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Perhaps the popular Anti-Hero was Left for Dead in a Heroic Sacrifice that no one could survive, but since they Never Found the Body, and he already had a penchant for Faking the Dead, their survival isn't so far fetched.
Basically, any time an author leaves the door ajar on a character's death to later bring them back plausibly if the plot requires it. May be due to ~He's Just Hiding~, Epileptic Trees, Fridge Logic, or even Word of God.
Anime and Manga
- Protagonist of Witchblade Masane Amaha supposedly died in the ending in such a way that even nigh indestructible (it caused The Tokyo Fireball once, with itself in the center) Witchblade itself wasn't left behind. However, due to the fact that this disagrees with the comic book canon (which the anime is part of), her death is called into severe question. It only get worse when you realize the ending contains equals parts Cliff Hanger and Never Found the Body.
- Lelouch from Code Geass. Immortality does exist in universe, and he had time to plan for what eventually happened to him, so it is possible. Word of God came and denied it, although this particular God has lied about who's dead before...
- One Piece: Zoro's childhood Kuina was supposed to have died (and in the manga, we see the body), and now we have Identical Stranger Tashigi. This trope wouldn't come up if it weren't for how One Piece is a World of Ham where women can hold babies in their bodies for 20 months, states again and again that true friendship never ends, and that Zoro working on their promise alone isn't thematically consistent with "No one is alone at sea." Though, Word of God has shot down that Tashigi and Kuina are the same person/even remotely related to one another and that it's just complete coincidence. Still, in the world of One Piece, anything can happen.
- Grimmjow from Bleach. Word of God has not confirmed that he is dead, and the Estrogen Brigade refuse to believe so either, but many accept that as he's been out of the picture so long, he's not coming back. He was alive the last time we saw him, if only barely, and knowing Kubo Tite's policy of effectively killing characters several times over and still keeping them alive, it's definitely possible.
- This trope applies to a LOT of Bleach characters. Szayel (although admittedly, he wishes that wasn't the case), Afrocar, Hiyori (thank you reality warpers!), and Hinamori (she was still talking, I'm not in denial!).
- Similarly, Harribel was taken out with a stab through the shoulder and a slash to the stomach. No offense to her attacker, but we've seen it takes a lot more than that to kill Arrancar significantly lower on the totem pole.
- Gin Ichimaru is very widely believed to be alive (mostly thanks to him being a fan-favorite) but there's also the fact that he was still talking when he was last seen and the ultimate-healer Orihime showed up just a few chapters after this.
- Harribel has been confirmed to survive, no real word on Grimmjow though one way or the other.
- 4Kids loves applying this trope in their dubs, even when in the original Japanese version it is blatantly obvious that the character died.
- Not that other companies are immune from this. FUNimation, for example, adamantly refused to admit that anyone in Dragonball Z actually died, or if they did they were merely "in another dimension" (which became a wide-spread Unusual Euphemism). The best example is in a relatively early episode in which Vegeta and Nappa arrive on Earth in the middle of a city, surrounded by curious people. Nappa makes a gesture and instantly vaporises an enormous portion of the city, forming an suitably wide crater, then mentions that everyone evacuated. In milliseconds. Right.
- Despite how most chose to interpret the End Of Evangelion ends with this, as narration make clear anyone can regain their individuality if they want to.
- The fate of Chrono in the epilogue of Chrono Crusade. He is shown to have survived the final battle with Aion, but was last seen seven years later at Rosette's death. His survival to the last point of the epilogue, sixty seven years later, is not proven. Still, somebody had to be leaving those flowers on Rosette's grave every year without ever being seen...
- Witch Hunter Robin had this lampshaded almost obnoxiously regarding Robin and Amon at the end of the series.
- Example from The DCU: Due to the ludicrous event regarding her death, and since she was simply left for dead in a hospital, this is what some like to think happened to Dr. Light.
- ...and lo and behold, a couple years later, an arc of Justice League of America confirmed that she survived.
- Jean Grey has a tendency to die a lot in all kinds of adaptions. Of course, anyone familiar with the original X-Men setting knows that she is, in fact, Phoenix, and has made a career out of coming back from the dead. Thus, when she pulled a Heroic Sacrifice at the end of the second X-Men movie, everybody knew she'd be comming back for the third (and she did)... her death in the Marvel 1602 timeline is also unlikely to have stuck.
- Apparently the characters in X-Men are pretty Genre Savvy, since her tombstone reads: Jean Grey-Summers: She Will Rise Again.
- It's gotten to the point where they're barely phased at all by dying anymore. One of Cyclops's plans began with "Step 1: Die. Step 2: Come back to life," and works flawlessly. Another character remarked that Mutant Heaven doesn't have pearly gates, but a revolving door.
- Used in character by Siryn in X-Factor. She refuses to believe her father is dead because X-Men come back from the dead all the time. This is partially treated as unhealthy denial but otherwise seems a logical enough assumption to make.
- Corsair was one of the victims of the "Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire" arc, but unlike the various people who suffer deaths that are far more gruesome than X-Men's normal (though not to Gorn levels) his corpse was very non-brutalized. He was then buried on a habitable but uninhabited planet. Hmm.
- This might be a reason Boba Fett was allowed to escape the Sarlaac. Being attached to a jet-pack inside a creature that passively digests its prey over a long period of time no doubt also had a lot do with it.
- Spock's death in Star Trek II was made non-permanent by a tiny little mind-meld with an unconscious McCoy.
- Data's death in Star Trek Nemesis was given an out by dumping all of Data's memories into B-4.
- Storm Shadow's death in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, lampshaded by the director in the DVD commentary.
- Powerful magicians in the Riftwar Cycle tend to find new ways to either survive death as essences of the original, or simply revive straight-out. Though this is often used to bring back a popular character after he or she died in the last series, it also serves, at times, to reinforce the permanence of death for non-magical characters.
- Sandor Clegane in A Song of Ice and Fire. He is explicitly stated in A Feast for Crows to be dead and buried by the priest who found him dying. Clues within the chapter in question suggest otherwise to such an extent that his survival is widely accepted among readers.
- Gregor Clegane may count as well, for varying values of "alive."
- Despite the apparently fatal infliction of multiple stab wounds, this is the fandom's general consensus regarding Heroic Bastard Jon Snow.
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may well be the first author to find himself bitten by this trope, when he failed to produce a body or witness to Sherlock Holmes' "death" on Reichenbach Falls in "The Final Problem". After many years of fan outcry, he was forced to resurrect the Great Detective in "The Adventure of the Empty House".
- Near the end of the Shadows of the Empire book, Dash Rendar, the Han Solo stand-in with nearly all of Solo's traits, seems to die in a Heroic Sacrifice, although his allies Never Found the Body and there are a couple of lines about how if he did live, not informing them is very rude of him. It's like that in the easy version of the video game, too, but the hard mode shows that he survived and flew off without informing anyone. And he did show up in later works. Just not very prominently. What's a Han Solo stand-in without a Leia?
- A couple of characters who vanished during a particularly bloody book in the New Jedi Order survived to be the maimed semi- and actual antagonists in the Dark Nest Trilogy.
- Also a few characters in the X-Wing series, most notably Lara.
- Fans had strong suspicions that Hollyleaf in Warrior Cats surivived because of the way her "death" was presented - we "see" it from the POV of a blind character who merely hears rocks caving in and automatically assumes that No One Could Have Survived That without even trying to dig her out. The characters keep using the word "lost" instead of "died". When the other characters finally realize that she might still be alive since they Never Found the Body, they finally dig through the rubble... and find nothing, so they know she must be out there somewhere. She does return later that book.
- Goddess Eilistraee in Forgotten Realms, killed along with Qilué Veladorn whom she possessed. Even "lesser" powers like her may run multiple avatars. But then, possession ain't the same as avatar, so it would be stretched, but not too much -- if not the circumstances of Qilué's own birth. Elué Silverhand was killed while possessed by Mystra, whom this accident neither deterred from acting immediately to save unborn Qilué, nor even lowered in Divine Ranks. This was followed up on, as Eilistraee has indeed returned to life in 5th ed. D&D/post Second Sundering, and Ed Greenwood supported Eilistraee's survival in his own explanation of the events.
- Anyone and everyone in Warhammer 40000. No, seriously, everyone. This is a setting where Unreliable Narrators are endemic (making it somewhat difficult to determine if they actually died in the first place), where the Sufficiently Advanced technology allows individuals to live as long as they damn well please, where the nature of the Warp can make death a minor inconvenience, and where this has repeatedly occured before, characters dead as disco appearing later no worse for wear.
- Word of God has stated that characters will not be killed off as they were before, as not only does it upset the state that the storyline has settled into and also make it a pain to knit together planned story arcs, people do genuinely get attached to characters and don't want to have them consigned to "historical battles". Oh, and it's silly to kill off characters you still make models for.
Live Action TV
- Almost any character on Lost, but particularly Jin.
- There was a lot of speculation that Juliet was still alive since Desmond survived an electromagnetic explosion in season 2. Leading many to believe Juliet would just wake up in the jungle like he did.
- Doctor Who has done this sort of thing a lot, most particularly with the popular reccuring villains The Master, Davros, and the Daleks.
- The Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files is another example.
- At this point, who still expects Daniel Jackson to stay dead in Stargate SG-1? Not the characters, certainly. At one point, after Daniel's last known location was a replicator ship that they're certain exploded in space (and the audience sees him get stabbed in the chest for good measure), General O'Neill refuses to hold even a memorial service because he's expecting Jackson to pop into his office by the end of the day.
- Not a literal example of there being a character's death, but Ronnie Gardocki's final fate in The Shield's series finale (betrayed by Vic and arrested/made into the Judas Goat for the Strike Team's crimes and being sent to prison, where death is the LEAST horrifying thing that could happen to him) had a built-in inferred survival escape clause, since Ronnie was aware of a TON of crimes that Vic Mackey OMITTED from his immunity deal with the Feds, which the Feds outright tell Vic that they would love to void in a heartbeat if they find out that he omitted ANYTHING from it.
- Sara Tancredi from Prison Break. The fans complained when she was killed off, so the writers took advantage of the fact her death was done off-screen for dramatic effect to bring her back.
- The fate of Officer Cybil Bennett from Silent Hill has long been a source of contention among series' fans, and Word of God has been notoriously contradictory on the subject. Silent Hill Chronicle: Lost Memories, the most famous Silent Hill information guide, stated that the Good Ending is the one which leads into the game's direct sequel, Silent Hill 3. One of the two requirements involved in obtaining this ending is killing Cybil instead of saving her with the red liquid. However, elsewhere in the same book, scenario writer Hiroyuki Owaku claims that Cybil's ultimate fate is left up to the player, causing a vocal minority to insist that the Good+ Ending is the true canon ending.
- A situation mirrored by his take on James Sunderland's fate in Silent Hill 2. Despite part 4 trying to clumsily override Owaku-san, he said that whatever ultimately became of James is what that player believes should have happened to him.
- For a while, there was no solid proof that Zexion was dead, leading many fans to believe he was alive. Unfortunately, when they remade the game he died in, they removed the fade-to-black over his death scene. He's definitely dead now.
- In fact, given the nature of his death (having his lifeforce absorbed by the Riku Replica, who then died in battle with the real Riku), it's possible that he's the only member of the group who's Deader Than Dead. The jury's still out on this one though.
- A weird inversion of Never Found the Body has lead many to believe that Minamimoto from The World Ends With You survived. The things is that Reapers normally don't leave bodies, but they found his.
- In Advance Wars: Dual Strike, the deaths of Von Bolt and Hawke do this. It's certainly implied enough that Hawke survived, but Von Bolt's survival is ambiguous.
- Inverted with Terra in Teen Titans; the writers did it intentionally.
- Expected with Jet in Avatar: The Last Airbender, but Word of God actually stated he died. May apply to Smellerbee and Longshot though.
- Not that it stops the fans from crying out that ~He's Just Hiding~, with many writing fanfiction to explain his survival. It doesn't help that his injuries weren't very well explained in-show. His death would have been made clear without the need of Word of God, if Nickelodeon wasn't so opposed to having children dying on-screen, violent deaths.
- Well it is a kids show. It's not suprising they don't want kids to die brutal deaths. The ambiguity is lampshaded when they attend a Show Within a Show play based on their adventures to date:
Zuko: Did Jet just die?
Sokka: It's a bit unclear.
- Beast Wars. Very few "dead" characters suffered more damage than surviving ones who were tossed into a CR chamber and popped out just fine. Except for Dinobot, and maybe Tigerhawk if he was completely vaporized, there's not one of them who wouldn't be just fine if someone were to find them and fix them up. In the comics, it's already happened to Ravage. The second Dinobot is even last seen on a ship that is going down, which is shorthand for "just wait three episodes or so" in cartoon-land. There just... weren't any more episodes.
- In Transformers: The Movie, the Decepticons brutally murder the crew of an Autobot shuttle, including Prowl, Ratchet, Brawn, and Ironhide. While it is pretty unambiguous that Prowl, Ironhide and Ratchet died, several people insist that Brawn actually survived, since he was only shot once in the shoulder and has taken tougher injuries in the past. Plus, he showed up in a shot in a later episode (though this was possibly an animation error, since the Decepticon Bonecrusher was with him) and was not mentioned among the dead Autobots in another.