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George: Who the hell are you?!
—Being Human (UK), pilot episode
Someone is invisible or otherwise magically disguised. At some point, they notice they're attracting an unexpected amount of attention who shouldn't be attracting any. "You Can See Me?" The standard response is some variant of "Why wouldn't I be able to see you?" or, more succinctly, "Well, duh."
Usually happens one of three ways. An invisible character, either despondent of being invisible or overconfident in same, runs into someone who can perceive them in some way or another (infra red sight, anti-magic glasses, etc). Another involves supernaturals under some kind of glamour, and saying this when they experience Glamour Failure at the
hands eyes of someone that can see through their deception. The last way, almost always Played for Laughs, is that the person was never invisible or disguised in the first place; they just thought they were.
In any case, it is pretty much inevitable that any character in this situation will say this line (instead of, say, figuring that if the person is talking to them and looking at them they can probably see them) even though it makes them sound ridiculous and ruins any attempt to pretend to be normal. Now, if this happens in combat the invisible person is much likelier to say Oh Crap.
Savvier invisible people will actually phrase the question such that they aren't asking if but how. If one of The Fair Folk asks you "Which eye do you see me with?" be assured whatever eye you say is going to be rendered blind.
Anime & Manga
- Rukia's reaction when Ichigo addresses her in the first chapter of the manga. Ichigo takes this a step further, and kicks her when she apparently tries to break into his home.
- And in a slightly stranger example, Ichigo's reaction when Tatsuki asks what his "Deputy Soul Reaper" badge is, which was stated to be Invisible to Normals.
- Let's face it, this is pretty much Running Gag status in Bleach by now.
- Ryuk in Death Note says this to a criminal who inadvertently touched a piece of the title Artifact of Doom.
- The first episode of Ninin ga Shinobuden has Shinobu attempting to sneak into Kaede's house by making herself invisible. She fails miserably. Twice.
- In Honey Crush, this is said by the ghost Mitsu when she discovers that Kyouko has the ability to see ghosts.
- Amidamaru to Ryu in Shaman King when discovering his shaman abilities.
- Keroro Gunsou starts with Natsumi pointing a hidden Keroro out to Fuyuki, prompting Keroro to drop his disguise and ask this. Doubly funny because she didn't see him; she was just pointing in a random direction that Keroro happened to be in. Hilarity (and a whole show) Ensues.
- Happens in Inuyasha with invisibility magic that wears off without the user noticing.
- In the first episode of A Little Snow Fairy Sugar, Sugar has this reaction when she notices Saga staring intensely at her.
- Happens early in Yu Yu Hakusho, right before Botan reveals herself to Yusuke the second time. Yusuke caught the little demon bare-handed, and this was his general reaction.
- In Fight Ippatsu Juuden Chan, Charger Girls use a cloaking system to hide themselves from the populace of Earth (normally, they're transparent, but can still be seen). This system also makes them intangible. However, for some reason, this cloaking system has absolutely no effect on Sento. Which Plug discovers via a baseball bat to the head when she assumes Sento can't possibly be referring to her. Alastar makes the same discovery in a similar manner.
- The way Cain and Riff first met in Godchild. Cain wasn't actually invisible—it's just all the household servants had been given strict orders to act as if he was all his life, and he hadn't been allowed out much. Inventive of Alexis, no? Turns out the reason Riff hadn't been given the same instructions wasn't because he was not-exactly-a-servant, but because Alexis was setting him up to become Cain's number-one person in the world, so he could take him away again by activating his suppressed evil personality from before he was a zombie. Just to screw with the kid.
- Also applies to the overall reaction Sayo has when someone sees her in Mahou Sensei Negima. Especially the first time.
- In Rental Magica, the Cute Ghost Girl is surprised when the story's protagonist says hello to her. She thought that nobody could see her, not knowing that almost everybody with magical abilities can see ghosts.
- Subverted in The Books of Magic, where the answer to that question was, "Of course I can't see you. I can't hear you either." He wasn't lying. The explanation: Tim Hunter and The Phantom Stranger have gone back in time, invisibly, to meet an Atlantean sorcerer. The sorcerer can't detect them directly in any way, but his magic tells him they're there, and what they say.
- Played with in Identity Crisis: in one scene, Flash is vibrating rapidly so he can sit in on a meeting unseen, but Hawkman can still see him (because "his eyes can see a hummingbird's wings flap", or something). Green Arrow then asks Green Lantern to come out too, and when GL asks how GA could see him, GA says he just guessed.
- In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Mr. Hyde reveals his ability to see by way of heat signatures to The Invisible Man (but not the audience, who knew since their first meeting) shortly before he rapes him to death.
- In the Young Justice "Sins of Youth" crossover, Deadman (now de-aged to about 10) can be seen by Secret (now aged to mid-twenties).
- PS238, when Cecil have fun with Cloaking Device… and then ran into The Flea.
- Ranma not only says this whenever anyone reveals they can see his cursed form in the Ranma ½ fanfic A Different Curse, he also hastily covers "his" breasts and crotch. Given that in this fanfic, he is nude in his cursed form (a female spirit, not only Invisible to Normals, but intangible to any non-living material), this reaction is probably justified.
- Canada of Axis Powers Hetalia does this in nearly any fic that has him as the romantic counterpart to any more prominent character.
- In Kyon: Big Damn Hero, Hanyuu is surprised when Yuki can not only see but also touch her.
- In Final Stand of Death, after seeing Haley running off, Redd wondered if she somehow scared him as Haley saw her in her original form. Both Gene and Ace tells Redd, whom Gene already knows her as Melanie, reassured her that Haley was just seeing some ghosts.
Films — Live-Action
- Lydia to the Maitlands in Beetlejuice.
- In Ghost Town, this is the ghosts' initial reaction to Pincus.
- In Erik the Viking, Erik charges into battle with a rag on his head, which he had previously used to make himself invisible to his lover's father. What he doesn't realise is that the rag only makes him invisible to that one guy. So instead of an invisible warrior, he's actually an unnervingly confident guy with a dishcloth on his head. After winning the battle single-handedly he discovers he was visible the whole time, and promptly faints.
- A female troll says this to Hellboy et al. when they see through her glamor using magical lenses. However, the audience can also only see her as nonhuman when someone's looking through the lenses—leading to a rather amusing scene of Hellboy punching an old woman across the room.
- Averted in Just Like Heaven. Elizabeth discovers David can see her before discovering no one else can.
- In Susie Q, only Zach can see Susie, a ghost who died forty years earlier, because he's in possession of the bracelet she wore when she died.
- Harry Potter in Epic Movie: "You can't see me. I'm invisible."
- In Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man, when a shower is turned on, the invisible man can be seen enough to be stabbed by a thrown knife.
- In Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements, the main character Bobby does one of these towards the end of the book
- In Clever Polly and The Stupid Wolf, the Wolf thinks he's made himself invisible and has tested it by acting outrageously in public. Naturally, people have been shocked by the mysterious sounds coming from nowhere... right? Polly eventually persuades him he is visible, and he sneaks away in shame without eating her.
- The Unicorn in Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn goes almost unrecognized in her travels, as decades of unbelief cause people to see her as a horse. Only a handful of marginalized people can truly see her—and of course King Haggard and his Red Bull. (This gives the author room to muse about identities, commitments, promises, and what it means to be known for what one is.)
- Also, in the Star Wars EU novel Dark Apprentice, when Luke is turned into an invisible Force Ghost, only his (toddler) niece and nephew can see him.
- In the Sword of Truth series, Kahlan's first encounter with the pristinely ungifted after she was hidden by the Chainfire spell. She may not have said it, but she was certainly surprised. In a curious inversion in the same series, Adie sees using magic, so the first time she encounters a pristinely ungifted person, she is confused because she is unable to see them.
- Happens a lot in Discworld, especially when Death is seen by children (who lack a Weirdness Censor). And the wizards, who are specially trained to see what is really there.
- Played for humor in Mort.
Mort tapped the stallholder in the small of the back. "Can you see me?" he demanded. The stallholder squinted critically at him. "I reckon so," he said, "or someone very much like you." "Thank you," said Mort, immensely relieved. "Don't mention it. I see lots of people every day, no charge. Want to buy some bootlaces?"
- In Allison Croggon's The Books of Pellinor series, the main characters meet in the first chapter like this. The male lead Cadvan, a bard, is hiding under a glimmer spell that is supposed to make him invisible. He tries to find shelter in a stable at a slave settlement to rest, but the protagonist Mearad sees him because she too is a bard. Her having the Voice is the main reason she is taken with him when he leaves.
- Percy Jackson and The Olympians: Percy's quite surprised when Rachael can see both his sword and the skeletal warriors chasing him. Though the line is more "You can see them?"
- In the series Psych, Juliet O'Hara is called by 'psychic' Shawn spencer. He teases her by listing every detail about what she was doing, before revealing that he was simply sitting in the Chief's office, a mere twenty feet away. Somewhat referenced by Shawn in that he says, "Notice how no one ever looks in here? What is it that you're afraid of?" Also contains I Can See You.
- Heroes: Claude's introduction to Peter. "YUH CAN SEE MEH?!" He even gets personal about it. "NO ONE SEES ME!"
- Children and the mentally ill can see Al in Quantum Leap. He never says the trope name, but his Oh Crap looks are definitely this trope.
- Also one episode with a Scrooge-like character who for some strange coincidence could see Al (his brainwaves were similar to the main character's or some bunk). Obviously, this leads to some confusion, and also to the visit of the three ghosts of Christmas...
- Both versions of Randall and Hopkirk Deceased has this when someone could see Marty, as he is a ghost who can usually only be seen by his partner Jeff. For example, when the psychic Mrs. Pleasance spots him in "For The Girl Who Has Everything".
- Another Marty had a similar reaction, for similar reasons, in Teen Angel when he met an old lady who could see him because she was soon to die.
- Being Human (UK)
- Annie is so astonished to be seen, she asks twice and waves her arms around for good measure.
- Subverted in Series 1, Episode 4: a woman replies to what she says, which triggers the question. Subverted in that the woman is blind, thus can't technically see Annie. But she seems to hear her just fine, which most people can't either.
- Happens again when Annie meets a psychic in Series 2, Episode 6.
- The above twist was also used in Seven Days, when Frank becomes invisible but can be heard by a Blind Black Guy.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Xander in the 4th season Halloween episode, "Fear Itself", on becoming visible/audible again, asks not only "You can see me?" but "You can hear me?" too.
- Also applicable in an odd way during the fifth season when Only the insane can see that Dawn is the Key.
- The short-lived sitcom Nearly Departed, about a couple haunting their old house. The pilot has the husband mocking the home's new residents relentlessly, as they can't see him. When he's left alone in the main room with the elderly grandfather, he continues to mock the man until Grandpa yells at him to shut up. After delivering the stock phrase of this trope, Grandpa explains he didn't mention to the rest of the family because "at my age, when you start seeing things they put you in a home".
- Stargate SG-1
- Occurs in the episode "Crystal Skull", in which Daniel Jackson has been turned invisible by one of the phlebotinum skulls. Daniel's grandfather, Nick, can see him because of an encounter he had with a skull, but dismisses Daniel as a hallucination. It's not until well into the episode that Daniel realizes he's visible to Nick and uses him to communicate with the rest of the SG-1 team.
- Occurs again in a later season when Cam, trapped in another dimension, is talking to Teal'c, who has just used an alien device that makes the user invisible. Teal'c takes it in stride, always ready for combat, as Cam struggles with the revelation.
- Despite seemingly recycling plots in such a manner throughout the series, the writers were always quick to hang a lampshade and reference the earlier episodes' events, often even using Cam's memorization of mission reports. The show even lampshaded this itself in its lampshade-heavy fanservice 200th episode.
- A ghost woman in some episode of Farscape is surprised that Stark can see her, as she were desperately trying to interact with people. Stark quickly points out that he's the only one on board with this ability.
- Star Trek the Next Generation. In "The Next Phase", the episode where Geordi LaForge and Ensign Ro are made "out of phase" by an accident on board a Romulan Warbird, Ro enters a room and is surprised to see a Romulan pointing a disrupter at her. She automatically turns to look behind her (as only Geordi had been able to see her up til now) but the Romulan says, "Yes, I can see you." It turns out he too is out of phase.
- Another short-lived sitcom, Jennifer Slept Here, was about the ghost of an old-time movie star who is visible to the son of the family who moves into her house. She decides she's here to turn him from Geek to Chic.
- The "Weird Superheroes" game on Whose Line Is It Anyway throws out the name "Think's He's Invisible Man". And gives it to Tony Slattery. Hilarity guaranteed to ensue.
- Occurs at least once in Due South with Fraser and his father. Possibly twice, because Fraser discovered two other people who could see Bob-Bob's best friend Buck Frobisher and Ben's half sister/Bob's daughter Maggie.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Sabrina once turned a classmate invisible and spent most of the rest of the episode trying to find his exact spot to turn him visible again. He'd pretty much gotten used to invisibility when she finally succeeded and Zelda saw him. When he said the phrase, she replied, "Yes, and I can see that you're not wearing pants."
- Burt Campbell in Soap thought he could become invisible for a while. At one point he tried to show his wife but she could still see him; he decided that was because he was wet (they were in the bathtub together).
- Subverted interestingly in the Doctor Who episode "Blink". Sally is shocked when the Doctor appears to be responding to her from a recording made in 1969. He can't actually see or hear her; he's reading from a transcript made of the conversation when Sally had the conversation forty years later... it's complicated.
- This is also true in White Wolf's Changeling: The Dreaming. Children generally believe anything they see, whereas adults rationalize and have a Weirdness Censor. And the mentally ill/insane's Weirdness Censor is broken or gone.
- And in Vampire: The Masquerade the vampiric discipline "Obfuscate" is a subversion, the subversion being a quirk of the ability that both characters and players themselves may not be aware of. Obfuscate does indeed make one invisible to anyone looking at you (unless they have Auspex or other supernatural means of detecting someone) but it's not actual invisibility, it's a mind trick. Also it's harder to use if you're actively being watched. Cameras and such will still capture images of someone under Obfuscate. This encourages players to perform the old "Turn a corner and when they follow, I'm not there" trick.
- In Medieval 2 Total War, select an enemy assassin sometime and see what they have to say. Namely, north-eastern European nations (such as Denmark) and their associated assassins. "What do you mean you can see me?"
- In The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks, Zelda ask this question when she finally finds the one (hylian) person in all of Hyrule who can see her spirit: Link! Being a Heroic Mime, Link's answer is reduced to a short nod.
- A not uncommon phrase uttered by Rogue players (and by extension presumably stealthed cat form druids) in World of Warcraft when discovered by other players. Most common on RP severs.
- The Thief series begins with a young Garrett (the player character) trying to pickpocket a Keeper. The Keeper notes that it's not easy to see a Keeper, especially one who does not wish to be seen. This gets a Book End later in the series.
- Fairies in Dragon Quest V can normally only seen by innocent children. As a child, the fairy named Honey takes you to solve her world's problem because nobody else could see her. When you're an adult and are heading into a fairy wood, you can no longer see any fairy. It's your two kids that locate them.
- Ito, God of Trust and Betrayal from A Moment of Peace, is thrown off his game when Evi's worm-companion George catches Ito stealing her dreams.
- The Order of the Stick has it, with Roy as a ghost and the kobold oracle, who makes a remark concerning Roy's mother. After Roy asks why he hadn't told him before, the oracle answers, "I don't know, because I don't like you?"
- Bob and George. All the time. In fact, it almost becomes a running gag that invisible characters can't be seen by their friends, but can be seen by their enemies.
- In The Adventures of Shan Shan, both the lion and Julius comment on it.
- In the episode of Monster Allergy where Elena can finally see monsters, she pretends that she can't see Magnacat in order to save Zick. Of course, Zick and Magnacat are unaware that Elena can see the latter. She knocks Magnacat and tells Zick that she can now see monsters.
- Looney Tunes: Foghorn Leghorn rubs vanishing cream (which is just skin moisturizer) onto the naïve Chickenhawk, who heads over to the doghouse and starts gloating that "you can't fight what you can't see!" to the dog. The dog pulls out a mirror. Whoops.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force (or rather, the Dr. Weird segment before an episode of the show proper) pulls this off to rather hilarious effect:
Dr. Weird: AM I NOT INVISIBLE?!?!
- Jackie Chan Adventures
- Happens twice in an episode, after an incident causes the talismans to lose their magical powers (by transferring them into Jade's body). Both Captain Black and Daolon Wong are holding the snake talisman while attempting to show off its invisibility power to their peers ("Am I over here? Or maybe over here?"). Then they notice that they're still being watched and discover it's because they're still perfectly visible.
- There's an interesting variation in another episode where they're dealing with a vampire that is blind and can only detect people through smell. At one point Jackie is trying to hide from him by holding his breath, only for the vampire to reveal that he has absorbed enough people's life forces to gain sight. Jackie quotes this trope verbatim.
- A variation in Invader Zim: Zim gets a "Megadoomer" mech (by mistake), and stomps over to Dib's house; the Megadoomer makes itself invisible, but...
Zim: I've put up with you long enough, Dib! Now, fight me, an enemy you cannot see!
- South Park: Only Butters will speak to Cartman after the other kids conspire to ignore him. Cartman thinks he's dead, and Butters is the only one that can see him.
- The classic psychology paper Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments cites a newspaper story about a bank robber who believed lemon juice made him invisible to security cameras.
- Naturally, America's Dumbest Criminals has the actual film footage. Amusingly the guy was taking his sweet time, including taking out a shopping cart as if it was just a normal trip to the store.
- Formally known as the Dunning–Kruger effect, after the psychologists who conducted the study.
- Some people apparently believe that a magic ritual can turn them invisible, despite all evidence to the contrary.