FANDOM


WikEd fancyquotesQuotesBug-silkHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extensionPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifierAnalysisPhoto linkImage LinksHaiku-wide-iconHaikuLaconic

Most stories that involve disasters, genocide, rape, murder or whatever horror imaginable wait a little bit before things turn totally awful. Let the plot develop for a while and show some signs that things are about to turn nasty. Some works, however, prefer to kickstart the action by letting whatever unspeakable horror the story is about take place in the very first scene.

Alternatively, the beginning can make the work look very dark and depressing - but it gets better pretty quick and it turns out that the story is not at all as dark as the beginning would have us believe.

Likely to lead to Back From the Brink... But if the story is truly depressing or takes place in a true Crapsack World, the Downer Beginning will lead to a Downer Ending, as all hope of solving the problem has been crushed (or It Got Worse).

Backstory counts only if it is shown rather then merely mentioned, and only if it's at the beginning of the actual story.

Compare Start to Corpse, which in itself is not a subtrope of this, because in many cases neither the characters nor the audience get any chance to develop a sympathy for the victim. Also compare You Can't Thwart Stage One, which can be jumpstarted by this trope.

Warning: Unmarked spoilers ahead - some spoilers are marked, but having a work on this list can be a spoiler in itself.

Examples of Downer Beginning include:


Multiple Media

Anime and Manga

  • Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 starts with the earthquake honoring its name.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion begins with a brief scene of the Second Impact.
  • At the beginning of Akira, Tokyo is destroyed by a nuclear explosion, setting off World War III. It turns out the explosion was created by Akira, a young boy with psionic powers.
  • Uchuu Senkan Yamato begins with the Earth getting hit by planet bombs.
  • The first episode of Keroro Gunsou opens with Fuyuki having a nightmare about a full-scale Keronian invasion of Earth - and Sarge himself actually kills Natsumi!
  • Cross Game: Wakaba's death in the first episode.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho begins with the main character's death. Okay, Death Is Cheap here, but nobody attending his funeral knew that...
  • Fullmetal Alchemist opens with a flashback of when Ed and Al attempted human transmutation to bring back their dead mother, which led to Al's body and Ed's arm and leg being lost to the Gate. While the manga didn't cover it in detail for a few chapters, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood flashes back to the event in the second episode.
  • With a combination of How We Got Here, "September 21st, 1945. That was the day I died."
  • The first episode of Kimba the White Lion has the title character's parents killed off.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00 starts with a child soldier named Soran Ibrahim running away from the hellhole of the war zone in his own homeland, murmuring in anger, "There is no God in this world!". After a mysterious Gundam saved him from the attack by a hostile mobile suit, he later becomes Setsuna F. Seiei after the Time Skip, dedicating himself in preventing the same tragedy from happening to other innocent lives again.
    • As a homage to this scenario, Gundam AGE brings us to a war-torn scenario where Flit Asuno's mother dies in the relentless attack by the Unknown Enemies. Shortly before her demise, she gave Flit the key to activate Gundam, giving him the determination to save humanity from the alleged monsters from out of nowhere.
    • Gundam Unicorn begins by telling the audience about Laplace Incident that took place in UC 0001 and set the tongue for the rest of the Universal Century.
  • You'd think that Heartcatch Pretty Cure, being a Magical Girl show that runs on The Power of Friendship, would start in a light and fluffy way, introducing the main characters as soon as possible. But no: it starts with Lady of War Yuri/Cure Moonlight on the receiving end of a Curb Stomp Battle against her Evil Counterpart Dark Pretty Cure, ending with her Heart Seed shattered in two, the larger half of which is taken by said Evil Counterpart. Yuri gets better, but her fairy partner Cologne does not.
  • Genesis Climber Mospeada (Invid part of Robotech) begins with pictures of Invid subjugating Earth (skimmed but still shown), followed by the fleet sent to liberate Earth being wiped out by the Invid in the first 5 minutes of the series.
  • At the beginning of Code Geass, the young Lelouch and Suzaku are shown sitting together in pain in a war-torn Japan, now Area 11 under The Empire. Lelouch is shown promising Suzaku that he will destroy The Empire.
  • Arashi no Yoru ni begins with Mei's mother being ripped apart by a pack of wolves (she even bites off one of the alpha wolf's ears!) and telling her son to run away as she does so in what appears to be a very bleak beginning for an otherwise lighthearted tale about the friendship between a sheep and a wolf.
  • The first episode of Texhnolyze concludes with the main character, Ichise, getting his right arm and his left leg cut off.
  • Hellsing begins with a whole village of innocents and Seras' police partners getting killed. In the TV series, Seras is part of a special ops team that gets wiped out. Seras is killed as well, but she gets better.
  • Amakusa 1637 begins with two of the main characters, Natsuki and Masaki, barely surviving the Great Hanshin Earthquake that leveled the city of Kobe in 1995. Natsuki is very emotionally scarred since not only Masaki is gravely injured while trying to protect her, but she's a first-hand witness to the destruction it caused to their hometown.
  • GoLion begins with Earth being ravaged by war and the capture of the protagonists. It was toned down in Voltron but not completely left out.

Comic Books

  • Kick-Ass starts off like this (though it's In Media Res), with Kick-Ass getting his testicles electrocuted... (The film version has another Downer Beginning.)
  • Midnight Nation starts out with the hero getting killed - and then it goes downhill from there, as he discovers that the devil has taken his soul and that his guardian angel REALLY hates her job.
  • Practically every Sin City story starts out rather bleak but the best example is probably in the very first story: the protagonist's love interest is killed after the second page and said protagonist is soon attacked by cops who are attempting to frame him for the murder.
  • The story of All Fall Down begins with heroes and villains dropping out of the sky to their deaths.
  • Identity Crisis begins with Sue Dibny dying in the hands of Jean Loring, the latter of which gave Captain Boomerang a mission to kill Jack Drake, the father of Tim Drake.
  • Transformers: All Hail Megatron starts in New York during a nice day. Then the Constructicons show up and explain how they're here to spread peace and happiness, having apparently turned over a new leaf.... then Scrapper and Hook laugh evilly before promptly starting a massive all-out Decepticon attack on New York. The first two issues is pretty much made up of the Decepticons slaughtering their way through the hundreds of civilians and U.S. soldiers trying to survive or maybe fight back.

Fan Fiction

  • Harry Potter and the Nightmares of Futures Past begins at a point where most of the shit has already hit the fan and Harry gets to see the Crapsack World he has to continue to live in.
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic Death Fic Bittersweet beings with the show's Sweet Tooth being diagnosed with diabetes, then killing herself with one last sweet binge. True to the title, however, both the original ending and Alternate Ending end on a bittersweet note.
  • The first chapter of Ace Combat the Equestrian War shows the Wonderbolts being beaten and incapacitated by the main antagonists, leaving the skies of Equestria almost completely defenseless against the griffon invasion.
  • Winter War: Aizen won the war, and Ichigo and the others never made it back from Hueco Mundo. The story starts a few months later, and deals mostly with La Résistance trying to undermine, or preferably kill Aizen despite the huge losses they've suffered already. Oh, and the lack of actual shinigami doing their job as psychopomps- because they're all either working for the villains or busy fighting those villains- means that the balance of souls between the living world and Soul Society is failing, which will lead to both of their destruction if left unchecked.
  • The Katawa Shoujo fanfic Reconciliation, being a Continuation Fic from Hanako's bad ending, is naturally this, as the first scene is the ending in question from Hanako's perspective. It gets worse, as the first major plot event is Hanako finding out about Hisao's death.
  • Ponies Make War opens with Celestia and Luna's sadistic, sociopathic parents Titan and Terra taking over Equestria, seemingly killing Celestia, and transforming Twilight into their brutal servant Nihilus. Things only get worse from there, for quite some time.


Film -- Animated

  • Pixar has done this more than once.
    • Finding Nemo: The movie begins with the death of Marlin's wife and all but one of their eggs.
    • Up. It starts with the main character Carl as a child, and shows him and the love of his life meeting, getting married and growing old together. Since they were children, they had dreamed of going to Venezuela together to follow in the footsteps of their idol, but they kept having to postpone the trip. Carl finally buys two plane tickets, but his wife falls ill and dies before they can go. OUCH.
      • They also wanted to have kids, but at least one of them was infertile (or there was a miscarriage). We see Ellie in tears at the doctor's office when she is informed of the situation.
    • Unless you think WALL-E, with its opening scene depiction of Earth as an apocalyptic wasteland, is the most depressing opening ever.
  • An American Tail opens with the Mousekewitz family's village being burned by Cossacks.
  • Even the cheerful film Rio is not exempt from this, showing the child Blu falling from a failed attempt to learn to fly and getting captured by a group of humans along with all the other birds - and shipped from Rio de Janeiro to the United States of America against his will.
  • Tarzan begins - during an upbeat opening song, no less - with Tarzan's future ape family losing their son to a vicious predator. Then Tarzan's human parents, who were doing their best to adapt to the jungle, are killed... by the same predator.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 opens with the story of how Lord Shen tried to avert a prophesy by exterminating the Giant Pandas, and Po is devastated when his unconscious memories of how he was orphaned by that atrocity come to the surface. However, the Soothsayer reminds Po how fate balanced the scales and gave him an eventually happy life in the Valley of Peace.

Film -- Live Action

  • Inglourious Basterds starts with Shoshanna's (one of the protagonists') parents and siblings being exterminated by Nazis, while she miraculously escapes the massacre.
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope begins with the good guys getting captured or killed, an important victory for the bad guys. Adding insult to injury, they gloat about just having destroyed the last traces of democracy.
  • The Dirty Dozen starts with a hanging scene. An American GI is being hanged in a British military prison for robbery and murder.
  • Memento: You see Leonard kill Teddy despite his protests, and then you have to spend the rest of the movie watching the poor guy interact with Leonard.
  • Irreversible is in the same vein due to its Back to Front nature. The gruesome No-Holds-Barred Beatdown that concludes the story is put at the beginning while the idyllic shots of an unharmed Monica Bellucci are the last thing we see. Talk about bittersweet.
  • Terminator 2 starts with Judgment Day, the nuclear war that ended human civilization, and continues with the killer machines fighting humans. Also, The Terminator starts with the Robot War itself, and Terminator 3, by showing both flashes of the Robot War and how wrecked John Connor has become.
  • The first X-Men 1 movie starts in a concentration camp.
    • So does X Men First Class.
    • X Men Origins Wolverine is a lesser case: Jimmy's father dies, leading the boy to kill the assassin, Logan... and discover he is his real father. So Jimmy is forced to run away along with Logan's other son, Victor.
  • Kick-Ass starts off with a Black Humor downer, as a guy dressed as a superhero takes a swan dive off of a building (the comic version has another Downer Beginning).
  • All of the Jurassic Park films start with someone getting eaten rather gruesomely. The worst is arguably The Lost World's opening, where the victim is a small girl...
    • ...except the girl survives, as she was merely attacked by a swarm of tiny dinosaurs. It's still unsettling watching the scene change from childlike fascination to desperate horror. What really makes it a Downer Beginning is the fact that this incident helps John Hammond's greedy nephew take over his company, which sets the plot into motion.
  • The film Godzilla vs. Destoroyah begins with an entire island being destroyed, Godzilla Jr. missing, presumed dead (he shows up later in the film), and Godzilla attacking Hong Kong with parts of his flesh literally burning orange as he is slowly experiencing a nuclear meltdown - and that's before Destoroyah hits the scene.
  • Slumdog Millionaire. First, a scene from near the end with Jamal being tortured. Then, Jamal and friends are chased by angry cops. And the flashbacks that follow are far from happy (It Gets Better, though).
  • The Russian film The City of Craftsmen begins with scary looking invaders conquering the title city, killing many inhabitants (including an old painter) in the process.
  • A German film Stahlnetz: PSI begins with a kidnapping.
  • Super 8 opens with the funeral of the protagonist's mother.
  • Fly Away Home begins with the heroine's mother dying in a car accident. The heroine survives with injuries.
  • Sucker Punch opens with Babydoll's mother dying, her younger sister being killed by her stepfather, and finally being dropped off for a lobotomy at the local sanitarium.
  • The Wing Commander film starts with the Kilrathi wiping out a key Confederate outpost and learning the Solar System jump coordinates. Admiral Tolwyn makes calculations and realizes that the Kilrathi fleet will arrive to Earth two hours before his fleet. That's two hours more than they need to nuke everything on the surface.

Literature

  • Remnants, by K.A. Applegate, starts with the end of the world.
  • One of the sequels to Gorky Park, Havana Bay, starts out with our hero going to Cuba to investigate the mysterious death of an old friend of his. He is shown to already be planning to commit suicide because of the accidental death of his wife, due to a lazy nurse not reading her medical chart to find she was allergic to penicillin. Of course, just as he's about to kill himself, he's interrupted by a hitman sent to kill him, who he instinctively uses his suicide weapon to kill in self-defense. Poor bastard can't even off himself without some mishap getting in his way.
  • Heir of Fire, by Sarah J. Maas, starts out with the protagonist having become a depressed alcoholic after travelling to Wendlyn, shortly after the murder of her best friend.
  • In the first book of The Night Angel Trilogy, before any of the action has even started, twelve-year-old Azoth's guild leader dies, making the Complete Monster Rat the new leader. Rat then threatens Azoth with homelessness, kidnaps and rapes his best friend Jarl, and mutilates Doll Girl.
  • Gone starts the instant after all the adults disappear.
  • The Graveyard Book begins with the murder of Bod's family.
  • The book Julie's Ghosts begins with Julie's family being involved in a car crash, killing both her parents and giving the heroine a concussion.
  • The Land of Oblivion begins with the heroine's brother dying in a freak accident.
  • Off Armageddon Reef opens with the last human fleet preparing for a battle they know they will lose against a foe that has exterminated all human colonies and they know will do the same to Earth itself.
  • The first book in the Demonata series has the protagonist find his family horribly murdered in the second chapter. The third has him in an asylum dealing with both the grief of the mentioned tragedy and with the knowledge that demons exist.
  • Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire's opening chapter.
    • Arguably the first three chapters of the first book, which begins by detailing the past eleven years of Harry's life with his abusive relatives, the Dursleys, years after the murder of his parents.

Live Action TV

  • Firefly opens with the Independents losing a major battle in the civil war, and the Despair Event Horizon for the main character.
  • Law and Order SVU episodes tend to start with a really gruesome intro where some random citizen stumbles over someone who just got traumatized or murdered.
  • Battlestar Galactica begins with the Cylons nuking the Twelve Colonies and killing nearly 50 billion people.
  • 24 begins with terrorista Mandy bombing a passenger plane.
  • Power Rangers RPM starts off with 99% of humanity dead from a nuclear Robot War, and only one city left.
  • Red Dwarf starts off with almost the entire crew of the titular starship dying from a radiation leak, with the main protagonist only surviving thanks to being frozen in stasis moments before.
  • Several Doctor Who episodes start off with someone dying. The Green Death, The Daemons and The Unicorn and the Wasp are just three of these.
    • The Doctor "dies" at the beginning of The Impossible Astronaut.
    • The Sixth and Seventh Doctors regenerated at the beginning of their successors' debut episodes.
  • Babylon 5 starts with humanity almost being destroyed by aliens. Things get really bad after that.
  • At the beginning of Veronica Mars, Veronica's dad has been voted out of office, her alcoholic mom has abandoned them, and none of her former friends are speaking to her... and those are just the things that are actually shown in the first episode. If we count things that are talked about and then shown later, we also get Rape as Backstory and a murdered best friend.
  • The pilot of Falling Skies has a child recall the Alien Invasion (and the death of his mother in the attack), illustrating it with a series of drawings. The actual show takes place six months after the invasion and the resulting devastation.
  • The first episode of Blake's Seven starts with the massacre of an Earth resistance group and ends with the murder of Blake's lawyer and the man's girlfriend, while Blake himself is tried under false evidence and exiled to the penal colony Cygnus Alpha. Now begins a four-year caper which leads... nowhere. Except perhaps down.
  • Twin Peaks begins with Laura Palmer's body being discovered and nearly the entire town grieving over her death.

Music

Video Games

  • In Golden Sun, your hometown is almost completely destroyed by a rockslide and Felix barely make it alive out of the river he falls into.
  • In several Fire Emblem games, the start of the game involves a formerly-friendly nation invading the main character's country, taking their capital and killing most of their retainers as well as family members, forcing them into exile until they can reclaim their land. In the meantime, the invaders will rule like tyrants (i.e. Fire Emblem the Sacred Stones starts with the invasion of Renais, the princess and her bodyguard's escape, and the murder of the King)...
  • In Xenogears, your hometown is completely destroyed by gears.
  • Paper Mario: What better way to open than being defeated by Bowser as you are trying to do the usual thing?
    • The intro to Super Mario Galaxy is basically similar to Paper Mario. As Mario tries to reach Peach's Castle after it was lifted in space, Mario gets blown away by Kamek.
      • It isn't so bad in the sequel though. Bowser basically just escapes and you chase after him by going on a Launch Star.
  • Final Fantasy II begins with a world domination plot by the Palamecian Empire (shown in full during the opening FMV of Final Fantasy Origins). After escaping the kingdom of Fynn (which is burned to the ground by said army), the party is ambushed by a pursuing group of black knights and a Hopeless Boss Fight ensues. It gets better from here on.
  • Final Fantasy X begins with the destruction of a massive city. Things get worse.
  • Viewtiful Joe 2, right off the heels of the first game's ending, begins with GEDOW taking over MovieLand and remodeling it into MovieWorld. Captain Blue is transformed into one of the seven Rainbow Oscars (artifacts containing the essence of a movie's happy ending) that the Black Emperor is trying to collect. Joe and Silvia briefly lose their Henshin powers and are deposited in a prehistoric jungle. Joe, despite being Genre Savvy, takes this all in stride.
  • Mega Man Zero: It starts with La Résistance being oppressed by the Neo Arcadian forces as they run away. Several of the Red Shirts get cut in half by the Golems. As Zero is unsealed, only Ciel was alive.
  • Iji begins with the Alpha Strike.
  • Mass Effect 2 opens with the Normandy being destroyed by an unknown enemy and Commander Shepard dying.
    • Mass Effect 3 opens with the Reapers, whose arrival Shepard had spent the entirety of the first two games delaying, finally invading the Milky Way galaxy and conquering Earth in a matter of hours (having already blown through both Batarian space and most of the Systems Alliance's defenses). Shepard has no choice but to get the hell out of dodge and round up his/her former allies and unite the various races of the galaxy for the eventual counterattack.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, all of the eponymous origin stories end with the player character being forced to leave their old life behind to join the Grey Wardens. Oftentimes, there is no more old life to return to. This is followed by a catastrophic battle at Ostagar which results in the death of all but two of the Grey Wardens in Ferelden. Since the Wardens are the only ones capable of defeating the Blight, by the time the sandbox opens, Ferelden is considered to be on the verge of destruction.
  • Dragon Age II in spades. The Framing Device has main character Hawke missing and possibly dead and being blamed for starting the Mage-Templar war. The actual beginning of Hawke's story isn't much better. Doomed Hometown, Dead Little Sister or brother, Deal with the Devil, and being forced to eke out a living with mercenaries/smugglers in the slums of a Wretched Hive while trying to hide either Bethany's magic (if she survives) or Hawke's magic - and that's the prologue.
  • Legend of Dragoon starts off with a cinematic of Seles, the main character Dart's hometown, being burned to the ground. To make matters worse, Fruegel, the head of Hellena Prison, decides to utterly destroy the village for the heck of it. Soon after he returns, Dart learns that his childhood friend Shana has been taken to Hellena, a literal Hell to those who defy Emperor Doel.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask begins with Skull Kid turning Link into a Deku Scrub and stealing his horse. Not long after, it is revealed that the Moon will fall in three days.
  • Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne Within thirty minutes of booting up the game, the world ends and you summarily get a demon bug shoved down your throat. Ouch.
  • Killzone 3 begins this way as it picks up after Killzone 2's Downer Ending and frankly, it's not getting much better for the ISA.
  • In Banjo-Tooie, the first two things Gruntilda does after being freed by her sisters is to kill Bottles and leave some monsters to overrun Spiral Mountain. Not too long ago, Klungo challenges the main characters to a fight, and King Jingaling is zombified by the witches' life-force sucker. Comparing this to Tooty's capture in the first game, one can only say "Ouch."
  • Saints Row 2 starts off on a positive note, with the main character of the previous game turning out to be alive - then you find out they've been in a coma for 5 years in a high-security prison's medical wing. Things only get worse from there, as you discover that the plan to destroy the Row in the name of urban renewal and gentrification that was seemingly thwarted at the end of the last game was instead pulled off by Ultor, the Third Street Saints have completely collapsed, and in their absence, three gangs even worse than the original set have sprung up to take their place. Finally, it becomes quickly obvious in this game that Ultor is the same one from Red Faction - they're just getting started, and they're already easily worse than all the gangs from both games combined. So... yeah. The game really doesn't start off cheerfully.
  • Mortal Kombat 9 picks up where Armageddon left off. Everyone is dead with a few exceptions; Taven ascended to godhood (as seen in his Arcade Ladder and Konquest Mode endings), but the Shinnok seen in battle was a clone sent by the real Shinnok, Liu Kang's spirit is somewhere, and Raiden and Shao Kahn are seen dueling on top of Argus' Pyramid in a battle where Kahn clearly has the advantage. With Shao Kahn poised to rule all the realms and his allies dead, Raiden sends a telepathic message to his younger self from the first game in the hopes that Armageddon can be prevented.
  • Nie R. The prologue takes place in the ruins of an abandoned city. Nier is forced to make a Deal with the Devil to protect his sister/daughter Yonah from the Shades that are hunting them. Only after driving them off does Nier realize that Yonah also tried to make the deal to help him - but in her case, it failed and she is now slowly dying. The prologue ends with Nier desperately screaming for someone, anyone, to help him save Yonah.
  • Halo opens with your starship, on the run from the Covenant who have just obliterated a major human colony and the last thing between them and Earth, crashing.
    • Halo 2 appears to start on a high note, only to quickly spiral into a downer, when Earth is found and attacked by the Covenant, something humans have worked hard to avoid.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Right at the beginning of the second chapter, his mentor Mia is murdered and he has to take the stand alone. Oh, and he has to defend Mia's sister Maya, wrongfully accused of being the culprit.
  • Phantom Brave opens with Ash, Haze and Jasmine being brutally murdered by a monster. Only Ash manages to come back as a Phantom, and looks after their daughter, Marona. She was five when they died. Due to her powers, she's subjected to constant All of the Other Reindeer treatment, even from the Ungrateful Bastards hiring her to do jobs for them, with the implication they hire her just to stiff her on the payments!
  • Project Zomboid starts off the tutorial with your things getting stolen, no food, a wife with a broken leg, and zombies everywhere.
  • Katawa Shoujo opens with a Love Confession. Normally a happy event, especially as both parts want a relationship - except this time it's directly responsible for the main character suffering a heart attack, which leads to an extended hospitalisation and eventually forcing him to enter the high school the majority of the game takes place at.
  • Resistance 2 begins with the destruction of an U.S. Army base in Iceland, only to get worse by each level. Resistance 3 also begins with your hometown getting wiped out.
  • Mother 3: The protagonist's mother is killed in chapter 1, just minutes after she's been given a name.
  • Demon Souls: The real part of the game starts with one death: yours. And it's not like the world was a bright cheery place before you die.
    • Dark Souls: The game starts with you being tossed into what's essentially a waste pit, because you just contracted a zombie virus.
  • Fallout 3: Your mother dies during your birth, your father flees the vault as a criminal for unknown reasons, and you are cast out of the only home you have ever known into an irradiated wasteland.
  • X3 Albion Prelude starts with the destruction of Earth's orbital defense station/city/shipyard, the Torus Aeternal, the jewel of the Solar System, which instantly kicks off the war that takes place during the rest of the game, and after the events of the game, ends with the Portal Network shutting down, isolating everyone
  • Warriors Orochi 3 starts with every main character on the side of humanity dead with the exception of the three you start with, and things are not looking good for them.

Western Animation

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.