Created By: FreezerDecember 7, 2011 Last Edited By: FreezerDecember 10, 2011
Troped

As Lethal As It Needs To Be

Weapons or attacks that kill in one scene, knock out in another, with identical attacks.

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Trope
The Hero is doing his usual thing: battering mooks left and right with his trusty Phlebotinum Sword and leaving them out cold. Except for that one mook who he clearly just gutted. With the same sword and with the same moves. How?

Because we said so. That's why.

This trope is all about weapons or attacks that seem to jump between lethal and non-lethal as the plot demands. No explanation as to why said weapon's killing power seems to come and go. It simply does.

Compare with Inverse Law Of Utility And Lethality and Inverse Law Of Sharpness And Accuracy. Contrast with Nerf Arm. See also: Bloodless Carnage, Could Have Been Messy.

For a specific video game version, see Set Swords To Stun.

Examples:

Anime & Manga
  • Kenshin's ultimate attack, the Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki, nearly kills his teacher, the strongest fighter in the series, with its first use, only leaving him alive because the bolts securing the blade of Kenshin's reverse blade sword popped out, absorbing much of the force of the blow. The bolts of his sword never budge on any of his successive uses of the technique, and yet it never again comes close to killing an opponent, even ones who should be much less resilient, like Soujiro.
  • The Gatchaman weapons. Sometimes depicted as lethal, sometimes not. The only two that had definite lethal variations were Jun's yo-yos which could be turned into bombs; and Jinpei's bolos, which could be loaded with timed explosives.
  • Justified in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, most noteably in StrikerS. Everyone uses 'magic bullets', which are explicitly stated to be as lethal as they need to be - that being one of the reasons why Mid-Childa outlawed oldfashioned 'slug-thrower' weapons and became a magic-driven society. Thanks to that, Nanoha is able to repeatedly pull off her signature 'befriend by superior firepower' trick without worrying about accidentally killing someone...

Comic Books

Live Action TV
  • Xena's chakram is the Trope Codifier. Usually used as a non-lethal Precision Guided Boomerang, on occasion, we've seen it cut through rope, wood and body parts. Callisto managed to throw it hard enough to go through Xena's sheathed sword and into her back.

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons And Dragons, with it's abstract combat system, usually does this, varying the method with each edition. In 4th edition, the final attack is supposed to declare if it was meant to be lethal or nonlethal.

Video Games
  • Amaterasu's Power Slash ability in Okami, which can cleanly cut threes, boulders, and various minor demons in half, but when performed on friendly NPCs it will simply knock them back.

Western Animation
  • Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes: Wasp's stings are usually portrayed as annoying at best. But during the five-part pilot, she manages to whip off a blast that cut a railroad car in half (a railroad car that was being thrown through the air right at her.) Didn't even seem to be a matter of concentration or energy use, because she went right back back to her normal Beam Spam right after.
  • Thundarr The Barbarian's Sun Sword could cut through inanimate objects and Mecha Mooks like they were tissue paper. But the moment he tried to strike down a living foe, the Sun Sword inexplicably didn't work (At least they lampshade this by having Thundarr express surprise and/or dismay at this.)

Community Feedback Replies: 12
  • December 7, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    • Dungeons and Dragons, with it's abstract combat system, usually does this, varying the method with each edition. In 4th edition, the final attack is supposed to declare if it was meant to be lethal or nonlethal.
  • December 7, 2011
    wanderlustwarrior
    It's an overlap, but compare Bloodless Carnage, Gameplay And Story Segregation, and the like.

    If this is a distinct trope, one example would be:
    • In the Soul Series, the same swords that "knock out" when under player control can kill elsewhere.
  • December 7, 2011
    Elbruno
    Video Games:
    • Amaterasu's Power Slash ability in Okami, which can cleanly cut threes, boulders, and various minor demons in half, but when performed on friendly NPCs it will simply knock them back.
  • December 7, 2011
    Jordan
    This is probably Could Have Been Messy and/or some of the related tropes mentioned on that page.
  • December 7, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    Non of them cover the following; a special attack is used to kill a muggle. Then the same attack is used against a different muggle, but doesn't kill them.

    The tropes are almost exclusively about attacks that should be dangerous, but aren't. This trope is when attacks switch between lethal and safe.
  • December 7, 2011
    Freezer
    Switch beween lethal and safe with no real explanation (ie. Star Trek phasers with their explicit power settings). We never get an explanation as to why Xena's chakram (or Cap's shield) didn't slice up every mook it hit.
  • December 7, 2011
    Desertopa
    Kenshin's ultimate attack, the Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki, nearly kills his teacher, the strongest fighter in the series, with its first use, only leaving him alive because the bolts securing the blade of Kenshin's reverse blade sword popped out, absorbing much of the force of the blow. The bolts of his sword never budge on any of his successive uses of the technique, and yet it never again comes close to killing an opponent, even ones who should be much less resilient, like Soujiro.
  • December 7, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    • The Gatchaman weapons. Sometimes depicted as lethal, sometimes not. The only two that had definite lethal variations were Jun's yo-yos which could be turned into bombs; and Jinpei's bolos, which could be loaded with timed explosives.
  • December 9, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    Looney Tunes weapons don't really fit, due to cartoon physics; weapons are never lethal.
  • December 9, 2011
    Diask
  • December 9, 2011
    BlackDragon
    Justified in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, most noteably in StrikerS. Everyone uses 'magic bullets', which are explicitly stated to be as lethal as they need to be - that being one of the reasons why Mid-Childa outlawed oldfashioned 'slug-thrower' weapons and became a magic-driven society. Thanks to that, Nanoha is able to repeatedly pull off her signature 'befriend by superior firepower' trick without worrying about accidentally killing someone...
  • December 9, 2011
    dalek955
    See also So Last Season, when a formerly lethal attack doesn't kill anymore because the Sorting Algorithm Of Evil has simply left it behind.

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