Well, you can't win 'em allYou have a character. They may be The Hero or The Rival, or maybe just a competitor for a mundane sport you've just heard of. Either way though, they are very good at what they do, so much that they pretty much never fail, or are even remotely challenged by it. They can in most simplistic terms be considered a "winner". Except today. Maybe it's just Not Their Lucky Day or they've done something antagonistic to cost them their Karmic Protection, but for once in their usually glimmering life they've ended up the loser of the situation. How they take their humbling can vary greatly. Some have been on the winning end so long that a single loss is completely alien to them. They may break down, throw a tantrum, or just accept the humility and learn from their mistake. Whoever put them off their high horse will likely also be in their eye for quite a while, either as a respected rival or a despised saboteur of their legacy. If a heroic case, it sometimes happens because The Bad Guy Wins or Team Rocket Wins, though not always (one side doesn't necessarily have to win for another to lose). In some of such cases, it may be a sign that the villain means business. Very often connected to Defeating the Undefeatable if their winning streak is lampshaded in universe. See also Broken Win/Loss Streak and Not So Invincible After All. Compare with The Worf Effect (where a supposedly strong character has more defeats than victories), Throw the Dog a Bone, (when a usually luckless character finally gets a victorious moment), Team Rocket Wins (when a usually incompetent character finally gets a victorious moment (perhaps due to a Let's Get Dangerous! moment or taking levels in badass)), and A Lesson in Defeat (in which this trope is deliberately invoked to make a point).
Every empire has to fall
Just have a go, inside you'll know
You gave your all
Everybody wins sometime
Has their day in the sunshine
If you're not on top when the music stops
Well, you can't win 'em all.
Every empire has to fall
Just have a go, inside you'll know
You gave your all
Everybody wins sometime
Has their day in the sunshine
If you're not on top when the music stops
Well, you can't win 'em all.
— Greg Champion, "You Can't Win 'em All"
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Anime and Manga
- Ash Ketchum of Pokémon has a very good winning streak in battles and is the saviour of almost every crisis, especially in later seasons. Every now and then, however, he suffers a crippling loss, screws up a mission, or even suffers a rare beatdown by Team Rocket.
- Inverted in the first season, where Ash was a rookie (and a Butt-Monkey on top of it), so he actually tasted defeat on a regular basis anyway.
- Both Dawn and Serena, while usually superior coordinators to Jessie, lost to her at least once in a performance tournament (Dawn also once lost to James disguised as her, long story), making them the first twerps to suffer an unnegated loss to Team Rocket. This never happened to May, though her own underhanded rival, Harley, claimed a single victory against her despite his bitter losing streak against her.
- "Holy Matrimony" stands as the only episode thus far where Ash's side suffers the End-of-Episode Silliness, while Team Rocket get the sentimental Happy Ending.
- Then, there's every time he loses a League. Every. Single. Time.
- Any time Chad loses in MegaMan.EXE. May be combined with The Worf Effect.
- The Lady of War Signum from the Lyrical Nanoha series goes through this in Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force. Having never been defeated in the two seasons since her introduction, she suffers a devastating defeat at the hands of the new villainess, Cypha of Huckebein, spending ten chapters in ICU. She takes the occasion to take a more cautious approach in the future and rely more on technological advantages rather than pure skill.
- A plot point exclusive to the Animated Adaptation of Cardcaptor Sakura. While Sakura always succeeded in capturing the Clow Cards in the original manga, a stipulation is added in the anime where Syaoran Li can earn the cards himself if he put the most effort into weakening them. Granted, this becomes less significant as Sakura has increasing difficulty resenting Syaoran as a rival, at some later points even happily giving him a card as a token of friendship or gratitude for an earlier act.
- In the fourth season of Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yami Yugi loses to one of the mid-bosses after a philosophical debate about the merits of attempting to win at any cost.
- Yugi's first defeat in Yu-Gi-Oh! was against Kaiba (albeit because Kaiba threatened to commit suicide if Yugi beat him). It caused Yugi to fear Yami, who either called Kaiba's bluff or didn't care. Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series had fun with this.
- The show starts off with Yugi beating Kaiba in a duel (having remained undefeated beforehand), leading to an epic Villainous Breakdown and Yugi wiping the darkness from his mind, greatly affecting his attitude.
- In Death Note, this happens to Light Yagami quite a few times, and especially at the end. Normally, even while being arrogant, Light can come out on top, but there are quite a few times that he loses and proceeds to freak out.
- In Karate Shoukoushi Kohinata Minoru, Imai Yuuto, a practitioner of an MMA karate style most likely inspired by Daido Juku, is an undefeated prodigy at the age of sixteen, with over 200 victories in competitive fights. He uses mind games and a liberal interpretation of the rules, along with his prodigious reach and considerable skills, to overcome more experienced opponents. However, he suffers a humiliating defeat by ippon (effectively a knockout) to Minoru in the Kaburagi Ryu championships, when Minoru is only a green belt with less than a year of training in karate.
- In One Piece, after a long string of victories, the last two of which were a man manipulating a country and a self-proclaimed god, Monkey D. Luffy gets the tar beaten out of him by Admiral Aokiji, along with his entire crew, and realizes he still has no chance of overcoming any of the higher-ups in the Marines. He later gets another string of victories, and when he gathers up enough strength and courage for another go against the admirals, Admiral Akainu kills Luffy's brother in front of his eyes, whom Luffy was trying to save for the past hundred chapters or so. This total defeat was enough to shut down Luffy's normally peppy and optimistic demeanor for the first time in the series. Shanks himself said that men must experience victory and defeat in order to properly grow.
- Very common in the Metal Fight Beyblade anime series. The most intense example would be the defeat of the pompous prodigy Julian Konzern by main character Gingka. It gets much worse for Julian, suffering an even more pathetic loss, and defecting to the bad guys with little success, before things get better.
- Tends to show up in Shokugeki no Soma, owing to the absolutely brutal and competitive setting of Tootsuki Culinary Academy. Three major examples stand out:
- Two happen during the Training Camp arc; one is during the unofficial Shokugeki with Shinomiya, and the other is during the breakfast buffet challenge. Both times, Soma barely scrapes by; in the showdown due to the fact that Gin had set it up as more of a lesson for all parties involved instead of a 100% truthful Shokugeki, and in the buffet with some particularly quick thinking and cooking to correct a major miscalculation on his part. Both times he takes it pretty seriously, realizing that while he may not have lost per se, he scraped by on the skin of his teeth; in the second case, he refers to having "gained the knowledge of failing" due to his mistakes.
- The second is at the end of the Autumn Election. With both Soma and Kurokiba losing to Akira, their determination to grow based on their defeat fires them up tremendously.
- Saitama from One-Punch Man desperately wants this to happen, but so far has had no luck (outside of video games and eating contests, that is).
- Anytime Donald Duck finally one-ups Gladstone Gander. Word of God even noted the importance of this trope and keeping it rare, knowing there's only so many times they can do the "lucky guy runs out of luck" plot to proper effect.
- Issue #175 of Sonic the Hedgehog has Eggman invade Knothole and blast it to smithereens and capture all the Freedom Fighters. What's more, due to creating a mech (the Egg Beater) built to resist Sonic's speed, he delivers a most sound verbal and physical beatdown to the hedgehog, with Sonic only able to make a small dent at his full power. Granted, the victory is short-lived, and next to everything is reversed back (if not bettered) for the heroes by all of one issue, but still, Eggman made his mark on Sonic.
- One weird fantasy story from DC Comics had a high school basketball coach placed in the position of having to invoke this trope on the inner city youths he turned into an unbeatable team after a fortune teller reveals that they go on to be an unbeatable Black Ops team where their only defeat results in Earth's conquest by aliens, so that they'll have the learning experience to be more cautious when that day comes and hopefully save Earth this time around.
- Laff-A-Lympics: The Yogi Yahooeys and the Scooby Doobies are used to losing to each other but, when the Really Rottens win, they and the fans feel like it's a tragedy.
Shaggy: I don't mind losing... but losing to the Really Rottens is awful!
- In Code Geass: The Prepared Rebellion, Zero hands Cornelia her first defeat on the battlefield at the Battle of Saitama Ghetto, largely thanks to her seriously misjudging his character.
- Pokémon Reset Bloodlines:
- After arriving in the new timeline, Ash went on a very long winning streak. However, nothing lasts forever, and he ultimately loses to Red in the Battle Dome tournament. His traveling companions are surprised to see him take it so well, evidencing that his many losses in the previous timeline definitely taught him to cope with defeat.
- Red gets a bit of this after his Haunter is knocked out by Lilo's Mudsdale using Tectonic Rage during the Fuchsia Tag Tournament semifinals, realizing that Lilo would have beaten him in their previously interrupted match (his inner monologue reveals that, despite getting some Pokémon knocked out, he's never actually lost a battle up to that point). Even after Ash manages to pull off an almost impossible win (having Pikachu at complete disadvantage against Mudsdale), he still feels bothered by this. He later loses fully to Ultima on Two Island.
- In The Streetfighter's Last Revenge, Terry Tsurugi is finally defeated in combat by the corrupt district attorney, Takera Kunigami. Keep in mind that Terry had not been defeated in the first two films in the series.
- In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Gryffindor goes up against Hufflepuff in Quidditch, and Harry and Cedric are both racing to catch the Golden Snitch. At that very moment, a huge pack of Dementors — which affect Harry worse than most people — come onto the pitch, making Harry faint and fall off his broom. When he wakes up in the Hospital Wing, he's devastated, since this was the first time he had ever failed to win the game for his team.
- In Piers Anthony's Proton/Phaze series, the serf Stile is fighting for his life in the Games, for which the prize is to rise from Serf to Citizen status. He has everything to play for. He comes up against a ten-year old boy who is playing for the hell of it. The game Computer generates a game of pure chance and sudden death; Stile loses one of his two "lives" on a sudden random chance.
- The Reynard Cycle: Reynard is profoundly changed throughout The Baron of Maleperduys due to a series of major setbacks. Not only does he fail to convince Persephone to run off with him, he also loses his left hand due to infection. Much of his cheer and penchant for snark is gone by the end of the novel.
- Game of Thrones:
- Following his defeat on the Blackwater, Stannis Baratheon sinks into a depression and becomes even more dependent on the red priestess Melisandre.
- After losing his sword hand, Jaime Lannister realizes that he must now rely on tactics other than direct force to get what he wants.
- In the Firefly episode "Shindig", the noble scion Atherton Wing challenges Malcolm Reynolds to a duel after Reynolds punches him (for making a disrespectful remark about Inara), and Wing is considered a master swordsman with many kills under his belt. He is rather arrogant about it in the way he toys with Malcolm initially in the duel, but is quite humbled when Malcolm (who has never fought with swords before) exploits a distraction and gains the upper hand — and moreso when Malcolm refuses to "finish him off" as is customary.
- In an episode of Happy Days, Fonzie takes on an undefeated internationally famous fencer and beats him.
- You inflict this on Nitrus Oxide by beating him in Adventure Mode in Crash Team Racing.
Oxide: AGGHHH!!! I can't believe you beat me! Impossible! I never lose! How embarrassing. I'll be the laughing stock of the entire Gasmoxian race.
- In Sonic Riders' Story Mode, Sonic fails to capture Jet when he first meets him stealing an Emerald and later loses to him (albeit by cheating) in the World Grand Prix Final. With excess gloating added to the mix, Jet becomes one of the very few of Sonic's foes to not only outsmart him in their goal, but actually get under his skin.
- At the start of Paper Mario 64, Bowser (once again) attacks Peach's castle. The Princess sets Mario on him, boasting he has always kicked Bowser's ass. Cue Bowser pulling out his newly stolen Star Rod and finally defeating Mario in a Hopeless Boss Fight. Mario also suffered a defeat far earlier in Donkey Kong Junior where he was the villain in the game and is defeated by the titular character.
- From Mass Effect, not counting the Collector's ambush of the original Normandy, Commander Shepard does not lose a single battle in the entire trilogy, until Thessia. The loss on Thessia sends Shepard into a noticeable Heroic B.S.O.D. and about as close as s/he's ever been to the Despair Event Horizon. Some words from Garrus, Joker, and Anderson, as well as helping Liara cope with it, brings him/her out of it to make a devastating strike back on Cerberus.
- Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII is not only a 1st Class SOLDIER, he's the best one out of the entire group and is probably the strongest fighter in the world who has never lost a battle. After going crazy when discovering his troubling past, he stabs Cloud in the gut with his sword and lifts him in the air. Cloud, who is just a lowly grunt at that point in time, manages to overthrow Sephiroth through sheer determination and leverage, granting him the strength to send Sephiroth tumbling down to the mako reactor below. Sephiroth survives through sheer force of will and manages to rebuild himself with the purpose of screwing with Cloud's head as he manipulates him to bring a dangerous MacGuffin. In the movie sequel, Sephiroth comes back to life solely on his pure hatred for Cloud and wanting to get back at him for losing against him. This also extends to the spin off games where Sephiroth seems to only exist to harass Cloud time and time again.
- The player character in Final Fantasy XIV has never suffered a single defeat. Whatever complications that do arise are only temporary and they are quickly known by both their allies and enemies alike that they kick ass every time no matter who or what they face against. The Stormblood expansion has the player lose against Zenos in their first encounter, which shocks everyone that witnessed it. The player character picks themselves up and is determined to not lose again, knowing that they will not fail the next time they meet with Zenos. They still lose to him again the second time they meet him, but they eventually turn the tables in later encounters.
- An episode of American Dad! involves Steve being rejected from a football team after Stan becomes coach. For revenge, he and Roger try to cause his team to lose. After they succeed, Stan attempts suicide in humiliation, being completely unused to the concept of losing a basic sport.
- Looney Tunes:
- Bugs Bunny could be considered Western Animation's most iconic Comically Invincible Hero. Though the odd-spaced out short ends up with him the Butt-Monkey due to his own ego getting the better of him. He never won against Cecil Turtle in any three of their bouts.
- Similarly, Speedy Gonzales, who was even more infallible than Bugs. At least three cartoons ended on a particularly sour note for him, however (Mucho Locos, Chilli Con Corny, and Daffy Duck's Fantastic Island).
- In The Looney Tunes Show, Cecil is portrayed as a purposely obnoxious and annoying customer service representative for a cable company where once every so often, he purposely disconnects a person's package and messes with them the whole time. He does this to Bugs, and it results in him finally being handed a defeat by Bugs himself, with Bugs getting his service back (and better) and Cecil being fired.
- Arguably any instance Zordrak and the Urpneys succeed in giving nightmares to the usually well protected Noops in The Dreamstone. "The Dream Beam Invasion", however, is the only episode to outright end with the Noops being humiliated by the Urpneys in a face off (even if the latter are also robbed of the last laugh after falling into a lake during the closing gag).
- A few episodes ended with the Noops defeating the Urpneys' plans but getting their own agenda ruined in some way. "Little Urpip" is a noteworthy case where Rufus and Amberley get the Downer Ending while Frizz and Nug laugh off their failure (largely due to the End-of-Episode Silliness that befalls Sgt. Blob).
- This was the plot point of a DuckTales (1987) episode, where Magica De Spell uses magic to invert Gladstone's good luck.
- Played with in the Hey Arnold! episode "Steely Phil" when Grandpa Phil goes up against an arrogant Chinese Checkers champion (the one that he lost against back around 20 years ago in the finals). Being caught in the same trap in the current match, Phil uses the one other move he could have performed, resulting in a draw. Given how the (now co-) champion reacts however, you'd think he truly had lost.
- This actually happens a lot in the show. Usually, whenever one of the characters competes in a game, they will be confronted by a near abnormal undefeated rival Shrouded in Myth. They pretty much always get beaten gloriously by the main characters.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
Rainbow Dash: I hate losing.
- Rainbow Dash is completely dumbfounded by Applejack beating her in a sport in "Fall Weather Friends". The taste of defeat is also pretty bitter.
- It worsens as both competitors go to increasingly desperate measures to avoid this trope. This cultimates in them taking part in the Running of the Leaves race, where they become so distracted trying to obstruct the other they actually both come in last.
- Arguably the rare instances Twilight Sparkle is bested in terms of magical power, as she is often implied to be among the most powerful ponies in Equestria and usually only suffers the occasional failure due to her Power Incontinence. Her Curbstomp Battle against Trixie in "Magic Duel" possibly being the best example (though Trixie was using a powerful Artifact of Doom).
- No matter what horrors occur to them throughout the episode, the outcome is next to always a clear cut Happy Ending with the starring pony better from their experience. The episode "Swarm Of The Century", however, ends on a comedic Downer Ending, with the main ponies left to clear up a devastated Ponyville from the recent fiasco.
- In the 1960 King Features Popeye short After The Ball Went Over, Popeye actually lost at the end — possibly because he had dared to make remarks about the inevitability of his winning.
- This happened to Vince after one of the Ashleys outclassed him in kickball. Losing all his self-confidence, things only worsen to the point he can't even make a basic kick anymore, until his friends coax him into kicking a (supposedly) modified ball to bring back his self-esteem and competence.
- Deliberately initiated in another episode. After Vince becomes conceited about his victory streak in sports games, the rest of the gang dare him to lose. He does so, and acts even more smug about it. It comes to a head when he is against someone as skilled and possibly more conceited. Vince then tries to win after losing and either has to win the game (for pride) or lose (for his friends). He chooses the latter.
- Some comedic cases have occurred where the heroes lose in some way in Sonic Boom:
- At least two episodes have ended on a Humiliation Conga for Sonic, both cases due to being at odds with his teammates rather than Eggman. "Into The Wilderness", where he and Knuckles lose an expedition contest with Amy and Sticks, and the aptly named "Designated Heroes" where the others lock him in the same prison as Eggman for becoming too much of a Glory Hound.
- "Chez Amy" ended with Eggman sending his robots onto Amy's restaurant. Though the heroes deal with the robots, the restaurant is still destroyed, leaving Amy back to dealing with Meh Burger.
- Spongebob Squarepants:
- Played with episode "Employee Of The Month", where Spongebob becomes increasingly paranoid and downbeat just by the mere possibility of this happening, with Squidward potentially winning the employee of the month award and ruining his 26-month-long reign. Whether the trope actually occurs is never seen, since both competitors reach such insane extremes to win they outright destroy the Krusty Krab in the process.
- This actually happens in the later episode "A Breath Of Fresh Squidward" after an electric shock affects Squidward's brain and makes him even kinder and more hard working than Spongebob. Given how much he dreaded it the previous episode, the reaction is expected.
- The latter half of Tom and Jerry usually ended each short with Jerry outwitting Tom. On occasion, however, Jerry's luck run out. At least a dozen shorts ended with Tom getting the last laugh, while many others ended in a bitter stalemate. These almost always happened when Jerry initiated the feud or got too spiteful in his retaliation.
- The Red Baron was eventually shot down after an extended fight despite his famous winning streak. He died from injuries sustained in the crash.