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Shapeshifters in general tend to gravitate to their "base" or original forms as well when killed or sufficiently battered, as do most victims of a Shapeshifter Swan Song.

This started with werewolves; as monsters go, they tend be... "different". One of their more peculiar traits is that they have No Ontological Inertia, because upon death they inevitably revert back to their "true" human form. Though similar to the Shapeshifter Swan Song (which usually ends in This Was His True Form), this is not a case of a Superpower Meltdown, but an example of No Ontological Inertia regarding their "curse". Whatever innate power or curse is capable of using Lego Genetics and Shapeshifter Baggage to add and remove a few hundred kilograms of fur, muscle, and teeth to or from an Innocent Bystander in a few moments, it apparently has no more lasting effect than a shot of espresso. Well, at least the espresso doesn't induce a killing frenzy -- usually. This is usually used to show that the (sometimes) only way to cure a Werewolf is to kill them.

This is both potentially useful and frustrating for Heroes, since it removes evidence of the paranormal (which might be something that they want to cover up or prove) while adding the eentsy little complication of making them liable to face murder charges. No Self-Disposing Villains here.


When the form change stems from The Corruption, this may be the physical manifestion to parallel Dying as Yourself. This often results in Peaceful in Death, to show that the death really was freedom from the Curse and not a bad thing.

From a purely Fauxlosophical perspective, this would imply that all werewolves and shapeshifters are one specific human person rather than the sum of their multiple forms... which means that heroes killing either one are murdering potentially innocent people. Youch.

See also The Mirror Shows Your True Self and Game Face. Compare Sleep Mode Size for the anime super powered version. Contrast Clipped-Wing Angel. For the immortality/rejuvenation version, see No Immortal Inertia. Helps avoid Opening a Can of Clones. A character whose death unleashes an even more powerful persona is a One-Winged Angel.

Examples of This Was His True Form include:


Anime and Manga

  • In the Berserk series, demons used to be humans, and will revert to their former human selves after they die. This causes problems for Guts from time to time, but especially during the Rosine arc, where the Big Bad's pseudo-Elf minions were Apostle-spawns created from human children, leading the populace of the village she menaced to believe that Guts is a child murderer.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Envy, when he loses all of the souls that he rebuilds his body with, reverts to that of a small worm with one eye and lots of legs.
    • It's heavily implied that this is true for all Homunculii, but the only other one we've seen is Pride, whose true form is a tiny baby, about the size of a thumb.
    • There's a minor but straight 'after death" version with Wrath, who while dying suddenly looks like an actual sixty-year-old man, whereas previously, he looked a decade or more younger. The same is also done for Hohenheim.


Comic Books

  • Captain America's body turns into that of a very old man after his death (though it is implied this takes several hours.)
  • The Hulk rarely (if ever) gets his ass kicked. Or at least takes a hit powerful enough to bring him down in one go. When he does however, occasionally it depicts him transforming back into Bruce Banner.
  • New Avengers: Someone they thought was Elektra is fatally injured...and turns into a Skrull. No-one had any idea, including Wolverine and Doctor Strange, meaning that this faction of Skrulls has considerably improved their shapeshifting powers. Naturally, they start to wonder who else might be an impostor...
    • This also seems to happen to any part of a Skrull that's separated from the main body; when Crusader's hand was cut off during a training exercise in Avengers: The Initiative, it started turning a little green by the time they'd reattached it.


Film

  • Drake in Blade Trinity actually managed to hold on to the last shape he shifted into for a few hours after death, having mimicked Blade as a parting gift to fool the authorities into thinking he was dead.
    • Although some fans speculate that Drake survived the fight and only changed back after waking up.
  • Applies in Underworld. Lycans normally revert to their humanoid form when they die, but Vampires eventually discovered a serum that would keep them in their wolf form after death so they could be studied.
  • The werewolves in An American Werewolf in London immediately revert to human form upon dying. The werewolf that attacked David and Jack turned out to be an old man.
  • This seems to happen to most supernatural foes the eponymous hero in Van Helsing faces, including Mr. Hyde and at least one wolfman. Van Helsing even remarks on this twice, telling his boss, "I'm the one who's left standing there when they die and become the men they once were!" He also says to the female lead, whose brother was a wolfman that Van Helsing killed, "Now you know why they call me murderer."
  • In the Species II the Half-Human Hybrid woman Eve turns back from her latex-monster form to human form after being knocked unconscious. Likewise in the Species III the hybrids always turn back to human form when they die.
  • Agents are capable of taking over bystanders' bodies. If they should be killed, the program leaves and the innocent host is unmistakably dead.
    • It leaves the most recent host body behind. There are no other bodies, but all their other hosts are presumably very dead as well.
  • Averted to a degree in the Hammer Horror The Curse of the Werewolf (1961): when Leon the werewolf is shot by his father, the father covers his body with a cloak and the audience does not see if it reverts or not.
  • Played straight in both versions of The Wolf Man. In fact, in the original, this causes some problems for Larry - he beat a wolf to death with a cane, and is very confused as to why everyone keeps asking him why he killed a human.
  • Oddly brought up in the eight Friday the 13 th film, where Jason is shown to have reverted back to a little child after the toxic waste bath in the sewers.
  • In the 1933 film version of the H. G. Wells novel The Invisible Man, the title character became visible when he died.


Literature

  • H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man became visible again when he died.
  • Referenced and subverted in a The X-Files tie-in novel. Standing over the corpse of a woman with natural camoflage, Mulder laughs out loud when he realizes that he's been waiting for her to turn back to normal.
  • In R. L. Stevenson's The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hyde dies and retains his shape, but in most Jekyll and Hyde movies, he reverts to Jekyll on death, suggesting perhaps that his evil self is gone and now he is at peace.
  • In the Michael Moorcock novel The Vanishing Tower, the shape shifting Oonai change back into their true pig-like forms when they die. Moonglum observes, "It's not hard to see why an ugly creature like this would wish to change its form."
  • The Katagarians revert to an animal form, and the Arcadians revert to a human form when they are unconscious or dead in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series.
  • In The Lando Calrissian Adventures, the Big Bad is basically indestructible throughout the story. Turns out his species is actually quite small and non-humanoid, and is using illusion powers to simulate the form we know him as throughout the stories. When Lando scores a lucky shot at one foot, he strikes the real Gepta for the first time, and with the illusion gone, he's able to finish him with one squeeze.
  • When Dorian Gray stabs his portrait, he ages to his "supposed" age and dies, while the portrait reverts to depicting his young form.
  • In Welkin Weasels: Vampire Voles, the "wereweasel" shot by Monty changes back from a monstrously mutated six-inch-tall human into a normal weasel upon dying.
  • Shapeshifters in the Kate Daniels universe assume their birth form when dead or dying. Results in an "oh, crap!" moment when Corwin's in the hospital and suddenly transforms into a lynx. He dies soon after.
  • In Robert R. McCammon's The Wolf's Hour, the body of a werewolf spasms at death, becoming a mishmash of wolf and human parts.
  • Non-death example: In Harry Potter, Metamorphmagi (wizards who can change their form at will) apparently lose their power under extreme depression. Happens to Tonks in Half-Blood Prince while she's pining over Lupin.
  • Averted in Kelley Armstrong's Otherworld books, a werewolf remains in whatever shape it was in when killed.
  • Treasure in the Heart of the Tanglewood outright subverts this trope towards the end. The villain initially claims that each Knight in Shining Armor was an animal turned into a human, making it a simple matter for him to turn them back into animals and kill them. He lied--while each had been a victim of a since-cured case of Baleful Polymorph, reapplied in the moments before their deaths, their initial forms were human. They still stayed animals when dead.
  • Subverted in Heart of Midnight, a Ravenloft novel, where protagonist Casimir is a wolfwere rather than a werewolf. Harkon Lukas, his biological father, expects Casimir to revert to wolf form when he dies, but because he's struggled his entire life to be human rather than a monster, he remains that way in death.
  • The goblins in Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz were genetically engineered to switch between human and monster form at will, and to revert to human form after death.
  • The main character, Horza, in the Ian M. Banks novel "Consider Phlebas" reverts to his true form after his death (but not when unconscious, that would be terrible for a member of a race of shape shifting spies and infiltrators). Considering his borderline Shape Shifter Identity Crisis earlier on, it's not clear if this dead form is actually the face of the real Horza (assuming such a person even existed) or if he had reverted to whoever he was originally underneath all the infiltration training and psychological conditioning. The whole thing is presented as a Bittersweet Ending as the closest thing he has to a friend looks down on his body and wonders who he really was in the end..
  • At the end of the Mistborn trilogy, Ruin, the god of destruction, is killed, and he leaves behind- a human corpse, leaking the black smoke that had been previously identified as Ruin's divine power. Word of God is that Ruin was actually a combination of a human intelligence named Ati and the cosmic force of entropy- his death knocked the two apart, leaving the human body of Ati behind.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Devil in Iron", Khosatral, an Eldritch Abomination.

 Conan, who had not shrunk from Khosatral living, recoiled blenching for Khosatral dead, for he had witnessed an awful transmutation; in his dying throes Khosatral Khel had become again the thing that had crawled up from the Abyss millennia gone.


Live-Action TV

  • The Doctor Who episode "The Lazarus Experiment" did it with a twist: Elderly Professor Lazarus is restored to youth by an experimental technique that then goes wrong and turns him into a hideous monster. When the monster is apparently killed, it reverts to Lazarus' human form; when it's really killed, it reverts to Lazarus' original elderly form.
    • In "Survival", the last episode of the classic series, Karra, a Were Cat cheetah woman, reverts to human form as she's dying.
  • Averted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where werewolves remain in werewolf form after dying. A werewolf hunter out for pelts even comments that "it's a little hard to skin them while they're alive."
  • And then used straight in Angel, as it's said werewolves revert back to human form upon death and thus must be eaten alive. A possibly explanation is that werewolves of the species Lycanthropus Exterus change back to human, whereas the "common" werewolf does not.
  • In an episode of Charmed (and blatant Ladyhawke rip-off), the Monster of the Week sends a mook after the man he cursed into an owl. When said mook turns up with a dead owl, he asks him why it didn't revert to human upon death, and promptly zaps him.
    • In another episode, a man has turned himself into a monstrous creature as part of a plan to rescue his half-demon son from its mother's species. He specifically mentions that he would only turn back when he dies. However, he's later fatally injured and turns back seconds before he would die, giving them time to heal him. He remained a human, though.
  • Tweaked in Sliders. A vanquished fire-breathing dragon reverts to its (true) human wizard form as it lays dying...and then becomes an even smaller cockroach when no one is looking, allowing it to scamper away. Only to get stepped on moments later.
  • Tin Man: It's not quite clear what to make of the fact that Tutor changed back into Toto when he died... aside from the fact that a dead puppy is a somewhat more tearjerking visual than a dead middle-aged heavyset guy.
  • In Heroes, the illusionist Candice is knocked unconscious, but reverts to her hot and skinny illusion form. When she's actually killed, she reverts to her true form, which is an obese woman.
    • Completely averted with the death of shapeshifter James Martin, who retains the appearance of Sylar, causing everyone except Sylar and Emile Danko to believe that Sylar is dead.
  • Used in Farscape when Jack the Ancient dies, reverting to his true insectoid appearance.
  • In the Star Trek epsiode "Catspaw", the two dying villains are revealed to be spindly blue aliens.
  • Misfits, when Kelly's new boyfriend is shot, it's revealed that before the storm, he was a gorilla.


Religion and Mythology

  • Generally Inverted with the Youkai: when they are killed, sufficiently battered, or simply running out of magical fuel, they revert to their non-human form. Fox youkai will revert to being a fox, cat youkai will return to being a cat, etc.
  • Various cultures in the world play this straight. In an example, some people found a stray goat or caught a wild boar. They slaughtered it, cleaned the content of its stomach, and then left the carcass for a while. When they return, they found the dead body of a man in their kitchen, missing his intestines.


Tabletop Games

  • Werewolves in Werewolf: The Forsaken turn back into humans when slain, which helps them keep the Masquerade up. This also applies to any lost blood or body parts - as the book puts it, "a werewolf can spill a gallon of blood while in the war form and it will all register as human".
    • In its predecessor Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the Garou normally revert to their base form when rendered unconscious, as would their body parts if mutilated. The problem is that some are born in their 9-foot-tall war form and must shapeshift into normal humans or wolves. Sure enough, they revert back to the war form whenever they fall asleep. An expensive Merit gives player characters exceptional control over shapeshifting, including the form they take when knocked out. Storytellers are prone to disallowing it, however.
  • In Dungeons and Dragons, any kind of shapeshifting magic (even if it's a god's inherent ability) results in this.


Video Games

  • Plenty of video game bosses are able to change back to their 'regular' selves for a terminal conversation (or even mano-e-mano duel) with the heroes after being defeated in their boss-form. This is really jarring if said boss form was a 300' tall monstrosity with multiple heads, wings, mouths, and tentacles. On fire. And it exploded when you defeated it...
  • Also in Final Fantasy VII, if Vincent is KO'ed during his Limit Break (where he shapeshifts into various monster forms), he'll shift back to his human form shortly after collapsing.
  • Averted in one case in Final Fantasy VIII, it is implied that the Shumi tribe have multiple forms, some terrifying and vicious. NORG, a member of this race, is defeated early on in the game and his location remains a visitable point throughout the game. While the player might expect NORG to return in another "true" form to take his revenge, he never does.
  • In Diablo, when you slay Diablo and pull the soulstone from his forehead, his body reverts to that of Prince Albrecht, whom Diablo had possessed. (It is unclear whether Albrecht is alive or dead at this point.)
    • Oddly enough, in Diablo II, there's no sign of this when the player removes Mephisto's soulstone from the body that used to be Sankekur. Possibly due to Diablo's "death" in the first game being part of a Xanatos Gambit while Mephisto's death wasn't part of the demons' plans.
  • Roguelike Example: In Nethack, the player (and monsters) can polymorph through various means. A polymorphed creature will return to their true form when killed, but strangely, the true form remains alive. That is, unless you used a magic scroll to genocide the race(s) that the true form belongs to, in which case the creature simply dies.
    • That goes for you too. Genocide your own race while polymorphed, and you get the message, "You feel dead inside."
  • Averted in Knights of the Old Republic. A side mission has you hunt down and kill a shape-shifter, and he goes between a Wookie, one of your party members, a giant monster, and a small ape (he was trying to beat a hasty retreat), and after you finally kill him he reverts to a charred and unidentifiable skeleton. We shall never know his true form...
    • Technically, it is possible that that skeleton was the skeleton of the shapeshifter's true form, given that it evidently is not the skeleton of the form that was killed.
  • Averted in Fire Emblem 9 (Path of Radiance) and 10 (Radiant Dawn)-- if a Laguz is killed while transformed, they don't revert to human-form.
  • In Team Fortress 2, Spies will lose their disguise upon death.
    • This behaviour is also utilised with one of his alternate watches, that causes him to appear to "die" if he is hit, but instead simply drops a replica of his corpse and turns the player invisible, allowing the player the chance to then de-cloak and continue on their way.
      • Unless he's disguised as another member of his own team, then he leaves a fake corpse of one of them.
  • Druids that die in animal form instantly revert back to their default form in World of Warcraft. This also goes for characters killed while polymorphed.
    • Averted with Worgen, however, whose corpses will stay in their human forms if they manage to die without entering combat. They even appear at the graveyard as human ghosts.
  • Subverted and Lampshaded in The Elder Scrolls series. Slain werewolves retain whichever form they were in upon their death, and never change back. This was mentioned in the book "On Lycanthropy" in Daggerfall.
  • Von Zell, a werewolf, reverts back to human form after being killed in the second Gabriel Knight game.
  • In Mega Man X8, when you defeat each Maverick in the requisite rematch stage, you'll find that they are really next-gen Reploids who shifted into the Mavericks' forms, and they revert to their true forms before they blow up. Taken to its logical extreme when even your first "Sigma battle" turns out to be a shapeshifter, and every minor enemy in the final stage is a next-gen Reploid imitating Sigma. They all shift back to their true form before they are destroyed.
  • Wilfre in Drawn to Life.
  • The Fake Bowsers from Super Mario Bros. They are actually seven enemies transformed by Bowser into exact copies of him to distract the Mario Brothers throught the first seven worlds while Bowser holds Peach captive in the eighth. The only way for the Fake Bowsers to reveal their true selves is to have either Mario Brother kill him with fireballs. Here are the Fake Bowsers encountered in the game:
    • World 1: Goomba - fire
    • World 2: Koopa Troopa - fire
    • World 3: Buzzy Beetle - fire
    • World 4: Spiny - fire
    • World 5: Lakitu - fire
    • World 6: Blooper - fire and hammers
    • World 7: Hammer Brother - fire and hammers
    • World 8: Bowser - fire and hammers
      • Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels featured six new Fake Bowsers, two of them being found about halfway through worlds 8-4 and D-4. These Fake Bowsers, however are slightly bluish in appearance (in Super Mario All-Stars, they are colored normally), and are optional. The new Fake Bowsers encountered are:
    • World 8: Fake Bowser- fire and hammers
    • World 9: Fake Bowser- fire in FDS, hammers in SNES
    • World A: Goomba in FDS, Red Koopa Troopa in SNES- fire in FDS, fire and hammers in SNES
    • World B: Koopa Troopa in FDS, Cheep Cheep in SNES- fire in FDS, fire and hammers in SNES
    • World C: Buzzy Beetle in FDS, Bullet Bill in SNES- fire in FDS, fire and hammers in SNES
    • World D: Spiny in FDS, Fake Bowser/Bowser in SNES- fire in FDS, fire and hammers in SNES
        • A fairly accurate comparison here, but these fake Bowsers may be likened to King Boo's fake Bowser in Luigis Mansion.
  • In the story mode of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, when Liu Kang first meets Flash, he thinks that he is Shang Tsung in disguise (he had been magically forced to switch places with Scorpion for some reason), but he decides otherwise after defeating him, saying that "if this was Shang Tsung, he would have changed back by now."


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