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Sandbox / Cerebus Syndrome Wick Check

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On this page, we will be doing a wick check for Cerebus Syndrome.

Why? On the Trope Repair Shop thread for Knight Of Cerebus, it was pointed out that a good way to pinpoint the problem would be to check out the trope it spun from, Cerebus Syndrome, to see if it had similar misuse and therefore a rename was needed. It does have an entry on Square Peg, Round Trope, so it likely is misused a lot.

So, this trope is supposed to be a long-lasting tone shift in a series from lightheartedness to drama. But it tends to get used as an already serious work becoming even more serious or as a synonym for Darker and Edgier.


Wicks checked: 60/57

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    Correct Use (11/57) 
  • ComicBook.Cerebus The Aardvark description: Cerebus the Aardvark is a comic book created by Dave Sim that developed slowly from episodic comedy to high drama to Author Tract.
  • Anime.School Days description: While the original game was a story that aimed to subvert the Harem genre with its many twists and dark themes, this anime series takes it Up to Eleven by presenting a story that starts out with a happy innocent mood, but gradually becomes much darker[...]
  • Series.Wanda Vision: What starts as a goofy throwback to classic sitcoms of yesteryear featuring two superheroes in the starring roles, with occasional moments of Surprise Creepy, slowly morphs into a somber and touching examination of how a lifetime of loss and crushing grief have affected Wanda.
  • RuneScape.Tropes A To G: The game has increasingly been said to exhibit this as Jagex has moved away from Lighter and Softer elements like the penguins' quest line and the wacky random events in favour of Darker and Edgier quest lines and remakes of or sequels to existing quests. This has proceeded to such an extent that "Bringing Home the Bacon" was specifically advertised by Jagex as being conceived as a more comedic quest — and even it had the player aiding a character in all-but-explicitly committing murder and concealing the evidence.
    • Zigzagged in more recent times, though. While the main storyline remains rather dark and epic in scope most of the time, there's still recent Lighter and Softer content like Violet is Blue.
  • Literature.The Pendragon Adventure: The series does this as it goes along. The earlier books were very light, and almost cartoonish. But the books that conclude the series are very dark.
  • Blog.MLP Is Real: It started as another Tumblr with funny moments, and then it drifted into the romantic/drama category in just a few questions. Some strips contained a bit of humor, but overall they still focus on the romance.
  • ComicBook.The Night Gwen Stacy Died description: The editors decided that the Goblin could not go unpunished for this, and so he died in the next issue, impaled by his own glider. From this point onward, Spider-Man's world (along with the comic book industry in general) had become considerably darker, forever haunted by the uncertainty of what had actually killed Gwen.
  • Comic Strip:For Better Or For Worse: Early comics, as shown by some of the reruns Johnston has done, were gag-a-day strips with the same general range of humor as Marvin or Baby Blues. Later on, the strip developed a serious streak where the jokes would be mild to nonexistent for brief periods; for example, the coming-out story often had very gentle jokes in the last panel at best. The strip went into turnaround mode as it neared the end, ending almost every single strip in a groan-inducing bad pun, no matter how serious the content is supposed to be.
  • Manga.Kannagi Crazy Shrine Maidens: Earlier chapters/episodes focus on comedy and lighthearted situations involving the characters, and the supernatural aspect of Nagi's divine origin is only lightly touched on. As the story goes on, the material noticeably shifts towards exploring the more serious facets of the series, including Hakua's past, Nagi and Jin's search into her origins, and the reason for the impurities existence.
  • Machinima.Final Fantasy VII Machinabridged: The first two seasons are fairly comedy-centric, with more jokes being told and more character interactions that are humor-based. Even after Sephiroth entered the picture in Episode 10, jokes were still told even though he firmly remained a Knight of Cerebus. Starting about halfway through the third season, things took a gradually-darker turn (somewhat in-line with the game). By the time the party returns to Midgar to deal with Hojo, story beats are being played completely straight with almost zero comedy or levity like there was before.
  • WesternAnimation.Trollz: The latter half of the show's a bit darker than the first, with story arcs about the two remaining Ancients who have undergone a Baleful Polymorph, the girls accidentally causing magic to disappear, and Simon taking over Trollzopolis via brainwashing 4 of the girls to become evil.

    Misuse (Non-serial and/or Already Dark Work) (33/57) 
  • Anime.Dog Days:
    • Season 1 Episode 9 really hammers it in. Ultimately subverted when the show returns to its light-hearted mood on Episode 11.
    • In Dash Episode 06, Couvert accidentally releases an ancient Demon Lord. Subverted again when he turns out to be a huge pervert frequently at the mercy of the very first Hero.
    • The first quarter of Double Dash focuses on the three kingdoms being alerted of a critical mass of demons surrounding the Dragon Forest, which can threaten to destabilize Flonyard again. Subverted yet again once the threat is dealt with.
  • Anime.Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie Rebellion: The movie starts out even Lighter and Softer than the anime pretended to be, then quickly delves back into the dark and Mind Screw themes that the anime was known for. The series was already dark, so this doesn't fit, especially because it's a movie and not a serial work.
  • Series.The Amazing Race: Not so much of the show, but the attitude of the teams coming in has definitely shifted towards the darker over the course of the series. In the early seasons, the general attitude was one of a bunch of people taking an epic adventure around the world together, and there just so happened to be a million dollar prize at the end. Teams who played cutthroat were generally despised by the audience and the other teams, and were cut as the villains. Sometime around the first All-Stars, the general attitude shifted from "playing fair" to "playing to win".
    • Also contributing to this is the elimination of the "eat, sleep, and mingle" Pit Stops during Season 14, which means teams in later seasons spend a lot less time socializing with each other, and are therefore more willing to play cutthroat.
    • The biggest example of this shift is from Unfinished Business, where fans got upset about the teams working too much together, and giving each other answers to challenges. In the early seasons, this kind of cooperation was normal.
  • Series.The Office US: Hollywood Law (as well as Hollywood Finance): There is almost no onscreen fallout from Ryan's fraud indictment beyond him simply being fired from Dunder-Mifflin. This should have led to serious consequences for David Wallace (as his supervisor) and virtually all of the cast (who were material witnesses). However, between seasons 4 and 5 the prosecution simply evaporates and is barely mentioned again. This is partially an aversion of Cerebus Syndrome and partially a Rule of Funny, but it's jarring nonetheless.
  • VerySpecialEpisode.Western Animation: Season 15's "You're Getting Old" is a fairly straight VSE, both for its subject matter (depression and the cynicism that comes with age, as well as Randy and Sharon getting a divorce) and for marking the show's shift towards more serious character development and angst. Uh, this show has never been serious.
  • VideoGame.Anna: Much less of it than other examples out there, but the contrast between a peaceful landscape outside of the house and the absolutely terrifying interior is rather off-putting.
  • VideoGame.Kirby Mass Attack: Darker and Edgier: With a Big Bad that's played straight as the first (and so far only) Eldritch Abomination in the games to ACTUALLY come close to killing Kirby, in contrast to the other antagonists (Eldritch Abominations included) that Kirby CONSTANTLY trounces despite their difficulty and styles of attack, along with a series of elements exclusive to this game that would result in the deaths of certain Kirbys if not avoided, and however many Kirbys were eliminated by the Big Bad's mooks until only one was left every time they left one of the islands, this game can easily be considered the darkest out of all the Kirby games, completely sealed in Cerebus Syndrome compared to the other games. Also misuse of darker and edgier, and a clear exaggeration to make the game sound "cooler" (because dark and edgy = cool) than it actually is.
  • VideoGame.Logical Journey Of The Zoombinis: Tone Shift: With possibly a hint of Cerebus Syndrome. The first leg of the journey is bright and silly. However, once the player passes Shade Tree, things get substantially darker (in terms of lighting and content) and more serious.
  • VideoGame.Omori: Once Black Space is unlocked, the story takes a turn for the worse. The creepy elements that were in the background are put into the spotlight, with the reveal that the source of Sunny's problems stem from him accidentally killing his sister Mari, and Basil helped him cover it up as a suicide to escape responsibility. You also lose access to the silly and colorful Headspace as Sunny has to deal with problems in the real world and can't hide from the truth anymore. Then, after everyone else comes together for a sleepover before Sunny leaves, in the middle of the night, Basil begins to go insane, and when Sunny goes to help him, the shared guilt causes the two of them to beat each other up so badly that they're left hospitalized; and for Omori to try and take control from a weakened and despairing Sunny to make him commit suicide.
    • The Hikikomori Route is more darker and depressing than the Main Route, to the point where Black Space becomes something closer to .flow in terms of tone and atmosphere. By the end, Sunny choses to have Omori to take over completely then confront the awful thing that he did. The ending has Omori either commit suicide or quietly move out of Faraway Town while Basil kills himself offscreen.
  • VideoGame.Pokemon Sword And Shield: Lighter and Softer: Compared to Generations V, VI, and VII, which were heavily plot-driven and featured morally-complex characters and increasingly apocalyptic scenarios, Sword and Shield scale it back quite a bit. The adventure this time around is a much more straightforward affair reminiscent of earlier games, and for the most part the bulk of the plot happens offscreen right until the very end, when Cerebus Syndrome kicks in and you have to stop a dangerous Legendary from destroying Galar - and even then, the villain isn't planning on outright genocide or child murder.
  • Literature.A Series Of Unfortunate Events: Zig-Zagged. The series starts moving from darkness and Grimm-style misery into comedy and wackiness but then slides back into darkness again in the later books. The end of book five is when things really start to get dark.
  • Laconic.Spookys Jump Scare Mansion: Satirically cute horror game where you explore the Haunted House of a Cute Ghost Girl filled with jump scares... among other things.
  • JustForFun.The Ugly Barnacle: The beginning of the story seems upbeat and implies the Barnacle will overcome his ugliness but then everyone dies. I know it's a joke page, but it's still misuse because this isn't a serial work.
  • Film.Django Unchained: Once Calvin and Stephen are presented on screen, the plot of the film focuses much more on the drama than the Black Comedy.
  • ICarly.Tropes A To E: iOMG is the first of a five episode 'arc' involving the Sam/Freddie 'romance'. The first promo from the 2nd episode is void of comedy, and instead concentrates on kissing, and Sam wondering if she has 'lost her mind' for liking Freddie. The tone returns to normal after the arc.
  • Funny.Conkers Bad Fur Day: Then we get the Saving Private Ryan parody. It's pretty dark, but one soldier on the boat gets some Black Comedy in before things ramp up...
    SHC Soldier: Okay! Thirty seconds! Nice knowing you, guys!
  • Film.The Soloist: The second half is far more dramatic and serious than the first, although for slightly different reasons than most works. Whereas the light-hearted works usually grow darker in attempt to be more mature, here some particularly jarring humour has been crammed in the beginning, apparently in an attempt to lure in the Robert Downey Jr. fans who wouldn’t normally watch such a film.
  • Film.What Women Want: The movie pretty much drops the comedy in the last half-hour, which makes sense considering he costs Darcy her job (and loses her in the process), Nick's daughter gets an unwanted advance at her prom, the file girl is missing and believed to have committed suicide, and he loses his powers. Everything works out, though.
  • WesternAnimation.The Sponge Bob Square Pants Movie: Zig-Zagged. There are some pretty heavy themes addressed over the course of the movie, such as depression, alcoholism, and murder. In fact, the particular scene of Patrick and SpongeBob at Shell City is so emotional it literally causes the audience to break out into tears. Which is all totally at odds with the TV show. The writers of course always manage to put a fairly comedic spin on things anyways, leading to several a Mood Whiplash.
  • Film.Lord Of War: The film becomes less funny and more serious when Yuri decides to start doing business in Africa. There's still a lot of black humor when he first starts doing so, but it soon morphs into drama and tragedy.
  • Film.Happy Death Day 2 U: While the comedy is still very present, this time Tree faces moral decisions that can get heart-wrenching. Especially as her mother is still alive in the alternate timeline.
  • Anime.Kill La Kill: The series was pretty dark to begin with, but when Nui Harime and Ragyo Kiryuin show up, things start to become Serious Business. Example outright admits the series was serious (although granted, the earlier episodes were more over-the-top and goofy, and while that never quite goes away it does become more serious as it goes on, so it could be a correct example with rewriting).
  • Anime.Tweeny Witches: The series was pretty dark to begin with, but when Sigma and the warlocks show up, things start to become serious.
  • ComicBook.Monicas Gang: Pretty much any story written by Emerson de Abreu.
    • The "Flying Donkey" arc introduces us to the biggest horrors in this series' history, Jim stayed dead for most of it, Sunny's Future self comes back to the present timeline to stop Jim from turning the world into a Crapsack World as he did in Future!Sunny's original timeline. By exorcising the spirit of the Flying Donkey, the protagonists may have played Unwitting Pawn to the Children of Umbra that they thought were victims at first but are hinted to have become evil after 20 years in limbo, and if Future!Denise's words at the end of Issue #79 are any indication, it's not over yet.
    • The Reversed Tower arc (#90-92) is this as well, by making Captain Fray an agent of the pestilence which threatens to corrode the world and reshape it to their own notion of order. The gang has to resort to Maggy's innate magic to guide them, but it falls upon Smudge, the closest person to Captain Fray, to save everyone from the growing madness of the titular place - a series of underground levels designed in the fashion of Dante's Inferno by an elite group to assume control over humankind, and upon which an orphanage was built as a front, to which a child Fray was sent after his parents died from a landslide. It turns out that he made a pact with the Serpent, the leader of the insects, to have his life saved in the event, and in return they gave him powers that cause corrosion and decay. Once he reaches adulthood, the Serpent comes to demand he becomes the bearer of the Curse of Pestilence, for if he refuses, it will pass on to the person he loves the most - his nephew, Smudge. And that is how he became the Captain Fray we know.
  • Literature.Mogworld: The last third of the book is far darker with what came before it. Meryl is deleted by Si-Mon, Mogworld is reset to the beginning of time by Jim, essentially destroying it, Thaddeus is incinerated by Barry, and Jim crosses the Despair Event Horizon.
  • VideoGame.Five Nights At Freddys AR Special Delivery: The skins at the start aren't necessarily scary and more light-hearted, like Freddy with a firework, Bonnie as a chocolate bunny, or Chica dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Later events however brought in skins that not only looked more menacing, like the Valentines Day or Heatwave skins, but some look more like actual monsters than animatronics, such as the Wicked Tides and Forest skins. Balloon Boy especially manages to get some skins that only vaguely resemble the animatronic boy.
  • VideoGame.Eversion: The game does this. The game starts off as a cutesy 2D scroller with colorful environments and non-threatening enemies. As you use your Eversion power more and more, the game starts taking a dark turn. Environments are gloomier, the music changes, and enemies seem noticeably depressed. Eventually, the game starts to look more like a nightmare than a happy platformer. You start to realize the effects your power has on the world around you, but you can't stop using the power if you want to progress. Fits more under Surprise Creepy.
  • Manga.Black Lagoon: Season One definitely had some dark themes, but Season Two was really dark. And then "Roberta's Blood Trail" happened.
  • Music.Fables Of The Reconstruction: The music becomes bleaker and more dour on this album, influenced by the mood of the recording sessions in snowy London.
  • WesternAnimation.Hilda: Downplayed. Season 2 is a tad bit darker than the first season, featuring non-graphic death, non-graphic child death and significantly higher stakes compared to the first season. However, the show doesn't quite go too far into Cerebus Syndrome, and still keeps its general tone. If it's not significantly darker, then it doesn't fit.
  • PlayingWith.Horrible Camping Trip: The campgoers' Humiliation Conga is the opening "comedy" part of a Do Not Go Into The Woods Hillbilly Horrors film. Things become very dark very fast in the middle act.
  • WebVideo.The Horribly Slow Murder With The Extremely Inefficient Weapon: By Ginosaji vs. Ginosaji, Jack's situation is so pitiful that it's becoming hard to find it funny, culminating in him being dragged an indeterminate amount of miles by a bus (while still being hit with a spoon) and then suffocated (while still being hit with a spoon) to the point that he hallucinates about a "happy place," only to wake up in a full body cast (while still being hit with a spoon). He attempts to kill himself by jumping off a building... which still fails. It's hard not to feel sorry for him, even though his plight is Played for Laughs. If it's Played for Laughs, then it doesn't fit.
  • Funny.OFF: The weird premise alone is funny enough. Well, before the game goes into Cerebus Syndrome, that is. The game is dark from the very beginning, even if it has funny moments.
  • Magazine.Mac Addict:
    • The original letters section was downright wacky, with things like "I love the sticky stuff that comes on the Macintosh", and "Did you know that Macintosh spelled backwards is Hsotnicam? I could make a new video-capture product with that name. —Ed Latimer, Hsotnicam Director, Founder, and President".
    • Early on, the magazine was very bright and colorful. By the 2000s, it got a sterile, white makeover.
  • Film.Splash: The movie starts out as a fairly light-hearted romance film. Then it gets a lot more serious when Madison's secret is exposed and she's taken prisoner by the government, endangering her life.

    Unsure (9/57) 
  • Series.Home Improvement: While the series never abandoned its comedy roots, the later seasons saw more serious plotlines, such as complications from Jill's hysterectomy surgery, or Randy leaving for Costa Rica for a year and the effect that has on the family.
  • Series.The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air: The series started off as a lighthearted comedy about the young, funky, foul-mouthed Will Smith living with his rich, stuffy relatives in Bel-Air. The series went on to explore increasingly controversial topics, like racial discrimination ("Mistaken Identity"), fatherhood and abandonment ("Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse"), gun violence ("Bullets Over Bel-Air"), alcoholism ("You've Got to Be a Football Hero"), and even drug use ("Just Say Yo"). The later episodes included several "serious moments" where actor Will Smith cries, screams, or breaks down. There was often no laugh track to end the show, opting instead for a somber, silent cut to the credits.
  • ComicBook.Iznogoud: When the series was taken over by Tabary after Goscinny's death; while the stories remained mostly comical, they switched from eight to twelve page vignettes to 40+ page adventures more akin to Asterix, with Iznogoud occasionally switching from Villain Protagonist to Anti-Hero.
  • Literature.The Game: Hits about halfway through the book as the lighthearted antics of becoming a PUA turns into a battle for power and struggle for self-fulfillment.
  • JustForFun.Candle Cove: The show gets progressively more disturbing and disjointed throughout the series. Kinda hard to determine the validity of this example because the show doesn't exist.
  • ComicBook.Eightball: While there the series never shied away from the dark and dramatic, early issues also featured a mix of comedic pieces of all stripes, from satire to absurdist humor. As Clowes became recognized more for his serious-toned work, though, the proliferation of humor pieces decreased. Acknowledged by Clowes when he released Twentieth-Century Eightball, a collection of all the funny bits from the early days.
  • Manga.Tokyo Ghoul: About the first quarter of :re is very light-hearted compared to the original series (one of the first scenarios is the Quinx attempting to steal Sasaki's underwear). It isn't very long before the series reverts to the tone of the original, however, and at times is even darker.
  • Fanfic.Ruby And Nora: The several instances of Death by Adaptation make this story more serious in comparison, and it's not something that they'll recover from as the series goes on.
  • Franchise.Winnie The Pooh: Okay, it's Winnie-the-Pooh. so it's still pretty lighthearted, but compared to the original books there is a subtle undercurrent that wasn't there in the original books, mostly concerning Cristopher Robin growing older.

    ZCE (8/57)