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...the little kid that was always playing jacks in the park?!
This trope is when, through a rather jarring plot twist, the true Big Bad or The Man Behind the Man turns out to be a seemingly completely inconspicuous character, the last person anyone would ever suspect, often as part of the villain's Evil Plan. You've seen him before. Maybe once, maybe a few times, maybe repeatedly throughout the story but you never suspected a thing up until The Reveal. Sucker.
Simply identifying the dog isn't enough to satisfy the requirements of this trope; The Reveal has to be a surprise both to the heroes and to the audience (and sometimes even to the villains)-- the Hidden Villain was in plain sight all along, either without any clues or hints as such or just very subtle ones. It's not really about the identity of the Big Bad but a case where the pivotal character who drove everything turns out to a random character you'd never suspect.
Keep in mind that this is a Reveal Trope, so beware of spoilers!
Anime and Manga
- In the Medabots anime, the Big Bad turns out to be a (cybernetic) house cat using the body of a mad scientist as its puppet.
- The (most probable) Big Bad in Naruto is neither Pain nor Orochimaru but the Comic Relief Tobi. It later turned out though that it is a little more complicated than that.
- The more complicated part being that Tobi is one of multiple assumed identities he uses. His actual one....? Obito Uchiha, who once was Kakashi's best friend and the owner of the Sharingan eye he uses.
- Shugo Chara has one. Who was the Man Behind The Man? Hikaru Ichinomiya.
- Quicker version: Who is the Claw in Gun X Sword? The old man talking to Wendy in the park.
- Fullmetal Alchemist, manga and Brotherhood versions: The Homunculus Pride is little Selim Bradley. The biggest clue to their identity are their speech patterns in the original Japanese, which wouldn't get through to an American reader. One translator did pick up on this and correctly predicted Pride's identity.
- Used in Hayate the Combat Butler, Santa in Hayate's 'imaginations' from the first chapter is revealed to be Mikado. Although the reveal doesn't really unnerve Hayate, since he's already been unnerved by this point in the plot.
- Tantei Gakuen Q has an epic "Whaaaat!?" moment when the high priest behind five murder cases in the Kamaikakushi village is revealed to be the cute and innocent waitress Mio Fuuma, who later turns out to be a Anti-Villain thanks to More Than Mind Control that Broke the Cutie. Result? Eventual redemption and Tears of Remorse.
- Hardly anyone could have expected Aji Tae, the Big Bad of Shin Angyo Onshi, Diabolical Mastermind who had already brought down an entire country before the series began and is stated to be an Evil Sorcerer of the highest order to be that Adorkable prettyboy healer with a pet goose who shows up to save one of the main characters and clearly plays into the role of not-so-covert sage mentor later. All exactly as planned by him, of course. The fact that he completely changes his appearance between flashbacks and actual story helps to mislead readers.
- In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, this is done so well that even if the Big Bad had a creepy moment or two, few wouldn't have known who it was until The Reveal. The Big Bad has been shown in every single arc, and as far as the viewer was concerned, had no chance of being the villain. After all, it is extremely difficult to suspect a character that looked like she was promptly killed off every single arc. Even with the very few creepy moments before The Reveal, who would suspect that it was the dead nurse, Miyo Takano, faking her death every time?
- Even though now it falls into It Was His Sled territory now, originally, Sousuke Aizen from Bleach is an example of this. There was a great deal of focus on how evil Gin Ichimaru was, so no one was expecting the friendly captain that all the characters liked. Not to mention the fact that Aizen died while hints were still being dropped that Gin would be the Big Bad, rather Aizen's "right hand".
- In Eden of the East, the mastermind behind the Selecao organization, Mr. Outside, is really an old taxi driver. You may remembering seeing him in the earlier episodes, long before his reveal near the end of the story.
- In Code Geass no one could have possibly guessed that the co-Big Bad of the story was actually Anya, the fairly emotionless girl. Even less likely is anyone figuring out that the dear old Mommy everyone loves, and who everyone believed to be dead, could be the Lady Macbeth from the story itself, with Anya as her vessel thanks to her Geass power..
- In Domu, the psychic menace terrorising the apartment block turns out to be the mentally-deficient little old man, Cho..
- In Steins;Gate, it turns out that the SERN spy is none other than Okarin's landlord, the completely unsuspicious Mr. Braun, who had never spoken a single line about anything plot-worthy until then.
- While Igano Kabamaru doesn't have massive villains, being a light-hearted shoujo manga, it's a bit hard to imagine that a good part of the plot was masterminded by Kabamaru's grandfather Saizo, who went Faking the Dead so his grandson would leave to Tokyo and see the outside world... and disguised himself as the owner of Kabamaru's favorite yakisuba shop.
- In the Doom Patrol comic, the would-be cosmos-destroyers in the Cult of the Unwritten book are led by the Archons of Nurnheim--i.e. a couple of Punch and Judy puppets. Why yes, as a matter of fact this was written by Grant Morrison.
- In the Darkwing Duck comic book series, a recurring villain is a genetically engineered house cat who fakes his own kidnapping from a research laboratory. Yes, in the Darkwing Duck universe ducks can keep cats as pets.
- In the original Silver Age Spider-Man comic book, The Big Man -- a New York crimelord and leader of the Enforcers -- was revealed to be Frederick Foswell, a browbeatened reporter at The Daily Bugle.
- This is something of a reoccuring theme among Spider-Man villains. The original Green Goblin was eventually revealed to be Norman Osborn, the father of his best friend (this being long before Norman established himself as the Lex Luthor of the Marvel Universe). The Jackal, better known as the villain who set up the Clone Saga, was Peter's nerdy science professor. The Hobgoblin, a villain modeled after the Green Goblin, had a two-for-one deal. He was originally revealed to be a Daily Bugle reporter and longtime minor supporting cast member Ned Leeds until a Retcon explained that he was yet another minor supporting character who had since faded into near-obscurity.
- One particularly jarring example involves Spider-Man searching for the murderer of a scientist who had created a crime cataloguing supercomputer. The culprit is none of the three suspects, but the computer itself.
- Asterix: The villain behind the sickle-trafficking gang in Asterix's second album, "Asterix and the Golden Sickle": He appeared time and again before the reveal? Check. Was he Beneath Suspicion? Check. It is a surprise both to the heroes and the audience? Check. Does it make sense with the general theme of that album? You bet, because this is the only way the not so bright members of the sickle-trafficking gang could get away with an operation like this for so much time.
- In the third ever Justice Society of America story in All Star Comics #5, the JSA bust up a series of rackets headed by a mysterious figure known as Mr X. At the end of the story, an innocuous milquetoast who had appeared in each of the individual chapters turns up the police station. It turns out he is really Mr X and now, with all of his rackets smashed, he intends to turn himself in and live off the state in prison.
- Rat-Man: one story has the eponymous "hero" meeting Graziello, a stick figure who annoys him by telling corny jokes and laughing in a monotonous way, and Rat-Man can't get rid of him. In the end we discover that everything that happened in the issue was Graziello's plan: as a failed comic book character who never got the chance to be published, he lured Rat-Man to the comic book school and in doing that he had appeared in a Rat-Man issue, thus finally being published and read by many people!
- An Anti-Hero version of this trope happened in Watchmen. Rorschach's identity was mostly a secret until it is revealed he was that random homeless guy that was always hanging out in the background.
- This happens twice in 52. The first time is a huge early reveal that the time issues going on are the work of Skeets, Booster Gold's sidekick. Oh, and he kills Booster. In the very last issues after Booster is revealed to be alive due to time travel tricks, it's discovered that Skeets is possessed by Mister Mind. Said villain had only appeared in a few panels without ever saying a word in the early issues.
- The Harry Potter story Backward With Purpose involved Harry, Ginny, and Ron traveling back in time to fix a Bad Future. At the same time (relatively), someone else is also traveling from the future and tweaking things behind their backs. It is revealed to be Harry and Ginny's son Albus, who was never seen previously and had not yet even existed in any form or timeline from the main characters' (and audiences') perspective. Perhaps most bizarrely, if you read the sequel it all makes sense.
- In the Firefly fanfic Forward, it turns out that the mastermind behind the events of the "Charity" episode was Katie, the little girl following Zoe around, who was actually a powerful psychic.
Films -- Animated
- The villain in Hoodwinked fits this to a T. Except instead of a dog it's a cute little bunny rabbit named Boingo. The fact that he keeps appearing in the stories may send up warning flags to the savvy viewer.
- Used again in the sequel, where Hansel and Gretel, the supposedly kidnapped and innocent kids, are behind everything.
- Miles Axlerod from Cars 2.
- In Meet the Robinsons, the Big Bad turns out to be the bowler hat.
- The Adventures of the American Rabbit has the title hero getting a big surprise when he tackles the Big Bad, only to have him suddenly deflate. It turns out that the human like figure was a decoy and the pet vulture who is usually perched on him is the real villain all along.
Films -- Live-Action
- In Blood Work, the serial killer turns out to be the protagonist's drunkard fisherman friend from the same marina.
- In The Bone Collector, the killer is Richard, the technician from the beginning of the movie.
- An early cut of House of 1000 Corpses had the relatively harmless Grampa Hugo Firefly turn out to be Dr. Satan. Rob Zombie decided this would have been anti-climactic and changed it.
- Parodied in the "Scooby-Doo Ending" of Wayne's World, where it's revealed that Ben is really Old Man Withers, the amusement park owner who Wayne spoke to for five seconds near the beginning of the film.
- And talking about Scooby Doo, the first live-action movie has a literal example, as it turns out that the mastermind is Scrappy-Doo, who, up until that point had only appeared in a short flashback.
- In The Usual Suspects, diabolical Criminal Mastermind Keyser Soze is the "cripple" Verbal Kint, our pathetic narrator.
- The first Saw movie (see page quote). The "guy on the floor" (John Kramer) is also seen in a flashback, where he's equally inconspicuous as a patient at the cancer ward.
- All of the movies in The Thin Man series operated this way. Start with a murder, present a colorful parade of suspects, end by revealing the killer to be someone the audience had no reason to suspect.
- In Galaxy of Terror, Kore, the unassuming cook, turned out to be The Planet Master who had sent the crew of the starship Quest to the planet Morganthus.
- In the Hungarian film Kontroll, the masked killer is a welder who appears briefly in one scene. (Although that's not revealed in context; you can only find it out from behind-the-scenes information about the same actor playing both parts.)
- Subverted in Phone Booth. At first, it looks as though the Caller was the pizza guy who only had a very brief appearance at the start of the film. However, it turned out the real Caller had the pizza guy hostage until he got caught, in which case he slashed his throat left him to as a decoy to escape.
- Played straight, and somewhat deconstructed, in s German Film "Net of Steel - The witness" (Stahlnetz - die Zeugin). The murderer is the eponymous witness, a 12-yr-old girl picked mercilessly by her family and threatened by others because of their secrets. The deconstruction applies because the girl is not a "mastermind" - rather a desperate child - but still totally aggressive - and before The Reveal she is seen just as a random girl who saw too much.
- Played double in Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi, when the leader of the Yakuza is revealed to be the tavern keeper. Then it's revealed that even he was a decoy for the elderly busboy, who was the real power behind it all.
- In Cube 2: Hypercube, the supposed superhacker and mastermind Alex Trusk turns out to be... a blind girl?
- The entirety of Identity's plot consists of a massive build up to who the murderer will be. Upon reaching the happy ending, it turns out it was the kid all along, and the viewer is treated to a hilarious montage that involves a grumpy looking kid walk away from an explosion and an obese maniac talking in a high voice.
- Source Code: major suspicion is cast on every person in the hero's immediate area (including The Hero himself!), and then the Villain turns out to be a random background character who had literally 2 seconds of screen time before The Reveal.
- Similar to the Source Code example above, Dream House throws suspicion over nearly every character introduced. The actual killer? Someone who drove by the main character's house during one scene and did not become relevant again until The Reveal.
- In Scary Movie, the Scream-esque serial killer is actually revealed to be the apparently retarded officer. Then again it is a parody.
- Debbie Salt, the seemingly harmless journalist reporting the murders, is the killer in Scream 2. And mother to the previous film's killer.
- The Harry Potter series has its own page for Chekhov's Gun and its various Sub Tropes, so this comes up a few times.
- Philosopher's Stone. Professor Quirrel.
- Chamber of Secrets Tom Riddle, who gets double points for who he really is. Come now, reading the book for the first time, who ever seriously suspected Riddle of doing anything? Let alone of being the younger form of Lord Voldemort himself.
- Prisoner of Azkaban Scabbers, Ron's pet rat. Of course, he's actually Peter Pettigrew in Animagus form.
- Goblet of FireMad-Eye Moody can count, as the reveal that not only was he responsible for everything that happened in the book, but that he was also Barty Crouch Jr in disguise was rather sudden.
- These became so expected that Rowling ended up adding a page to her website's FAQ where she asked readers not to assume that EVERY named character in the series had a world-exploding secret. In particular, fans had fixated on a random muggle kid who appears at the beginning of book five, with many emailing Rowling and saying they had "figured out" that he was the true key to the entire storyline. In reality, he was just a random muggle kid who was never seen again.
- In the second book of the Foundation trilogy it is revealed that the Mule is Magnifico the clown.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the masterminds of Deep Thought's experiment were the lab mice that humans thought they were experimenting on.
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe series New Jedi Order, an evil alien race called the Yuuzhan Vong invades. Their leader is Supreme Overlord Shimrra, a God-King who truly looks the part. The last novel in the series reveals that he is actually being force controlled by his jester, Onimi, a being so far below Shimrra that he was considered as little more than a pet.
- In the Star Trek: New Frontier novel "Stone and Anvil", the Excalibur crew needs to find the man who created Janos' intelligence to help him extend it. To bad he doesn't exactly know how to do that...the real mastermind is his pet Gribble, a small animal no larger than a rat. Before the Gribble can do anything, though, Janos eats him.
- In Accelerando by Charles Stross, everything that happened turns out to have been masterminded by the Macx family's robotic cat.
- Occurs in Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game -- the murderer is not a suspect and is only mentioned once in passing.
- Quentin Makepeace (a foppish playwright in the prime minister's company) turns out to be the mastermind of all the events in The Bartimaeus Trilogy.
- In Murder In Pastiche, the killer turns out to be the ship's purser who was a detective fiction fan and thought it would be a waste if there were so many famous detectives on board and they didn't have a murder to solve.
- In the first Norby book, Ing is Fussbudget 2 Gidlow.
- In the Sherlock Holmes story "Silver Blaze", the murderer was a horse.
- In the book version of The Bone Collector, the main villain was the doctor, also seen only briefly at the beginning and end.
- In Isaac Asimov's Lucky Star and the Moons of Jupiter, while there is a human villain, it turns out the real bad guy is a robot dog who served as a Seeing-Eye dog for a scientist.
- In Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones, we find out early on that the elusive Batu is the man behind the Diablerie, but the mystery remains: Who the hell is Batu? It was a mortal Farmer who wanted to bring back the Faceless Ones as a means of getting his own magical powers.
- In Bridge of Birds, the true identity of the tyrannical Duke of Ch'in turns out to be the meek, perpetually scared Key Rabbit. Oh, and his greedy peasant wife is a long-lost goddess. It actually makes perfect sense once Master Li explains it and there are many hints dropped throughout the novel, especially for the latter part, but it almost certainly stunned many first-time readers.
- In The Dresden Files this is Molly's reaction when she is shown a photograph of the traitor on the White Council in Turn Coat.
...Huh. Who's that?
- In Doorways in The Sand, there's a near-literal example: the mastermind is in nearly every scene, disguised as the cat.
- In Harry Harrison's Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, the race of Big Bads, who were mentioned throughout the book turn out to be tiny lizards with Psychic Powers kept as pets by another race.
- In William Tenn's 1955 short story The Servant Problem, the ruler of a future Dystopia is a Smug Snake subconsciously controlled by his education minister, an Out-Gambitted Magnificent Bastard subconsciously controlled by a Magnificent Bastard psychologist, who in turn was Out-Gambitted and controlled by a junior technician. Things go pear-shaped for this Man Behind The Man Behind The Man Behind The Man when it turns out that he, like everyone else in the world, was conditioned to worship the ruler; this dystopia is evidently now a dog chasing its own tail.
- In one of the Agaton Sax kids' detective books, someone who appears to be an average-looking member of the crew of crooks turns out to be the criminal mastermind boss himself.
- In Hush, Hush, it turns out that the person trying to murder Nora was Jules. Given how he was virtually nonexistent in the story, it was rather...jarring.
- Good guy version: In the Get Smart episode "The Mysterious Dr. T", it turned out the genius inventor Dr. T was a kid seen selling newspapers.
- Sherlock has already pulled it twice. In "A Study in Pink", the serial killer turns out to be a cabbie, seen earlier when Holmes and Watson chased down his cab because they thought the passenger might be the killer. In "The Great Game", Moriarty is revealed to be Molly's boyfriend Jim, who showed up briefly earlier in the episode. (Though this last was guessable, considering "Jim" is a nickname for "James.")
- The second example also incorporated a subversion--for a minute or two, before the real mastermind appeared, the audience is led to believe that Watson is Moriarty.
- Many made for TV cop shows have this but it was especially noticeable in Murphy. The killer is the bloke who is in the background of scenes. If most of the suspects are interviewed in a club it's the barman - also expect him to be a long lost relative of victim or chief suspect.
- Mr. Yang in Psych is revealed as this through flashbacks when Shawn meets her at the end.
- An episode of Community has the study group trying to discover who among them stole Annie's pen. It turns out it was Troy's pet monkey living in the vents, who we hadn't seen since his only episode one season ago.
- In an episode of Pushing Daisies the killer was, of all people, a pig. It was an accident, so the characters promptly adopt him as a pet.
- One episode of Bones has the killer turn out to be the father of a friend of the victim, who was seen once in the beginning of the episode and had no lines whatsoever.
- Quite literally applied in an episode of Married... with Children when the Bundys are arrested for harboring fugitive Steve Rhoades. They all accuse each other of ratting Steve out to the police, but the true mastermind was Buck, the Bundys' family dog.
- Another example occurs in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Aquiel," where the crew finds out that a shape-shifting organism is behind the Mystery of the Week. Two people, a Klingon and the eponymous Aquiel, are suspected of being the monster, but it's really Aquiel's dog, which served as a minor comedic subplot during the episode.
- On the Angel episode "Harm's Way," Harmony wakes up after a one-night stand to find the guy dead, and though she doesn't quite remember what happened, she eventually realizes that she was set up for the murder. It turns out the real killer was...some random other vampire chick named Tamika working at Wolfram and Hart, whom Harmony had bumped into earlier. It turns out that Tamika was upset that Harmony was on "the fast track" just from knowing Angel and his friends, and framed her so that she could take her job.
- In The Sarah Jane Adventures: Mr. Smith is a supporting character who gives information on aliens that land on Earth. It turns out he's a Xylok (sentient crystal) who created the computer as a host - and the most important thing to a Xylok is their purpose. Mr. Smith's purpose is to destroy the Earth's crust to free his kind - they were trapped there after their ship crashed to Earth (wiping out the dinosaurs). Mr Smith escaped in the eruption of Krakatoa.
- Parodied in The Far Side when (what else?) a cow suddenly stands up in court and says, "All right, I confess! I did it! That's right! The cow! Ha ha! And I feel great!"
- Played With and Subverted in Luann. In the arc where two of the teachers (acting as chaperones) ended up dancing with each other, and getting recorded by an anonymous student via cell phone and posted on the internet and getting in trouble with the principal, one of the teachers thinks Luann did it, while another felt it was more likely that Tiffany did it. The male teacher's reason was because of this trope, to which the female teacher pointed out that he would also qualify for that exact trope to prove that it shouldn't be used. It turns out Tiffany really did do it, after Luann tricked her into revealing to her deed by claiming credit as being between her and herself, although she ultimately wasn't able to reveal it after Tiffany recorded her changing and then used her old cell phone as a decoy in case Luann did attempt to tell her.
- Almost parodied in at least two episodes of The Goon Show- The Spanish Suitcase and The Phantom Head-Shaver, where Greenslade is the villain, in much this style. For which reason it's also Narrator All Along
- In the game Art of Murder: FBI Confidential, the killer turned out to be Raches, a character briefly mentioned in a newspaper article and supposed dead. Although this is minorly subverted due to the fact that Raches is- in fact- your boss, Leon Chaser. Actually pretty obvious when you compare the two names.
- In Portal 2's co-op campaign, the robots are sent to kill what turns out to be the bird from Chapter 6 of the single-player game.
- In this case its played both both metaphorically and literally. In Deadly Premonition the happy go lucky Forrest Kaysen turns out to be the Red Seed Killer the whole time- and his faithful companion Willie? He INTRODUCED Kaysen to the Red Seeds... yeah, chances are if you search his underbelly you'll see a 666 and a Willie + Cthulhu Forever tattoo.
- The Dog ending from Silent Hill 2 is a literal example, although it's really a parody. Said dog (named Mira) makes cameos in future joke endings.
- Sam and Max: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls plays this to excellent effect; the true mastermind turns out to be the ventriloquist's dummy Max has been carrying around for half the episode.
- In the beginning of the series finale, The Narrator of the series so far shows you a wall of pictures showing characters from the series, and proclaims that "one of the characters you see before you will betray Sam and Max." This sounds like an unnecessarily leading Reveal, until it's shown that "one of the characters you see before you" includes The Narrator himself.
- As well as the Season 2 finale What's New, Beelzebub?, where it turns out that the Soda Poppers have taken over Hell itself and have masterminded the events of the season in an attempt to make Hell more efficient (even going so far as to kick out Satan).
- Subverted, though, in that Telltale thought they were playing this trope straight, because they thought the Poppers were quite popular little schlubs, when in fact much of the fandom considered them The Scrappy, and thus thought The Reveal that they were the villains behind the entire last season was only too appropriate.
- Subverted in MARDEK Chapter 3, as the mastermind is a major villain that everyone suspects, but he's disguised as a "dog", Clavis, an enigmatic but inconspicuous character. The persona was actually made up by the villain in order to talk some sense into Rohoph, who was sprinting towards becoming a Complete Monster Knight Templar hard and fast.
- In Neverwinter Nights The Bastard of Kosigan, the real mastermind behind the whole plot happens to be Alexandra de Velan, your childhood sweetheart, who also happens to appear to die near the end of the second module.
- Persona 4 practically runs on this trope, in keeping with its theme of not letting first impressions or outward appearances deceive you. All three of the major players in the kidnappings and murders can be frequently found around Inaba doing absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.
- The Real kicker is that the true final boss, the one who set the events of the game into motion, turns out to be... The nameless, forgettable gas station attendant whom you met at the very beginning of the game.
- Tomator at the end of The Lost Vikings 2 turns out to be the Bratty Half-Pint that sometimes appeared in the middle of the levels to be annoying.
- The head of the evil organization, H.A.R.M., in No One Lives Forever turns out to be a recurring background character that shows up drunk in most levels as a Running Gag.
- The player is given one hint: he sputters an alarmed "Uh-oh!!" when interacted with on the space station. He reverts to his usual drunken behaviour afterwards. This can also be taken as quite the compliment as most everyone else has been doubting Archer's abilities the Big Bad responds to her appearance with Oh Crap!
- In endings of Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines where the Ankaran Sarcophagus is opened, the whole affair is revealed to be a massive practical joke orchestrated by Jack and the cab driver (who may or may not be Caine).
- In Heavenly Sword it's revealed that King Bohan's bird is actually The Raven Lord; a demonic warlord from the sword's backstory. The final battle is against a fused version of the two.
- In Heavy Rain, the Origami Killer being Scott Shelby is a big surprise even to Lauren, who spent half the game in his company. The Player does especially not suspect Scott since he rescues cute widdle Babies, saves a man from a shoplifter and helps a prostitute against an aggressive customer.
- The creators did kind of cheat though by secretly inserting a time skip. During one of the murders, he was only offscreen for around 30 seconds, while the actual murder took much longer.
- In Taz: Wanted, TWEETY is the mastermind behind it all. This is especially mind-numbing when you consider that he's been your tutorial and hint provider for the ENTIRE GAME, including the final level.
- In Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, it turns out the traitor is the one person everyone suspected least: Kalas, the player character.
- At the very end of Blaz Blue: Continuum Shift, it is revealed that the Imperator of the NOL is Saya, who we thought was either a Distressed Damsel or a Dead Little Sister all this time.
- Until the reveal from a Drama CD revealing that Saya was brought forth to Relius shortly after her kidnapping and Relius made a cryptic comment that she's going to be a vessel for something, meaning Imperator Saya, for all means, could be a Puppet King manipulated by Relius and Hazama, therefore the mastermind may have been both of them since the very beginning.
- One that's really only known in Japan is the culprit in the old mystery game The Portopia Serial Murder Case (although some may have heard about its Shout-Out in Haruhi-chan). The culprit is quite literally the one you'd least suspect, since not only is he your assistant, he's also (since the main character is an unseen Heroic Mime) the guy executing the player's commands and speaking for the main character. The revelation was so out of left field that the phrase "Yasu is the culprit" is something of a minor Japanese meme for this sort of trope.
- This meme gets used in Umineko no Naku Koro ni, when we find out the culprit's 'real' name is Yasu.
- In Wild Arms 3, you'll occasionally notice a purple-haired little girl. She might just walk by for a second as you enter a town or dungeon, or show up standing near a plot-important character as he begins conspicuously talking to himself. She is, of course, the Big Bad Manipulative Bastard.
- In the open-world First-Person Shooter Boiling Point: Road to Hell, a patron in the bar at the beginning of the game turns out to be the game's Big Bad.
- Played with in the "Killerman" event in Illbleed. Midway through, you're asked to finger a suspect for the role of Killerman (if you're right, you win more money). Besides the proper suspects you've encountered, the choices for who may be the murderous Killerman includes... Killerman, and the player. The latter is explained that playing Illbleed drove you insane and made you go on a killing spree. (This being Illbleed, this is at least somewhat plausible.)
- In Ghost Trick, it turns out that the course of the entire game was orchestrated by an alternate future version of seemingly-irrelevant-to-the-overall-plot character and literal dog Missile, trying to prevent the death of Lynne and Kamila that would have happened if he had not convinced Sissel to interfere -- in the original version of events, The Bad Guy Wins.
- Played very straight in Discworld Noir. The serial killer who has been ritually murdering the citizens of Ankh Morpork (including the main character Lewton) is revealed to be the god Anu-Anu. When his worshipers are all gathered in church praying to him, his power grows and he transforms into a large bestial monster... but the rest of the time, he's trapped in the form of a small dog, which Lewton sees outside the Guild of Tomb Evacuators shortly before he is killed.
- This might count as a subversion, though, since Anu-Anu himself is manipulated by some members of his cult.
- In Pokémon Colosseum the diabolical Evice is none other than the mayor of the town you saved at the very beginning. And he promised he'd help!
- In the first Laura Bow game, Lilian turns out to be the Big Bad. You would have easily suspected anybody else but especially Rudy since they all had motive. However; it turns out that the inheritance was after all a Red Herring and the real motive was a psychological disorder on Lillian's behalf, thinking everyone was getting in between her and the Colonel.
- In The Last Express, it turns out the thing that killed the main character's best friend, Tyler, was the very MacGuffin he was hiding: a gorgeous golden egg covered in gems. When a certain sequence is entered and a whistle is blown, it turns into a mechanical falcon that comes to life and kills everyone present.
- The first case of Ace Attorney Investigations 2 involves the attempted assassination of a visiting president. It ultimately turns out to have been orchestrated by a clown at the local circus.
- In the Stylistic Suck "movie" Dangeresque 3: The Criminal Projective, which is an episode of Strong Bads Cool Game for Attractive People, after a plot involving Dangeresque's nemesis Perducci and Uzi Bazooka, the true identity of actually, impostor of Dangeresque Too, the Big Bad is Craig, a character played by The Cheat, who had been in multiple scenes, unnamed, and previously referred to with the in-game tooltips by "The Cheat" when everyone else was described using their characters' names in the tooltips.
- On the Homicide Desk in LA Noire, you are tasked with solving a string of murders, all seeming connected to the real-life Black Dahlia case. At the end, you discover the killer...Garret Mason, a bartender you had interviewed as an incidental witness in the first case, and had likely forgotten about by the third.
- DS Visual Novel Time Hollow posits the notion, in an optional extended ending, that Sox the cat was the being behind most if not all of the game's events, or at the least that he's a mightier being than he lets on.
- The World Ends With You: Okay, on the one hand, something was seriously wrong with Joshua. On the other hand, I don't think anyone was expecting him to be the composer.
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja story has one such reveal in the story "There Is A Raptor In My Office". It turns out everything was engineered by the Fox News weatherman. Earlier in the story, he was all puffed up to do a story about three hurricanes in the Atlantic forming a Mickey Mouse shape only to be deflated by a lead in story about velociraptor riding banditos. The entire story sprung from his efforts to keep Dr. McNinja's latest adventure under the rug so that everyone will be interested in his story.
- In RPG World, after Galgarion disguises himself to infiltrate the heroes, we get an extremely elaborate Red Herring Mole in the form of Eikre. Galgarion's actual disguise? A flower that Eikre had bought and attempted to give to Cherry.
Eikre: "Galgarion is Cherry's butt?! This is gonna be the coolest boss fight ever!"
- One Electric Wonderland story detailed Trawn's attempts to report on the bombing of the Nettropolis Mall. Lululu helps her find the man she suspected of causing the explosion, but he turns out to be a decoy. Who really led the attack? The cat seen sitting on the suspect's table while Trawn searched his apartment for evidence. Anyone can take on any form in Cyberspace, after all.
- Homestuck has Betty Crocker and Her Imperious Condescension. Both of them are little more than background references until it turns out that they're actually the same person and the (likely initial) Big Bad of Act 6.
- In the Spanish webcomic El Vosque, the human king of the eponymous realm is a fat moron who seemingly only thinks about eating and having fun, to the point that he celebrates his birthday twice a year. Yeah, guess who the mastermind of the plan for the Other Kingdom's invasion of El Vosque really is.
- The identity of the butcher in There Will Be Brawl turns out to be a duo: Ness and Lucas, who were seen briefly in an early episode. This was so effective that nobody in Wild Mass Guessing correctly guessed it. Word of God near-explicitly denied the possibility beforehand, claiming that Ness or Lucas wouldn't play a large part in the series, since child actors were too hard to work with. While not technically false, since they only appeared in those two scenes and had no speaking parts, this was a highly misleading statement that helped to divert suspicion from the culprit(s).
- In episode 86 of Bonus Stage it was revealed the second version of Evil was MALCOLM, a very minor character who only appeared in one episode prior and never showed any signs of being evil.
- Occasionally happens in Shadow Unit--due to the nature of the anomaly, the gamma could be anybody, including the sweet little old lady, the shy teenager, a member of the team...
- Used/Parodied by Linkara in a "previously" that had nothing to do with the comic.
Linkara: You! You're the secret manipulator behind everything! *pulls out a stuffed bear* BEARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!
- The "DNA Evidence" arc of Homestar Runner. After being Arc Words in a number of otherwise unrelated shorts, we get a story about a vial of green DNA Evidence that keeps changing hands and getting stolen. Turns out that it was from Strong Sad, who doesn't want anyone to find out if he's part elephant.
- In Becoming Human, it turns out the killer is Mr. Roe, the mild-mannered teacher, helpful teacher who was the only character to never be a suspect. A second more minor example is the janitor, who spent a lot of time in the background before being believed to be an accomplice, but eventually turned out to be a Red Herring... or was he?
- In Greek Ninja, the one behind the attacks at Ariadnio and the danger unlike any the world had ever faced before, turned out to be none other than a weak and bitter man from Sasha Hunter's past. Really really past life....
- The Twist Ending of this one-off My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic fancomic.
- Phelous has some fun with trope while reviewing The Amityville Horror 4. Why? The big villain is a demon possessed lamp. No, really.
Lamp: NO ONE EVER SUSPECTS THE LAAAAMP!
- The trope name comes from an episode of The Simpsons, where Homer produces a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in which the villain is replaced by a dog, made obvious (to Homer) because "the dog has shifty eyes". The exchange is below, courtesy of SNPP:
Gibson: You want me to replace the villain with a dog? I mean nobody will know what's going on.
Homer: They will if you set up that the dog is evil. All you do is have to show him doing this. [lowers eyelids and glances around in shifty-eyed fashion] The people will suspect the dog.
- As a Brick Joke, a dog with shifty eyes appears at the end of the episode.
- The two-part episode Who Shot Mr. Burns?. The culprit was Maggie.
- "Nobody suspects the butterfly..."
- In the South Park episode "About Last Night...", Kyle's toddler brother Ike was the key player in Obama and McCain's Ocean's Eleven-style heist.
- A variation occurs in the Mysterion Trilogy (Coon 2: Coon and Friends, Mysterion Rises, and Coon vs. Coon and Friends) when Kenny as Mysterion tries to find out the origin of his immortality, learning it has something to do with the Cult of C'tulu. When a Jor-El type man in a glowing ball appears to explain everything completely out of nowhere, it turns out he was actually talking to Bradley Biggle AKA Mintberry Crunch, a character introduced pretty much entirely for these episodes, who learns he really is a super hero who combines the powers of mint and berry. Kenny never really learns the truth about himself and is as confused by the entire encounter as the audience.
- In the Powerpuff Girls episode "Cat Man Do", the girls defeat a villain and adopt his Right-Hand-Cat -- only the cat was the real criminal, using hypnosis to make his "master" do his bidding.
- Invader Zim: It was me! I was the turkey all along! MEEE!!
- In Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, one episode has the Eds track down someone who went to great lengths to frame them for various crimes. It ultimately turned out to be Jimmy, who was angry at Eddy for casually giving him a wedgie.
- Scooby Doo Mystery Inc uses this a fair bit - usually, of the named characters, the culprit is the one who seems secondary, is introduced completely outside the course of the mystery, and doesn't seem to have anything to do with it at all.
- Appears in an episode of What's New Scooby Doo? that took place in Greece involving a series of centaur attacks. At the end of the episode, Velma explains all the evidence that suggested that the criminal was the archaeologist, then unmasks it to reveal... a woman that she doesn't know. The mastermind was the archaeologist's partner, who appeared in the teaser before the gang showed up.
- Lampshaded when Velma complains that this should not count as her being wrong because she'd never seen the woman before and begins to sulk.
- The biggest examples from Mystery Inc. are probably the Trickel's Triquids mascot from "Revenge of the Man Crab", who only appeared for 10 seconds, and the Minner brothers from "Battle of the Humongonauts", who didn't appear at all before the unmasking and were only mentioned in radio ads and one scene on a billboard.
- And then A Pup Named Scooby Doo once had the monster be an unidentified man, who was actually "Granny Sweetwater" without the wig and dress.
- Older Than They Think. In the original series episode "A Clue For Scooby Doo" no-one recognizes the unmasked monster at first, until Shaggy of all people puts a beard on him. The ghost of the dead Captain Cutler was actually...a very much alive Captain Cutler.
- And in the Scooby-Doo movie Camp Scare The culprit ended up being Deacon who was really Baby Face Boretti and Velma actually said "I did not see that coming."
- Appears in an episode of What's New Scooby Doo? that took place in Greece involving a series of centaur attacks. At the end of the episode, Velma explains all the evidence that suggested that the criminal was the archaeologist, then unmasks it to reveal... a woman that she doesn't know. The mastermind was the archaeologist's partner, who appeared in the teaser before the gang showed up.
- The Big Bad of Mucha Lucha's movie is a random girl that appears at the beginning.
- The three-parter "Brainwashed" of Pinky and The Brain has several false leads behind the mastermind heading the plot to dumb down the world. Turns out it's the cat belonging to the scientist responsible for genetically modifying the eponymous mice.
- The deer in the Adventure Time episode "No One Can Hear You".
- The climax of the Futurama movie, Into the Wild Green Yonder, involved Fry trying to figure out the identity of the Dark One, who was the only individual whose mind Fry wouldn't be able to read. After he's able to read the mind of seemingly everyone else there, he comes to the conclusion that he himself has to be the Dark One. He isn't. The Dark One is the leech that Leela saved at the beginning of the movie, and which has been attached to her neck more-or-less ever since.
- At the end of Johnny Bravo Goes to Bollywood, it turns out the mastermind behind the whole evil plot was Johnny's helper monkey Jeeves.