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In certain group dynamics, you will notice three characters with different mannerisms, attitudes, and personalities that are easy to identify with — a character who is nice and gentle, a character who is mean and tough, and the character who is caught in between the two other characters.
- Relatively Nice Character: This character shows everybody a great deal of respect and kindness, even to his worst enemies. He's the one who usually doesn't engage himself in violence, although he might when pushed too far. Other variations would have him to be seen as naive and gullible due to seeing no reason to be justifiably angry with others and always believes there's some goodness in them. Often a Kindhearted Simpleton.
- Relatively Mean Character: The polar opposite of the Relatively Nice Character. The mean character will often bully the nice character and get into fierce arguments with the in-between character. While he may turn out to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, he will put the heavy emphasis on "Jerk". If he isn't a mere jerk, he may be the gritty and violent Anti-Hero who will go the extra mile in doing what he has to do and will show no amount of kindness or mercy to anyone whom he feels are a threat to him or he may be a grouchy cynic. If the "mean" aspect goes too far, he can be the Token Evil Teammate.
- In-Between Character: This character isn't as well-mannered as the nice character since he has a few negative traits. But unlike the mean character, he's doesn't have many bad manners as he does, and he's mainly a Jerk with a Heart of Gold with a heavy emphasis on "Heart Of Gold". Another variation would be that he isn't a jerk, he's just serious about his duties. He can be a Nice Guy, but not to the point of being gullibly idealistic or a pushover. He may be too introverted to be nice or mean, usually. If he's the dumb one, this means that his niceness and meanness will vary from time to time due to his stupidity. In common ways, he will be the leader of the group who shows respect for his comrades while keeping the two in line in one way or another, mostly the mean one.
In villainous versions of this trope, this can consist of one villain who is nicer or more innocent than the other two and the other villain who is more villainous and meaner than the other two.
Note that this group dynamic can be a unique way to establish moments of how each character acts and what defines them. This is a snippet in the Power Trio explaining the basic makeup of trios — "Trait 1, Trait-opposite-of-Trait-1, Trait-Between-the-Two."
Anime & Manga
- Blue Exorcist: The three main characters. Shiemi is Nice, being endlessly friendly to just about everyone, Yukio is Mean, being a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing/Jerk with a Heart of Gold and Rin is In-Between because of his lack of social skills and occasional jerky actions.
- D.Gray-man: As Lavi was introduced rather late, the other three main characters (Allen, Kanda and Lenalee) could fit. Allen is an All-Loving Hero who tries his hardest to save everyone, Kanda is an Anti-Hero with a Hair-Trigger Temper who refuses to let anything get in the way of a mission, and Lenalee is a Nice Girl who puts her True Companions before everyone else.
- Dragon Ball: Although the three of them rarely work together, goofy yet cheerful Goku is the Nice one, prideful and sour faced Vegeta is the Mean one, and Piccolo who has gone from enemy to ally is In between.
- Fairy Tail: The First Generation Dragon Slayers fit this trope. Wendy is an All-Loving Heroine who tries to avoid fighting whenever possible, Gajeel is a grouchy, jaded Jerk with a Heart of Gold (and was a full-blown Jerkass when first introduced) and Natsu is a good-hearted hero with a temper and a love of fighting.
- The main trio of Fate/Zero fit this perfectly; Irisviel is easily the nicest character in the series and The Pollyanna to the point of being disturbing, Kiritsugu is a cold, violent, manipulative Sociopathic Hero and Saber is generally polite and respectful but has trouble expressing her true feelings. Arguably a deconstruction, as the series shows the realistic consequences of having three people with completely different personalities working together, which is to say they can't. Due to their vastly conflicting views on how wars should be fought, Saber and Kiritsugu can't be within 10 meters of one another without getting into some kind of argument. This forces them to stay apart for the vast majority of the Fourth Holy Grail War, leaving Iri to serve as The Heart of a group that sorely needs one.
- Highschool of the Dead: The three childhood friends, Takashi, Rei and Saya. Rei is the nicest member of the group, Saya is a bonafide Academic Alpha Bitch and Takashi is generally nice but can also be very cold-blooded.
- Kaze no Stigma: The three main characters fit this pretty well; Ren is a very kind and polite boy, Kazuma is an Anti-Hero who's (mostly) Only in It For the Money, and Ayano comes in the middle because of her Tsundere nature and Hair-Trigger Temper.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: The three main Children. Shinji is a generally Nice Guy whereas Asuka is a very hot-tempered Jerkass. Rei sticks in the middle due to her cold and quiet demeanor.
- Of course, this being Evangelion, the trope is played with. Shinji has quite a few moments of jerkassery, Asuka can be pretty nice when she wants to be (and there are hints she really is nice and her abrasive personality is just a facade) and Rei has multiple elements of The Chick, especially late in the series. And at least Asuka never said "Everyone can just die!". Who did say that? Shinji!
- One Piece: The original three Straw Hat Pirates. Luffy is nice, Nami is mean, and Zoro is in-between. Both Zoro and Nami can be said to be jerks with a heart of gold, but Nami is more actively unpleasant (beating up people when they act stupid, manipulating them for favors and money), while Zoro is just very reserved and slightly antisocial. Zoro and Nami's roles switch in more dramatic situations (such as the case of Usopp leaving the crew), when Nami is more likely to let compassionate feelings or worries take over, while Zoro keeps his cool and isn't afraid to state the harsh truth or threat people.
- Mulan: Out of the Comic Trio, Gentle Giant Chien-Po is the nice one, Yao is the mean one, short in temper as he is in stature and wise-cracking Ling is the in-between.
- Shrek: The first movie has the nice and proper Princess Fiona, if a bit private and easily embarrassed; the "mean" ogre Shrek, mostly standoffish and uninhibited tendency to say what's in his mind; and Donkey, whose criticism comes out easily (like Shrek) but the most social of the three.
- Played with in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The Good is an Unscrupulous Hero, The Bad is pure evil, and The Ugly is a thoroughly despicable person who is by far the most human character in the whole movie, made likable by how funny and childish he is and caught between the other two outlaws, who act like forces of nature rather than people.
- Star Wars:
- Original Trilogy: Luke (nice), Han (mean), Leia (in-between)
- Prequel Trilogy: Obi-Wan (nice), Anakin (mean), Padme (in-between)
- Sequel Trilogy: Rey (nice), Poe (mean), Finn (in-between)
- The Hangover: Stu (Nice) remains the most cautious and thoughtful member of the team (though this hasn't stopped him from getting hurt a lot); Phil (Mean) is an egotistical and rude Jerkass (though he certainly has his nice moments in between); and Alan (In-Between) is mostly a well-meaning idiot, though the later films show him having quite a malicious streak at times.
- Doctor Who: The Paternoster Gang qualify for this. Jenny is a Nice Girl, albeit a bit sarcastic, Strax is a Trigger Happy, Anti-Heroic Blood Knight and Vastra is kind-hearted but also aloof and prone to Brutal Honesty. This is justified, however, as Jenny is just a normal human, while Vastra and Strax are a Silurian and Sontaran, respectively, two hostile aliens who only became good as a result of the Doctor's influence.
- Father Ted: The three main priests. Dougal is a Kindhearted Simpleton (with emphasis on the 'simpleton'), Jack is a drunken, obnoxious Jerkass and Ted himself is smug and corrupt but still a saint in comparison to Jack.
- How I Met Your Mother: The three main male characters, Gentle Giant Marshall is the nice one, Barney is a manipulative womanizer, and Ted is a romantic Nice Guy but he has his jerk moments.
- The Middle: The studious, inoffensive Brick and spirited, encourager Sue; the vain, pompous, opinionated and tyrannical Axl, who cracks down on all "dorks"; and the parents in the middle, each in a unique way: the major McCoy-like Frankie and the stoic, distant Mike.
- The Vampire Diaries: Elena is a nice, friendly Girl Next Door, Damon is a violent, dangerous vampire, and Stefan is a stoic, brooding vampire, who is much more reasonable than his brother Damon.
- Blazblue: The three main characters, Noel, Ragna. and Jin fit this. Noel is a kind girl, Ragna is a bit rough around the edges, and Jin is basically the walking definition of a Jerkass (though he gets better).
- Dangan Ronpa: Exaggerated by Makoto Naegi, Kyoko Kirigiri ad Byakuya Togami, the three main "point-getters" i.e. three people most proactive in the class trials. Makoto is an All-Loving Hero who even shows sympathy for murderers, Byakuya is a Nominal Hero and Jerkass extraordinaire and Kyoko is an Aloof Ally with a Sugar and Ice Personality.
- Final Fantasy VII: The initial trio of fighters. Tifa is the sweet, compassionate one, Barret while devoted to the cause, is the loud, aggressive one, who has to be frequently restrained to punch people who just stand in his way, and Cloud, while aloof and cynical, is far less confrontational and seems to have a sort of a "live and let live" mindset. Even their respective weapons appear to translate it: Tifa fights with her fists, Barrett with a Gatling machine gun and Cloud with a sword.
- Mass Effect 2: The three Male!Shepard romance options. Tali is the living embodiment of a Nice Girl. Jack is a Nominal Heroine and the biggest Jerkass you can recruit, and Miranda is a Defrosting Ice Queen.
- Persona 4: The three second-year party members (besides Yu); Yukiko's nice, Chie's mean and Yosuke's in-between. Yosuke and Chie can both be considered jerks with a heart of gold, but most of Yosuke's 'jerk' moments are the result of poor decisions rather than an outright desire to be hostile e.g. he signs the girls up for a beauty pageant behind their backs because he didn't want the 'stars' of the school to be overlooked, and didn't know they couldn't back out of it even if they wanted to. Chie, on the other hand, is more openly mean, being highly abrasive with a Hair-Trigger Temper (which is taken Up to Eleven in The Animation).
- Subverted with the first-years; on the surface, it looks like Rise's nice, Kanji's mean and Naoto's in-between, but Kanji is actually much nicer than he lets on and his usual attitude is just a front he puts on to appear manly, something that becomes apparent before Naoto or even Rise joins the group. He also serves as The Heart at times, often being the one to remind the others that they can't give up on the case after how far they've come.
- Persona 5: Much like the previous game, the three second-year party members (besides Joker) fit this. Ryuji is clearly the Mean one, being an abrasive Japanese Delinquent who frequently tears into people and slowly derails into a conceited Glory Seeker (though Character Development fixes this). And while Ann and Yusuke are both nice people, it's more obvious with Ann since she's unfailingly kind and sweet to anyone who deserves it, while Yusuke is very reserved and socially awkward and so often comes off as unapproachable, even when he doesn't mean to.
- The third-years also qualify. Haru is a Spoiled Sweet girl who is endlessly kind to everyone, Akechi is a Manipulative Bastard who literally blackmails his way into the group, and is generally rather passive-aggressive and condescending, and Makoto is usually kind but also rather bossy and has a Hair-Trigger Temper.
- Resonance of Fate: The main trio of Hunters. Leanne is a generally sweet girl who serves as The Chick and Morality Pet of the team, Zephyr is a sadistic, somewhat sociopathic Jerk with a Heart of Gold and Vashyron is a Chivalrous Pervert who kills (bad) people and monsters for a living, which wouldn't be so bad if he didn't outright say he enjoys his job.
- In Tales of Symphonia, the initial three members of the group fill this trope. Compassionate and self-sacrificing All-Loving Hero Colette is the Nice, Bratty Half-Pint Genis is the Mean, and Lloyd, who can be a bit hotheaded but is nevertheless truly heroic, is the In-Between.
- The Goodfeathers from Animaniacs. Squit is the friendly Naïve Newcomer in contrast to Pesto, who has a violent temper and would always beat Squit up. Bobby is the leader and mediator, alternating between keeping Pesto in check and getting a good laugh at Pesto beating up Squit.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The main trio consisting of Aang, Katara, and Sokka. Aang is easily the nicest character of the group, although he can be quite scary when pushed too far, Sokka is a full-on sarcastic, cynical, Insufferable Genius and Katara is nice and reasonable, but she has mood swings and can have a quite nasty, vengeful side when betrayed by those who were close to her.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: The show's main male operatives: Numbuhs 1, 2 and 4. Numbuh 2 is easily the nice one out of the three boys, since he always cracks one joke too many, much to the annoyance of Numbuh 5, let alone everyone else at Gallagher Elementary School. Numbuh 4 would easily be the mean one, since he had always been labeled a bully, as noted in the episodes Operation: F.U.T.U.R.E. and M.A.T.A.D.O.R., not to mention his hatred for Rainbow Monkeys and the time he accidentally destroyed Numbuh 3's Mr. Huggykins doll. Numbuh 1 is in-between, being that he is the leader of his sector.
- Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy: The Eds: Edd is the nice one, always trying to find a reasonable, non-violent solution and apologizing for his friend's behavior. Eddy is the mean one, always getting the two others involved in his scams and screaming at them when he doesn't get his way. Ed is in-between, not as mean as Eddy, but more impulsive than Edd. On occasion, this can switch to Ed (nice) and Edd (in-between), since Edd has been known to lose it a couple of times, and Ed doesn't have a malicious bone in his body. That is, unless there is a malicious rock in his shoe.
- Futurama: The trio of Fry, Leela, and Bender. Fry is the nicest guy of the group, albeit a bit dumb. Bender is the loud-mouthed, abrasive jerk who likes to drink and smoke a lot. Leela mediates between the two for she's calm and level-headed, although she would often appear as a nag to others if they did something immoral.
- Mom's sons. Oldest brother Walt is the mean one (frequently abusing the other two), Igner is the dumbest but nicest one, and sniveling and shy Larry is the inbetween.
- Jackie Chan Adventures: Jackie (nice), Uncle (mean), and Jade (in-between).