As Lethal As It Needs To Be
Weapons or attacks that kill in one scene, knock out in another, with identical attacks.
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...
- Captain America's shield is like this, Depending on the Author. Sometimes the edges are portrayed as razor sharp, other times blunted.
- 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.
- Dungeons & 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.
- Amaterasu's Power Slash ability in Ōkami, which can cleanly cut threes, boulders, and various minor demons in half, but when performed on friendly NPCs it will simply knock them back.
- The Avengers: Earth's 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.)
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