Created By: PapercutChainsaw on July 30, 2012 Last Edited By: morenohijazo on September 23, 2013

Shapeshifter Accident

Transforming in confined spaces can lead to nasty injuries

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Trope
If a shapeshifting character experiences a significant change in size during their transformation, they would need to be careful of their surrounding environment, keeping out of the way of sharp objects, confined spaces, and overly restrictive clothing or armour. Failure to take these precautions can potentially have some nasty consequences. Sometimes, even something as simple as an ear piercing, pacemaker or set of contact lenses can be problematic. This is something like a deconstruction of Shapeshifter Baggage (not always Played for Drama).

This also applies to sizeshifters, or the Intangible Man becoming tangible at the wrong moment. Even in cases where the shapeshifter is simply capable of destroying everything that gets in the way during a transformation, they can still wind up inflicting injuries on friends and bystanders who were standing nearby.

Many works, especially those aimed at children, will not feature an explicit accident onscreen, but will instead invoke the trope as a means of deterring a character from transforming.

Compare: Teleporter Accident, Tele-Frag, Clipped Wing Angel, Shape Shifter Swan Song. If shapeshifting hurts even without objects getting in the way, that's Painful Transformation.

Note: Simply transforming into a large form and being unable to get out the door as a result is not this trope. The accident must happen during a transformation in order to qualify.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In the first Digimon series, in one episode Izzy and Mimi are cornered by Centaurmon in a pyramid labyrinth; their partners transform into the (much larger) Kabuterimon and Togemon, but this nearly squishes Izzy and Mimi against the walls in the process.
  • The unpleasant fate of Kaori in AKIRA, who got caught up in the eruption of Body Horror when Tetsuo's power reached its peak.

Film
  • It is revealed in Underworld Rise Of The Lycans that the vampires kept their lycan slaves stuck in human form using collars studded with inward-facing silver spikes that would stick them in the neck should they try to transform.

Literature
  • Not seen on-screen in Harry Potter, but semi-invoked by Hermione when she traps Beetle!Rita Skeeter in a jar. The jar has an Unbreakable spell on it, so this trope would presumably ensue if she tried to break out.
  • In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace transforms into a dragon while asleep. The gold bracelet he had been wearing starts painfully cutting into his flesh as a result.
  • Invoked in Elvenblood, when two shapeshifted dragons are captured by the Iron People. They can't shift to escape because the collars locked around their (human) necks won't change size, and won't break in time to keep the dragons from strangling.
  • In Alice in Wonderland, she gets trapped in a house when she unexpectedly grows in size.
  • Xanth novel The Source of Magic. Bink's companion Crombie has been shrunk down and trapped inside a magical bottle, from which he can be released by opening it. Then Bink causes all of the magic to leave Xanth. Bink decides not to open the bottle because without magic, Crombie might be squashed to death inside the bottle instead of being released.

Live-Action TV

Tabletop Game
  • Dungeons & Dragons.
    • Dragon magazine #14 (May 1978) article "Lycanthropy - The Progress of the Disease". In order to avoid damage, when a lycanthrope (e.g. a werewolf) changes from human to animal shape they must shed any armor they're wearing.
    • Dragon magazine #28 (April 1979) "Another Look at Lycanthropy". Lycanthropes get an odd sensation long enough before an involuntary change to take off any armor they're wearing and avoid damage.
    • Gary Gygax anticipated that some players would try to "squeeze someone to death in their armor" by casting an Enlarge spell on them, so he specifically said in the Dungeon Master's Guide (1979) that the armor would automatically split off and fall away if this occurred.

Video Games
  • Dr Muto: You played as a mad scientist who could turn into different animals, and you could end up killing yourself by changing into something too big and being crushed by the ceiling.
  • In Mega Man Zero 3, after being defeated by Zero, Copy X Mk.II attempts to go One-Winged Angel again like in the first game... and then it malfunctions, and he exploded to death instead. It's then revealed that Dr. Weil (the one who resurrected him) planted a booby trap which will be triggered should he transform.
  • There is a variation of this used in the Duke Nukem 3D game. It's possible to shrink yourself with a ray gun using a mirror, then run through small tunnels to reach otherwise inaccessible areas, but the ray wears off after a fixed amount of time and if you're still in a small tunnel when that happens - SPLAT! Not exactly shape-shifting, but the same principle applies.

Webcomics

Western Animation
Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • July 30, 2012
    morenohijazo
    In the first Simon The Sorcerer game, a witch transforms into a dragon, after losing on a Shapeshifter Showdown, inside her house. You can escape by transforming into a mouse and going through a mouse hole on the wall. Once outside, you can see that the witch is having problems because of her size.
  • July 30, 2012
    PapercutChainsaw
    ^Does she actually have an accident, though, or is she just unable to get out?
  • July 31, 2012
    Antigone3
    Invoked in Elvenblood, when two shapeshifted dragons are captured by the Iron People. They can't shift to escape because the collars locked around their (human) necks won't change size, and won't break in time to keep the dragons from strangling.
  • July 31, 2012
    Duncan
    In Alice In Wonderland, she gets trapped in a house when she unexpectedly grows in size.
  • July 31, 2012
    WolfBloodstone
    On Teen Titans, this happens just about every time Beast Boy turns into a Tyrannosaurus rex.
  • July 31, 2012
    PapercutChainsaw
    ^ The comics, or the cartoon?
  • July 31, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
  • July 31, 2012
    abk0100
    there was a video game where you played as a mad scientist who could turn into different animals, and you could end up killing yourself by changing into something too big and being crushed by the ceiling. anyone know the name of it? It was during the x-box/ps2 generation I think.
  • July 31, 2012
    TheAndyMac
    Similar to the Elvenblood example above, it is revealed in Underworld Rise Of The Lycans that the vampires kept their lycan slaves stuck in human form using collars studded with inward-facing silver spikes that would stick them in the neck should they try to transform.
  • July 31, 2012
    Bisected8
    ^^ Dr Muto (we don't have an article on it, but the other wiki does)?
  • August 26, 2013
    DAN004
    Compare Clipped Wing Angel, Shape Shifter Swan Song.

    BTW does this count?
    • In Mega Man Zero 3, after being defeated by Zero, Copy X Mk.II attempts to go One Winged Angel again like in the first game... and then it malfunctions, and he exploded to death instead. It's then revealed that Dr. Weil (the one who resurrected him) planted a booby trap which will be triggered should he transform.
  • August 26, 2013
    kjnoren
    Would The Incredible Hulk's clothing damage count?
  • August 27, 2013
    Arivne
    Literature
    • Xanth novel The Source of Magic. Bink's companion Crombie has been shrunk down and trapped inside a magical bottle, from which he can be released by opening it. Then Bink causes all of the magic to leave Xanth. Bink decides not to open the bottle because without magic, Crombie might be squashed to death inside the bottle instead of being released.

    Tabletop Game
    • Dungeons And Dragons.
      • Dragon magazine #14 (May 1978) article "Lycanthropy - The Progress of the Disease". In order to avoid damage, when a lycanthrope (e.g. a werewolf) changes from human to animal shape they must shed any armor they're wearing.
      • Dragon magazine #28 (April 1979) "Another Look at Lycanthropy". Lycanthropes get an odd sensation long enough before an involuntary change to take off any armor they're wearing and avoid damage.
      • Gary Gygax anticipated that some players would try to "squeeze someone to death in their armor" by casting an Enlarge spell on them, so he specifically said in the Dungeon Master's Guide (1979) that the armor would automatically split off and fall away if this occurred.
  • August 27, 2013
    Stratadrake
    ^^ No. This seems to be specifically about confined spaces limiting the character's shapeshifting options, something like a deconstruction of Shapeshifter Baggage (not always Played For Drama). The current title is too general for this specific idea.
  • August 27, 2013
    Melkior
    Video Games
    • There is a variation of this used in the Duke Nukem 3 D game. It's possible to shrink yourself with a ray gun using a mirror, then run through small tunnels to reach otherwise inaccessible areas, but the ray wears off after a fixed amount of time and if you're still in a small tunnel when that happens - SPLAT! Not exactly shape-shifting, but the same principle applies.
  • August 28, 2013
    DAN004
    @kjnoren: Hulk's clothing damage would count if everybody else around acknowledged it. :P
  • August 28, 2013
    morenohijazo
    ^^^ Maybe we should broaden the trope. Are there similar tropes that cover similar concepts?
  • September 14, 2013
    PapercutChainsaw
    Actually, I said in the trope description that it applies to other obstacles or restrictive clothing, but the laconic didn't give me enough room for all that. I figured that "confined spaces" could technically refer to the confined space inside one's clothing. Although, I suppose bystanders could be injured just by getting too close to the shapeshifter, so there's that, too.

    Hulk's clothing... I dunno... Are there any examples of The Hulk potentially being injured by what he was wearing during a transformation? The key element of the trope is that someone (either the shapeshifter or a bystander) is put at risk because of environmental circumstances during a transformation.

    Anyway, Up For Grabs, feel free to make changes as you see fit.
  • September 15, 2013
    Stratadrake
    ^ As an example of that last line in your first paragraph, in the first Digimon series, in one episode Izzy and Mimi are cornered by Centaurmon in a pyramid labyrinth; their partners transform into the (much larger) Kabuterimon and Togemon, but this nearly squishes Izzy and Mimi against the walls in the process.
  • September 15, 2013
    SharleeD
    • The unpleasant fate of Kaori in Akira, who got caught up in the eruption of Body Horror when Tetsuo's power reached its peak.
  • September 15, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Semi-recurring witch Amy turns herself into a rat to escape being Burned At The Stake, but can't turn herself back because rats don't have the right vocal chords. Willow keeps Rat!Amy in a cage while she works on a counterspell. Then a season or two later as Willow is unknowingly experiencing Power Incontinence she casually mentions wanting to turn Amy back into a human, and we see a naked Human!Amy suddenly appear in the small rat cage. But then Willow says something about Amy being a rat and Amy turns back into a rat, all without Willow noticing the changes.

    I tend towards over-explanation, feel free to edit as needed.
  • September 23, 2013
    randomsurfer
    FWIW here's Willow's exact line
    First she's a perfectly normal girl, Amy turns human then poof, shes a rat. Amy turns back into a rat
  • September 23, 2013
    dalek955
    Shapeshift Frag? (to go with Tele Frag)
  • September 23, 2013
    Chabal2
    • Averted in Animorphs: Jake morphs a roach to see how it handles, but finds himself stuck in a Roach Motel behind the fridge. He demorphs, but his parents come in to find his human head sticking out of the fridge, with the top half of the roach trap still on it. Fortunately he finishes demorphing just fine.
      • In another, Marco (in wolf spider morph) is snatched up and swallowed by a crow. He demorphs, not only forcing the bird to the ground, but also exploding its throat.
      • Jake once manages to avoid being eaten by a T Rex by morphing midway down its throat. This causes it to collapse, allowing the others to acquire it safely.
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