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Vanilla Protagonist
aka: Designated Protagonist Syndrome

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Although vanilla ice cream, our protagonist, is delicious all on its own, it is the base of many other great flavors. It plays well with toppings and fixings, i.e. the supporting cast, without being overwhelmed completely or disallowing the other ingredients from shining through. Thus, a Vanilla Protagonist is a protagonist whose characteristics and background are plainer or simpler compared to the rest of the cast. This type of protagonist serves as a window by which the audience may experience more varied and colorful supporting characters.

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The vanilla protagonist will typically be familiar and easily relatable, giving the audience the opportunity to step into their shoes. They will usually not be too much of anything, or vanilla so to speak. The VP acts as Foil for other more unique characters the audience will encounter through them. In other words, the other characters drive the story, and the VP is simply the vehicle. The VP may have no voice for this reason.

Since these characters need to be relatively flat by their own merit, they may be unpopular with the fanbase but simply being unpopular does not make them this trope. It makes them The Scrappy. Tropes Are Tools and having a lead who is a flat or static character isn't necessarily a bad thing if done well. In video games, for example, it can give a player freedom to shape their character, or to think outside the box.

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Compare Lead You Can Relate To where The Protagonist is modeled after the target audience to better engage them in the story, and Audience Surrogate, where the protagonist is intentionally left as a blank slate, so that the audience can easily project themselves into the character. Also compare Straight Man who is normally The Stoic to better interact with the Plucky Comic Relief but not necessarily a protagonist at all, and the Pinball Protagonist, in which the protagonist lacks significant impact to the overall plot and is merely reacting to the other characters' actions.

Not to be confused with Designated Hero, which is a character who the story plays up as being heroic, but comes off as being distinctly unheroic. Contrast Ensemble Dark Horse, who is a colorful but minor character. Not to be confused with Villain Protagonist. Also not a descriptor for protagonists of vanilla hentai...though they tend to be this for a reason.

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Compare to the Standardized Leader. For describing "bland characters", use Flat Character. This trope is NOT The Protagonist + Flat Character.

This is not for complaining about protagonists one may dislike.

This trope is not about being "likable", "popular", or "interesting". If a show has one of these, it is not inherently a "problem". Please keep this in mind when making edits.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Invoked in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Madoka Kaname believes there's nothing special about herself and this feeling is highlighted by the four other members of the main cast becoming Magical Girls, and beating the crap out of witches and each other. As the story goes on, we find out that this is justified, as mahou shoujo in the series are doomed to become the very witches they fight, and Homura has been keeping Madoka in this role to protect her. In the end Madoka becomes an ultimate savior and shows her compassion by helping Magical Girls die happy. Also, her witch form showed the isolated dark part of her which was to help others by absorbing them. Not a colourless person, no?
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Protagonist, Yugi, is the only duelist without a quirk. He's not the blue-eyed dragon guy, the bug guy, dino guy or even the gambling card guy. His own alter ego has his "age-old pharaoh" thing going for him. It's downplayed in the manga, where he definitely does have a few outstanding quirks (i.e. getting mad when somebody mistakes his age, having the tendencies of a Covert Pervert, etc.) but just not as much as other characters.
  • Daily Lives of High School Boys. Tadakuni is an inversion. He's a plain Generic Guy with no backstory and he has fewer relationships with other characters than his two friends Hidenori and Yoshitake. Tadakuni's suffers from being Out of Focus, with basically no presence in some episodes and many chapters. His status is often lampshaded. However, Tadakuni is one of the most popular characters in the series and he's much more popular than Hidenori and Yoshitake. He's Out of Focus after the first volume and episode 5, making him somewhat like an Ensemble Dark Horse.
  • Sonic X: Sonic is fazed into the background as the role of The Ace, with Audience Surrogate Chris Thorndyke played more as the show's lead. Thus, the more (often literally) colorful side cast he encounters become the main draw.
  • Sasahara in Genshiken is pretty passive as an otaku. Unlike the rest of the club, he's lacking an overriding passion for any one thing, and serves as the entry point for the non-otaku/closet otaku readers. In later issues, some characterization sauce is swirled in when his sister is introduced; his annoyance at her shallowness is the first negative emotion he shows.
  • The main character of Anpanman is designed to have a simple and all-loving personality, so the characters he interacts with are able to shine through. Heck, most of the episodes featuring two characters interacting mainly only have Anpanman in it to get the two introduced and to end up saving them from Baikinman at the end.
  • Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion — despite being the series protagonist, most of the characters he's surrounded by are more quirky, and unique than he is, particularly Rei Ayanami. This was done because Shinji is supposed to be a commentary on the average Japanese male.
  • Thou Shalt Not Die plays around with this, the reader is introduced to the main character Usuki who is portrayed as the typical ace, a charismatic leader of the group, lacks any of the more bizarre quirks of those that surrounds him, has a very basic but useful telekinetic power and... is dead by the end of the first chapter. Thus the reader is bluntly reminded that this is a Taro Yoko work and is introduced to the real main character, Kuroi, who is anything but vanilla.
  • Re:CREATORS: Sota exists mainly to provide a normal person's perspective to the idea of fictional characters suddenly coming to life. It's the aforementioned fictional characters who provide the true heart of the series.
  • According to Word of God, Hunter × Hunter protagonist Gon Freecss was written with a rather generic shounen Kid Hero personality in mind to make the other characters stand out. However, readers/viewers and in-universe characters have pointed out that Gon's morality is anything but normal.
  • The Lyrical Nanoha series has never actually been about Nanoha Takamachi. Nanoha is an exceptional combat mage and a major force for good in the multiverse, and she has her own character arc spanning multiple seasons, but said arc has never been the point of the series. Much rather, it has always been about Nanoha's "enemies", rivals, and students, i.e. people who experience dramatic character arcs (such as redemption and/or coming-of-age) thanks to her, from Fate Testarossa and the Wolkenritter, to the Forwards, the Numbers, and even Vivio. Nanoha herself, meanwhile, remains the humble, gentle woman who balances her career with her family life, taking only brief breaks to beat some sense into the newest bunch of dorks threatening others' peaceful life.
  • Downplayed in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. Kobayashi is rather unusual for a female protagonist: she's slightly older than the average, stoic, work-focused, almost always seen wearing sober, mostly unisex outfits (she rarely wears skirts and often wears a tie), has a taste for beer and maids and is a big Deadpan Snarker. Had Kobayashi been a male character, she and Tohru would be one among the many anime examples of Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl. Being female though, she does make anime viewers give her a second look, even if in the anime itself her normality has a point of working as a foil to the other more fantastic characters.
  • In Azumanga Daioh, this is arguably the case for Yomi and Nyamo, as they are the Straight Man to their wacky best friends, Tomo and Yukari, respectively, and such are not as quirky or comedic.
  • Downplayed in Carole & Tuesday. The titular duo have their own personality quirks, character arcs, and somewhat tragic backstories, but their musical and visual style is the plainest of everyone in the cast: they're just a couple of teenage girls with an acoustic guitar, piano, and two very beautiful voices. When they compete in a televised talent show, one of the judges lampshades it, noting how they're easily the plainest and least distinctive of the contestants.
  • In Girls und Panzer, most of the high schools shown competing in the tankery tournament are themed after one of the nations that fought in World War II, but Oarai Academy, the protagonists, are simply an ordinary Japanese high school with a motley assortment of tanks from several different nations. To a lesser degree, the protagonists, Anglerfish Team, don't have an overall theme, but the protagonist, Miho, as the second child of a renowned tankery family and former second-in-command of the previous reigning tankery champion, is probably the least ordinary of the Oarai students.

    Comic Books 
  • Duke from G.I. Joe is fairly bland and doesn't have very much characterization aside from being "The Leader" and for refusing a promotion so he could stay in the field. His teammates include a silent ninja master with a wolf, a Vietnam veteran who was once a street thug, a heavy machine gunner who surfs and plays bass guitar, and a gourmet chef who wields a massive crew-served machine gun as if it were a lightweight rifle.
  • Tintin was deliberately designed so that every reader could identify with him, so he has no family, no back story, no personal connections, nothing apart from what is shown in the adventures. Thus, it is no coincidence that he was overshadowed by the colourful Captain Haddock.
  • Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog: Princess Sally in her brief spin-off series. Since her role in the main series was usually to act as The Straight Man to Sonic, most personality and conflicts in her own series end up being granted to her more flawed Substitute Freedom Fighter team and Geoffery St John.

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • Walt Disney's animated films were very much inspired by this element from the older fairy tales, in which the typically nondescript protagonist ventures into the unknown and encounters the supernatural. As such, "normal characters in bizarre situations" tended to be a trademark of his.
    • Snow White has the eponymous character as simply The Ingenue - the dwarves are by far the most entertaining characters, while The Evil Queen brings all the drama and hamminess to the story.
    • Sleeping Beauty: The creators of the film weren't all that interested in the beauty herself, hence why the movie spends so much time with the magical and bickering trio of fairies.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire: Milo is no Flat Character, but he is just a young Gentleman and a Scholar who goes on an adventure to find Atlantis vindicate his grandfather's life-long work. He shares the screen with a herd of supporting characters all with strong personalities and screen presence.
  • The Princess and the Frog: Tiana is up against colorful supporting characters like Charlotte, Louis and Ray, and the entertaining villain Dr Facilier. Tiana has very little to do with the central conflict of the movie, save for acting as a Team Mom who frequently preaches about how working hard is the only way to achieve your dreams. The climactic confrontation between Tiana and Dr Facilier is actually the first time these characters meet in the whole film.
  • Danny in Cats Don't Dance is incredibly vanilla compared to the very colorful and memorable cast he finds himself put in when he leaves his small home town and goes to Hollywood to become an actor. As he's the static catalyst who inspires the rest of the cast to change and develop, it works out best for him to be a generic All-Loving Hero for everyone else's much more flavorful personalities to bounce off of.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • Harry Potter: For most of the first three books, Harry was a Naïve Newcomer and Heartwarming Orphan who is introduced to the amazing world of magic and the wondrous school that trains its people. After a couple books, he is familiar with the school, its wizards, and witches, and Harry's own personality shines forth.
  • The Lord of the Rings Frodo Baggins's position in the Fellowship is "the Non-Action Guy carrying the Ring" and so the contrast with the epic heroes he's traveling with is all the greater. This was a deliberate choice by Tolkien to demonstrate the humble virtues of the Hobbit; the vanilla character can save the world, too. His even more humble companion Sam is one of the very few canon characters to not give into the Ring's temptation, thus emphasizing this point even further, despite the fact that his simple wisdom and impulsive hot-bloodedness make him more dynamic by comparison.
  • K. A. Applegate once suggested this was true of Jake from Animorphs: while the other characters have clear, definable traits that make them easy to identify (Marco's ruthlessness, Rachel's bloodlust, Cassie's empathy, Ax's alienness, Tobias' conflicted nature as a hawk and a human) Jake is the Standardized Leader keeping them all focused, at least in the first books. Late into the series, this is dropped because he grows into the role of The Chessmaster. He also develops a serious complex regarding his leadership qualities.
  • Twilight: Fans and detractors mostly agree that Bella lacks a personality, and this is because the author did not give her one. She was specifically written so that the reader can step into her shoes, and experience the cool supernatural world of vampires and werewolves (and the hotties fighting over her). Compare her backstory (moves from Phoenix to a small town in Washington, becomes popular, falls in love with supernatural beings) with that of Carlisle (devout Christian vampire hunter becomes vampire, spends his life helping people even though they're his natural prey), Rosalie (girl becomes a vampire after being raped and left for dead by her fiance, kills him), Jasper (ex-Confederate soldier and some of his friends raise a vampire army), and others.
  • Terry Pratchett says that when he wrote Guards! Guards!, he thought Carrot was the main character and that Vimes would be just a viewpoint character to introduce Ankh-Morpork and in general set things up for Carrot. Then he realized the vast potential Vimes had as both The Protagonist and The Hero and so he made the switch. The result is that Carrot reads like a stock character brought in from another fantasy 'verse entirely, and Vimes undergoes a rich and complex arc in the first book alone.
    • Eventually, Pratchett Subverted the use of Carrot as Vanilla Protagonist. Many books later, Carrot is one of the few characters who has never been a viewpoint character, with hints of Hidden Depths and Obfuscating Stupidity, making it very dubious that he's the simple soul that he seems to be.
  • In The Heroes of Olympus (the sequel series to the Percy Jackson books) introduces Jason Grace. He has no memories starting off and as a result, he's a vanilla sea for the more colorful toppings (i.e. secondary characters): Leo, Hazel, Annabeth, Nico, and others, who are more relatable and flawed. After he regains his memories, Jason grows into a more distinct character in the later books.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stargate Atlantis teams up the rather bland Brilliant, but Lazy protagonist Sheppard with characters like the memetical Smug Snake Dr McKay, Wide-Eyed Idealist Dr Beckett, Proud Warrior Race Guy Ronon Dex and the constantly Beleaguered Czech Radek Zelenka.
  • Dollhouse has this as an Enforced Trope because a major point of the series is that Echo slowly develops a personality despite being repeatedly mind-wiped. This is emphasized by the side characters who already had developed personalities, or even her fellow Dolls Sierra and Victor, who managed character development early on via their romance.
  • In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Sarah herself is sharing screen time with Robot Girl Cameron and Time Traveling Terrorist Vigilante Derek. She was important because John would be important which means that both of them couldn't be important at once. The more John becomes The Chosen One, the more Sarah becomes just another sidekick.
  • Lost Girl's cast includes include a goth pixie girl that comes from a family highly connected with Russian organized crime, a doctor who is a literal slave, the bartender who was once an all-powerful king who now lives anonymously, and a valkyrie who has laid waste to entire armies. One of Bo's Friendly Enemies is a mesmer who owns several bondage clubs, one of the light fae cops has a long family history, and even the leaders of the sides have vast histories. With such colorful supporting characters, the protagonist, Bo, is vanilla by contrast.
  • WKRP in Cincinnati Andy Travis was written to be the Only Sane Man protagonist a la Bob Newhart or Mary Tyler Moore but they couldn't get it to work. Thus, reconfigured the show so all the characters were roughly equal in importance.
  • Defiance: Nolan is just some guy living in a town with fascinating aliens. Emphasis on "vanilla" as every other notable human is either not white (Tommy and the McCawleys), not male (the Rosewater Sisters), or not straight (Kenya and Pottinger) and all of them have more interesting backstories and/or personalities than him.
  • Orange Is the New Black features Piper Chapman, a 30-something white yuppie from a privileged background who has her life turned upside down when she is sentenced to jail over a crime she committed nearly 10 years ago. However, her past background is fairly bland when compared to those of the loads and loads of other quirky inmates that she meets in prison. The writers seem to have picked up on the fans' preferences in Season 2 as they increasingly put Piper Out of Focus in favor of further development for the supporting cast members, all the while giving Piper a more pragmatic personality.
  • Gavin & Stacey was sold on the premise that Gavin and Stacey themselves are vanilla protagonists and the real point of the show is how their relationship affects their friends and families. It's telling that the show's two BAFTA Award nominations were for members of the supporting cast rather than the designated leads.
  • Game of Thrones has fairly solid characterisation throughout, but the male Starks (Ned, Robb, Jon Snow, and Bran) tend to have much more simple motivations and backstories than other main characters. In comparison, these characters don't face as many complex moral decisions, although they still read as believable humans. Examples:
    • Jon Snow is fundamentally good, empathetic, kind of an outsider, and isn't sociopathic in this series' Crapsack World without being too psychologically weak to act on hard decisions.
    • The men of the Night's Watch, the wildlings, and nearby townspeople tend to be a much more motley and diverse group than the comparatively vanilla Jon Snow. Yet when they are onscreen, their personalities and complex motivations are usually only revealed so far as they impact main characters they share screentime with (such as Jon) and you rarely, if ever, see them pursuing their own ends. This makes sense on the writers' part, since keeping the story about the Wall as linear as possible (by primarily focusing on how it relates to Jon, who is one of the main point-of-view characters for this storyline in the books along with Sam) means there is more time to spend on the other storylines.
  • Benjamin Denton the outsider to The League of Gentlemen who becomes acquainted with much of Royston Vasey's weirdness is always best described as one of the very, very few normal characters in the show. And that's about it. He is the normal guy and the most memorable parts of him are his reactions towards the lunacy that surrounds him. Only then does he show a multi-faceted personality and isn't just a Pinball Protagonist.

    Video Games 
  • Link of The Legend of Zelda is a Heroic Mime and a Memetic Badass in the large and colorful supporting cast, and amazing countries each one inhabits.
  • Far Cry
    • Far Cry 2: The player chooses from one of 12 characters to play as at the beginning. The remaining 11 are found throughout the game, and interact with the player and they have distinctive personalities. The player's character, on the other hand, becomes a personality-less Heroic Mime.
    • Far Cry 3 follows a similar trend. The main character, Jason Brody, is a virtual cypher, with the only real information about his past and relationship with his girlfriend showing up in the first few missions. Meanwhile, the supporting cast includes a villain who plays up the "definition of insanity", a tribal queen who alternately seduces and sends you on quests, a kooky survivalist with suicide vest-wearing monkeys (if you bought the DLC) and plenty more mysterious side characters.
  • Valkyria Chronicles: Welkin is the main character and instantly becomes The Leader of Squad 7 despite all of his major subordinates being veterans, while this is his first tour in real combat. He's had officer training, but he's mostly in charge because he's the guy who owns the tank. The rest of Squad 7 is notoriously colourful, with three DLC stories centering around secondary characters and one centering on Selvaria. Unlike many video game heroes, Welkin does have a personality of his own, but it makes him less a generic game hero and more a generic romance-story hero, and he pales in comparison to the quirky Squad 7 soldiers.
  • Danganronpa:
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: Makoto Naegi. Even in-universe the other characters are chosen by Hope's Peak Academy for being remarkably skilled in some aspect, and as a result, they are all quite colourful. Naegi, on the other hand, got into the Academy by pure chance and he criticizes himself for being average. However, he is unique in that he is extraordinarily optimistic and filled with hope. For that, he earns the title, 'Ultimate Hope'.
    • Super Danganronpa 2: Hajime Hinata can't even remember his talent and basically acts as a snarky straight man to his much more diversified and distinctive cast members. Unlike everyone else in the games so far, he doesn't have an ultimate talent of any sort to help him stand out on his own. Later defied, however, because his awareness of this before the events of the game is an integral part of his character, because he's truly Izuru Kamukura, the man behind AI Junko Enoshima. His desire to be talented (and not be a Vanilla Protagonist) is a major factor of his surgical transformation into Kamukura.
    • Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls stars Komaru Naegi, Makoto's younger sister. She doesn't have any Ultimate talents, not even luck, and was only kidnapped and brought to Towa City to serve as a hostage for her brother. Her Kill List document describes her as "A typical mass-produced Demonnote  that isn't unique in any way other than that it's below average in a lot of stuff." Komaru goes through a great deal of hardship throughout the game, and nearly reaches her breaking point in the climax.
    • Although in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, the protagonist, Kaede Akamatsu, does have an actual talent (she's the Ultimate Pianist), her personality is still much more grounded than the rest of the cast if you ignore her extraordinary piano skills. And even though she turns out to be a Decoy Protagonist, dying in the first chapter, her replacement, the Ultimate Detective Shuichi Saihara, is also far more relatable and normal than everyone else.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog served as this in early installments of his series. While having slightly better stats than the other characters, his move set is more limited compared to Tails and Knuckles, usually limiting him to the games' primary path. This tends to be zigzagged in later games, since new exclusive moves such as the homing attack and light dash gave him his own edge in gameplay. As story and character were established, his personality was usually kept more simplistic than the others (if still often charismatic), relying less on specific back stories or roles than the others.
  • BlazBlue's protagonist, Ragna the Bloodedge is a pretty clear-cut example of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, but has a pretty down to earth personality otherwise. This is especially noticeable when most of the cast is filled with sociopaths, Large Hams, and Yanderes. As such, Ragna plays the Straight Man Deadpan Snarker to almost everyone he interacts with. Over time, he goes through a sufficient character arc, learns how to wield his own powers properly and becomes a more responsible and heroic individual. So he starts off vanilla, while gaining more flavor over time.
  • Mortal Kombat; In a World... with energy-wielding ninjas, Physical Gods, fantastic creatures, Cyborgs, et al., Liu Kang was designed to be the accessible humble monk hero. There's not a great deal to his story other than winning the various mortal kombat tournaments, but the various rivalries and relationships in the series are the true focus.
    • The second timeline does away with this by focusing on Liu Kang's moral strife as opposed to him being little more than a living set piece. With Raiden's visions of the future and his actions in response to them leading to increasingly disastrous results, the reboot showcases heavy fallout between the Shaolin monk and the thunder god, culminating in Liu Kang losing faith in his mentor, getting accidentally fried by Raiden in self defense, and cursing him in his dying breaths. He spends most of the next game as a vengeful revenant and ends up becoming the Netherrealm's ruler alongside his dead lover Kitana.
  • Street Fighter has Ryu, who has a run-of-the-mill personality consisting of being serious about training and wanting to be a great fighter. His opponents contrast him by being much more colorful. This is also portrayed in gameplay, as his playstyle is the most basic a traditional 2D fighting game character can get, being the originator of the Shotoclones.
  • Tekken
    • Tekken 2 pulled a switcheroo by having the first game's bland Shotoclone hero Kazuya turn out to be the main villain. He was replaced as the main character with the equally flat and stone-faced Jin in Part 3.
    • Jin then morphed into a darker and more conflicted character after being betrayed by his grandfather and learning of the Mishima family's cursed bloodline, eventually becoming the main villain of Tekken 6 and plunging the world into what was essentially World War III. Except it was all a carefully orchestrated plan to lure an evil greater evil out of hiding (and allow Jin to put an end to his suffering).
    • The role of protagonist was subsequently assumed by Lars, who formerly worked under Jin in the Tekken Force and turns out to be the only living Mishima who is squeaky clean in terms of morality. We're sensing a trend here.
  • Mega Man (Classic): Mega Man is your standard 8-bit hero with little motivation other than doing the right thing (which came from his creator anyway). In this case, his uniqueness mainly comes from copying the abilities of the various colorful robot masters as well as fighting Dr. Wily. This can be contrasted with his more free-thinking brother Proto Man, as well his Evil Counterpart Bass.
    • Certain games do attempt to challenge Mega Man's Incorruptible Pure Pureness, such as Mega Man 7 showing Mega Man attempting to kill Wily at end (but locking up due to entering an A.I. loop) and The Power Fighters having Wily question Mega Man over his efforts to keep the peace between humans and robots when he's essentially committing genocide on his own kind. This always comes with a Snap Back, as the morality questions don't truly come into play until his "little brother" X, the first robot able to think and make decisions of his own accord, is created.
  • Super Mario Bros.: Mario was designed to be an extremely accessible character who can fit any role. He himself does not have too much personality other than cheerfulness, but it's the colorful world and challenges he inhabits that provides the true meat of the series.
  • Bartz of Final Fantasy V is this. Within the game itself, his companions are a self-sacrificing Princess Classic looking for her Disappeared Dad, an amnesiac old man from another world with a mysterious compulsion to save the crystals, a pirate searching for his or her true origins, and (later) a bereaved Psychic Child who can talk to animals. He himself is a pleasant, easygoing fellow who cares about his companions but rarely goes overboard with the dramatics.
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy: Warrior of Light has the fewest frills in a game full of many toppinged characters such as Cloud and Squall. Justified in story, as he's a sentient Manikin with no memories outside the cycles of war, and he doesn't really have much character to express beyond what he has developed over the past cycles. Also a case of Tropes Are Not Bad, as his Undying Loyalty to Cosmos — his only motivation — makes him The Paragon to the other heroes, and he has none of their confidence issues or emotional baggage, so the villains' usually effective Breaking Speeches and mind games don't work on him.
  • Bravely Default has Tiz Arrior, the first playable character. Aside from the first arc where he's acting to restore his village, he doesn't have a decisive role in the plot as a whole. He's primarily acting as a down-to-earth moral center and Agnes' love interest. Contrast his Farm Boy status with Agne's priestly Chosen One, Edea's Defector from Decadence and Ringabell's Amnesiac Hero.
  • Senran Kagura: Asuka has a personality, but it's expressed largely in how she's a Foil to other characters. Another case of Tropes Are Not Bad, as this is extensively commented upon. Asuka narrates several times that as a generalist, she fails to stand out compared to her allies, rivals, and enemies, and uses that as her motivation moving forward with the goal of becoming a Master of All.
  • Riki from Little Busters! is a great example of this trope, being a generic male lead (lacking the snarky qualities of Key's other male leads) surrounded by a quirky & colourful male and female supporting cast. The only standout thing about him is his very feminine face.
  • Apart from being a Wrench Wench, Nepgear from Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 could best be described as "normal". She is a kind, responsible, Girl Next Door-type character who, when contrasted with the other, more colorful characters, especially previous protagonist (and Nepgear's older sister) Neptune, made a large part of the fanbase write her off as "boring", leading to Nepgear getting relegated to Butt-Monkey status in Victory.
  • The DonPachi series has the protagonist pilot in every game, who might have a few lines of dialogue in endings but otherwise has no features to speak of. This esepcially stands out in DoDonPachi dai ou jou and DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou, where the respective protagonists of both games are paired up with the Element Dolls, who are far more interesting in terms of visual design and personality. In SaiDaiOuJou in particular, the Dolls even have voiced lines, while the pilot doesn't; furthermore, there is official full-body artwork of the pilot, but it only serves to demonstrate how featureless he is in comparison to the dolls, as he wears a Latex Space Suit with a mask that completely obscures his face. His sole personality trait is his extreme Undying Loyalty, refusing to question his orders in any way, even if they involve slaughtering his own allies by the hundreds.

    Web Comics 
  • Antimony of Gunnerkrigg Court, whose general calm and open-minded approach to everything, combined with her ability to be near-central to every subplot she comes across just by existing and the enticingly vague development of the other students, tends to make her the vanilla of many plots. This is diminished after it's revealed that she's part fire elemental and unknowingly responsible for her mother's death, both of which give her emotional depth. Plus, she started having fun with it.
  • Homestuck:
    • John was the first character introduced out of the stupendously large cast and acts as the Audience Surrogate through much of the series, being the kid to whom all the bizarre and improbable game mechanics have to be explained, so he wasn't nearly as well-developed as some of the other characters at first. He's gotten a bit more Character Development now that we can see his actions from other points of view.
    • Karkat on the Alternia side is the first troll introduced and becomes team leader, which in the end is responsible for their victory. His job is to hold the Sanity Ball so his friends can steal their scenes with craziness. Occasionally there are exceptions like calming down his homicidally insane friend by shoosh-papping him into submission. Also, the fact that Karkat has at least one major comedic trait...namely, his hilarious and ineffectual anger issues.
  • Parker in The Hero Business. Her main trait? She's very competent as a secretary, and helping all the other characters. Then subverted. She's the daughter of a SUPERVILLAIN...and plotting some sort of scheme, in addition to a witch!
  • The nameless protagonist of PHD mainly serves as a generic representation of a grad school student, and has no distinguished personality or background. As such, he is frequently pushed Out of Focus when the author wants to write a proper story arc involving the cast. Cecelia, Mike, Tajel and even Dee has more development than our main guy.

    Western Animation 
  • The Looney Tunes series went through a long tenure of this as it slowly gained its trademark slapstick. The series originally utilized Mickey Mouse-alike characters such as Bosko and Buddy, who missed this trope and hit the Generic Guy instead. Beans the Cat was then billed as a new more colorful star, but his sidekick, Porky Pig outshone him in that regard. Porky then turned into this trope for more abrasive stars such as Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny with his Everyman persona making him better fit as The Straight Man or The Comically Serious.
  • Mickey Mouse became a pretty iconic case for the Classic Disney Shorts. Mickey started off a more mischievous scrappy protagonist, though as new additions such as Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto were introduced and took over the more abrasive roles, Mickey ended up toned down into The Everyman to foil them and by the forties was Demoted to Extra. Modern works have tried to give Mickey star power again, with varying degrees of success.
  • The title character of Hey Arnold!. While the first season had some palpable focus on his own dilemmas and personal conflicts, as episodes passed, his shortcomings and foibles faded and he ended up a messianic Only Sane Man to the far more flawed and eccentric universe around him. A high number of episodes (particularly in the last two seasons) barely even featured Arnold at all, in favor of playing a borderline Ensemble Cast setup.
  • For The Dreamstone, the Noops, Rufus and Amberley, end up looking fairly unremarkable against the majority of the cast, lacking the quirks and humour value of the villains, and being overshadowed and made redundant by their more powerful and surreal comrades. They take the part well as newcomers encountering the show's different worlds and processes, but the focus otherwise usually sways in the Urpneys' favor due to their more colorful personalities and providing most of the show's slapstick.
  • Its sister show, Bimble's Bucket follows a very similar formula for Bimble, who gets less screen time than the villains and largely exists as a naive newcomer for Teeny Weeny to explain all the details of the plot towards.
  • Daria rarely changes her facial expressions and is well known for her witty sarcasm spoken in a monotone voice in a show replete with characters who have more developed and quirky personalities.
  • Doug takes this somewhat literally, as the title protagonist was deliberately written to be an average boy in a (literally) colorful cast of the more idiosyncratic characters, which also boils down to his normal skin color. Aside from a few quirks and his vivid imaginary thoughts, Doug is pretty much normal compared to the rest of the cast.
  • The title character of The Life and Times of Juniper Lee falls squarely into this. There isn't anything that truly stands out about her personality-wise other than her interactions with the various characters of Orchid Bay, and her fighting style doesn't help her win fans. In fact, there was an episode that focused on this: at a big supernatural social event, everyone was more interested in her Cool Old Lady grandmother than herself specifically for this reason.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • Rocko in Rocko's Modern Life could be considered this. He is the Only Sane Man of the show in comparison to the more eccentric and idiosyncratic cast surrounding him.
  • King of the Hill: Hank Hill is a straight-laced, hardworking, upstanding Texan suburbanite with strong morals and a comically mundane work life ("I sell propane and propane accessories!"). Practically all of the show's comedy comes from his failure to relate to his wacky neighbors and family. When the supporting cast includes a Conspiracy Theorist exterminator, a sad sack Army barber, a mush-mouthed womanizing Texas Ranger, a pudgy aspiring comedian, and a ditzy former trailer trash girl, the mild-mannered family man underscores the insanity.
  • Steven Universe has an in-universe version of this. In the earlier episodes, Steven himself is an adorkable newcomer to the Crystal Gems. When not busy being generally awesome, they had a Comic Trio dynamic and so he felt left out. This serves as the contrast that the trope dictates. As the series progresses, he embraces to the max his status as an All-Loving Hero, steps into the legacy left by his mother/past incarnation Rose Quartz, and becomes more part of the group instead of its foil.


 
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Alternative Title(s): Designated Protagonist Syndrome

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Osomatsu-san

Osomatsu's own brothers poke fun at how "plain" he is compared to them.

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