Trope Talk: We’re Not So Different

Trope Talk: We’re Not So Different

Hey, quick, the hero and the big bad are dueling. The bad guy’s winding up to say something devastating. What’s he gonna tell our hero? “We’re not so different, you and I.” Exactly! Now did you cringe as soon as I said that? I know I did, and here’s why. It’s because whenever that line gets dropped, it’s either completely untrue or totally glossed over. In fact, it’s so overused and poorly used that it’s almost completely lost its impact. The instance that bothers me the most is when the villain is 110% talking out of his ass. Usually, this is when the villain’s just messing with the hero or trying to get under his skin, which is smart, but annoying because the hero always takes him seriously. No, dude, just ‘cuz you have a backstory element in common doesn’t make you like the guy who murders for fun. Now why is this annoying? Because the hero’s being stupid, and that’s always annoying. Now it would be one thing if the hero actually thought this stuff through and realized he was acting like the villain, but instead you get the hero throwing a tantrum until their friends remind them of the obvious. It’s weak. Now, I can see why this gets used, because if you want to throw the hero off balance, comparing them to their nemesis is a good place to start, but in a sense it’s empty because it’s blatantly not true. Sure you can have a hero afraid of turning into the villain and reacting because of that, but more often than not, it’s played like the thought of having anything in common with a bad guy is breakdown worthy. Not to mention, if you’ve got a bad guy smart and sadistic enough to torment the hero with the prospect of being just like him, wouldn’t it make sense for him to draw on the hero’s actual weak points? Because this is never played for real trauma. The hero will end up brushing it off as quickly as they accepted it in the first place. Look, it-it always goes like this, “We’re not so different, you and I.” “NOOOO” “No, you’re not.” “I’m all better now.” “HNNN” If the villain wants to mess with the hero, this is the dumbest way to do it. Which is why the trope is much less annoying when the villain actually *is* telling the truth. See, there’s a lot that can be done with a hero and a villain that mirror each other. Not only are they foils for each other, but when the villain’s calling the hero out like this, it means the villain is introspective, and the hero usually isn’t. And that’s interesting! Self-aware villains are interesting, and in this case, you got a couple choices. Do you make the hero self-aware too? Let’s pull up an example real quick from one my favorite animes, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Now pretty early on in the series, oh, uh, spoilers. Skip ahead like a minute and a half if you care about those things. So early on in the series, there’s this alchemist named Shou Tucker who does some very shady stuff with human transmutation. The two main characters befriend Tucker’s daughter, Nina, and her dog Alexander. Now, Tucker became a state alchemist when he managed to make a talking chimera, and, coincidentally, his estranged wife mysteriously vanished around the same time; fill in the blanks from there. Now he’s in danger of losing his state license and the money that came with it if he doesn’t do something equally spectacular. Long story short, Tucker alchemically fuses his daughter with her dog, producing a genuinely horrifying and heart-wrenching creature that can’t move without pain, but clearly remembers and loves its ‘father’ in spite of what he’s done to it. Now Ed, the protagonist, completely and understandably, flips his shit once he realizes what Shou Tucker has done, but Tucker points out that Ed’s not much better. See, in their backstory, Ed and his brother Al previously tried to use alchemy to bring their mother back to life, which predictably went horribly wrong because alchemy’s not meant to be used that way, and it cost Ed two limbs and Al his whole body. They’re both racked with guilt over what they did, and as soon as Tucker plays his “Not So Different” card, Ed goes ballistic. Because, you know, even though what Tucker did is worlds worse, they did both abuse and misuse alchemy for personal reasons, and they both maimed their loved ones in the process. In this case, the villain shows how thin the line is between him and the hero, and it hits the hero hard because it’s true. Okay, spoilers done. Basically when the villain’s right, it can mess up the hero for ages. And because the hero seeing basically what they could be if they went too far, that’s super effective. But you know what can be more effective? Having the hero figure that out themselves. Because, sure, introspective villains are great, but if you really want to explore your hero, it might do to have them figure something out for a change. So here’s an example of that kind of characterization. I’ve mentioned before in the Q&A how when I was a kid, I watched this show called Reboot. Well, a few months back, I decided to rewatch it to see if it held up, and it mostly did (except for the earlier animation). But I was genuinely surprised at how they characterized the protagonist in season 3, because they did this thing that I hadn’t really seen anywhere else. See, this protagonist had been a kid for the first two seasons and spent the first three episodes of season 3 basically having to step into the role of protector for his entire system, a role that had been previously filled by his childhood hero, who’s M.I.A. and presumed dead for most of season 3. So he’s protecting the system against the series’ main villain, who is so much bigger and stronger than him, and just doesn’t have to care when he tries to fight him. Then the kid ends up getting stuck in a year outside, ten years inside situation and grows up in the space between two episodes into a full-fledged adult, and he’s a jerk now! He’s angry and brooding and absurdly strong and he’s nothing like the hero he idolized as a child, the hero he wanted to be. He’s become like the villain he had to fight because that villain was powerful and his hero lost. And he recognizes this, by himself. He has entire episodes where he argues with himself over whether the sacrifice was worth it, and in the end he realizes that not only would his hero probably hate him now, his own childhood self would be afraid of him. “But how? You’re me!” “But you hate me; you must. Look at what you’ve become.” He’s become too much like the monster that made his childhood hell, so he works against it. Now the other interesting thing here is how the villain responds, because during their final showdown, the villain refuses to acknowledge their similarities. He still thinks of this guy as a scared child, no matter how strong he gets. But when it gets right down to the wire, and the hero’s got him at his mercy, the villain is almost fearful. He-he clings to the fact that, no, he can’t do this; it would go against everything he stood for. He can’t have become that much like him because that thought terrifies him, and in the end the hero agrees, and it’s a really good moment. But the bottom line is, a character who up until this point had been okay at best suddenly becomes this intensely interesting and tragic character study; an object lesson about he who fights monsters. But he’s not a tragic figure because he pulls himself out of that. And you know what? His whole personal journey would have been way weaker if someone had straight-up told him he was turning into the bad guy. Having him realize that himself gave him an unprecedented degree of depth. And that’s one of the ways that not invoking this trope can be more powerful than invoking it. Sure, making characters similar is good, making them acknowledge it is good, But an externally prompted revelation isn’t necessarily better than an internal one. And I think part of this ties into the hero’s journey, weirdly enough. See, in so many stories, the hero just kind of gets dragged along by circumstance. Sure, they might have a motivation or two, but the only things that can make them deviate from those motivations tend to be external. The hero gets pulled from their home, gets pulled into an adventure, gets pulled into their destiny. Even their motivation tends to be pulling them. Why are you doing this? My girlfriend got kidnapped. And if she didn’t? Well, I’d probably still be a farmer. There’s no internal motivation to do anything. It’s all external circumstance forcing the character to act, and in a way that feels a little more realistic, but it’s not. That’s not how people work; people have internal drive to do things, and in stories, that’s so often ignored. And with more modern flawed characters, they’re rarely actually expected to want to improve on their flaws. The character’s static; they don’t work through trauma or repair personality issues, they just are. Character development seems to have largely gone out the window. There’s no drive, no reason for them to do anything unless the plot demands it. Having a character figure something out about themselves and work to fix it without external prompting is nearly revolutionary, and therefore might carry more weight. It’s easy to throw a plot twist and drop a character into a situation that prompts them to change in one way or another, but having a character change on their own is harder, and therefore rarer, and one of the reasons why “Not So Different” feels so weak is because it’s structured like a plot twist, but it’s way too predictable. If two characters are similar, you can probably tell. Having one point that out to the other and the other respond with shock feels contrived, even if it’s in character for them to not have figured it out. It’s a good literary trick being executed in the least effective way possible. It’s also worth noting that the “Not So Different” trope isn’t always a villain messing with the hero. Sometimes it’s the hero appealing to the villain, or even just to disparate characters realizing their similarities. See, that instance of the trope is used to make two characters closer because that’s how real-world friendships work. And that version’s not annoying because it goes somewhere. In its most common instance, this trope is nothing but a waste of time, but in this case, it leads to character growth and relationship development, and therefore can actually be useful. But the villain to hero version doesn’t go anywhere in most cases. It’s just there for momentary shock value, and it doesn’t even shock the audience, so in its most common instance, this trope is nothing but a waste of time. It can be done right, but it so rarely is. So yeah.

100 thoughts on “Trope Talk: We’re Not So Different

  1. The way I'd want to see this trope done is where the villain does the "we're not so different" thing and it's actually true, and the hero gets tripped up over it. Then, in the final battle, the villain goes "you wouldn't really kill me. You're supposed to be the hero" and then the hero says "we're not so different." And kills them.

    Idk I just think it would be good for a morally challenged character

  2. What I think would be interesting is if the hero pulled this on the villains. Talk-no-jutsu in Naruto is close but not quite.

  3. I remember this happening in an episode of Mighty Max where the Barbarian body guard of the titular character gets this from the guy that killed his father, then the guy smiles then says: I can live with that" just before kicking the guy off a cliff.

  4. Villain: We’re not so different… my favorite color, too, is blue.

    Hero’s friend: What? What’s that got to do-


  5. What if you started with this trope, and the hero acted surprised, but really was just using the opportunity to try to sway the villain?

  6. The very best use if this was in the Hunter X Hunter Chimera Ant Arc…but it was sort of flipped on its head.

  7. But the difference between Tucker and Ed is that Ed was hopefully trying to bring his mom back, Tucker murdered his wife for his own selfish gain, and then after doing that he was willing to do it again. Ed did use himself to get his brother back, but only to save his brother who he unknowingly screwed over and we all know Ed would never choose to do it again. So Tucker can go screw himself on one of Armstrong's ground spikes.

  8. Knowing me I'd have a villian that uses it but the protagonist doesn't care and the villian goes on a breakdown wondering why it didn't work. Because it is true and that is why it didn't work.

  9. I love how do this in Van Helsing. Dracula pulls the "we aren't so different you and i" as he realizes he's getting his arse kicked. Van Helsing responds by continuing to kick his arse.

  10. I can just imagine a loop. "Not so different, you and I." "Nooooo-" "That's wrong!" "All better now!" "We're very similar!" on and on loopy loop cycle.

  11. They actually address this in Ms. Fortune's story in Skullgirls, when she says "Let's skip the whole 'We're not so different' line and just get to the fight"

  12. What if the villain said “we’re not so different” and began to have sympathy for the hero, desiring the hero to no longer be restrained by the rules, like he once was?
    What if the villain says it…out of some twisted compassion?

  13. Can I get some feed back?
    The villain is a creepy wanna-be Spike (From Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and the hero is a vampire that fuck up raising him. Is it creepy and uncomfortable for him to call the hero "mommy"?

  14. Now I'd just like to see a use of this trope where the villain is trying to manipulate the hero when he uses it, and may even have some valid point of argument in regards to his/her claim, but the hero is confident enough in their choices/behavior that they just respond with a "hm… you dont say. oh well" and then punches them square in the face.

  15. I would love to see a villain who realises the hero isn't like him at all. The twist I would add however, is the hero just flatly says no. The villain then admits it and finishes pulling out the giant weapon which he needed another second to grab.

  16. “This is the part where you give me the ‘we’re not so different, you and I’ speech again.”
    “Oh, no. You’re waaay better at killing people than I am.”
    -Tales From the Borderlands, Episode 5

  17. I don't mean to keep promoting Red vs Blue (i do) but the Wash and Locus dynamic is an awesome use of this trope. It's nothing new, it's just done really well.

  18. A story I'm working on has this line in it and the hero brushes it off and later the villain is trying to use that line again to gain mercy, the hero thinks back to every time the villain has hurt or tried to kill him and responds with "I agree" and stabs the villain in the face

  19. Series 1 of the new Doctor Who era did it well, when the Dalek pointed out the Doctor would make a good Dalek, since he was enjoying torturing him, (and this was when Doctor Who had a writer that actually completed archs and stories) it lead to development in the Doctors' character.

  20. My brain just had an idea:
    Villain, just trying to get under the hero's skin: "Hahaha! We're not so different, you and I…"
    Hero, clearly unimpressed: "You think I didn't know that already?"
    Villain, now visibly confused: "Wait, what?"
    Hero: (Lists of things similar between them) "… and- Wait. Don't tell me you're only just now realizing this?"
    Villain, now clearly embarrassed: "N-no. I just thought you didn't know…"

  21. What if it went like this:

    Villain: "We're not so different, you and I."

    Hero: " You're right. Why don't you become a good guy then?"

    Villain: "WHAAAAAAAAAAAT?"

  22. If you need a example for charecter development and them realizing something bad, try taking a example from your darkest times in life. Like how I just made that up because for a secound I remembered when I was obsessed with this internet person and didn't realize how much time I was spending on my phone, until I looked up from it and thought for a secound. You don't realize you got a problem until you stop and think.

  23. I absolutely adore all the FMAB references/uses in all these videos.It is my Favorite anime of all time.

  24. It funny when both the hero and the villain try to hook up with the same girls *Really Hard*, the girls just told them: “You twos are really that different.”

  25. This trope done right (i guess):

    * Jerk Hero and Villiain ( but not decisive) fight *

    Villain: We're not so different!

    Jerk Hero: What? No -_-

    * After battle*

    Jerk Hero: *do jerk things *

    His Friends: * leaves hero party*

    Villain: See? We're not so different!


  26. another instance that was done fairly well was when Robin was acting so much like Slade for an entire arc of Teen Titans

  27. One great example of the "We're not so different" trope being employed by a hero appealing to a villain is in the Two Towers between Frodo and Gollum. Even though pretty much every other character in the series treats Gollum with revulsion and contempt, Frodo is willing to treat him with kindness because he sees a grim reflection of himself. He recognizes that in a way, Gollum was a ringbearer too, and that he himself is not invulnerable to the same temptations that Gollum fell to. What makes this even better is that it not only humanizes Gollum, but it also adds complexity to the relationship between Frodo and Sam. Sam sees Frodo is becoming more distant and blames Gollum (not to mention his concern that Gollum will stab them in the back at the first opportune moment), while Frodo feels that Sam doesn't understand the similarities/link between himself and Gollum and gets irritated at Sam's perceived ignorance.

    tl;dr, Lord of the Rings is great and Frodo's sections of the Two Towers wouldn't be nearly as interesting without this dynamic.

  28. "It's all external circumstance forcing the character to act… That's not how people work. People have internal drive to do things." — I can't say this premise is straight-up wrong, but it's EXTREMELY debatable. I'd argue it depends heavily on the specific person. Just Bugged Me.

  29. Worm probably has my favourite version of this. Over the course of the story, the protagonist learns from her adversaries and incorporates their tactics into her own. As the story progresses, she garners a reputation of being even more terrifying than the people she was initially fighting. What does she think when she realizes this? “Oh perfect, that reputation is going to be really useful for making my opponents hesitate in a fight!”

  30. Recently, the Netflix version of “Daredevil” had an example that is the inverse of this. The villain, Wilson Fisk/Kingpin, pulls the “You and I have a lot in common” line, saying he respects Matt Murdock/Daredevil’s conviction. Immediately Matt denies it, and they don’t seem to have anything in common.

    But they are more alike than either would know, and the audience is made aware of it as both their backstories are revealed. Both feel they are called to change ‘their city’, they were shaped by their fathers (one supportive and the other abusive), and wrestle with their explosive tempers. By the time of Season 3, they’re both consumed with hate for each other, and can’t hide how similar they are.

    The difference is Daredevil refuses to let the hate define him, rule him, since (paraphrasing the kindly priest) being an evil man’s enemy isn’t enough to make him a good person, he has to overcome their similarities on his own and be the better man!

  31. I was screaming “MENTION ROBIN AND SLADE” the whole video because this really is Teen Titan’s favorite trope. I think every single hero has a villain that’s their direct foil and it gets pointed out A LOT.

    Cyborg=Brother Blood
    Beast Boy= ? I guess the Brain? I have to rewatch the series but I don’t think BB had one of these arcs…

    Anyway, they’re all different kinds of “just like me”s, whether it’s sisters, I made myself a cyborg to copy you now we’re the same, parent-child issues, or the basic: we’re both scary smart and good at martial arts*, but they are all essentially the same trope.

    *I’d like to point out Slade was enhanced with super soldier serum and Robin’s natural, but whatever.

  32. One time it works is in the Doctor Who episode Dalek, wherein the Dalek notes the Doctor's rage and hate and says "You would make a good Dalek"
    This absolutely shatters the Doctor

  33. There’s a scene in Sherlock where he actually uses this line on moriarty and it works, and moriarty is delighted by the prospect. Just an interesting twist.

  34. What if the villan says we're not so different and the hero is like "yeah we actually are,can I join your casue" and then the former hero and villan take over the world or achieve whatever the villan was trying to achieve

  35. villain: You and I aren't so different
    hero: Homie you tried killing my classmates
    villain: Better then killing my soldiers?

    hero: My dude, my guy, your soldiers ditched you. Their not dead. They just hate you. My whole thing is that I don't kill, what did you think happened????

  36. 6:09 I think this is, in part, due to the idea that "you are great just as you are"/"born this way #NoHate #NoJudgement" as its been pushed HEAVILY in the current generation. A writer wouldn't see the need for a character to change/develop if the writer doesn't see it in themself.

  37. Villain: WeWe're not so different you and I.
    Hero: What are you talking about? We have nothing alike. I'm not even human.
    Villain: Well, uh. Hmm, I guess you're right. We have nothing in common. Anyway, I'm still going to kill you.

  38. The thing that makes me sad about how over used this trope is is that there are good examples of how this trope can be implemented and it can make for good story telling, but it doesn't usually land even when it's done well due to the popularity of the notion

  39. My favorite version of the trope

    The main character sees the big bad for the first time, previously he's been the faceless guy running a slave empire.

    To the main characters disgust, she figures out the big bad is from one of the life-saving bunkers she grew up in, not the same one but close enough.

    He is Left-Handed just like she is Left-Handed

    they're both very tech savvy.

    These surface level similarities let her see all the ways that she's been acting like the big bad guy, doing small evils in the name of larger good. the big bad guy runs the slave Empire in hopes of building a new world for the children he takes care of. It's a Kick In The Head she needed around halfway through the story, and every time she does something a little bit too far from good in the future she thinks of the big bad guy.

    Lol sorry for the short essay, you lit a fire in my soul and I had to share.

  40. Ok here’s a pitch
    An antihero of sorts spends the first arc hunting this villain because he simply can’t stand the boring cycles of other lifestyles. He needs action. When he finally reaches the villain he’s been hunting, the villain gives him a sort of anticlimactic fight, and counts on our protagonists soft heartedness to make sure nothing terrible other than being captured to inevitably escape later can happen to him. But our protagonist casually starts crushing the villains windpipe in his hands with only one thought: the world will be better off without him. More traditional heroes show up just in time to stop him and take the villain away, but our protagonist just finds a new villain to hunt. This villain has heard the news about this terrible antihero, and in a world of boring do good heroes is terrified that there’s an actual threat to his life after him. He does everything in his power to escape, but is eventually found and the battle begins. This villain puts everything he has into it, but still falls short. Our protagonist ends him swiftly. This continues an arc or two, and the antihero gets progressively more and more selfish and cruel, until eventually he’s made an enemy of heroes and villains alike and is the most feared and terrible villain to ever disgrace the land. Some time passes and our new season is matched with a new protagonist. This one much more heroic in nature. He basically ends up a hero because he lives to help and wants to stop the newest scariest villain on the market. He makes his way through some villains forced to work under the new villain, finds out they’re all terrified by their boss, and goes for the final battle. He is utterly defeated with ease. He ends up hospitalized and beyond repair, until the villains he beat show up. They’re tired of the sinister overlord and want to help our hero. They fix him up with some special ability one of them had as their gimmick and support him in defeating the final boss. When they win, all the major villains find themselves unwilling to be evil after seeing what true evil is, and go to live boring lives. The hero continues to patrol for budding villains and convince them it’s not worth it, and the villain, well, let’s just say no cage can hold him.

    Thanks to those of you who read this whole plot idea of some stranger. Hope you liked it.

  41. Spec ops the line actually does this well, it's the main topic of the game, you are even making up the bad guy in your imagination based on your bad actions, to not feel guilt

  42. Why do you practice martial arts?
    1: I want to punch people in the face.
    2: I enjoy the discipline and learning new moves.
    3: I don't know, I just fell into it.

  43. Writing Prompt:
    Instead of a female villainess character, we have a male villainess character and a male protagonist. The male villain is the hot while kicking your ass type and so is the male protagonist. The male protagonist realizes that similarity between them and decides that they should instead be best buddies. In the end the male villainess wingmans the protag. Protag gets rejected anyways and decides to be gay for the Villain instead and the villain agrees knowing that, although they may forever be single, and be best bros, might as well break that rule and make them gay best bros, because no one would ever love them the way they love each other.

    While fighting
    P- protag
    V- Villain.
    P: You know, you actually look hot while fighting
    V: Really?
    P: Yeah, no homo.
    v: Hey you do too actually! No homo.
    P: Hey, why don't we stop fighting and be best bros instead
    V: Honestly yeah, I mean this is getting pretty tiring. Let's just be best bros.

  44. kinda Spoilers

    The Fullmetal sequence was the best example of this i've ever seen, It makes such an impact, that even the viewer is shocked and sad.
    I know i certainly was, with how cheerful the good pupper and Nina were.

  45. So in ReBoot the protagonist played the were not so different card, that… that is an interesting plot choice that toooaaatally held up.

  46. A good example is I am legend where the mane character realised he was like the monsters he hunted and killed and he practically loses his mind over it and it was amazing

  47. One of my personal favorite ways I’ve seen this used is in the game “Skyrim” should the player choose to do quests for the Thieves Guild, they will eventually have to fight and kill the previous leader, Mercer Frey. He will point out the fact that both you and him are really only in it for money; you both steal, lie, and kill to further you power and worth.

  48. That thing about getting dragged onto everything and not having the drive to do anything themselves is a reason why me and many others like Giorno Giovanna. He has a DREAM. He's coming for the villain, not the other way around.

  49. I'm really looking forward to using this line, as a hero, on my villain uncle in my friend's superhero rpg

    But with the inverse effect
    We're not so different because you and I want the same things, but we're using different means

  50. This kinda reminded me of the moment in Avatar the Last Airbender when Zuko broke Aang out of a Firenation fort (this is season 1 ep 13 by the way, I just looked it up to make sure I was thinking of the right wording, that's why I know)
    Basically the breaking out ends with Zuko passed out and Aang talking to him about a friend he had 100 years ago, before the war and his self-isolation for those 100 years, who was of the Firenation. Aang questions "If we knew each other back then, do you think we could have been friends to?" to which Zuko responds with a fire blast.
    BUT here we see a moment when the Protagonist is telling his Antagonist that basically "If not for this war we could have been best buds!" which isn't too far away from the "we're not so different, you and I" thing. And I like it!! Too bad we don't really delve into this idea more.

  51. Dude… A character that just wants to improve themselves… You just frigging fixed the only major problem my reciently started tale had. Bless you and this wonderful channel!

  52. This made me think of Fate/Stay Night. In the end, the villain was the main character from some alternate timeline fututre. They have a literal battle of ideals, striking at each other with the same weapons, and stronger blows were paired with stronger statements about the others ideology. This is the not so different trope done pretty well.

  53. I remember a brilliant fan comic that touched on this. Megatron ask Optimus what was the difference between them, cue obvious similarities, and WITHOUT hesitation Optimus replied he still knew there was a difference between right and wrong.

  54. I gotta point out, having the MC realize it themselves is best, but it can make the rest of the band look idiotic if they don't help.

  55. The main confrontation in one of my stories was kind of the opposite of this, with the hero going "We're not so different" and the villain refusing to believe it. See, the hero and the villain had some personal history and the villain was so determined to be the opposite of the hero that this was actually a really devastating line. The hero doesn't even know this; the hero is actually extremely self-centered (and refuses to believe it) and the story is mostly told through the villain's perspective. And the villain hates the prospect of not being different from the hero! They're very different people in actuality, the hero doesn't know this but the villain does, and it really doesn't accomplish the hero's goal of "distract the villain from villainy." It really just pisses the villain off.

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