->''"I sure am glad I'm a cartoon!"''
-->-- '''Mokuba''' upon falling dozens of stories to what could've been an untimely end, ''WebVideo/YuGiOhTheAbridgedSeries''

Know what's [[RuleOfCool cool]]? [[GoodOldFisticuffs Fist fights]], [[GunKata shoot-em-ups]], {{sword fight}}s, [[ElementalPowers fireballs]] and [[StuffBlowingUp explosions]]!

Yep, any good cartoon, action movie, or TV series has to have at least one of the above, forget all that "TrueArtIsIncomprehensible" junk -- and any series with all of them will be bloodless beyond belief.

Especially if it's for kids/pre-teens, you just have to to make sure to stay on the MediaWatchdog's good side and not let anyone spill blood, [[NeverSayDie die]], or get mauled. Not a problem, really--our hero is already an expert at dodging; otherwise, he'd be toast!

However, the more the hero gets [[ImperialStormTrooperMarksmanshipAcademy shot at]], [[NeverBringAKnifeToAFistFight sliced, and stabbed]] without getting anything worse than cut or singed hair, the louder that [[FridgeLogic niggling little]] voice saying "Y'know, if he'd been half a second slower" gets. Then, of course, you eventually start to wonder at the morality of the heroes for using clearly lethal attacks against opponents with playful and innocent abandon simply because (or rather, you assume because) they ''know'' they'll dodge the attack.

Taken to extremes, these shows often have to take a time-out for a VerySpecialEpisode to prove that, in fact, those [[ColorCodedForYourConvenience red lasers]], swords, or (censors forbid) ''guns'' are not in fact toys, and can kill people. Our heroes will learn a valuable lesson about not running with atomic-powered scissors, and they'll use their weapons or powers with more restraint--[[AesopAmnesia until tomorrow's episode.]]

The trope origins lie primarily within ComicBooks, whose fantastical nature easily allowed passage of such action-oriented, reality-bending situations. With the generally less restrictive Japanese broadcasting, the trope tends to be less apparent with anime/manga, which regularly features bloodletting and dying. Nevertheless, even here Could Have Been Messy is instinctively applied towards main protagonists or other characters that the writer simply doesn't want to let go of just yet.

CouldHaveBeenMessy enables (or is enabled by) several other tropes:
* AsLethalAsItNeedsToBe
* CloseCallHaircut
* ClothingDamage
** HatDamage
* DodgeTheBullet
* GoodThingYouCanHeal
* InverseLawOfSharpnessAndAccuracy
* InverseLawOfUtilityAndLethality
* MinorInjuryOverreaction
* NearMisses
* NeverBringAKnifeToAFistFight
* NonFatalExplosions
* NonLethalWarfare
* PaperCutting
* RecklessPacifist
* SwordLimbo
* UnflinchingFaithInTheBrakes



[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* ''Manga/FullmetalAlchemist'' provides an especially intriguing example. While the Elric brothers' attempts to avoid killing people drag out fights to near typical {{Shonen|Demographic}} lengths, whenever anyone else, like say the bloodthirsty, revenge-driven anti-hero Scar, joins a fight, blood-soaked bodies begin littering the ground within seconds.
** [[PlayingWithFire Roy Mustang]] averts this. Whenever he steps up, things are ''very'' messy, a la: that's a very nice everything you have there Envy be a shame if something were to ''[[KillItWithFire kill it all with fire]] [[ThereIsNoKillLikeOverkill over and over again]]''.
* In the first chapter of the ''Manga/MaiHime'' manga, Natsuki and Mai seem to fight all out with some very lethal looking elemental attacks. When cornered by Duran, Mai refuses to budge, preferring to take the attack. The presence of some young children behind her and the subsequent [[MyGodWhatHaveIDone oh-crap reaction]] seem to imply that Duran's [[DeathRay attack]] was going to be quite lethal, which is interesting considering neither Mai nor Natsuki really seemed like the type to murder the other out of pique... So you gotta wonder what would have happened if Tate were one second too slow...
* ''Manga/MahouSenseiNegima'' does this a lot, especially early on. Later in the series, it's averted, although [[BeautyIsNeverTarnished mostly in regard to male characters]]. The idea is even directly referenced when Jack Rakan [[spoiler: copies the ultimate Shinmeiryu technique, which bypasses all of Negi's barriers and obliterates a bunch of stuff behind him, also nicking Negi on the forehead.]] Jack admits that if he had been off by an inch or so, Negi's head would have been split in half.
** It comes back with during most battles with the {{Fa|nNickname}}tettes (not counting Tsukuyomi/Setsuna where it's kinda justified), where lethal force is regularly exchanged: RazorWind, explosive fire, etc. Even in the "final" battle against them, it's hard to remember Fate issued a no-kill order when one sees how [[PyroManiac Homura]] fights.
** Also averted in regard to [[spoiler: Robots and any other artificial construct that could survive being torn in half.]]
* This can become especially hard to swallow when an absurdly competent fighter uses lethal weapons but feels that ThouShaltNotKill, like in ''Manga/{{Trigun}}''.
** Except for the fact that it's his "absurdly[-high] competen[cy at] fight[ing]" that ''allows'' him to avoid killing anybody [[spoiler:[[HeroicBSOD until he gets broken]]]].
*** Subverted when Merlyn and Millie walk in on his shirtless moment, revealing that even skill and luck doesn't save him every time. [[spoiler: Vash's chest is covered with old wounds and scar tissue from enemies that managed to wound him before he dealt with them nonlethally.]]
*** [[spoiler:"Old wounds and scar tissue" nothing; part of his chest is ''held together with steel mesh bolted in place.'' He'd definitely be dead by now if he was actually human]].
* The {{Kid Hero}}es of ''Manga/NurseAngelRirikaSOS'' frequently get roughed up, but blood is very rare. In a few episodes where they sustain what are clearly meant to be grievous wounds, this can become jarring.
* In ''Anime/TheCastleOfCagliostro'', Goemon slices and dices with his metal-cutting katana and Jigen blasts away with an ''anti-tank rifle'', yet neither one of them is ever actually seen to ''kill'' anyone with said weapons. Even when Jigen shoots out a car's tire with his Magnum, we see thugs go flying but not actually any dying.
** Averted with Lupin's wound and [[spoiler:the deaths of the count and his thug in the clock tower]].

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* Similarly, the anything but restrained ComicBook/{{Wolverine}} never actually managed to successfully shank anything that wasn't mechanical or otherwise inhuman in both ''WesternAnimation/XMen'' and ''WesternAnimation/XMenEvolution''. And thus the use of the trope allowed writers to feature the very archtype character of the [[AntiHero "kill-at-the-drop-of-a-hat anti-hero"]] without having him ever actually kill anyone.
** Even in the movies, where he is allowed to cut loose, there's a surprising lack of blood. Perhaps most notable is an instance in the first movie where he accidentally stabs Rogue in the chest. From her back, you can see the exit wounds, but when you see her from the front next, the front of her shirt is still entirely intact, and there isn't so much as a blood stain on her or the shirt.
*** Averted in ''X-Men Origins: Wolverine'' (Uncaged edition) where Wolverine's claws do exactly what you always wanted them to. Very, very messily.
** There's a truly preposterous example in ''WesternAnimation/WolverineAndTheXMen'' where, filled with rage at Sabretooth, he pops his claws... and uses them to ''slice off a tree branch he can use as a club''!
* ComicBook/CaptainAmerica's shield seems to have the same "selective edge" than the Batarangs mentioned above. That's very good for Cap, who values everybody's life. Justified in Black Knight ([[LegacyCharacter Dane Withman]])'s case, whose sword REALLY has a selective edge due to magic.
* ComicBook/{{Thor}}'s hammer {{Mjolnir}} doesn't have an edge, but the same principle still applies, given that he's capable of caving in a mountain with it. It was mentioned by another character that Thor never strikes a mortal, no matter how strong, with his full might, but even so, it ought to be punching Mjolner-shaped holes through most enemies.
* ''ComicBook/XMen'' villain Avalanche can easily create earthquakes and turn buildings into rubble. However, it used to be explicit that his power didn't work in human flesh, explaining why people didn't become MadeOfPlasticine around him. More recently though, his powers have been indicated to work on people.

* ''Film/Terminator2JudgmentDay'': The T-800 does this to a bunch of cops with a ''[[MoreDakka Gatling Gun]]'' to prove he's not a bad guy anymore. After shooting up squad cars with the minigun ''and'' a grenade launcher, his HUD notes "0.0 Casualties."
* ''Film/X2XMenUnited'':
** Pyro fails to actually kill the cops, and Wolverine manages to avoid stabbing any humans unless they invade his home. Cue cheering when he is finally given an "acceptable" target.
** Even when Stryker's men invade the school, Wolverine stabs about 10 dudes full in the chest with both blades, yet somehow spills ''[[BloodlessCarnage no blood whatsoever]].''
* ''Film/TheDarkKnightSaga'': Batman seems to realize he can use all the [[BfG lethal force]] he wants because the writers are just going to make everyone miraculously survive, keeping his [[ThouShaltNotKill code]] intact. This is actualy pointed out in-story by Alfred: [[HandWave "It's a miracle no one was killed!"]] Yes it is, Alfred. Yes it is.
* Lampshaded in ''Film/GoneInSixtySeconds2000'', when a police car is smashed by a wrecking ball through a concrete barrier while chasing the protagonists. Because they were the protagonists, they make sure to show that no cops were killed.
--> Det. Drycoff: You alright?
--> Cop: I think so...
--> Det. Drycoff: Are you sure? 'Cause you just went through a wall.
* PlayedForLaughs (like everything else in the movie) in ''Film/TheHallelujahTrail'' with seven different groups having a heated five-way firefight at close quarters in the middle a blinding sandstorm.
-->Col. Thaddeus Gearhart: ''(It's) A miracle of the highest order that so many bullets could miss so many people in so small an area in such a short space of time.''


[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* ''Series/RobocopTheSeries'' made Murphy a TechnicalPacifist, but that doesn't prevent him from shooting a BulletholeDoor under a crook's feet.
* ''Series/Daredevil2015'' plays this very similarly to the ''Film/TheDarkKnightSaga'' example above, with Matt using what is obviously lethal force and the writers having his targets live anyway, so he won't break his code. They even go out of their way to have someone mention that a man Matt threw off of a roof slipped into a coma rather than dying. The difference is that the show doesn't skimp out on the blood and guts.

* LampshadeHanging in ''Webcomic/ElGoonishShive'', when the goo monster nearly drills into the heads of Ellen and Nanase; the latter has to remind Justin that Grace saved her life.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* To say the least, ''WesternAnimation/AvatarTheLastAirbender'' breathes this trope, as the creators are anything but shy about throwing in so-called "close call" after close call to pump up the feel of otherwise clean, kid-friendly fight sequences. Particularly glaring within the first season, in which we're constantly reminded how "the Avatar must be captured alive", and yet anytime a FightScene rolled around... Honestly, in the season finale, where would we be if Aang was two seconds too slow for that hammer swing?
** A great deal of the show invoves people shooting fire from their bare hands at other people. A grand total of ''two'' people ever take skin damage, one by accident and quickly healed, the other by the local equivalent of having his face pressed against a hot stove for a few seconds.
* All of the Saturday Morning Cartoons we grew up on. All of them.
** WesternAnimation/{{Transformers}} regularly shows giant robots fighting each other with massive laser cannons - while normal Human folk fight right alongside. Nobody ever gets squished. Not until the traumatoriffic The Movie did any Transformer actually DIE from a laser blast. Interestingly, the bio cards that came with the Transformers toys often revealed decidedly non-lethal weaponry - that thirty-foot steel warmachine's fifteen-foot-long 'laser cannon'? Yeah... more often than not, they were listed as being something like an EMP pulse cannon, that would disable robot targets but not, for some reason, blow them up. (This is the older toys, from 25 years ago, I don't know what the current toys say about their guns.)
** Both [[Franchise/MastersOfTheUniverse He-Man and Skeletor]] have massive fuckoff swords. Everybody in the He-Man universe has massive fuckoff swords, axes, bazookas, fists, necks, faces, and all of them are covered in rivets and blades. Any actual injuries caused on the show are only - only - caused by mighty He-Man face punches and that thing he always did where he swung the giant monster around by the tail and threw it off into the distance - such great distance that the giant monster would have hit the ground like a paper bag filled with guts. We never saw such a thing.
** Franchise/GIJoe. Two massive, well-armed military organizations firing what appear to be fully automatic laser assault rifles at each other, with approximately zero accuracy. Again, almost all of the actual casualties come from face punches.
*** The aerial combat where every exploding Cobra plane was accompanied by a mook in a parachute.
* Played straight in ''WesternAnimation/ConanTheAdventurer''. Conan carries a weapon made of ThunderboltIron that will send any of the serpent-men he strikes back to AnotherDimension (his allies have similar weapons), but all he ever seems to do against normal human opponents is body-slam them. This is not the case in the [[Franchise/ConanTheBarbarian original material]].
* In ''WesternAnimation/TheSpectacularSpiderMan'', Spider-Man ''constantly'' engages in [[JustInTime nick-of-time]] DeadlyDodging, otherwise he'd have been pulped into a fine mist before the first episode ended. (Justified in that he has SpiderSense and super reflexes for just that reason-- to avoid getting hit.)
* In ''WesternAnimation/SpiderManTheAnimatedSeries'', and probably elsewhere, Shocker's gauntlets have an unusual property. While they smash through walls and destroy buildings easily, whenever he gets a direct hit on Spider-Man, the effect is limited to a hard sucker punch. While it's true that Shocker can control the force of his concussive blasts, there's no reason not to assume that they're on the "kill setting" whenever he's aiming them at Spider-Man. Possibly Justified, as in an episode when Peter Parker lost his powers and got hit by the blast, he remarked that it should have killed him suggesting his powers(including super-toughness) are returning).
* This is why the old ''WesternAnimation/{{Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles|1987}}'' cartoon used MechaMooks. In the [[WesternAnimation/TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles2003 2003 cartoon]], where most of the enemies are human, notice how Leonardo and Raphael (the heroes using sharp weaponry) ''always'' kick their opponents.
* It's the same thing with ''WesternAnimation/SamuraiJack''. He only uses his sword to its full potential against robots and Aku, who seems to be [[MadeOfEvil made of pure evil]] and therefore has no blood. Whenever he fights a living being (not often) he somehow finds a way to not actually cut them, if he even uses his sword at all. It does at least deconstruct it: it ''is'' messy. Very, very messy. Honestly, the way robots come apart, oil spurts like blood and internal workings spill out akin to disembowelment. If it ''were'' living beings, it'd be {{Gorn}}. And with the new version taking place on Adult Swim, that could very well be in the cards.
** Season 5 features living humans (and other creatures) ending up on the sharp side of Jack's weaponry. A major element of the season is Jack coming to terms with having killed someone, as [[DramaticIrony he thought the mooks attacking him were just more robots.]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/TeenTitans'', bladed weapons and explosions are taken more seriously than, say, goofy laserfire, but none hit the mark unless the target is MadeOfIron or the attack is ensured to somehow be nonlethal. Despite retaining the typical pacifistic heroes role, the Titans themselves rarely hold back during action sequences. Particularly glaring with Robin, who wielded explosive discs as a standard weapon; imagine a police officer substituting a hand grenade for his billy club.
* ''WesternAnimation/RamboTheForceOfFreedom''. WhatDoYouMeanItsNotForKids Pssh. Let's just have wars where nobody dies. At least Rambo is somewhat [[TechnicalPacifist consistent with his portrayal in the first movie]].
* ''WesternAnimation/ThePinkPanther'' cartoons took this to extremes sometimes, with two characters continually blasting each other point blank with blunderbusses, resulting in nothing more than blackened skin. Even for a cartoon, it gets ridiculous after the twentieth shot to the face.
* ''WesternAnimation/LooneyTunes''. Even getting smashed by a 2000-ton rock, blown up by dynamite, or sliced julienne-style was of little lasting consequence. Even the few times where someone actually died, you usually saw them as spirits not much later, treating the whole thing more like an inconvenience, or BreakingTheFourthWall to remind us it's just a cartoon and nobody was ''really'' hurt.
* ''WesternAnimation/{{Gargoyles}}''. Despite the titular creatures having claws that can carve stone, the strength of several men to each individual, and being native to a period of time in which wars were quite savage and bloody, no permanent damage is ever inflicted during their battles - even when those battles involve guns, swords, or explosives (which most do). The only things ever actually destroyed are of course robots or cybernetic parts. May be a [[DeconstructedTrope deconstruction]], since this also allows multiple villains to continue harassing the gargoyles indefinitely, and the gargoyles do explicitly convert to a more pacifistic approach as they integrate further into modern society.

[[folder:Real Life]]
* UsefulNotes/WW2 tank commander John Foley describes two "could have been VERY messy" near-misses in his autobiography ''Literature/MailedFist''. In the first, he cheated death twice: a direct hit from a {{T|ankGoodness}}iger [[PantheraAwesome tank]] struck the front of his tank, passed right through the fighting compartment, and exploded in the engine. He was initially fortunate in being able to bail out of a brewing tank - one set on fire by an enemy hit - with most of his crew (the co-driver was killed). Going back to view the wreck later with a salvage and recovery team, he charted the passage of the shell through the tank and realised it must have passed straight between his legs as he stood in the commander's position; he reflected that there had been a strange rip, as cleanly cut as if done with a razor blade, in the inner thigh of his trousers. He'd just been too preoccupied to notice it at the time. On a second occasion, a German sniper aiming for his head - the only part of him exposed and visible from outside the tank - missed him by inches. The bullet impacted on the inside face of the commander's hatch and shattered into thousands of globules of molten lead, which sprayed him in the face and hair, missing his eyes. Foley fell back into the tank with his face a mass of blood from hundreds of tiny pinpricks from the tiny lead fragments - none of which had the power to penetrate more than skin-deep, but which gave the illusion of a far more severe wound. He described it as like a combination of sunburn and very minor shaving cuts and was able to continue, otherwise virtually unharmed. (His machine-gunners got the sniper; Foley remembers parking up the tank, investigating, and taking the dead German's unit badges as a souvenir.)