Created By: Confusion567 on June 25, 2011 Last Edited By: Confusion567 on June 28, 2011

One Man Cast

Only the main character can do anything, and everyone else is just there for show.

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Trope
((Recently renamed from Goku Syndrome, because that was a bad name.)) ((Added Comment examples 6/27))

Needs a Better Title

The good guys are fighting the forces of evil! But wait: The Hero isn't here, he was off training! They need to just hold on until he gets back, because they can't do anything themselves.

This trope, found most commonly in DBZ-Style anime, is the tendency for one character to be ridiculously more powerful than others and, more importantly, for the other characters to be absolutely worthless without him. While excusable in individual instances, particularly when fighting a season-ending Big Bad, when this happens every single story arc it starts to grate on the nerves.

This is distinct from an Eigen Plot, where the four good guys fight the four bad guys and the Big Bad is matched up against The Hero. Instead, any fight between heroic and villainous forces is a Curbstomp Battle until the hero shows up, at which point it turns into a Curbstomp Battle the other way. Quick identifier: If The Hero could have beaten every enemy and overcome every challenge without any other character, it's Goku Syndrome. If the combined forces of every other character in the show could not do the same thing in a season that The Hero does in an episode, it's Goku Syndrome.

Different from The Only One, where the main character's organization is the only group that can do anything; in this case, the other main characters are ostensibly strong, but are often just there to show off The Worf Effect, and only The Hero is worth anything at all.

Essentially an anime version of It's Up to You, in which every single other character is nothing compared to the awesome might of the main character (though it does sometimes appear in other media).

Compare The Last Starfighter, in which there's only one character LEFT, and One Riot, One Ranger, in which one one character is sent in the first place.


Examples

  • Dragonball is the trope-namer, of course. In nearly every major battle (particularly in DBZ), the other good guys can barely even take down the lowest rung of enemies until Goku (or later, Gohan) arrives.
    • A particularly spot-on example is in the Vegeta arc. The Z-Fighters can barely beat the Saiba-men, who are described by the Saiyans as laughably weak, and Nappa manages to kill two people without breaking a sweat. It's implied that if Vegeta were to lift a finger, he could kill all of them in one shot. During this whole time, Goku is running back from his training with King Kai, and when he arrives he takes out Nappa in an episode.
    • This happens twice on Namek when Rakoom manages to hold off several Z-Fighters at once until Goku arrives and defeats him accidentally, and then again while he's healing from his fight with Captain Ginyu, when Frieza beats down the entire group of good guys at 50% power while taking only superficial wounds.
  • Averted in Naruto; the main character is Unskilled, but Strong, and while he always gets to fight the major villains on his own, he relies on his teammates to do anything that takes some finesse. Sometimes entire arcs go by without him even meeting the Monster of the Week.
  • Bleach was this for a while, but it got better. For large swaths in the middle, no major battle would be decided until Ichigo Deus Ex Machina'd his way into it.
  • House seems to be a TV example of this in most episodes. He has a crack team of young, professional doctors and yet every solution they add to his dry-erase board ends up being either dismissed or failing only to have House figure it out and administer the life-saving treatment in the episode's climax.
  • In early episodes of Batman 1966 Commisioner Gordon & Chief O'Hara only call Batman when it's a job too big for the regular police (who have actually tried & failed to solve it themselves), but after a little while they call Batman in for practically anything & everything. "The Litterbug is in town? Better call Batman!"
  • Smallville. I can't recall any episode where Green Arrow or one of the Justice League did any saving without Clark present, or even as the main hero.
  • He-Man and She-Ra both seem to have this in spades. No matter what was going on, these two were the only ones that could handle it. She-Ra at least inverts this in one episode where she shows up and tells her team to figure it out for themselves.
Community Feedback Replies: 27
  • June 25, 2011
    Flioro
    I just know this exists somewhere... but darned if I can't think of it. Either way, it's going to take some serious consideration deciding whether or not this is tropable. One thing is that a lot of tropers don't like the "Character-name Syndrome" type of title, so you should probably proceed with caution on that account.
  • June 25, 2011
    FastEddie
    Can't use that title, of course. Named for a character. There are people (like me) who have no idea at all what a Goku might be.
  • June 25, 2011
    Koveras
    Also, "Whatever Syndrome" is a snowclone title.
  • June 25, 2011
    Speedball
    The Main Characters Do Everything, only narrowed to the point where it's only the Main Main Lead and everyone else is window dressing? Hmm....
  • June 25, 2011
    Confusion567
    Taking suggestions for a new title. "I Hope He Gets Here Soon"? "Useless Ensemble"? "Hero And Friends"? None of those sound quite right.

    Flioro: I swore it did, too. It should be linked from The Main Characters Do Everything, Its Up To You, The Only One, One Riot One Ranger, The Last Starfighter... All of those are similar to this, but I think they're distinctly different.

    As far as The Main Characters Do Everything specifically (re: Speedball), that's more about overstepping boundaries, like CSI agents or House's team doing jobs that other people in their organizations really (legally) ought to be doing. In this case, it's not like Goku is picking locks and seducing guards (examples from the Eigen Plot "playing with" section), or driving tanks and using sniper rifles... All of the main characters in a show that fits this do whatever it is they do (usually fighting, but I suppose it could be expanded*), but all of them except The Hero himself are basically worthless at it.

    • Here's a hypothetical example from a non-fighty-fight genre. In a medical drama, the title doctor has a team of elite doctors and nurses under his command. Every episode, a sick man comes into the hospital and the team tries treatment after treatment, but his condition keeps eluding them. Meanwhile, the main doctor is stuck in traffic or his flight back from Rio was delayed, or he's doing open-heart surgery on the president. In the last ten minutes of the episode, he comes rushing in, takes one look at the patient, and immediately begins treatment, saving the patient's life. (That may also be an example of The Main Characters Do Everything if The Hero Doctor, on his return, starts doing all of the jobs that his team was too incompetent to do in his stead.)
  • June 25, 2011
    dotchan
    • You could also call this trope Sailor Moon does everything...
  • June 26, 2011
    Tambov333
  • June 26, 2011
    TwoGunAngel
    In the Only I Can Kill Him page, I noted the following: the Z Fighters are able to take out minion-level baddies, but only Goku can take on the major bad guys of the general arc.

    In any case, would this be We Are Team Cannon Fodder?
  • June 26, 2011
    chihuahua0
    ^ This isn't that trope.
  • June 26, 2011
    FaxModem1
    Dylan Hunt from Andromeda, and it became more and more evident as the seasons went on.
  • June 26, 2011
    shimaspawn
    One Guy Does Everything would probably be a clearer name. This isn't the first thing I associate Goku with. It's not even the fifteenth.
  • June 26, 2011
    Confusion567
    Those are definitely close. But, Overshadowed By Awesome and We Are Team Cannon Fodder describe the ensemble, but they don't describe the entire show (or The Hero himself), and this is Only I Can Kill Him applied to nearly the entire show.

    This trope (still haven't found a name I particularly like, and I agree Goku Syndrome is not a good choice) describes a show in which the cast is constantly Overshadowed By Awesome, and every enemy strong enough to last longer than a single episode is Only I Can Kill Him. The We Are Team Cannon Fodder good guy brigade can barely even do Hero Secret Service work: the show would be essentially the same with only one character.

    This is the sort of show that, every time the good guys try to solve a problem, the viewers roll their eyes and go "Gee, I wonder if they can solve this without The Hero."
  • June 26, 2011
    Hadashi
    Goku is a pretty obscure reference outside of anime fan circles.
  • June 26, 2011
    Tzintzuntzan
    One Man Party covers this for video games, but not other media. Should we expand that, or is it better to keep them separate?
  • June 26, 2011
    Shadowyoshi
    Isn't this the same as Can't Catch Up [1]?
  • June 26, 2011
    Confusion567
    Those are great, and related, but I still (stubbornly, perhaps) think they're different. Cant Catch Up is what happens to the other characters, but not to the show as a whole. It also may be that they were never "caught up" in the first place.

    One Man Party is really close, but it's definitely just for videogames. The description specifically mentions it being a quirk of the experience system, but this works for other media, and is specifically written. However, it *is* really close.

    Could we call it One Man Cast? I realize that's "not to be confused with a One Man Show" or somesuch, but that's what it seems like: the other characters are meaningless, and it all depends on what The Hero does; he's the only character who matters.

    ((Renamed One Man Cast, and wording change in Laconic))
  • June 26, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In early episodes of Batman 1966 Commisioner Gordon & Chief O'Hara only call Batman when it's a job too big for the regular police (who have actually tried & failed to solve it themselves), but after a little while they call Batman in for practically anything & everything. "The Litterbug is in town? Better call Batman!"
  • June 26, 2011
    Deboss
    I dislike the name One Man Cast, it sounds like a cast of one person, rather than one person who actually matters. I swear we've got this somewhere else though.

  • June 27, 2011
    oztrickster
    How about Job For The Hero? still allows the other main characters to be useful but the Hero is the only one who can take on some of the threats him/herself.
  • June 27, 2011
    ArtisticPlatypus
    It's related to Invincible Hero, but I don't know any existing trope that covers this.

    Also, as Deboss said, One Man Cast sounds like it's about casts consisting of one person.. Hey, why isn't that a trope yet? It's pretty common in experimental theater, and I think it pops up now and then in other media too.
  • June 27, 2011
    oztrickster
    It sounds like it might be Only I Can Kill Him
  • June 27, 2011
    terrafox
    Why not just expand One Man Party from being solely a videogame trope to include anime, Live Action TV and other media as well? It makes the most sense to do that, especially if the only real difference is the type of medium the trope is made for.

    • House seems to be a TV example of this in most episodes. He has a crack team of young, professional doctors and yet every solution they add to his dry-erase board ends up being either dismissed or failing only to have House figure it out and administer the life-saving treatment in the episode's climax.
  • June 27, 2011
    tmarcl
    • He-Man
    • She-Ra

    Both seem to have this in spades. No matter what was going on, these two were the only ones that could handle it. She-Ra at least inverts this in one episode where she shows up and tells her team to figure it out for themselves.

    Also, Smallville. I can't recall any episode where Green Arrow or one of the Justice League did any saving without Clark present, or even as the main hero.

  • June 27, 2011
    Confusion567
    These are great examples! Edited original to include them.

    I think One Man Party is a distinct and valuable trope to have on its own; I've never thought of Guy owning Fire Emblem as being the same thing as Goku owning DBZ. One Man Party is about a quirk of the leveling system, this is a specifically written choice.

    I like Job For The Hero, but it's distinctly when the other characters are NOT valuable, and anything The Hero does not do is just because he's lazy; in the House example, he frequently sends his team out to "investigate" patients' houses. Could he do that? Yes! In fact, when they get back he often berates them for missing the most important thing, and it would have been better if he had done it himself. This trope describes a cast in which EVERYTHING (not just the final boss, like in Only I Can Kill Him) can be done by one character, and next-to-nothing can be done by anybody else.

    If I wanted to do another Everythings Worse With Snowclones, I could call it "This Looks Like A Job For Superman," as the opposite of This Looks Like A Job For Aquaman, cause after all, what's a job for Superman? Everything. Including underwater missions, cause he doesn't have to breathe. But no... That's a bad idea.
  • June 27, 2011
    randomsurfer
    You should copy in the Wiki Markup that people (including me) have provided, not just the letters.
  • June 28, 2011
    Arivne
    ^^^^^^ @Artistic Platypus: We once had a YKTTW for One Man Show but I can't find it anywhere, so I assume it was discarded.
  • June 28, 2011
    Aielyn
    The Indispensable Hero? (There's no situation in which he is not needed, in other words).
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