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Villain Pedigree

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Dean Winchester: Well then, good luck stopping the whole zombie apocalypse.
Sam Winchester: Yeah. Good luck killing Death. [beat] Remember when we used to just... hunt wendigos? How simple things were?

A sub-trope of the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. That trope is about when individual villains become So Last Season as the heroes start facing new, more powerful enemies. This trope is about when this happens to an entire breed of villains.

For example, suppose there's a TV series called Spirit Hunters where a team of paranormal investigators travel around the country fighting malicious ghosts. This lasts them for two or three seasons, but after a while the ghosts start to get a little dull and repetitive, so the writers decide to shock the audience and have what looked like an ordinary haunting turn out to be a demonic possession. The demon adversary is more vicious, more dangerous, and has lots of cool Hellfire special effects surrounding it. The audience loves it.

So, as the series goes into season four, the Spirit Hunters start facing more and more demons, maybe even fighting against a demon Big Bad. It eventually gets to a point where there are only a couple episodes each season dealing with ghosts; the rest of the time it's demons, demons, demons. And stay tuned for the season finale, where our heroes fight Lucifer himself!

Congratulations ghosts, you've just been replaced by bad guys with a higher Villain Pedigree.

See So Last Season; compare the out-of-universe equivalent The Taming of the Grue.

Since the examples on this page necessarily detail most of or the entire run of their series and what villain later gets replaced by whom, beware of spoilers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach:
    • Ordinary Hollows are the worst threat in the early stages of the story. Then this is ramped up when it's revealed there are giant versions of hollows called Menos Grande that only the Royal Guard are supposed to handle. Turns out Rukia's textbooks were wrong: any high-seated officer can handle Menos Grande if they're Gillian level and Captains and lieutenants can handle Adjuchas levels. Only the Vasto Lord level of Menos Grande gives captains trouble.
    • The Espada were modified Arrancar of post-Menos Grande level, introduced to make the threat of the Shinigami Captains in the Soul Society arc look minor by comparison.
    • The Vandenreich has been introduced in a way that makes the previous Espada threat look extremely weak. It's even lampshaded in-universe when one quincy captain easily defeats some Aizen's Arrancar and complains that Aizen's followers were weak.
  • Likewise, in Buso Renkin, the original monsters were human-eating monstrous homunculi. Eventually it got to the point where our heroes could beat a whole horde of them and still have enough energy to face the Big Bad and hold their own. It was at that point that no new homunculi characters were introduced, and the villains became humans with Buso Renkin themselves, and way more fighting experience.
  • At the start of Dragon Ball, pretty much all villains were either wild animals or human beings (well, human beings and whatever the hell Pilaf was). However, starting with the Demon King Piccolo arc, there were pretty much no human characters left who could give Goku a challenge, so Akira Toriyama made all future Big Bads demons, aliens, androids, or something equally inhuman. Almost any conflict between Goku and a human martial artist after that point is a downright humiliating Curb-Stomp Battle.
  • Particularly obvious in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, since the nature of the Big Bads changes with each part of the story. In Part 1, Phantom Blood, the Big Bad is vampire Dio Brando, who's created an army of zombie Mooks. In Part 2, Battle Tendency, vampires have been relegated to Mook status, while the Pillar Men (the creators of vampires, and far more powerful) take on the role of main antagonists. In Part 3, Stardust Crusaders, Dio (still a vampire) returns as the Big Bad, but almost all of his vampire abilities are ignored in favor of a new fighting system based on "Stands", and almost all of his underlings are humans who also possess the Stand ability. From Part 4 onward, vampires and all related beings are completely absent, with human Stand users being the only villains.
  • The Magical Girl-type Monsters of the Week in Lyrical Nanoha were quickly regulated to easily-dealt-with distraction status by the half-way point of the first season as the series moved to battles against other mages and knights, armies of Anti-Magic-protected Mecha-Mooks, and different kinds of Super Soldiers. When one such monster showed up in the first Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS Sound Stage, it was treated as something for the rookies to practice what they learned in training on.
  • My-HiME starts with natural Orphans as the basic monsters, then progresses to Searrs-made Orphans, then Searrs troopers proper, before culminating with each other.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: The first arc features Beastmen as the main antagonists piloting their mecha. After Lordgenome is defeated and the Beastmen make a Heel–Race Turn, the Anti-Spiral steps up as the main antagonist, and he uses Eldritch Abominations to combat the heroes.

    Comic Books 
  • In Angel (IDW), Angel doesn't know why he still carries a stake after W & H sent LA to Hell. "Remember when vampires were our biggest problems?" Wesley retorts that vampires were only their biggest problem when Angel himself went bad.
  • Some of the Silver Age villains who Daredevil fought have been forgotten or turned into Harmless Villains when Daredevil became Darker and Edgier in the 1980s, especially when Bullseye and Kingpin became Daredevil's Arch-Enemy. Some villains like Mr. Fear and Purple Man have been updated to fit this new Dark Age, but others, especially Stilt-Man, have been left behind.

  • Lone Wolf: The Drakkarim, fierce evil warriors wearing death masks, are more or less the same power level throughout the series, but Lone Wolf keeps getting better and they become less and less able to oppose him. In the "Kai" books, a single Drakkar can put up a good fight. In the "Magnakai" series, Drakkarim are only a real challenge if they attack in a group. In the "Grand Master series", they're completely out of their league: the only Drakkar that can still put up a fight against Lone Wolf is their War God in Book 20, and Lone Wolf can still kick his ass and throw him into a lava pit.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy was never limited to just fighting vampires, but, for the first couple seasons, vampires were the Big Bads and represented a serious threat to Buffy. The third season changed this by having a non-vampire Big Bad who used vampires as minions. By the fourth season, the series could have been accurately renamed Buffy the Demon Slayer, with vampires simply one of many demon species (and pretty low on the demonic totem pole at that). During the last three seasons, there were usually only a couple vampire-centric episodes each year; the rest of the time these formerly main villains were used as punching bags whom the good guys could kill off when nothing important was going on. The last season made a nod towards the title by having the villain command a legion of, essentially, super-vampires. After the first one they were still pretty easy to kill.
  • Charmed (1998) changes its Villain Pedigree fast. When the series starts, while many different kinds of supernatural villains turn up, the principal baddies the Charmed Ones are supposed to face are warlocks, evil witches who steal the powers of good witches. However, by the end of the very first season, the main warlock antagonists have been killed off, and a pair of demons end up taking center stage during the season finale. Warlocks still appear after this, but far less frequently as time goes by, while demons appear more and more often. By the end, they make up something like 90% of all bad guys on the show.
  • When Doctor Who begins, many of the stories center around the TARDIS crew landing in an otherwise ordinary Earth setting and lack any real sci-fi elements beyond the TARDIS crew; for example, the first serial deals with one member of a tribe of cavemen trying to usurp power from another. After the first couple of Doctors, however, such human villains are largely displaced, and every storyline is obligated to feature some sort of alien presence or something, though human Corrupt Corporate Executives, Mad Scientists, President Evils and General Rippers continue to pop up.
  • Several Kamen Rider series have different levels of monsters the heroes have to face. Sometimes the higher-level villains employ the previous level monsters as mere mooks, to show how powerful they are.
    • This was intended in Kamen Rider Agito. The series was meant to be a sequel to Kamen Rider Kuuga, in which the police worked together with the titular rider to defeat the Grongi, a race of monsters who liked to kill humans for sport. At the start of Agito, the police managed to create G3, their own Kamen Rider suit, to fight the Grongi. Unfortunately, a new type of creature known as the Lords, appear, to which the new suit is completely ineffective. The difference in power between the Grongi and the Lords is explicitly shown in the Agito tribute arc during Kamen Rider Decade, where the Lords easily defeat the Grongi.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim starts with the Advanced Inves as its Monsters of the Week, with the Elementary Inves as their Mooks. At the start of the series, these are strong enough to give the heroes an entire episode worth of trouble. During the second half of the series, the stronger Over Lord Inves are introduced, which are sentient and nearly godlike beings. After their introduction, the heroes dispose of Advanced Inves as if they are mere Mooks.
    • Starting with Build, modern Kamen Rider shows in general have a tendency to gradually phase out the Monster of the Week in favor of Rider battles.
  • Smallville, for a long, long while, keeps its villains limited to two simple categories: normal human beings (usually with access to Green Rocks), and people who are granted superhuman abilities by those Green Rocks. It isn't until the fourth season that a few villains start turning up with non-kryptonite-based abilities. This jumps up a notch in season five, when Brainiac (an alien-built robot) is made the Big Bad and a few evil Kryptonians show up to hassle Clark. The number of alien adversaries has only increased from there, with meteor freaks, once the staple villains on the show, reduced to a handful of appearances. However, since the alien baddies are usually able to go toe-to-toe with Clark physically, rather than getting taken down with one punch, most fans haven't complained, particularly as the sheer number of people in this small town who gain superpowers makes it increasingly implausible that people wouldn't learn Clark Kent was from Smallville and immediately think "I wonder if he has superpowers."
  • Stargate SG-1: First there's the Goa'uld, who have their own Sorting Algorithm of Evil. But eventually they lose place to more formidable villains like The Replicators or The Ori, by the end of the show the Goa'uld are almost finished and a Goa'uld plot is more seen like a minor break from bigger story arcs involving meaner villains.
  • With Supernatural, the example in the trope definition is a spot-on description of what happened to the Demons in the series.
    • When the series begins, Demonic Possession is a pretty big deal, and just one demon causes Sam and Dean them considerable grief. By season 4, demons still cause them grief, but only the leaders. The bog-standard "black-eyes" are hardly the threat they were before. Ghosts, more so.
    • In season 5, the demons have had this happen to them with Angels having a higher Pedigree. The new Big Bad is then a Fallen Angel (rather, THE Fallen Angel) and there's all those other angels trying to bring about the end of days.
    • Season 7 goes yet another step further, retiring angels to replace them with even older, angel-killing Leviathans, so the pedigree goes: Ghosts < Demons < Angels < Leviathans. Though the Leviathans eventually turn out to be a subversion of this trope, as despite their hype their main abilities seem to be limited to shapeshifting and Nigh-Invulnerability, and they have a Weaksauce Weakness in the form of borax. Despite being able to kill the Angels (or at least the weaker ones), they're almost certainly weaker than the also nigh invulnerable, face-melting, reality-warping, time traveling, dead-resurrecting, dimension teleporting celestials, and if it weren't for the below-mentioned one-hit-kill knife, would probably be rivaled by demons. If the angels weren't busy dealing with the aftermath of their civil war, they'd probably still be running the show on Earth. It also gets straight-up inverted at the end of season 7, as the Demons dispatch the entire Leviathan army by themselves in short order after the Winchesters killed the Levi leader.
    • Season 11 introduces a villain who genuinely upstages the Angels, namely God's destructive "sister" Amara/The Darkness. She is virtually omnipotent and possesses every power he does and more, to the point where even Lucifer (one of the few Archangels left) is forced to team up with the Winchesters to stand up to her. However, killing her is not an option, since this would destroy reality.
    • There's also the manner in which demons are disposed of. In the early seasons, the brothers have to do lengthy exorcisms to get rid of one, and that only sends it back to Hell for a time, free to come back anytime. The McGuffin in the first season is a special, unique gun that can kill a demon permanently. The catch is that the gun has only 6 bullets — the brothers can't afford to miss. It's the only thing in the world that can kill a demon. They tell us so. Repeatedly. That is, until they're given a knife that does just that, whenever they want. And shortly thereafter the gun gets modified to fire as many bullets as they like. It gets even worse when Sam learns how to exorcise or even kill a demon with his mind. Demons were retired for Lucifer after Sam killed the first and presumably one of the, if not the, most powerful demons, by pointing at her. Yeah, they kind of had to switch up at that point. Lampshaded when, in the season 4 episode "In the Beginning", Dean goes back in time and is called crazy for suggesting they try to kill a demon. By season 4, Dean and Sam had already racked up a considerable demon body count.
    • Angels get a similar treatment, as each Angel carries a blade that can kill other angels (And demons). This means that over the length of the show, the brothers gather a veritable trove of angel blades, and thus angels too get relegated to mook status. Furthermore, the powers of angels get scaled back, in particular their more arcane abilities vanish — no longer can angels just put humans to sleep with a mere touch as Castiel's body, and their presence outside of a host no longer causes the kind of collateral damage it did in earlier seasons, where Castiel's mere voice causes people's ears to bleed and electronics to explode.
  • Super Sentai uses this from time to time, by letting the villains create a new species of Monster of the Week that is stronger than the previous ones. Its adaptation Power Rangers played this trope straight during the first six seasons, where stronger villainous groups are introduced in each season.
    • Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman midway through the series, Garoa develops a project to replace the standard Galactic Warriors with Combined Galactic Warriors that are created by joining two monsters into one entity.
    • In Choujin Sentai Jetman the villains upgrade from using object-based Dimensional Beasts to Bio-Dimensional Beasts, which are based on objects and animals.
    • around episode 30 of Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, Bandora starts using stronger Dokiita clay to create her monsters and mooks, giving them Resurrective Immortality. Strangely enough, the immortality doesn't appear after the first set of Dokiita mooks plus monster is defeated.
    • Mahou Sentai Magiranger has multiple evil commanders succeeding each other, who come with their own category of monsters, with the succeeding group being explicitly stronger than the preceding one. The series starts with General Branken, commanding the mindless Hades Beasts. These are succeeded by Meemy, who commands the sentient Hades Beastmen. Near the end of his run, Meemy summons the insanely strong Hades Beasmen Kings. After Meemy and this group are defeated, they are replaced with the Hades Gods of Infershia. Power Rangers Mystic Force also displays this trope, but not to the explicit extent of Magiranger, making no real distinction in the groups of monsters.
    • Juken Sentai Gekiranger introduces a new breed of villains during its final arc. The first set of villains are called Rinjyuken, which is basically a school of undead martial artists using animal based powers. During the final arc, the Rinjyuken are replaced by the Genjyuken, which is a group of undead martial artists based on mythological creatures.

    Multiple Media 
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • When Timothy Zahn kicked off the Legends EU, his bad guys were Imperials trying to recover the territory lost to the Rebellion/New Republic after the Emperor died. Almost the entire Bantam era has, as its villains, the remains of the Empire, as well as occasional offshoots. A few times strange aliens were fought instead, and nearly every author felt they had to spring a Superweapon Surprise, but it was nearly always New Republic versus Empire. In the Hand of Thrawn duology which capped the Bantam era, the battered but proud Imperial Remnant signs a peace treaty with the New Republic. Stories set before that point may still have Imperial villains; stories set past that point may have offshoot Imperials, but these days there are fewer books with either. Now strange new aliens are the go-to bad guys, from extragalactic sadistic masochists to hiveminded bugs controlled by evil burn victims to, most lately, Cthulhu. Again, there are exceptions like all Clone Wars and earlier books, and one series had a civil war, but strange new Scary Dogmatic Aliens seem to be the current menace.
    • Mustn't forget the Sith, either. They really started out as extra special, extra dangerous villains, but now they're everywhereLegacy and Legacy of the Force had Sith Big Bads, while Knights of the Old Republic and Fate of the Jedi have Sith among their villains in various ways (not to mention anything set during the clone wars or the Galactic Civil War will have Darth Sidious/the Emperor as Big Bad by default). Of course, the Sith are certainly Scary and Dogmatic, even if they aren't all aliens, so they could also be said to fit in with the above as well...

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: This is the natural and expected flow of a campaign. As the player characters level up, the monsters they were previously fighting become less of a threat, and the DM introduces new, more dangerous kinds of enemies to face. This is in fact built into the system of the same, as monsters are given "threat ratings" that show how challenging they are and at what level the party will find them challenging.

    Video Games 
  • In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, when the player gets to the inverted castle and is vastly more powerful, many of the regular mobs are actually the bosses from the first castle.
  • In Crysis, the North Koreans completely disappear from the plot once you encounter the Aliens. Averted in Crysis Warhead, where the North Koreans continue to be active even after the Aliens awaken.
  • In Fire Warrior, you start out fighting Imperial Guardsmen. After some point you start going up against Space Marines. Later still, with an Enemy Mine in place, you move on to Chaos Space Marines and other servants of Chaos. You won't be fighting any more Guardsmen by then.
  • In Half-Life, the military stops appearing 2/3rds through the game, due to them pulling out. A minor example occurs with the headcrab zombies, who stop appearing halfway into the game.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
  • In the Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, the player starts by fighting the villain's simple mercenary armies. However, in the second half of the game the mercenaries are replaced by monstrous Elite Mooks from the villain's own race who can phase in and out of matter.
  • Red Faction:
    • In the original Red Faction, after you kill Capek, the guards are increasingly replaced by the mercenaries as the primary enemy.
    • This occurs throughout Red Faction II. In the beginning, you're facing security guards and police officers, as well as Sopot's Elite Guards. Midway, you began facing the military. In the last quarter of the game, human enemies are completely replaced by the Processed.
    • This is especially prevalent in Red Faction: Guerrilla, where the EDF troops change up as you liberate each sector. In Parker and Dust, you'll be facing the standard EDF troopers and weaker EDF grunts. After those two sectors, EDF grunts disappear, and troopers become the primary EDF units alongside snipers and lieutenants. After Oasis and the Badlands, EDF elites began to appear alongside the Troopers. When you get to Eos, all EDF troops are Elites, including riot troopers and heavy elites.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 strategy game Rites of War, your Eldar will first fight some Imperial units, but eventually they'll ally with you to fight a Tyranid invasion.
  • In Spec Ops: The Line, the Insurgents pretty much disappear from the game once you initiate hostilities with the Damned 33rd Battalion.

  • While The Order of the Stick has kept the same Big Bad and Dragon for its entire run (so far), the level of enemy Mooks has gotten raised, with Xykon replacing all of his goblin soldiers with the stronger, more militant hobgoblins. Justified by the fact that between the Order itself and the Dungeon of Dorukan exploding, Xykon probably lost most, if not all, of his goblin army. Also justified in terms of plot mechanics — since the heroes are gaining XP and getting stronger every time they fight, the mooks they're pitted against have to get tougher too, or the whole balance of the world will be thrown off.

Alternative Title(s): Villain Displacement