beast who turns the prince into a beast and lays a curse over his entire castle, thus kick-starting the plot. We're given no explanation for why she does this — was she motivated by a sense of justice in putting the prince through a Secret Test of Character, or was it Disproportionate Retribution at being rejected by him? She's also never seen in person, only depicted in stained glass at the beginning of the film (the live-action adaptation expands on the character).
  • Lewis' birth mom in Meet the Robinsons. He does not know why she abandoned him and the whole plot is driven by his desire to meet her, but instead he only uses Time Travel to watch her from afar, not wanting to change the future where he's Happily Adopted.
  • Shrek mentions a witch who put a curse on Fiona, causing her to turn into an ogre at night. This sets up the entire plot of the first movie and affects her and Shrek's entire relationship, but we have absolutely no idea why she did it (unless one goes with the theory that she was the Fairy Godmother trying to arrange a marriage with Charming).

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Big Bad of The Usual Suspects is one "Keyser Soze", whom very few people have ever met firsthand and lived to tell about it — the only one the police have tracked down is a mutilated Hungarian sailor babbling nonsense. We see him with his Face Framed in Shadow, but even that is only within the flashbacks of a questionably-reliable narrator. We hear his Origin Story, but it's the kind of unlikely, mythologised tale you'd expect of a Folk Hero. The only contact he has with any character is via The Dragon, Kobayashi. The final Reveal? The narrator is Keyser Soze, so far as such a man exists.
  • Many of the events of The Gods Must Be Crazy happen because a pilot flying over Africa's Kalahari Desert - who is never named, never speaks, and appears for only a few seconds - thoughtlessly tosses an empty Coca-Cola bottle out the window.
  • In Attack of the Clones, the clone army is said to have been first commissioned by a Jedi Master named Sifo-Dyas, who was reportedly killed around the time the Star Wars prequel trilogy began, but gets no more mentions or development in the movies than that. His story is eventually fleshed out in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, where it's revealed that the Sith killed him and took over the clone production.
  • The man at the beginning of The Chronicles of Riddick who tries to stand up to the Lord Marshall. He gives a little speech, but has no name or any other lines. He exists mainly to show the audience that the Big Bad can literally rip someone's soul out of their body.

  • Hoid is a mysterious character who has appeared in almost every one of Brandon Sanderson's books; the only exceptions are the Wheel of Time (since they are not originally his books) and, The Reckoners Trilogy, The Rithmatist, and the Alcatraz Series. He is seldom named, but inevitably the cause of something that eventually turns out to be instrumental to resolving the plot, even or especially if a story otherwise has no indication of being in the same universe any of his other books.
  • King Galbatorix from the Inheritance Cycle doesn't appear until the last book, yet he is a constant presence in the series.
  • Big Brother from Nineteen Eighty-Four is technically the Big Bad of the story; however, he's never shown in person and it's left up in the air as to whether he really exists in the first place. The same goes for the leader of The Brotherhood (where it's not even revealed whether the organisation he leads even really exists).
  • In The Malloreon, there is an unnamed character who stole the Sardion (MacGuffin of the series) and deposited it at its final resting place to be found by the heroes 300 years later, along with his remains.
  • In Rebecca, the main character is the second wife of the eponymous Rebecca's husband. She's compared unfavorably to Rebecca without ever being told anything about her by his staff. Nothing is revealed about her as they figure she doesn't need to know, except that she died. In the end the protagonist learns more about Rebecca and gains the respect of the inhabitants by saving them from a fire.
    • In the film adaptation, the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, refuses to accept her and stays behind to die in the fire.
  • In The Bible, Cain had a wife, but her very existence is a notorious theological mystery, since Adam, Eve and the murdered Abel are the only other humans mentioned from creation until that point. Later verses do mention his parents having other kids aside from Seth offering a non-linear answer. Sometimes Cain's wife and the closely related issue of everyone having the same parents are offered as reasons to not read Genesis literally. Wild Mass Guessing can include God whipping her up offscreen for Cain and more. Discussions on who is right are best left to other venues. She doesn't even get a name, even though both wives of Cain's great-great-great-grandson Lamech are named.
  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka's rival candymakers Prodnose, Ficklegruber, and Slugworth qualify as unknowns. In the Backstory, Driven by Envy, they sabotaged Mr. Wonka's operations by sending in spies disguised as workers to steal his recipes so they could come up with Follow the Leader equivalents. Mr. Wonka, desperate to save his work, sacked his entire workforce in response and became a Reclusive Artist who — somehow — managed to get his factory up and running again without anyone entering or leaving it. The question of how he accomplished this is the key reason why the Golden Ticket contest becomes such Serious Business in the present — the chance to actually meet him, see his operations, and learn the answer is one many people want. The rivals have no other plot importance than their Backstory role and are rarely depicted (even in Flashback) in adaptations, with the key exception of the 1971 film version, in which Adaptation Expansion includes a subplot involving Mr. Slugworth's attempts to ruin him in the present by bribing the Golden Ticket finders to steal one of Mr. Wonka's new inventions.note 
  • Skulduggery Pleasant features The Man With the Golden Eyes. He spends seven and a half books as an unknown, even with POV chapters, manipulating events behind the scenes and removing the memory of anybody who knows about him. In the eighth book, he is revealed to be major character Erskine Ravel.
  • In Greg Egan's "Oracle", after John Hamilton challenges Robert Stoney to a televised debate on whether or not artificial intelligence is possible, with the implication that, if Stoney loses, public opinion will turn completely against him and he will be unable to use his future technology to prevent a future apocalypse, Hamilton is coached by one of the students at their university, who informs him about Gödel's incompleteness theorem and other new findings that allow Hamilton to make a legitimate argument without apologetics or sophistry, meaning that when Stoney debates him, intellectual honesty is preserved. However, we never find out anything about this student or what his motives are, and he doesn't interact with the rest of the cast in any way other than Helen trying to flirt with him (presumably as a joke).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: In "Listen", the Monster of the Week is an entity that the Doctor theorizes is the perfect hider, so much so that nothing at all is known about it. By the end of the episode it is unclear if the creature even exists or, if it exists, if it had appeared in the episode.
  • One episode of M*A*S*H features a helicopter pilot who risks his own life to fly patients to the unit with a broken fan belt in his chopper's engine. He gets a replacement and leaves again, and no one ever even has a chance to learn his name, much less thank him for his bravery. When the medical staff assemble a time capsule at the end of the episode, Hawkeye suggests including the broken fan belt to commemorate the man's courage.
  • Vivienne in Merlin (2008), who is also a Posthumous Character. She is the mother of Morgana and Morgause, was married to Gorlois, and had an affair with Uther. That's literally all we know about her.
  • Used during the sixth season of The Walking Dead when Alexandria learns of a hostile group called the Saviors, rumored to be led by a man named Negan. They launch a covert attack on a compound they believe to be their base and kill everyone inside, and later wonder if Negan was among them. Later episodes imply that Negan may not be a singular person, but a rather a Collective Identity. The matter is left vague until the season finale, when Negan is revealed to be a very real person.

    Multiple Media 
  • Though BIONICLE has a large number of characters fleshed out in encyclopedias or fan wikis, some remain little known.
    • In the comic Ignition #6, an unnamed Ta-Matoran living underwater rescues Hahli from drowning and immediately dies from decompression sickness, but not before dropping info about the lost undersea city Mahri Nui.
    • In the book The Final Battle, a nameless Av-Matoran gives the Toa Nuva one of the keystones they needed, then proceeds to die and mutate into a Bohrok together with twelve of his companions. The Toa are shocked to learn this is the origin of the Bohrok creatures they had once fought, and regret not asking the Matoran his name.


    Video Games 
  • Bastion has a couple, the most obvious one being the unknown man who seduced and betrayed Zia, which lead to both her surviving the catastrophe...and to her father setting it off. Another example would also be whoever ended up with The Kid's money, which he'd been sending back to his mother (who was already dead). Forcing him to take another tour of duty as a Mason (although with the loss of his mother he might have done so anyway) and surviving the catastrophe.
  • Elden Ring: The dead demigods. There are 9 living demigods (6 shardbearers, Ranni, Miquella, and Godefroy), but more are known to exist; 7 are entombed in the Walking Mausoleums, Enia mentions that one person before you (implied to be Gideon Ofnir) was able to gather two great runes (meaning they killed two demigods), and Vyke and Bernahl were said to be close to becoming Elden Lord, making it likely that they also killed demigods. None of these have names, backstories, or plot importance besides their mausoleums allowing you to duplicate boss Remembrances.
  • Portal:
    • The Rat Man who has scrawled graffiti all over the place (although he might be closer to The Ghost, given that he's essentially interacting with the story still). A comic given out with the game's sequel fleshes out this character.
    • If the AI in Portal Reloaded is to be believed, a rogue test subject is behind the decay of Aperture 20 years from now. We never see them, hear them or even get their name, though.
  • Nier: Father Nier's wife & Brother Nier and Yonah's mother. All we know of her is that she seemingly used to hold some knowledge about the Gestalt Project and the apocalyptic events that led to it and is dead of Black Scrawl in the present day.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas gave us Sweet's girlfriend. She was deemed important enough to get a mission named after her (the rather impersonally named mission Sweet's Girl), but she has a generic pedestrian model, never says anything, and her existence is completely ignored after that.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Manfred von Karma's family. He mentions having a 7-year-old graddaughter (who has a dog named 'Phoenix') in case 1-4 and states that he has a wife (and that he considers her cooking to be on par with professional chefs) in Investigations II, but the only other von Karma we meet is his daughter Franziska, who isn't the mother of his granddaughter.
  • In the game Singularity, you often come across hidden messages that seem to be addressed to you, specifically. The messages are from someone who seems to know you, and who also seems to have done the same things you're doing; before certain major plot points, the messages will actually give you the heads up before anything's actually evident (i.e. "DON'T TRUST HIM", etc). It's later implied to be a future version of yourself who went back in time to leave the messages.
  • In Quake IV, the protagonist from Quake II is this (Quake IV being the direct sequel to Quake II). He single-handedly invaded the Strogg homeworld and assassinated their leader, allowing a full-scale human invasion. He is never shown or mentioned by name.
  • Super Mario Bros. has King Toadstool, Princess Peach's father. He's never been seen in the games, but he must exist given that the Mushroom Kingdom is a kingdom rather than a principality. What appearances he's had are limited to the very early Super Mario Adventures comics in Nintendo Power, which portrayed him as a blithering idiot whose much smarter daughter made all the actual decisions.
    • Likewise, Bowser's wife; Junior had to come from somewhere, and no, it wasn't Peach.

  • Homestuck: The ancestors of the Belforan Trolls, also the pre-scratch selves of the Alternian Trolls we're more famliar with, are this due to their existence being entirely a technicality and the only one who is directly brought up is Meenah's (Feferi's Alternate Self).
    • Also, Nanna's husband, and Dad Egbert's father. The only reason we know he exists is because Dad had to come from somewhere.
    • Whoever the Sburb players were that created Beforus, we knew they must have exsisted at some point, but whoever they were and where they are now is a complete mystery. Hussie did toy with the fan idea that the Troll's universe was created by a session of 48 squiddles (the cutesy manifestations of the Horrorterrors) but never truly confirmed it.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: The members of the main and secondary casts are all descendants of characters that were shown in the Distant Prologue, that takes place ninety years earlier. As such, having the main characters exist at all required one or two generations of people simply being born, finding a mate, and having children of their own. With the cast consisting of six different families taken together, this creates plenty of these. A family tree published after Chapter 12 fills most of the gaps.
    • Onni, Tuuri and Lalli's grandfather seems to be intentionally this. He's the only person without a last name on the tree and the author has confirmed it was as literal a one-night stand as one can be, which makes the guy come across as literally existing only to sire a pair of twin boys to their grandmother.
    • One of the more noticeable pairs is Emil's parents, due to him being Torbjörn's nephew.
    • Reynir's parents are very likely to have used the same genetical material donor or pair of donors for all four of their older children, considering how similar they look to each other. Whoever that person or pair of people is, Reynir owes them the existence of his siblings.
    • Most adult prologue characters are either already married or have their future spouse appear in the same segment. The only exception to this is Árni Reynisson. Since he's the aforementioned Reynir's great-grandfather, him eventually meeting a woman and starting a family with her is a given.

    Web Original 
  • Petscop:
    • There is mention of a wife, a husband and someone who is addressed by "Paul". In Episode 6 "Paul" finds put there are four more "Pets", while three of them are different versions of Care, the last one isn't even pictured.
    • Micheal Hammond, however, he's dead, so there isn't much to know about besides a few details shown.
    • The Proprietors of the YouTube channel.
    • There's Rainer. From what we do know, he created the titular Petscop game and he has some connection to Marvin but that's about it. His real name is actually Daniel Hammond.
    • Jill is someone Paul knows and she has a connection to the Wife in-game but we know nothing about her. Later in the series, we found out that she is his and Care/Carrie''s (if she exists outside of the Petscop game) aunt and that the Proprietors are his other relatives that she's leading in some scheme.

    Western Animation 
  • Steven Universe:
    • Lapis Lazuli's backstory has three pivotal Gems: whoever attacked her when she was caught up in the rebellion while visiting Earth, whoever mistook her for a Crystal Gem and placed her in a mirror to be interrogated, and the random Homeworld Gem that trampled (and cracked) her as they were all fleeing. All of them are introduced via an artistic flashback, and the bodies of the latter two Gems are never seen. A character very similar in appearance to the first Gem was later introduced; Word of God confirmed after the show ended that they were indeed the same Gem, but it never came up in the series itself and neither of them know about it.
    • Season 5 introduces a permanent Fusion between six Gems, Fluorite. Her components are never seen or named, and the only thing known about them is that they all fell in love with each other and decided to stay together as Fluorite.