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Monsters and villains in works of fiction aren't usually made to invoke sympathy. Engaging a monster emotionally as someone would another person diminishes the terror and revulsion villains are supposed to evoke. However, this isn't the case if the villain has a Monster Sob Story. Basically, this is a villain who gets a moment when, to everybody's surprise, he's cast in a somewhat sympathetic light. His motivations and emotional state are explored, and the audience finds itself pitying (if not identifying with) the villain. They may be a Smug Snake or Magnificent Bastard, but the reader/viewer feels sorry for them. The heroes themselves may even feel pity. The experience enbeds up giving the villain a level of characterization that goes beyond what a villain doing things For the Evulz usually gets.

Unlike the Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, or the Anti-Villain, this villain was already evil long before-- and will likely remain so, despite anyone's pity. May be an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain. May also bring about Badass Decay or Villain Decay if not done well. This is not to be confused with a Villainous Breakdown containing a Motive Rant, which usually occurs after the villain has suffered a setback or is almost defeated. Here, the sympathy is more triggered by the villain's goals or feelings rather than any pain the villain is going through himself. If the villain simply chokes out "I had a terrible childhood!" and then dies, it's Alas, Poor Villain.

See also Sympathy for the Devil (where the characters feel the monster's pain) and Cry for the Devil (where the audience feels the monster's pain).

Examples of Monster Sob Story include:


Anime And Manga

  • Told by both Souther and Kaioh to Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star right before their final battles, when there's no time left for the reader to watch them grow as characters or sympathise with them. Though the week-to-week short term plotting of the shounen manga industry is probably to blame here.
  • He's never made 'pathetic' but Askeladd is made sympathetic in the revelation of his origins in Vinland Saga.
  • Gendo Ikari after his Oh Crap moment in End of Evangelion.
  • Both Jesse and James of Team Rocket gets quite a few in Pokémon.
  • During the Eclipse in Berserk, Griffith gets a childhood flashback scene as he's alone with the Godhand, which serves as one last moment of feeling sorry for him after everything he's been through up to this point -- and which serves to make his Face Heel Turn all the more hateworthy.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, it's revealed that Envy hates humans because it's jealous of their ability to empathize with one another. He caused hatred and violence to fill their hearts so he could blot out that ability. When Ed expresses sympathy for it, Envy commits suicide.
    • Sloth doesn't want to be one of Father's evil minions, he just wants to sleep all the time.
    • The 2003 anime version's Lust gets an entire episode devoted to this. The anime Envy had one as well, but in the end it only reinforced what a truly vile being he had become.
  • Yuca from Immortal Rain certainly does this, to the point of being a grade-A Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. He's a horrible, misanthropic, nihilistic sociopath; but then, he's lived for centuries through Reincarnation and experienced inconceivable pain in those many lives. He hates the world, simply because he's so sick of living in it.
  • Suitengu from Speed Grapher.
  • Yamamoto the Conwelian (and their race in the whole, really) in Level E. Having to eat your own females to fertilize their eggs is one thing, having the instinctive urge to do so triggered by romantic attachment --is another story completely. But continuing to do so after resettling on Earth as a refugee from the war that destroyed your own planet (and was fought over the cure to that urge, that some hardliners viewed as abomination) with the local females -- well, that's the prime The Woobie material.
  • Katanagatari: Nanami life is one of continuous pain, alienation from her Martial Arts School, existential frustration and continued assassinations attempts (even from her own family!) that she would desire were successful. Even so, after seeing what she is capable of, is very difficult to empathize with her.
  • Hansel and Gretel from Black Lagoon. They gleefully torture and murder through their story arc. They are also children who in the past were raped and forced to kill other children. They are eventually hunted down and killed.
  • Many of Naruto's cast of villains, including Itachi, Nagato, Kabuto, and even Orochimaru, have sympathetic backstories.

Comic Books

  • Two-Edge the half-troll from Elf Quest spends half the time fomenting wars or designing death-traps and torture devices, and the other half soliciting (and sometimes getting) sympathy from the elves because of his mistreatment by Winnowill his mother.
  • Some versions of Scarecrow. He's a nasty piece of work, but geez, try to read about his childhood in Scarecrow: Year One without crying. He was abandoned by his mother, ruthlessly bullied at school, was dirt poor and his grandmother basically used him for child labor and locked him in an old church to be attacked by birds over and over again for "sins" such as reading books besides the Bible. She's been dead for years, but he's still freakin' terrified of her.
  • Alan Moore's take on the third Clayface takes this Up to Eleven. The character falls in love with a mannequin , has his home burned down, deals with insane paranoid jealousy (from his perspective it seems like his inanimate love is cheating on him), is attacked by Batman, put in an asylum, and finally grows to resent the one (imaginary) romance he has. In the end it's implied that he has come to hate his new life to the extent that he's just waiting for his wife to die...which she won't. Ever.
  • In a classic Silver Surfer story, the Surfer goes to a planet after receiving a call for help. He finds a group of natives being attacked by a monstrous dragon. After a brief battle, the Surfer is surprised when the dragon proves capable of speech. The dragon explains that his race was actually a peaceful one, and after escaping their doomed planet, they arrived here in search of fuel. The natives, for no reason other than the dragons' monstrous appearances, gave them a chemical that destroyed them all - save him, who was on a scouting mission. The last dragon then stayed on the planet and vowed to punish the natives, being the monster they feared he was in the first place. The Surfer, indecisive over who to side with, decides to end the conflict by removing the dragon's powers - which is ultimately fatal to the dragon. The natives cheer the Surfer and thank him for defeating the "evil monster". The Surfer gives them all an epic chewing-out and vows to never again to come to their aid, even if it means they all die.
  • Norman Osborn, after the failed Siege of Asgard that ended Dark Reign, gets a Motive Rant (spoken to his alter-ego, the Green Goblin) about how he knows the Hulk, the X-Men, or some other superhuman is inches away from completely wrecking the world. (It would be more sympathetic if he weren't one of those same superhumans endangering the planet).

Film

  • Dracula, as portrayed by Gary Oldman in the 1992 version.
  • Similarly, "Max Schreck" in Shadow of the Vampire, especially in his monologue wherein he explains why he identifies with the character he's playing.
  • Brigadier-General Hummel in The Rock, who's something of a Well-Intentioned Extremist, takes over Alcatraz and threatens to kill most of San Francisco. He's not doing it For the Evulz or even for himself, but because he's lost a lot of men under his command who were sent on various covert missions and then abandoned when they got caught. He just wants the government to acknowledge that and give the families of the soldiers their dues. It turns out he was bluffing about nerve-gassing the city, but unfortunately some of the mercenaries he was working with didn't get the memo on that, and revolted when they realized he wasn't going to go through with it. Death wound up ensuing for practically everyone.
  • Lotso from Toy Story 3. He's an interesting variation of Complete Monster since he's got more than one Freudian Excuse to justify his actions even if they're monstrous. But it doesn't absolve him of his greatest and final sin in the movie. Which is why you cheer the ending. He's bad, we know why he's bad, but it still doesn't excuse his actions.

Literature

  • In Abarat, Christopher Carrion's backstory. His entire family, except for his grandmother and absent father, died in a massive fire, he was brought up to be a perfect villain by his abusive grandmother who had sewn up his lips for saying the word love, fell in love with a princess who used and then shunned him...and his life didn't get better since then.
  • The Vord Queen, in the Codex Alera. In the first five books she is not sympathetic in the slightest, but in the sixth we discover that she is attacking the Alerans because the Queens she has produced in Canea are trying to kill her, so she fled. She's still quite clearly evil, but it's very sad, in a way.
    • Even all-around treacherous bitch Invidia Aquitaine gets treated with a little sympathy in the same book, as she's managed to screw everything up so badly that even Isana is feeling sorry for her. For reference, Invidia arranged to have Isana's husband killed, repeatedly tried to kill her son, and is helping the Vord Queen hold her hostage.
  • Gollum's Character Development in Lord of the Rings, though there were traces of this in The Hobbit.
  • The creature from the original Frankenstein makes this Older Than Radio.
  • Kallor from The Malazan Book of the Fallen was a son of a bitch long before he was cursed to a) live forever and b) fail at everything he did. Toll the Hounds however, spends a great deal of time demonstrating that not only did the curse fail to fix him, but the constant misery he has suffered over the millennia has only succeeded in making him even worse, transforming him from a standard Evil Overlord and into a Misanthrope Supreme who hates himself and all humanity with equal passion. An example of a character who you can both pity, and wish a horrible death upon all at once.
  • In Ghost Story of The Dresden Files, Uriel says he kind of pities the Skinwalkers, as their rampages and the pain they cause is some desperate attempt to prove to themselves that everyone can be as screwed up as they are. His sympathies are far more toward their victims though.

Live Action TV

  • The original trope namer was the Lone Dalek in the Doctor Who episode "Dalek", who tugged at viewers' heartstrings as it tried to come to grips with being the last Dalek left alive - a sorry fate for a being that believed absolutely in its race's superiority over all others.
    • It started out as Narm when it seemed less upset about being the last Dalek in existence than about having no orders left to follow -- but then it gradually got scared, which is a big jumping point since Davros programmed them to not feel any emotion but pride and hate.
    • Even The Doctor felt sorry for this Dalek when he learned it had absorbed some of Rose's DNA and was impure - something it couldn't bear to live with when it found out.
      • That fact makes it even more tragic: for the most part, the Dalek race is essentially damned to self-loathing, fear and finally suicide if it ever sees the light. And I thought Davros was a bastard before..
    • Also from Doctor Who, The Master turned in this direction when it's revealed that he was driven insane (partially) by the High Council's Plan to escape the Last Time War. And then he's cast aside, because he's "diseased".
    • Done intentionally by Blaine in "Boom Town". In her previous appearance she was just one of many Slitheen who planned to initiate a nuclear holocaust simply so they could sell the radioactive remains of the Earth as starship fuel. When the heroes meet her again, her motives haven't improved much; she intends to nuke Cardiff (tearing apart the rift) in order to escape the planet. She certainly never pulls any sort of Heel Face Turn, but attempts to forestall her own execution by explaining how horrible her life has been (she would have been killed if she'd refused to be a killer like the rest of her family) and how unnecessarily cruel her death will be (dissolved in boiling vinegar). In the end she does get a sort of second chance, as she is regressed to an egg and can start her life over.
  • Veronica Mars: the season two Big Bad is like this - we all pay attention to the Freudian Excuse, and think about just how messed up someone like that would be, and if this villain ever really had a chance.
  • Sylar, as of Volume 5 of Heroes. He hates what he is, he realises that no one will ever love him and he'll spend all of eternity alone and miserable and after spending all that time gaining new abilities he now wants to be rid of them because he knows that he'll never stop killing while he has them. He's still pure evil, but it's hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for him...like some takes on the vampire myth he's a wretched monster, controlled by his bloodlust and unable to change unless FORCED to.
  • Total Monster Tate in American Horror Story crying over Violet and making her puke because she's dying from too many pills.
  • Kim Young of Dae Jang Geum. She did some unforgivable things to Jang Geum and Lady Han, but most of the time she was caught between a rock and a hard place and she was always miserable about her life and her situation.
  • The Farscape episode "Incubator" is the Monster Sob Story for series Big Bad and Magnificent Bastard Scorpius. YMMV on its effectiveness and it didn't really work in persuading the neural chip copy of Crichton in the episode. However, when Scorpius later reveals his backstory to the real John, he seems fairly affected by it, though not enough to actually help Scorpius.
  • This is practically the entire point of The Sopranos. Like it or not, we spend as much time watching these mobsters in moments of humanity and vulnerability as we do watching them violate nearly every moral code known to man. Most cross the Moral Event Horizon at some point (possibly even multiple times), but are still portrayed as human beings with relatable problems, which is what makes the show so fascinating and horrifying at the same time.
  • Echidna, the otherwise utterly repulsive (and quite literal) "Mother of All Monsters" from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys got this treatment prior to her later Character Development. A loathsome she-beast with scaly green skin, snakelike fangs, a grotesque shriek of a voice, and tentacles that seemed to stretch out for miles, she nevertheless evoked sympathy: her hatred of Hercules was entirely justified, as he had slain all her children, even if it was in self-defense. She plotted Herc's demise on a number of occasions, but eventually underwent a Heel Face Turn and even enlisted the hero's help after her youngest child was kidnapped. Interestingly enough, she also married a fun-loving giant (who was of course very large but otherwise normal-looking), making their case a rare inversion of Ugly Guy, Hot Wife.
  • The X-Files episode "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" made many a fan feel pity, if not sympathy, for the series' eponymous Big Bad, who has been until then presented as an utterly irredeemable Jerkass. It probably helped that it was the first (and only) episode where he wasn't seen from Mulder and Scully's POV and, thus, got a chance to show the more human sides of himself.
  • Being Human has Cutler, who is revealed to have been tricked into drinking his murdered wife's blood by Hal.


Tabletop RPG

Theatre

  • Clive Barker's The History of the Devil. He is the devil, but he just wants to go home. He seems to win at the ending, being allowed to return to heaven on the condition that he can never leave it again, but in a massive Downer Ending it's revealed that heaven is completely empty, abandoned by God and all the other angels.

Toys

  • Makuta Krika of Bionicle, who only went along with Teridax's plans seeing as it would just be a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. He longs for the old days when the Brotherhood of Makuta stood for something and helped the people rather then trying to enslave them and usurp the Great Spirit Mata Nui.

Video Games

  • Walter Sullivan from Silent Hill 4. He's a creepy psychotic ritual serial killer, but his backstory is just so sad. How's this for a motive: he just wants his mommy.
    • Pointed out in the parody series Noisy Hill when Henry is appalled to realise that the "Evil plan" he's trying to stop is this, declaring "I'm really not a very nice person, am I?"
    • Silent Hill somehow turns this tragedy into a dark sort of tragicomedy by further revealing that he thinks his mommy is your apartment.
  • Capehornus from Knights in The Nightmare is what can be lightly called a douchebag obsessed with taking revenge on everyone and everything for the slights he's suffered in life, and many a player grows to dislike him intensely. Then Zolgonark, the demon he summoned to help him do so, turns his granddaughter--the only person he loves--into a harpy. And all of his plans slowly but surely come undone as Yellma cheerfully ignores his plight to pursue her own agenda and the Wisp's army dispatches his subordinates. After his last stand and his bitter death speech, even Maria and Meria admit that he's Not So Different from them.
  • The Portal: Aperture Science Sentry Guns, otherwise known as just 'Portal Turrets'. They don't want to kill you, but they've been heartlessly programmed to perforate anything that isn't another turret. They'll even apologize for their behavior... once you've knocked them over and rendered them permanently incapacitated.

 Turret: I don't hate you.

  • The Big Bad of Tsukihime in Hisui's route gets one of these when it's revealed SHIKI has been experiencing the same psychic link Shiki has been coping with, and if anything has been feeling even worse than Shiki. He just wants to kill Shiki to sever the link and give his mind some peace.
    • Not to mention the whole thing about being disowned by his family, locked up in a basement for years and years because his family carries demon blood that drives its' members crazy, and unknowingly being the reincarnation of an immortal vampire, which amplified the effects of said demon blood when it "awoke" in him.
  • Rule of Rose. It's such a Tear Jerker (still being survival horror) that it's hard to determine where to begin. Both villains have major sob stories, still being Complete Monsters: a Psycho Lesbian with a Freudian Excuse and an Ax Crazy madman.
  • Every single boss in the Metal Gear Solid series decides to have a 15-minute conversation before trying to kill you. Some try to justify their actions by telling you their motivations. Others just gloat about how screwed you are and that you have no idea what is really going on.
  • In The Legend of Zelda the Wind Waker, after you arrive at the final boss battle above sunken Hyrule, Ganondorf tells Link that he sought the Triforce to bring cooling winds to his people as they lived in the barren desert. Whether this is a Evil Plan or this trope is debateable, but damn did it invoke some pity for Ganon.
  • In Amea, Mish, the title character's childhood friend is shown to have turned into a Humanoid Abomination that controls many monsters all because of his efforts to embrace the suffering that the others have tried to expunge by becoming slaves of the Master.
  • With the Golden Sun franchise, in the first game you managed to defeat and kill Saturos and Menardi trying to stop them from lighting the lighthouses and save the world. Then in the sequel you find out that the world is slowly eroding because the lighthouses aren't lit, and they were only trying to light them because their village was falling off the face of the world.
  • In Fire Emblem: Path Of Radiance you kill Ashnard the king of the country of Daein, and all that remains is his vicious dragon mount. It turns out that he had Izuka, the mad scientist, warp and twist the mind and body of the missing dragon Laguz prince Rarajion. But its too late for him to survive.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Vandal Savage in the Justice League episode "Hereafter," where the immortal megalomaniacal conqueror has become the guilt-ridden last man on Earth... because he won.
  • Gargoyles Demona lived a long life full of betrayal and suffering, losing everyone and everything she ever cared about one by one until all she has left is revenge. When the "City of Stone" story-arc is wrapping up (where-in she turned every human to stone and went around smashing them with a sledge hammer) it is next to impossible to hear the reveal of her fail-safe password ("…Alone") without feeling some measure of sympathy for her even if she is beyond redemption.
  • YMMV, but Invader Zim certainly had a messed up youth. He was hatched from a test tube and raised by "cold, unfeeling robot arms".
    • That's, however, how all Irkens are born and raised (as you can infer by the other thousands of similar test tubes located in the room where Zim was born).
    • It goes deeper than that, though. Zim's classified as a defective, meaning his erratic, crazy personality is due to, essentially, a programming error. He seems to be able to feel affection (the first words out of his mouth were "I love you, cold unfeeling robot arm!"), but hasn't been taught affection by the society in which he was raised. Because of many, many bad things happening due to him (most of which seemed to be complete accidents, though he wasn't at all remorseful about it), culminating in him accidentally killing off all the other Invaders in Operation Impending Doom, he was banished to Foodcourtia and made to work in what appears to have been a truly horrible job. When he escaped and arrived at the Great Assigning, the Tallest sent him on a fake mission into deep space in the hopes that he'd die along the way. Face it: Zim's had a tough life, and his method of coping seems to be deluding himself into thinking that he's the greatest Irken ever and beloved by the Tallest.
  • Lucius from Jimmy Two-Shoes is normally a completely unsympathetic Caligula. But you'd be hard-pressed not to see his Flash Back in "Happy Birthday Lucius" and not feel just a little sorry for him.
  • Mr. Freeze from Batman the Animated Series was splashed with cryogenic chemicals while fighting with his boss, from who he'd been stealing resources to find a way to cure his terminally ill wife Nora. He was even willing to kill innocent people to get revenge and/or find a cure. Things only get worse for him as the series continues.
    • In The New Batman Adventures, Freeze's condition had worsened, reducing him to an immortal head without a body. Nora was revived but left him for one of her doctors. A comic tie-in expands on this. Nora's new husband, jealous over her love for Victor, hid the letters that Victor wrote to her. When Nora found out, she tried to return to Victor but could not accept his criminal past.
    • By the time of Batman Beyond, his wife's gone, a woman he was falling in love with betrayed him, he's been rejected by society for the last time, and he just wants to watch the Wayne-Powers Corporation go before he does. His Famous Last Words with Terry, the new Batman, are one of the best done Alas, Poor Villain moments ever.

 Terry: Freeze, you've got to get out of here. The building's about to collapse.

Freeze: Believe me, you're the only one who cares.

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