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The Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist represents the law, who is intent on capturing a criminal. It just so happens that the viewpoint character of the work is a Lovable Rogue or some other criminal.

The Inspector must be sympathetic, unlike the Inspector Javert. He's doing exactly what he should be doing, and even doing it fairly well, but never quite as well as the protagonist is doing his job. As a series goes on, chances are he'll develop a great deal of respect for his quarry, and may be quite prone to teaming up with the protagonist. He also does not chase Wrongly Accused criminals. Don't try to fake being a victim of his target; the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist knows his quarry, and can often tell right off "That's not his style." Likewise, he can often figure out pretty quickly if an innocent target is being framed by his archnemesis.

This sympathy can be played for laughs, and humiliated left and right by the hero. Thus, this character runs a risk of becoming a joke among fans (or even in-series) if he never has any on-screen successes, especially if Flanderization sets in. A common way of preventing this is to have the character be a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass against lesser crooks, thus racking up an impressive career record of arrests even if it is primarily cleaning up after his main quarry has defeated them. More likely to be Lawful Good than Inspector Javert. Many times, it is also revealed that he is VERY good at his job... but that his elusive quarry is SO good as to make him look foolish. Spotlight episodes might even prove him to be quite formidable. The protagonist himself may even praise him, and usually enjoys getting chased.

This character is also always considered an important one in the series, even if he is secondary to the protagonist: the series would just not be as interesting without a foil for the hero. Expect him to have a few episodes dedicated exclusively to him, like showing his point of view for an entire episode or showing his life outside chasing his prey. Can easily become an Ensemble Darkhorse if he's likable enough (which he usually is).

A subtrope of Hero Antagonist. See also The Rival. Compare Determinator. Contrast Inspector Javert (who is often villainous, though rarely actually evil, and is trying to arrest someone who does not deserve it) and Inspector Lestrade (the protagonist and antagonist positions are reversed, with a similar success rate).

Simple inspector identification test: if it would be unjust for the inspector to actually arrest the hero, but the inspector doesn't know or doesn't agree, he is Inspector Javert. If he does know it, he's just a jerk. If it would be just to arrest the hero (a Gentleman Thief is still a lawbreaker) but it never seems to happen or stick, despite him being good at his job, it's Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist. If the protagonist is a detective who usually out-sleuths him, he's Inspector Lestrade.

Examples of Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist include:


  • Old Cookie Crisp commercials, which replaced the ones about their old mascot, Cookie Jarvis, had Officer Crumb chasing after the Cookie Crook and Chip the Dog for stealing Cookie Crisp. He never succeeded... until they changed the commercials to have Officer Crumb catch them in the end. Later the Cookie Crook and Chip the Dog were scrapped entirely for Chip the Wolf.

Anime and Manga

  • Pictured above: The former Trope Namer is Inspector Kouichi Zenigata from the Lupin III series. He set the standard for a whole host of wacky detectives following in the example of his relentless pursuit of Lupin. By this point, he's come to admit he wouldn't have any idea what to do with himself if he did catch Lupin. He's also very much in the "good, just not as good as his quarry" column of Zenigatas - he gets closer to catching Lupin than anyone who tries to replace him, he's a one-man police force against any lesser criminal, and in his younger days he could have quite a good time beating up an entire gang of muggers barehanded. It's openly stated that his stellar arrest record i.e. cleaning up after Lupin is what lets him stay on the Lupin case.
    • In his younger days?? In Dead Or Alive, which is most certainly in the contemporary timeline, he takes on a gang of armed soldiers by himself while drinking some tea in a cafe without getting a scratch. Much BIGGER, well trained soldiers. With Judo. Badass.
    • Zenigata has also actually been able to catch Lupin clean a few times. In the original series, he caught him with a VERY cleverly laid trap, and kept behind bars FOR A YEAR. It took Lupin a VERY clever Batman Gambit to escape that time. The bottom line is Zenigata IS capable of catching Lupin from time to time. Lupin STAYING caught? Ah, now that's the tricky part, ain't it?
      • He's also let Lupin go more than a few times, too. While Lupin is his archenemy, it's a matter of the two being on reasonably good terms with each other, and he'll stop chasing Lupin if there's a worse villain to be caught, even to the point of ignoring Lupin escaping if the badguy is bad enough (sort of a reward for helping stop him).
    • And Bob Copper from Mega Man Star Force, who is an Expy of Zenigata.
  • Sherlock Hound's portrayal of Inspector Lestrade has elements of this, when chasing Moriarty. Ironically, Hayao Miyazaki, one of the directors also directed The Castleof Cagliostro.
  • Kaitou Saint Tail has the Amateur Sleuth Asuka Jr constantly trying to foil Saint Tail. Of course, complications arise from Meimi's on-off crush on him outside her alter-ego, eventually leading into Dating Catwoman.
  • Tadashi from Astro Boy started out in this role.
  • Hakuba Saguru from Magic Kaito can be seen as a serious version of this or, in his worse moments, a genuine Inspector Javert. However, he does do a fair bit of good despite his attempts to catch the gentleman thief protagonist, and views him as a Worthy Opponent. Also notable for the huge amount of Ho Yay his obsessed chase produces.
    • Don't forget Inspector Nakamori, who is pretty much exactly Zenigata. He's an actual cop in charge of an entire division devoted exclusively to catching Kaitou Kid. He's also totally, unhealthily obsessed and does not even approach being smart enough to beat Kid, instead getting taunted and gently humiliated whenever he faces off against the thief. (Though he is more competent when not dealing with Kid.) And ironically, Nakamori's daughter Aoko is the closest to Kaitou's love interest.
    • Eventually, he gets yet another Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist... Conan from Detective Conan.
  • Detective Leon Orcott of Pet Shop of Horrors. He finds Count D to be a threat to humanity. Count D finds him to be endearingly/irritatingly thick-headed. Both are correct in their assessment. This doesn't stop either of them from having tea with one another several times a month.
    • Leon also finds himself disturbingly attracted to D (disturbingly so because D is male - sort of), just as D finds himself disturbingly drawn to Leon (disturbingly so because Leon is human). Eventually, as Leon really begins to trust D, he lets his little brother live in the titular Petshop because he feels it would be the safest environment for the kid. ... And he still tries to arrest D occasionally after that.
  • Seto no Hanayome has Zenigata Mawari, a policeman's daughter obsessed with enforcing rules with all her might. Comes with a Catch Phrase: "Must Mawari teach you the rules of..."
  • Another female example: Atsuko "Jambo" Jackson, from Michiko to Hatchin.
  • Inspector Saehara from D.N.Angel falls into the comic side of this trope due to Dark already having a rather more competent nemesis. He does realise it would be out of character for Dark to kidnap someone though.
  • Captain, later Commodore, Smoker in One Piece. He's a marine, and catching pirates is his job - not wrongly so, since a lot of Pirates really are terrible criminals in this world. It just so happens our hero is also a pirate, if a really nice one that never pillages or hurts innocents. He catches plenty of other, less nice pirates along the way and actually helps foiling the plans of the Big Bad in the Alabasta arc. Also notable in that Luffy stands no chance against him in a fight and he probably could take the Straw Hat in, but dumb luck, circumstance or help of allies always gets him out of Smoker's grasp.
  • L from Death Note would qualify as a more serious and less hands on example. As the worlds greatest detective, he early on (correctly) fingers out the main protagonist as the most likely candidate to be the notorious mass serial killer known as "Kira" and continues to pursue his hunch for the rest of the series, even when circumstances (orchestrated by Light of course) seem to disprove this. It's also a rare example where the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist's opponent ends up losing because of his hard work, albeit through his successor
    • It should probably be noted that, though he does correctly finger Light as Kira and assert that he's never been more sure of a deduction in his life, he also asserts that he's only seven percent sure that Light is Kira, so he's kind of on the outer fringes of being a S Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist (most Sympathetic Inspector Antagonists have harder evidence and greater certainty of their convictions).
      • Note that L's tendency to put percentages on everything is at least 50% bullshit. When he says "7% certainty", Word of God asserts that he's actually very convinced of Light being Kira.
      • It's not even that. Word of God says that whenever L gives a percentage, it's actually over 90%. Near sums it up the best. To paraphrase:

 - Near: I'm 99.999% sure that Light is Kira. The final 0.001% is just the lack of decisive evidence.

  • Misaki Kirihara of Darker Than Black manages to be one of the most sympathetic characters in the series despite spending most of it working against the (amoral, but generally also sympathetic) main characters. It helps that the series runs on Grey and Gray Morality.
  • Cat's Eye: Inspector Utsumi will never, ever catch the three Classy Cat Burglars. Because they're the protagonists, and because his girlfriend is one of them.
  • Several police persons appear in Hana no Ko Lunlun, ranging from this trope to Inspector Javert. The most archetypical Sympathetic Inspector Antagonists are the policeman who chased after Sayid and Scharo in the first part of the Morocco miniarc, and the inspector form the Egypt episode who pursues a Gentleman Thief that Lunlun has befriended and actually succeeds in catching his target. Poor Lunlun never knew she was aiding an outlaw, tho.
  • The wearin a shirt called "Checkmate" from Tenjho Tenge
  • Bright Honda in Shadow Lady is a skilled detective and a wizard with gadgets, but he's trying to take down a supernatural cat burglar.
  • Meguro from MW. Like L, he guessed right who the bad guy is but lacks evidence.
  • This is how Inspector Satsuda from The Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird is introduced, as he isn't a bad person (Fighbird's companion Guard Star wouldn't use Satsuda's police car as a vessel otherwise) but is totally obsessed with Dr. Amano's supposed part in a massive robbery that took place some years before the series started. As the series goes on, he becomes the Friend on the Force.

Comic Books

  • Lt. Kellaway from The Mask.
  • Inspector Ginko in the Italian series Diabolik.
  • Finch in V for Vendetta is an effective and honorable detective, it's just that V, his opponent, is a master of Batman gambits. You could argue that this trope is subverted in the end, as Finch manages to find and kill V, but the comic strongly implies that V wanted this to happen, making it his ultimate Batman Gambit.
  • In The Incredible Hulk comic books, Doc Samson kept trying to stop the Hulk when he was savage or grey. He ought to be good at it, since he's almost as strong as the Hulk, but as the grey Hulk put it: "You know what [being almost as strong as me] means? NOTHING!"


  • Willem Dafoe's character in The Boondock Saints hits this trope. Perhaps averted later when he attempts to imitate the Saints, and again when he flat out joins their cause..
  • Kenneth William's characters in the Carry On movies with Sid James as an outlaw (Carry On Dick and Carry On Don't Lose Your Head). Fits this trope rather amusingly, with Sid James as the Gentleman Thief.
  • Inspector Jacques Clouseau of The Pink Panther fame started out as this in the very first film pursuing the Phantom, who was the original protagonist. Clouseau became the Ensemble Darkhorse the subsequent films focused on, and he never gave up his determination to capture villains. This, combined with his chronic ineptitude, is what drove his superior Chief Inspector Dreyfus to madness. On the other hand, in Trail of the Pink Panther, Charles Lytton (the Phantom himself) saw that determination as the secret to what success Clouseau had.
  • Sheriff Beaufort T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit movies.
  • Tom Hanks's character Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can.
  • Det. Prendergast in Falling Down.
  • Shinjuku Incident has detective Kitano, playing the role to its extreme. He's a bit of a Jerkass for parts of the film, but he is nonetheless shown in a positive light, in a sense even more so than Jackie Chan's character. Subverted/played with, though, in that rather than chase Steelhead to the ends of the earth, he agrees not to do just that...after he almost dies chasing Steelhead to the ends of the earth.
  • The nameless LAPD detectives of 1-Baker-11 in the original Gone in Sixty Seconds are a perfect example of this and Hero Antagonist. Maindrian Pace has been stealing cars, then, after being tipped off to his final theft and instituting a stakeout, Pace rams their car and flees from the scene after being signalled to stop. They are the only police car to chase Pace the entire pursuit, from beginning to end.
  • Inspectors Castlebeck and Drycoff in the remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds.
  • Deputy Samuel Gerard of the US Marshals is the serious version in The Fugitive.


  • The original Arsène Lupin had Ganimard, the original Zenigata. Lupin himself admits that even though Ganimard doesn't have his or Holmes's intellect, he made up on pure tenacity and determination. Not that Lupin ever had any qualms on making him look like a fool though. Notable for being the first one ever to arrest Lupin.
  • In the Moist von Lipwig POV Discworld novels, Vimes is this, though an unusual case as those who've read the whole series will be familiar with him as a protagonist.
    • Although Vimes isn't out to catch Moist in particular. He doesn't like him, but he doesn't like anyone very much.
  • Most of the police officers who pursue The Saint fall into this category, especially Chief Inspector Claud Eustace Teal of Scotland yard and Inspector John Henry Fernack of the NYPD.
    • Teal was so important to Simon Templar's early adventures that two collections were named after him. He also saved the Saint's life at least once.
  • Porfiry Petrovich from Crime and Punishment is probably this; subverted in that he succeeds, hence the second part of the title.
    • What's so impressive about Porfiry is that the protagonist, while guilty, just manages through a combination of luck and Xanatos Speed Chess to make it so that there is very little evidence against him; the only way he could be convicted is if he confesses. Porfiry, knowing that the protagonist is guilty but not possessing enough evidence to convict, manages to hound and mess with him enough to convince him to confess.
    • Interestingly, even while he was messing with the protagonist with such ideas as reduction of sentence and suicide, he seemed genuinely concerned for the protagonist's moral welfare. (Only after, however, he is utterly certain that the protagonist will confess. Knowing he's caught the right guy and clinched the case, he takes some time out to feel sorry for him.)
  • Charlie Weston in the Nick Velvet stories
  • Ben Price in the short story A Retrieved Reformation
  • Jakub Wedrowycz's wannabe nemesis, officer Birski, who rarely succeeds in arresting him, and even then only manages to do so on charges of producing moonshine (as opposed to a whole lot of other outrageous things Jakub tends to do).
  • Captain Quarterblood in the Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky Brothers.

Live Action TV

  • The various Army commanders (of which there were five or six) who pursued the The A-Team flip-flopped between this and Inspector Javert depending on the script & characterizations.
  • Paul Ballard on Dollhouse spends most of the first season trying to uncover the titular operation.
    • Many would consider him the true protagonist of the show, apart from Echo who is a victim he is trying to save.
  • In Monty Python's Flying Circus, Harry "Snapper" Organs's pursuit of the Piranha Brothers seems to be a spoof of this trope.
    • Well, that and Inspector Leonard "Nipper" Read, the guy who brought down the Kray Twins of whom the Piranhas were a parody.
  • Jim Sterling on Leverage, except he never looks foolish and the protagonists never manage to humiliate him, even when they get away, because he always manages somehow to get promoted after every encounter with them.
    • Sterling is also an interesting example because he doesn't actually care all that much about capturing Team Leverage unless it somehow serves his own purposes and ambitions. Most of the time, he just leaves them alone.
  • Hank Schrader of Breaking Bad is this to an elusive crystal-meth manufacturer known to him only as "Heisenberg." Little does he know that "Heisenberg" is actually his brother-in-law Walter White, the Justified Criminal protagonist of the series.
  • Doakes serves as the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist in Dexter until he dies in a fire.
  • Seasoned detective Kwak in the Korean Series Bad Boy.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Planet of the Dead", the detective pursuing Lady Christina is mostly played for laughs, ignored by UNIT and other authorities, and in the end, the Doctor helps her escape as he watches in futility.
  • Detective Carter in Person of Interest is a serious version, pursuing the vigilante protagonist. She does occasionally team up with Finch and Reese, the frequency of such team ups increasing up until the season finale, where for the second time, she (along with her partner, Lionel Fusco, who was initially blackmailed into assisting them unbeknownst to Carter until she tracked him down) helped Reese evade the CIA. Finch will occasionally contact Carter for information that the NYPD may have on a POI.
  • Chief Inspector Teal in The Saint.

Video Games

  • Carmelita Fox from the Sly Cooper video game series. She's one of the most respected cops in the world, perhaps thanks to Sly's MO of only stealing from other criminals: even though she usually fails to catch Sly, she can always bring in his victim. Sly also tends to flirt with her whenever they clash, which eventually evolves into Dating Catwoman.
    • Carmelita is unique among Sympathetic Inspector Antagonists in that at the end of the series, she DOES capture a manner of speaking. The two of them end up romantically involved and Sly quits the thief business so they can be together. Of course, he does this by faking amnesia, so it's hard to say who really ends up on top here.
  • In Oblivion, Hieronymus Lex - one of the Imperial City's Watch Captains - is the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist to the Gray Fox, leader of the Thieves' Guild in Cyrodiil. In fact, he is one of the only members of the Imperial Watch who even believes the Thieves' Guild exists, and has dedicated himself to becoming a perpetual, overzealous thorn in its side. He mellows considerably after you inform him that he's been reassigned to the city of Anvil... although not without a brief rant about how the Gray Fox must have been behind that, too. He's right.
    • Although for fun, once you get the Gray Fox cowl, you can put it on in front of him and have him sputter in disbelief at finally catching him.
      • So many layers of irony were in that 'reassignment'. On one hand, Lex is now unwittingly working for the Gray Fox. On the other hand, it was the Gray Fox who, after so many years of cat-n-mouse evasion between them, hand-picked him to be his head of security. This actually reveals a huge respect for the man.
  • Officer Denise Marmalade in The Misadventures of Tron Bonne.
  • The captain of the Schwann Brigade In Tales of Vesperia. In a final side quest with him before the final dungeon, after Yuri escapes from him one final time, he even laughs and says "I wouldn't have it any other way".
  • Luke Atmey plays the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist to Gentleman Thief Mask*DeMasque in Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations. By which we mean he's blackmailing DeMasque into committing the thefts to make money and get attention.
    • And in Ace Attorney Investigations Detective Badd's spent ten years chasing a vigilante thief called the Yatagarasu and has become an expert on his techniques. By which we mean he is the Yatagarasu, or at least one of the three people in the Yatagarasu group. Since he's the main detective on the case he can easily erase all evidence of the Yatagarasu's identity.
    • Dick Gumshoe is usually this, but even moreso in Investigations, where he's Edgeworth's assistant/sidekick. Though he's most used for comedic purposes, he has shades of Inspector Lestrade, Determinator, and Dumbass Has a Point. Notably, in the last case, he was able to deliver all the remaining evidence needed to incriminate the suspect without even being told what to look for. If he pays more attention to Edgeworth, he could easily take a level in badass in sequels, but this is unlikely, since now he's more of a The Watson, but at least it's a step up from Butt Monkey.
  • Spectre Jondum Bau from Mass Effect 3 is a semi-example. He's not against Shepard, but he is trying to hunt down one of Shepard's friends, Kasumi Goto, Classy Cat Burglar extraordinaire. Both Bau and Kasumi have great respect for each other.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Invader Zim DIB! DIB! DIB!
  • Robin in the Teen Titans cartoon is a more serious version of this, with his obsession with finding Slade.
    • In Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo, Commander Daizo appears to be another serious form of this, sternly chasing Robin once he "kills" one of Brushogun's ink constructs. He even looks like Zenigata. However: He's actually the villain of the piece, using Brushogun as a slave to create criminals for him to capture.
  • Commander Ulysses Feral will not stop before he's caught those Swat Kats for the destruction they inflict on the city! ... Usually. His real sympathetic part is that more than once a bad guy he's captured will try to use his mutual hatred of the SWAT Kats to get favorable treatment, only to be promptly reminded that Feral does not make deals with criminal scum.
  • Ganimard from Night Hood.
  • Ranger Smith from Yogi Bear. Charged with the duty of keeping people's picnic baskets from being stolen.
  • Maximus from Tangled, a royal mount that got seperated from his rider but still kept trying to bring Flynn in. He eventually warms up to him.
  • The Sheriff from the Bunny and Claude Looney Tunes cartoons.
  • Agent Li in The Zeta Project, which frequently brings her into conflict with her boss, Agent Bennett. Eventually, she seeks reassignment due to her belief that Zeta is not a threat to anyone.
  • Rancid Rabbit from Cat Dog.
  • Principal Pixiefrog from My Gym Partners a Monkey.
  • Mr. Wilter and Principal Stringet from Chalk Zone.
  • Ranger Stu from Squirrel Boy.
  • The Angry Cop from The Goode Family episode "Gerald's Way or The Highway".
  • Benson from Regular Show.
  • Gobsmack from Pearlie.
  • Candace certainly thinks she is this to Phineas and Ferb.