Created By: SomeGuy on April 28, 2010 Last Edited By: SomeGuy on May 6, 2010
Troped

Element Number Five

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The four classical Elemental Powers of Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water usually appear simultaneously inside the same setting. It is tacitly acknowledged these are the four forces of nature, and so naturally, there is some form of magical ability associated with each of them. Sometimes mages are restricted to only one school.

But wait- what's all this talk about a mysterious fifth element? That's right, boys and girls, turns out there's actually another element on top of these that is so incredibly bad-ass, it defies the normal classification system. Magic of this element is about as strong as the other four put together. Where a wind mage has control of, in general, wind, this element controls pretty much everyting. It will have very few restrictions, but it will also be quite difficult to use.

Is most commonly used as a distinguishing feature from fantasy work to fantasy work. In order to combat the relative commonality of this fifth element its nature will often vary, to the point that this trope can often turn into Our Fifth Element Is Different.

Not to be confused with Boron, everyone's favorite metalloid.

The obvious name for this would be The Fifth Element, but we'll have to go with grammatical awkwardness here since that title would inevitably be confused with the movie.

Examples:
  • Zero no Tsukaima features Void, an element about which the general population knows nothing but that is nonetheless incredibly powerful. Void users are very rare, and only appear once every several centuries. The easiest way to identify one is apparently they always summon the familiar "Gundolf", a normal human from another world.
  • Captain Planet featured the element of Heart, which was described as important, and indeed, has pretty powerful abilities when you think about it, but ended up a source of derision in pop culture writ large because of how poorly utilized it was.
  • The Fifth Element uses this trope as a central plot point, as the title implies. However, it's not until the very end that this is explained, and it's never explained why this futuristic society places such emphasis on classical elements when, you know, things like spaceships sort of operate on the assumption that all that stuff is superstition.
  • Appears late in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Community Feedback Replies: 20
  • April 22, 2010
    Doug S. Machina
    In the Discworld, the fifth element is Surprise. (The Fifth Elephant isn't really related beyond the pun.)
  • April 22, 2010
    Earnest
    May be Non Elemental, then again, it's very likely to take the form of an Infinity Plus One Element.

    • In Magic The Gathering everything does color coded damage depending on the color(s) of the source. Most defenses and tricks are based on this. However, there are a few rare spells (as in, you can count them on one finger) that deal Non Elemental damage... which in flavor is implied to require such extreme mastery of Mana and Magic that you are turning the magic itself into sheer damage.
  • April 22, 2010
    spiritsunami
    Loved the comment about boron.

    • Kingdom Of Loathing has five elements to begin with (similar to the Chinese element system, which uses earth, water, metal, wood, and fire), but adds a sixth element, cute, in an arc that blatantly parodies The Fifth Element
  • April 22, 2010
    deuxhero
    Actually, the Avatar example is more of the 0th element rather than the fifth, seeing as how it predates all of them.
  • April 22, 2010
    Stratadrake
    This is called the Infinity Plus One Element, regardless of whether it is the in-universe alpha or omega of the elemental chart.
  • April 22, 2010
    Chabal2
    it should be mentioned that the Greeks actually did have a fifth element known as Aether (or ether), a kind of The Same But More of Air, breathed by the gods.
  • April 23, 2010
    Lysythe
    Might as well give the Chinese element system an entry of its own under Real Life.
  • April 23, 2010
    LarryD
    The Japanese system (godai) is Air, Earth, Water, Fire and Void.
  • April 28, 2010
    Chabal2
    Isn't it Fire, Water, Metal, Earth and Wood?
  • April 28, 2010
    Lysythe
    @Chabal2: That's Chinese, which spiritsunami mentioned and I suggested for an example on its own.
  • April 28, 2010
    Chabal2
    Oh yeah. My bad.
  • April 28, 2010
    gman003
    Real Life: Boron
  • May 2, 2010
    SomeGuy
    YKTTW Bump. Last call for examples before launch.

    The final article will make note of technical fifth elements in old mythology, but I think we should stick with the same basic principle- four (or five) elements are "standard" power level, whereas the fifth is Game Breaker (or at least radically different to avoid easy comparison) level.
  • May 2, 2010
    Stratadrake
    Repeating:

    This is the Infinity Plus One Element trope, only by another name.
  • May 2, 2010
    SomeGuy
    Infinity Plus One Element is a Video Games trope that generally follows Gameplay And Story Segregation. This trope, by contrast, is almost always used as a plot point in narrative fiction.

    I mean, in theory these could be the same trope, but Infinity Plus One Element simply is not written up in such a way that something like Zero No Tsukaima or The Fifth Element would be valid examples.
  • May 2, 2010
    macroscopic
    Why not just rewrite the description for Plus One then? Shove all the references to game mechanics to one spot towards the end. It's similar enough it wouldn't even need a soft-split for examples.
  • May 2, 2010
    Stratadrake
    ^ Agree, just fix up the current article.
  • May 6, 2010
    SomeGuy
    Am I the only one who sees that as being needlessly complicated? Infinity Plus One Element was obviously not written with this aspect in mind. I would have to rewrite the entire definition.

    I'll launch into that if you really insist on it. I just think lumping is going a bit far.
  • May 6, 2010
    Stratadrake
    Well, element #5 is really only significant in classical four-element systems. It bears no significance in classical eight-element systems, much less the real-life periodic table.
  • May 6, 2010
    callsignecho
    ^ But the 5th element is significant in the four-element system, as you said. And tropes are things the writer can reasonably count on "being present in the audience members' minds and expectations," and this is obviously the case. Most people in the western hemisphere are familiar with the four-element system, even if it is scientifically discredited, I bet more people can name them than the first four elements in the periodic table.

    This is clearly a trope and trying to shoehorn it into Infinity Plus One Element would just be awkward.
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