This comes into play when a character appears to be Just Toying with Them
and holding back a substantial portion of their power
but it is eventually revealed that they are, in fact, giving their all.
The reasons behind this are many: it's possible the enemy is so powerful that they merely make the hero look like they're not giving their all, or maybe the hero is trying to look stronger than he is
by seeming like he's not trying, either to improve their reputation or to bluff their way to victory. This especially comes up when a character is suffering from a Secret Stab Wound
or is suffering from power loss. When played for comedy, it's usually done to illustrate a character as being hilariously weak, since their best is bad enough that it looks like someone holding back.
Anime and Manga
- During the tournament arc of YuYu Hakusho, Hiei performs a Dangerous Forbidden Technique and cripples his right arm. However, he hides the amount that it has hurt him so that his next fight takes much longer, which he plays off as toying with the enemy.
- Bleach: During the Winter War, Sui-Feng ends up in in a one-sided fight against Barragan, where she couldn't even touch him. Her lieutenant, Omaeda was confident that she was only losing because he thought her captain's Power Limiter hadn't been released yet... until she told him they weren't wearing their limiters to begin with.
- During the fight with Frieza in Dragon Ball Z, Yamcha comments that Goku has the fight in the bag, as he's matching Frieza and he hasn't even used his trump card, the Kaioken. Then it's revealed by the Combat Commentator that he had been using it the whole time and he's only barely keeping up with Frieza.
- The fight with Cell is another example where because Gohan thought his father was significantly stronger than he himself was, he thought Goku was holding back against Perfect Cell. Turns out Goku and Gohan were about equal in power and Cell was stronger than both of them.
- Boxing Battler Takeda from Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple begins the series like this. He's strong enough that he defeats all opponents without bothering to use his "Legendary Left," beating them all with one hand. Turns out his left arm is paralyzed and he can't use it.
- Taiga, the hero in Mx0 almost never uses magic in his many fights, despite his record as a genius magic user with a fabled Gold Plate. To the other students, this is because he's so skilled it would be overkill. But the audience knows it's because his plate is fake, and he has zero magical ability.
- Depending on the writer, Spider-Man's snarking. Sometimes he isn't trying his hardest when he's snarking, other writers make it so that snarking actually increases his combat efficiency.
- Ciaphas Cain likes to make use of this, although mainly to enhance his reputation (generally by letting people assume he did something that nearly killed him effortlessly). He actually uses it to defeat someone in Duty Calls by letting a rogue inquisitor think he has a device which allows the shadowlight to be handled safely when it was just being suppressed by Jurgen's presence.
- In Dune when Paul is fighting a Duel to the Death with a Fremen his slow attacks and lightning fast parries make the Fremen watching think he's toying with his opponent. When the reality is that he's used to shield-fighting, which requires slow attacks as Deflector Shields block anything above a certain speed, so he's basically fighting against his own muscle memory.
- In one strip Charlie Brown has been doing really well as a pitcher (for once). Shroeder, the catcher, approaches Charlie on the mound and says "you're slowball is great. It really has 'em guessing. Now why don't you confuse them more by throwing your fastball?" Charlie Brown replies, "That is my fastball I'm throwing!"
- In the strip reprinted on February 8th 2014, Snoopy (disguised as the Masked Marvel) is having an arm wrestling contest with Lucy. While grasping hands Lucy tells him to "Start pushing!". In the next panel Snoopy thinks to himself "Start? I've been pushing for three minutes!"
- A similar gag was used in Foxtrot: Peter was trying out for the baseball team and the catcher tells him to stop with the warm up lobs and start throwing serious pitches. Turns out Peter was pitching seriously the whole time.
- The Simpsons:
Bart: No offense, Homer, but your half-assed underparenting was a lot more fun than your half-assed overparenting.
Homer: But I'm using my whole ass.