Formerly: Like A Duck To Water
This character is much like a duck: they're awkward and clumsy on land, but put them in the water or in the air? Poetry in motion.
There's a lot of variation in this trope. Usually the character is The Klutz
(or a less unintentionally destructive Mighty Glacier
) on land, but if given a chance they're very Graceful in Their Element
. The variation comes in on what that more natural element might be. On the water they could be a champion swimmer, skier or sailor. Ice-wise they could be an angelic skater. In the air they might be an Ace Pilot
. If machines are involved they'll be a Badass Driver
with Improbable Piloting Skills
, and be able to turn a Humongous Mecha
into an Impossibly Graceful Giant
. If fighting, dancing or both
are involved, they may be a consummate Dance Battler
This Hidden Depth
is used either for humor or to add a level of dichotomy to a character. It can make them seem a bit otherworldly; they're helpless on land, but they're so graceful outside
of it that it seems like they don't really belong in this world. This can be further reinforced if the awkwardness is due to a physical disability, so it becomes a case where putting someone in a new medium where they're on a level playing field with everyone else lets them surpass their limitations.
To a certain extent this is Truth in Television
. Moving in a different medium like asphalt, ice and zero-g vacuum requires an entirely new skill set that doesn't completely map out with bipedal terrestrial locomotion. While being naturally graceful and aware of kinesthetics makes learning skating or piloting easier, it's by no means a free pass.
to Eloquent In My Native Tongue
Anime and Manga
- In Ranma ½, while Akane doesn't know her own strength on land she is revealed to be a very gifted and graceful skater, unlike graceful-on-land Ranma.
- In the DC Universe, this is the background of one of the Sea Devils. He's a musclebound oaf on land, but he takes up diving and discovers he's a graceful swimmer.
- May apply to Awkwardman of the Inferior Five--none of their cases takes place underwater.
- A milder example exists with Namor, the Sub-Mariner. While he is by no means clumsy on land, it's been established he is much more agile and extremely fast (not the mention stronger) when he is in his element: the sea.
- Ehmte-Ciss-Ronn in Sillage. He is a short, four legged green alien lawyer, the last person you would expect of any athletic feats. However, he comes from an amphibian race and is a graceful swimmer, a fact that might catch his would-be assassins by surprise when he changes his office into a Shark Pool with a push of a button.
Film -- Animated
- Philip, the protagonist of the novel Of Human Bondage, was born with a club foot and walks with a limp, but is a strong swimmer.
- Victor Krum in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is described as duck-like on land, but fantastically gifted on a broomstick.
Film -- Live Action
- Sid the sloth in Ice Age is hardly graceful on land, but a throwaway gag showed him as a skilled ice skater while Diego and Manny slip and fall. This came in useful towards the end when it turns out he's equally good at skiing.
- The Secret of NIMH has Jeremy the Crow. Awkward on land to the point of being The Ditz, but in the air he's a flying ace.
- Jar Jar from The Phantom Menace, anyone? Say what you want about his mental facilities and offensive racial stereotypes, but while this amphibian alien is a Lethal Klutz on land, he's a fine swimmer in water.
- In the Vorkosigan Saga, the Quaddies are a species gene-engineered to have four arms and no legs. In a gravity field, they're awkward and helpless, but in zero-G, they excel. Miles has rarely seen anything as beautiful as their zero-G ballet.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In one episode Melora Pazlar, a Starfleet officer from a light world, is assigned to the station; because her muscles are designed for a light world she has to wear a special full-body brace in order to get around, which she does very clumsily. At one point some baddies have invaded; the crew turns off the Artificial Gravity, and she's the only one who can move about, quickly taking out the bad guys.
- Farscape: Rygel XVI. Diminutive toad-like creature who rarely even walks on his own, preferring to use his Throne-Sled (hoverchair) for movement. This is because he's aquatic. When we see him swimming in "The Peacekeeper Wars" miniseries, he's extremely graceful.
- In The Tick, the character Sewer Urchin becomes much less of a Rain Man-like character when a case actually takes the group into the sewers. (The Tick and Arthur, conversely, begin to act the way Sewer Urchin does when he's above ground.)
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender Teo is a master pilot able to outperform Aang without being able to Airbend. He's also in a wheelchair.
- In Super Mario Bros. 3, the frog suit is great for swimming, but not for traversing land.
- On a similar note, Kine the Fish from Kirby's Dream Land 2.
- Plesiosaurus and pteranodon from Adventure Island are very clumsy on land, but they are very good swimmers and flyers respectively.
- Joker from Mass Effect. He can only barely walk (slowly) on feet due to brittle bone disease but is probably the best human starship pilot alive.
- The Hanar are basically sentient jellyfish, and can only move on ground through the use of special fields that hold them up. In their native oceans, however, they can apparently move with astonishing speed and agility.
- Rena Hirose from Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere may be a borderline example: she is not extraordinary clumsy but confined to indoors due to allergy to sunlight; flying planes with closed cockpits and external cameras is the only means for her to see the outside--and so she became a distinguished Ace Pilot.
- Seals. On shore they move with a kind of undulating motion that looks almost comical. Once they get into the water, they can give dolphins a run for their money.
- Most species of procellariiformes (the order of seabirds that includes albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters) are extremely clumsy on land, due to the large wingspans that make them graceful and efficient in the air.
- Penguins to add to real life.