Every leader of anything is always stronger than all their subordinates. Even the seemingly frail criminal masterminds like Captain Kuro suddenly whip out amazing martial arts or devil fruit skills. The Marines are all more or less ranked in strength, with the generic guys at the bottom always as weak cannon-fodder and everyone at the top made of pure badass. The only exception to this rule usually comes in the form of anime-only filler arcs, like the Jabba the Hutt-like Commodore Nelson who was so fat he could barely move.
CP9 arc shows two aversions of the trope. First, some of the most powerful government assassins in the world were led by a guy who was weaker than a common soldier. He's simply the one who hands out directives, and is cowardly and arrogant. He tried to make up for it with his sword-elephant, but Funkfreed didn't amount to much. On the opposite side there's Iceburg, mayor of Water 7 and owner of Galley-La. All his workers even those not in the CP9 agents are certified Badasses while Iceburg himself lacks fighting ability but is the best when it comes to building and repairing ships.
Also a notable aversion is Buggy, at least with his current crew. At the end of the Marineford arc, he gains a crew filled with former Impel Down prisoners, each and every single one of them stronger than he is. Though it is played straight with his original crew.
The Gotei 13 is supposed to be ranked according to capability - the higher the rank, the more Badass the shinigami becomes. Captains are Nigh Invulnerable, unranked foot soldiers are Cannon Fodder. It is possible to become a captain via Klingon Promotion, but that's most likely to happen in the 11th Division and with only two mentioned examples, how common it is even for them is unknown. Even then, these captains have to be good enough to retain that rank. Although this works for the most part, the ranks really only confirm a shinigami's minimum power level as there are a couple of shinigami at least vice-captain level in ability despite not being ranked as vice-captain (Ikkaku and Yumichika).
Hollows are also ranked according to power, with the Mooks the Cannon Fodder shinigami fight, and power increasing up to the Menos Grande class, which itself is split into three levels of power. The Gillians are the weakest Menos-class hollow, the Adjuchas are the mid-class and the Vasto Lordes are the most powerful, allegedly even stronger than captain-class shinigami. Somewhere into the Menos-class of hollows are slotted Aizen's Espada and Fraccion army. Espada are more powerful than both Privaron Espada (former espada) and Fraccion (servants or followers or companions of the current Espada). Some of the Espada may have been Vasto Lord-level (possibly Espada 1-4, but no real confirmations in the manga for it yet) prior to becoming Espada, some used to be Adjuchas-class, and one used to be Gillian-class (number 9, confirmed in manga) - it's hard to know what level the 10th (and sometimes 0th) Espada used to be (he doesn't fit any of the classes perfectly, though an usual variant of Adjuchas seems most likely) except that he wasn't a Gillian.
In Air Gear, the leader of any given team of Storm Riders is, with only one exception, the most capable of kicking ass.
Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yami Yugi used to be a pharaoh and Kaiba was his High Priest. In the spin-off Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Jaden is a reincarnated king.
Samurai Deeper Kyo also uses a military ranking within the Mibu Clan: while Red Shirt cannon fodder are unranked, the protagonists have to fight the Five Planets (Goyosei), comparable to Captains, then the Taishirou (the Four Sages or Stars, who order the Goyosei around), comparable to Gods to the rest of the Mibu Clan, and truly possessing godlike powers, to finish with the former Red King, Nigh Invulnerable, possessing a power far beyond that of a Taishirou, and only remaining clan member to know the truth about the clan, making him a Magnificent Bastard and One-Winged Angel. The twelve generals can also be found in this manga, each possessing power slightly under or on par with a Goyosei's, and although they were created by the Mibu, they were given as henchmen to the evil Oda Nobunaga, who is unsuspectingly controlled by the Mibu.
Murder Princess uses it fairly straight; the most powerful swordsman in the kingdom, possessing Implausible Fencing Powers, and the only non-Red Shirt member of the army? The crown-prince, of course... as a matter of fact, the only one who can match him blow for blow, is the titular Princess...
In Kiddy Grade, Eclipse is initially believed to be a mere high-ranked administrator and bureaucrat (except for a few hinting flashbacks) until about halfway through the last story arc, she is revealed to possess G-class ES abilities on par with the two lead girls of the series. And it's justified too; her ability is part of the reason ES members can effectively live forever.
The Leader of Yamainu is the only one of them who lasts long enough against Akasaka near the end of Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai for him to get serious and reveal his true badassitude. On the other hand, his boss is just a regular woman. She just bought him and his men out.
Averted in Hellsing. While Integra is skilled with swords and guns, she's nowhere near as powerful as either of the vampiresunder her command or her Battle Butler. Enrico Maxwell and Montana Max the Major, despite commanding legions of Church Militant soldiers and Nazivampires respectively, have little fighting ability at all. Especially the Major, who in one humorous scene is unable to shoot a person standing right in front of him, and when he finally runs out of bullets just tells his underlings to kill the target for him.
The Führer, King Bradley. Justified by the fact that he's actually a homunculus with superpowers. Also Ling Yao and Mei Chan, children of the Emperor of Xing, are expert fighters, with Ling Yao taking on Bradley one handed while holding someone.
And don't forget Olivia Milla Armstrong. Her troops' credo? "Survival of the fittest". While her group is probably the most badass people of all army, she tops all of them became the most badass general from all of the generals in Central circle.
All State Alchemists are given the Rank of Major, which is a pretty high rank, and given what they can do, it seems pretty fitting for it to be applied to all of them.
And then it gets subverted. All of the chief government officials are pansies who get killed by mooks that patient, trained soldiers can handle.
In King Bradley's case the above was true for the 2003 anime version. But in Brotherhood all being a homunculus did for him was give him the ultimate eye. His skill, strength, and everything else that made him Bad Ass were things he worked to achieve.
Ling Yao and Mei Chan are justified, in that the Xing Empire is obviously based on ancient Chinese kingdoms, in which the emperor and all potential heirs were required to be good at EVERYTHING in order to be a fair and well-balanced ruler. Ling Yao in particular has had assassination attempts made on him since a young age, making him learn all sorts of dirty tactics and fighting methods in order to survive, so this trope is justified.
The Three Kings of Makai in YuYu Hakusho. Raizen, Mukuro, and Yomi control their own parts of Makai, along with vast armies of warriors, and major influence. Strength of the king is strength of the entire kingdom, meaning the kings are the only worthwhile fighters. It was explained at the end of the last season that a single S class fighter would be more then powerful enough to casually take over the Earth, and possibly destroy it. Same goes for the afterlife as well. Guess what, each of the Three Kings makes a normal S class look tame in comparison. No wonder S class fights never happened on Earth.
Members of the royalty and nobility in Crest of the Stars are obligated to service in the Imperial Navy. The higher one's rank, the greater one's responsibility; members of the royalty are at the top of the scale with many decades of required service.
The anime subverts this trope and plays it straight. Humongous Mecha pilots in Britannia are called knights and those identified are always some level of nobility. Also there is Lady of War Princess Cornelia. Subverted however in that the ace pilots of the series (Kallen and Suzaku) hold only moderate rank and are not commanders in any sense.
It's most notably subverted with Zero himself. Lelouch is an above-average pilot (with average being Mooks and Red Shirts), but he's physically unimpressive, and ultimately gets his ass kicked by anyone with a name. He turns down the Black Knight's first Super Prototype, giving it to Kallen, noting he's the commander and she's the expert. Even when he does pilot Knightmare Frames, he sticks to ones that focus on long-range bombardment because he knows he doesn't have the skills for close-range fighting. Of course, his long range Knightmares have really big guns, so their kills are roughly equivalent.
Same goes for Charles, who generally generally hangs out in the capital, while Cornelia handles the actual fighting. And Schneizel, who is an excellent commander, but never wields a gun (bar a single instance) or pilots a Knightmare Frame. On the other hand, even pacifist Euphemia can pilot a Knightmare, and in the DS game, is pretty decent at it, especially with one of the best weapons ever built by Britannia. Sadly, she doesn't keep it once you recruit her.
Trinity Blood:You would think a mere Departmental Director would be a middle-aged-man-in-a-suit-with-a-gut type of character. However, if the department in question's the Department Of Inquisition, and the director in question is Brother Petros, that'd be the last mistake you'd ever make.
The Meister Otomes (of which the Five Pillars/Columns are a subset) in Mai-Otome are vastly more powerful than the Corals and Pearls underneath them, getting all of the powerful weapons and Robes (and merchandise!). Such positions are usually held by heads of state or members of nobility. Natsuki, headmistress of Garderobe Academy, is also a Meister and one of the Pillars.
Somewhat subverted in the Ruby & Sapphire chapter of Pokémon Special. While the eight element-master Gym Leaders of Hoenn form the "high council"-type organization that rules and protects the region, the guy actually calling all the shots has never been shown to have any battle prowess - or, for that matter, to own any Pokémon. Although there is some confusion on whether the Champion and Elite Four of Hoenn have any political clout, if they are totally independent from the Pokémon Association and the Gym system, or if they are a kind of last-resort peacekeeping squad under the Association's order.
Riot Force 6 operates on this trope, with their highest ranking officers being Persons Of Mass Destruction that hover around the S Rank. However, this trope completely collapses when the entire Space-Time Administration Bureau is taken into consideration, since non-powered individuals such as Regius and the founders of the Bureau are the ones in charge.
See also: Lindy, captain of the Asura, is never shown fighting. But when she unfurls her wings and holds a dimensional tremor at bay, it lets her subordinates take care of that.
Lordgenome manages to give a sound thrashing to and nearly defeats the heroes, something which almost none of his underlings came close to. When his mech Lazengann is ruined, he climbs out and beats Lagann with his bare hands, eventually ripping the arms off. One of his direct underlings, Thymilph who is himself (itself?) a leader of many, fatally wounds Kamina. The Anti-Spiral King is the one who has a mech large and powerful enough to fight the heroes' final form ridiculously huge mech equally.
Deconstructed in the post-Time Skip human government. The officials are primarily old Team Dai-Gurren members, who showed their ability at asskicking in the war, but when it comes to governance they're generally incompetent. Simon in particular hates the job, the political crap, and would rather be back piloting Gurren Lagann. Rossiu is the only one who seems to thrive in the new order, he's actually good at politics and getting his policies implemented. The trouble is, those policies almost lead to disaster (see Alternate Character Interpretation for why). So the best asskickers got the highest authority, but proved to be totally unable to handle it.
Averted in Full Metal Panic!: Mithril is led by military officers who let the privates and NCOs do all the fighting, like in real-life armies. Amalgam is a straighter example, as only people higher up in the ranks get to drive around in Lambda-driver-equipped Codarls — and the true masterminds have even better ones.
Both played straight and averted. The heads of the IPO and Big Fire that we see are all enormous badasses, boasting power beyond any of their underlings. However in an ironic twist they are all eventually handed their asses by two characters both less powerful and lower ranked than them, and who turn out to be the real Big Bad's. (A lot can be said for having a bigger gun than everyone else).
Also played straight when we meet Big Fire himself, the true leader of the organization which shares his name. The mere sight of him is enough to fill his generals with absolute, paralyzing terror; no small feat considering that most of them are strong enough to decimate armies single handedly.
On the one hand, Freeza fits this to a T. But then, Emperor Pilaf, Commander Red, Dr. Gero, and Babidi are all aversions to this trope (with the latter 3 being killed off by their most capable underlings. Piccolo and Vegeta are interesting takes. When Piccolo was the "Great Demon King" (and for a little bit after) he was roughly comparable to the protagonist, Goku. Ditto Vegeta during his starkly evil "Prince of Saiyans" phase. But the further assimilated into the hero roster they became, the further from their heritage and titles they got, and the further behind our hero they fell. Piccolo, of course, has a shining moment where he is the strongest fighter present... AFTER FUSING WITH GOD. Vegeta, likewise, recaptures some former glory by magically reinstating his old Saiyan Prince persona.
Vegeta: I'm the prince! I'm supposed to be the best by default!
Vegeta constantly invokes this trope, at least in the manga. Whereas Piccolo doesn't seem that bothered with being relegated back, Vegeta is completely obsessed with the fact that as a Prince he should be more powerful than Goku. There's literally nothing he doesn't try to become more powerful than Goku (including selling off his soul and willfully condemning himself to Hell. It's only in the fight against Kid Buu, a few pages before the end, that he finally admits that Goku really is better than him.
While Piccolo doesn't seem to mind his decline as he becomes more comfortable with heroics, it should be noted that any time he does wish to stand out he has a tendency to invoke his former title (and, thus, this trope) while doing so.
The gods of the show don't fair much better. Both Kami, the guardian of Earth, and King Yemma, the judge of the dead, are stronger than Goku when they're first introduced, but he quickly surpasses both of them. Same applies for King Kai, the god of a quarter of the universe. In the anime, the Grand Kai, the god of the Milky Way galaxy, seems to be vastly superior to Goku when he's first introduced, but Goku surpasses him off screen within the span of a few episodes. When Supreme Kai, the god of the whole flippin' universe, is introduced, Goku and many of his cohorts are already superior to him.
The Grand Kai is the superior to all the "lower" Kais. By the time Goku went to his planet, he was already stronger than the Grand Kai, he just didn't let this on (although he did say he's been out of practice for three centuries) The Supreme Kai point still stands. Turns out being capable of killing Freeza with a single blow is no longer enough by his introduction.
Then there's the Southern Supreme Kai, who's actually stronger than Goku ever canonically got given that he was able to fight evenly with Majin Buu. Too bad Buu surprised and ate him. Also somewhat of an aversion, as he's not the highest ranked of the Kais; that honor goes to the Grand Supreme Kai.
Utawarerumono is a source of both good examples and aversions. The protagonist and emperor Hakuoro is a badass fighter who can also turn into a giant monster. Samurai General Benawi is likewise among the best fighters in the series. Kuya, ruler of Kunnekamun, is a little girl with an unstoppable Humongous Mecha. However, the first emperor killed by Hakuoro (by Benawi actually) was a pathetic coward with no means of self-defense.
Najica Blitz Tactics generally averts this - most of the time, Najica's target and main opponent is someone's Dragon - a Humaritt - while their 'masters' are utterly helpless in a fight. However, at the very end, they play it straight with a rare Mad Scientist example - Dr. Ren, creator of the Humaritts, displays superhuman physical strength, and goes Guns Akimbo with Golden Handguns! Okay, so maybe she's not on the same level as her Kill Sat-controlling, Gatling-gun-wielding Dragon... or is she?
It's rather unclear and somewhat self-contradictory whether becoming a Kage of one of the five great ninja villages is supposed to be based on one's fitness to lead or one's relative strength. At the very least, character does matter; Orochimaru, despite his immense abilities, was disqualified from becoming the Fourth Hokage because the Third (correctly) felt that he was too power-hungry. It also doesn't hurt if the candidate is a relative and/or student of the previous Kage, since at least the daimyos seem to consider tradition to be incredibly important.
The principle of having the leader be the biggest badass also seems to hold for minor villages, samurai nations, and any other ninja-run organization; Hidden Rain's leader, Hanzo, was so powerful that the Sannin became famous for (among other things) merely surviving a fight against him.
The manga version of Chrono Crusade both subverts this trope and plays it straight. Duke Daffau is the Leader of the Pursuers (something like a demon military, police and FBI all in one), and renowned for being a powerful fighter—as Chrono says, "The best of the best!" But although he is shown to be very powerful, he's bested by another fighter (albeit partially because of superior tactics), the leader of the Sinners, Aion. There's quite a bit of evidence that Aion is the most powerful demon out there (although Chrono is close, if not equal, in power). There's also a lot of talk of demons having "ranks", which heavily is implied to be both their place on the hierarchy and how powerful they are—basically, demons have a higher position in their government and society when they're more powerful fighters.
The Shogun, aka Masaomi Kida in Durarara!! exemplifies this trope in bad way.
If there was a major flaw in Horada's plan, it would have been that he had completely underestimated the Shogun. He had dismissed the Shogun as an opportunist leader. But even if that was the case, the Yellow Scarves would still have had gathered around the Shogun for a reason - he was a strong fighter. He had probably taken on several gangs single-handedly by now.
Black Jack 21 featured a particularly inexplicable example - a woman who had previously appeared to be nothing more than a trophy-wife with a pretty face, suddenly turned into a crack shot, hitting several small, remote targets with a handgun, under highly unfavorable circumstances. There's no indication that she ever had any combat- or firearms-training, but she DID just take over her father's Ancient Conspiracy Organization, so...
Reinhard von Lohengramm of Legend of Galactic Heroes always fights at the frontlines despite being the most important person in the universe. This happens out of his own conviction, but it's also a reason why he's such an incredibly popular leader: He doesn't hide behind his soldiers while giving out hypocritical speeches about the need of sacrifices.
Dark Oak, the leader of the Meterex in season 3 of Sonic X. The guy managed to beat SUPER SONIC in a fight. Curiously, he doesn't really do anything else.
In Burn Up! Scramble, the Director spends most of the series as Mission Control for the Team Warrior Amazon Brigade. When she actually comes out to fight, she spends most of it handing the girls their asses.
The third season of Shakugan no Shana shows us what many of the leaders can do once they get serious.
In Medaka Box, Medaka is the president of the 99th Student Council and one of the most powerful characters in the series. Inverted by the 100th Student Council. Student Council president Zenkichi claims he is the weakest member of the council. The General Secretary is the strongest one.
This trope varies in Black Lagoon. On the one hand, you have characters such as Mr. Chang, Dutch, and Balalaika who are the heads of their groups, and are certainly in the upper echelons of the series lethality tiers. On the other hand, the Colombian Cartel and Sicilian Mafia heads are basically mere mooks, and lower level characters such as Robert and Fabiola (Maids) and Ginji (street vendor) are more than capable of taking out multiple mooks by themselves.
The board-game Stratego exemplifies this, as applied to an army: When two pieces meet, the highest-ranking piece wins. The Field-Marshal is basically unstoppable, unless he runs into The Spy... or steps on a mine, of course. The Field-Marshal can only be killed 3 ways: Attacking another Field-Marshal (draw, both die), DEFENDING against a spy (Spy wins - it's the only time that the spy can attack someone and NOT die), or encountering a mine (obvious). Suffice it to say, if the Field-Marshal attacks a piece, the piece it attacks WILL be removed guaranteed.
Both subverted and played straight in chess: The King, the most important piece on the board, is capable of little more than the pawn, but the Queen (The Woman Behind The Man, as it were) is the most powerful piece on the board. In older versions the Queen was even more useless than the King. She could only move one space and only DIAGONALLY. When they gave the Queen unlimited distance in all directions they called it "Madness Chess" because the woman was most powerful.
In Yaquinto's Beachhead, a single Japanese commander has four times the firepower of a 10-man squad.
Marvel's Kingpin is, on the surface, a tremendously fat man with a head for crime and a mean streak wider than he is. But he's also the Leader of The Syndicate, and a Diabolical Mastermind besides, so he's got heavy-duty Charles Atlas Superpowers - enough to take out low-level heroes (and a room full of ninjas) in hand-to-hand combat; he could crush his nemesis Daredevil with his bare hands. Note that he does, in fact, work out, and some incarnations interpret his portly frame as being solid muscle.
In a similar vein, Lex Luthor always keeps himself in excellent physical condition, and can at least competently spar with heroes without super-strength. These days, anyway. When first introduced, and right through the Golden and Silver Ages up until he came up with his first purple-and-green combat outfit, Luthor was overweight. Similarly, in his initial post-Crisis appearances, Lex was suffering the ravages of an over-lavish lifestyle. In both cases, after having his backside repeatedly kicked (literally and figuratively) by Superman, he wised up and shaped up. It helped that he got a young, cloned body after his first one got cancer from Kryptonite exposure, which he saw as a second chance to stay in shape.
In one issue, Cap is sent to a German concentration camp run by an SS Colonel nicknamed "The Butcher", a man missing half his face due to an encounter with a bear when he was thirteen - an encounter which ended with him breaking the bear's neck. He even gives ol' Cap a good run for his money.
Oddly enough, Cap averts this. While he has a special ranking in the US military and is probably the strongest and most experienced soldier (to say nothing of the most skilled) in the military, he is still outranked by many military leaders.
Played... extremely bizarrely in one Captain America storyline, in which Cap takes on Reagan. Of course, Reagan has been turned into a lizard-monster.
Funnily enough, inverted with The Authority. Kicking as much ass as they do (and from an inter-dimensional spaceship, no less) puts them in a position of great power, and makes the actual authorities very twitchy. Given that the team will not hesitate to snuff corrupt officials if it makes the world a better place, you can't blame them.
Nick Fury could kick serious ass back when he led the Howling Commandos, and he hasn't lost his touch at all now that he leads S.H.I.E.L.D..
Played up to an absurd degree in the backstories of the G.I. Joe comic book cast, which favorably compares each of the heroic fictional officers who'd go charging first into battle and prove their authority with asskicking to the pansy sort of military officers who'd just sit back and draw up battle plans (even if that's a far more realistic and sensible use of their skills).
Darkseid doesn't rule over Apokolips because of charisma, he rules because he's the strongest and most evil god on a planet brimming with powerful, evil gods. Even disregarding his Omega Beams, he has the physical strength to put down pretty much anyone who may dare rise against him. And when Darkseid's father Yuga Khan briefly returned from his imprisonment in the Source Wall, the latter quickly overthrew his son, thus upholding the trope. This is shown perfectly in the penultimate episode of Justice League Unlimited. Darkseid was killed three seasons before and Apokolips is in the middle of a Civil War for who will take his place. After getting resurrected, he returns to Apokolips in the middle of a battlefield, halting the war completely. Usually, on a planet full of starscreams and after being dead for a few years, you would think that someone would try to rebel. In this case however, Darkseid doesn't even have to say anything. He just stands there and everyone immediately bows down to him. Darkseid Is indeed.
Also true for Odin, father of Thor and ruler of Asgard who up until his death was always ready to show exactly why he held that position whenever a challenge arose that his son could not defeat.
In the generally disappointing, plot hole-ridden Nightcat, heiress/drug lord/real estate tycoon Amanda Gideon turns out to be a better fighter than four ninjas (whom the heroine beats without breaking a sweat) or her bodyguard, Mr. Krak. Also, she fights in what appears to be her underwear for some reason.
In Iron Man, Tony Stark runs a multi-billion dollar company, and personally snuffs out bad guys with his suit.
In Throne Of Atlantis, Ocean Master is the king of Atlantis and is a force to be reckoned with. Having equipment that allows him to control the seas and the storms also helps. Aquaman becomes king when he fights his brother until he yields.
Justified in Nova, where being higher-ranked in the Nova Corps means one has access to more of the Nova Force's power.
In The Three Kings: Hunt the Three Kings were the most powerful mages of their era and were also the rulers of Egypt. In the current era it's hinted that not only are they very powerful to the point of stopping the genocide against the mages but that eventually they're going to be in charge of the mages.
In Prison Island Break Vector is at the top of a criminal empire and he's just as dangerous if not more so as his subordinates. Justified because he had to climb his way to the top, he wouldn't be in that position if he wasn't Badass.
There's Celestia and Luna, as always, who in this setting are Physical Goddesses with tremendous power. However, we find out they're only two out of a large group of Alicorns (though they're the only ones who rule ponies directly) and later meet theirBig Goods, Their Parents, the Father of All Alicorns and Fauna Luster, who are described as being so powerful that they're not even capable of manifesting directly in the mortal plain (though they can use Avatars). Discord also turns out to be one of a group of Draconequi (though he's the only one who's actually evil and the strongest) who answer to their own Elders, Havoc and Entropy, who are on the same level as the Alicorn Elders. Havoc himself entered a war between the two groups using an Avatar with only a faction of his power, that was still far stronger than Discord is!
There's also Queen Tiamat, the ruler of the Dragons and what seems to be their patron Goddess. When the Dragons were considering quitting the Dragon-Hooviet War due to taking too many losses, Tiamat herself stepped in and Curbstomped the entire Hooviet army, leaving half the country burning ruin and willingly stopping just short of burning their capital to the ground. It should be noted that she did this because she considers all Dragonkind her treasure and was supremely ticked off at what the Hooviets had done.
Shining Armor qualifies, being a very powerful when it comes to his shield magic (though he's a horrible shot). Same can be said for Master Chief Spartan (the leader of the Air Naval Calvary of Cadence's guard), who went on a Foe-Tossing Charge during a fight with the Hooviets.
Ronin is the queen's highest-ranked soldier, and the most powerful Leafman in the movie.
Mandrake is the leader of the Boggans, and also the most powerful.
Films — Live-Action
A Bridge Too Far includes a scene in which Robert Redford participates in a dangerous river crossing. Even though he is a Major, he does a great deal of the asskicking personally. In later interviews, Redford would point out that his character would have been directing the maneuver, and would have only actually fired his weapon in an emergency.
In Equilibrium, Brandt fails to live up to his Badass Longcoat despite fighting Preston to a standstill in an earlier training match. By contrast, Vice-Counsel DuPont, the real leader of Libria, is a bureaucrat who seems harmless without his complement of bodyguards... but actually has Gun Kata skills almost on par with Preston himself and the ensuing final duel lasts longer than most of Preston's skirmishes with the Faceless Goons. Then again, there was foreshadowing in that DuPont is earlier glimpsed teaching a class of gun-kata students.
In Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, the toughest opponent Riki fights in the prison is the warden because as everyone knows "The warden of any prison has to be the very best in kung-fu".
In the Ultraviolet film, also directed by Kurt Wimmer, the government's leader Vice-Cardinal Ferdinand Daxus is the hero's most physically dangerous adversary. Justified or handwaved by the fact that he was one of the original lab technicians researching and infected by the hemophage virus and used the abilities it granted him to aid his rise to power.
Yoda in Attack of the Clones and any of his appearances that chronologically take place after that. There's a reason why he is called the Master. Mace Windu too, to a lesser extent.
Apparently being Secretary of Defense in the live-action Transformers movie provided enough Bad Ass to try blowing away an alien robot with a shotgun.
In Sha Po Lang, the Triad boss Wong Po turns out to be even faster and tougher than The Dragon, his personal assassin Jack. Not only can he throw down with the main character, who can literally punch people stupid, and take him and two of his partners at the same time, but he can survive getting over-the-head body-slammed into a giant tower of beer bottles and drinking glasses and then stand up a minute later to throw the hero out the window. Of course, the guy's played by Sammo Hung, who is known for his kick-ass action roles in the Hong Kong scene.
Played for laughs in Idiocracy. The President of the USA is a hulking pro-wrestler with a fondness for automatic weapons.
Seen in the finale of xXx: State of the Union, where after easily subduing in hand-to-hand combat a few dozen marines, a couple squads of Elite Mooks, and a The Dragon Navy SEAL, the hero finds himself being outmatched by the 60 year old Secretary of Defense.
In Men In Black 2, MiB leader Zed, despite being a 70 year old administrator, nevertheless manages to deliver a rapid series of improbable flying kicks to the face of the main villain.
Subverted in the climax of the film Wanted. Although Sloan is briefly shown to have the same superpowers as the other master assassins, he's too smart to actually confront the hero directly in a fair fight (the hero, for his part, is also too smart to fight fair).
In Batman Begins, Batman utterly owns everyone he fights pretty much instantly, including (leading up to the final fight) 4 ninjas in full body armor who presumably have the same training and skills as he does. However, Ra's al-Ghul, the leader of the League of Shadows and Batman's Broken Pedestal mentor, is able to match Batman blow-for-blow and ultimately "wins" the fight, despite Batman wearing a high-tech suit of hardened combat armor, and Ra's wearing what's essentially very nice formal wear.
The film ends with James Bond and Dominic Greene battling on a collapsing catwalk inside an exploding building which is also on fire. Greene doesn't exactly do well, but he puts up a much longer and involving fight than you'd expect a 5-foot tall, physically unimpressive corporate suit to do so against the world's most famous British murder machine, especially considering how Bond dispatches mean-looking, highly-trained professional killers much more quickly on several occasions earlier in the film.
M also counts. We never see him/her fight, but (s)he being the head of MI6 means (s)he is the only one Bond ever listens to, and Judi Dench's character was the only one who Bond actually listens when she tells him she'll have him kiled if he reveals anything about the origin of her codename.
General Miura from Ip Man throws down with three guys in his first appearance and takes them down without much fuss. Ultimately he is the only one who actually manages to land real hits on our hero.
In Scanners, Revok is not only the leader of the evil scanner underground, but also one of the two most powerful scanners in the world - which is, of course, how he started the underground in the first place.
At the climax of Cliffhanger, effete villain John Lithgow (!) proves to be a match for musclebound Sly Stallone.
In addition to the times the source material uses this trope, the fight with the Uruk-hai at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring shows the Fellowship effortlessly mowing down the Uruks, until the orc chief Lurtz shows up. Lurtz fatally wounds Boromir with his arrows, and he's only defeated after a drawn out, one-on-one fight with Aragorn, King of Gondor. Of course, Lurtz also had the Inverse Ninja Law on his side.
Played painfully straight in Red Sonja. Nowhere in the preceding scenes did the Evil Queen show any kind of martial skill, but when she and Sonja face off, it's a battle royale, apparently just because the film needed a cathartic climactic final fight.
In Fist of Legend, the Japanese general is an incredibly powerful martial artist.
In AvatarColonel Quaritch has his dropship severely damaged when Jake Sully throws a missile into a turbine. Despite this, and having his shoulder on fire, he climbs into a mech as the dropship spirals out of control, pats out the flames, and jumps out of the dropship to land safely as it crashes in a hulking flaming mass behind him. Half of this he does while holding his breath. Earlier in the film, he kicks open a door without an oxygen mask and unloads an assault rifle and a pistol into an escaping gunship. And finally, in the final battle he fights hand to hand (albeit in a mech) with two Na'Vi and one palulukan, and again a portion of this is done holding his breath.
Frank D'Amico in the climax of Kick-Ass, as foreshadowed by earlier scenes of him practicing martial arts, although he also has a couple of factors tipping the balance in his favor, such as the fact that he's, you know, fighting a ten-year-old girl. Hit Girl previously mows down his Mooks by the dozen in a firefight, but she runs out of ammo by the time she faces D'Amico and is forced to resort to kung-fu fighting him, getting completely thrashed in the ensuing fight.
The main villain is the only one in The Transporter to test the hero in a one-on-one fight. And he's even nicknamed "Wall Street", making it seem like he's just a corporate suit. So, for the final fight, both fight without their suits.
Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, jumps out of an out-of-control helicopter and shoots down a plane carrying a nuclear warhead with an unguided grenade launcher, among other things. His subordinates are not nearly as impressive, with some exceptions of course.
Likewise, when Steve orders police officers to get people to safety and set up a perimeter, they initially question why they should be taking orders from him... until he quickly disposes of some attackers right in front of them.
Aldrich Killian in Iron Man 3 is the most dangerous foe to the titular character, despite the fact that most of his Mooks are veteran soldiers who have been enhanced by the Extremis Super Serum, while he himself was a cripple until recently. Despite this, he survives what some of his Mooks don't. He can also breathe fire.
The French General Delatombe in The Brothers Grimm spends most of the film sitting around. However, when necessary, he shows that he handles a sword very well for an old man and nearly dispatches one of the brothers. His aide-de-camp is also pretty good, despite not looking it.
In The Wolverine, Shingen is by far the best swordsman out of the entire Yashida Clan, with the possible exception of his father.
Mostly played straight with the Valar and Maiar and Númenórean, Elven and Dwarven kings and other leaders. However, there is also a memorable subversion: Melkor/Morgoth was considered the highest and overall most powerful of the Valar, and Manwë, the Valars' leader after Morgoth went renegade, second to him - but Tulkas, who was not really good at anything except fighting (and feasting) was the only one who could kick Morgoth's ass.
Morgoth was the greatest of the Valar, and Tulkas came to Arda afterward solely in order to help her other Valar against him. The other Valar combined could defeat Morgoth and drive him away, but not capture him; meanwhile Tulkas was Arda's version of Hercules, and could wrestle Morgoth into submission.
At one point in The Silmarillion, one of the last elven princes from the second generation of elves decides he's had it with Morgoth and rides forth to call the devil out. He loses the fight, due to tripping, but Morgoth takes such a beating (leaving scars) in the process that he never leaves his home again, till the Valar come to drag him out in chains.
Elven-kings were the most powerful of all the Elves; after all, Elves were immortal, and the kings were the strongest and wisest— particularly the Eldest ones. Also, Morgoth was very much weakened due to his obsession with material things. Elves were not created equal.
In Lord of the Rings, those in highest authority are also the greatest warriors. Aragorn is the best human warrior alive, but still he's nothing like Elendil who was almost 8 feet tall, and able (with Gil-Galad's help) to wrestle with Sauron to the death at the end of the War of Last Alliance; likewise, Isildur was over 7 feet tall, and so terrifying that the orcs fled from him even after shooting him dead. Boromir was also the hardiest warrior in Gondor, being Prince of Minas Tirith, and Faramir was a close second. Even Denethor was a fell warrior, greater than his own knights— as was King Théoden, in the Battles of Helm's Deep and the Pelennor Fields. (Tolkien wrote elsewhere that leaders should fight in their own battles; meanwhile Denethor was a subversion of this, as he advocating that "wise" leaders use others to do their fighting for them).
The toughest orc is always in charge, and maintains his place by this ability. This is asskicking equals authority, but it also means you always know which orc you need to watch out for.
The moredhel (dark elves) of The Riftwar Cycle are tribal, war-like and live in a harsh, cold and barren land. A moredhel isn't considered an adult until they're a hundred years old, and they usually need to live another hundred before they're eligible for the position of clan chieftain - all while surviving in the cold amidst constant bloodshed and starvation, mind you. Thus, if you ever run into a moredhel chieftain, you better believe they're damn hard to kill.
Justified in The Firebringer Trilogy, as the prince/princess of the unicorn herd is also their warleader in times of war (and they have considered themselves at war for over four hundred years).
Subverted in the Horatio Hornblower series, in which it is noted that Petty Officers could be Drill Sergeant Nasties, but that would be beneath Hornblower's dignity as an officer as well as above his physical capacity. Hornblower got into much more tough physical confrontations as a midshipman and lieutenant than he did as a commander.
Peter's one-on-one sword fight with King Miraz lasts much longer than his fight with Lord Sopesian immediately afterward.
Earlier in the book, Edmund defeats Trumpkin the dwarf, a seasoned fighter, in a swordfight. While Edmund's intention may simply be to persuade Trumpkin that he (and, by extension, his older brother) are valuable allies to have during a war, the ultimate effect of Edmund's victory, and Susan's similar victory in an archery contest, is to convince Trumpkin that they are in fact the kings and queens of legend.
Authority Equals Asskicking even is in effect when the main characters are children. Trumpkin's confusion stems in part from the fact that Peter, Edmund, Lucy, and Susan returned as they were in England, as schoolchildren, and had lost much of their skill and ability. It returns to them slowly due to the "Narnian air."
In The Magician's Nephew, Jadis treats with contempt the notion that Uncle Andrew could be anything but a king: commoners are never magicians. This could be Asskicking Equals Authority, in view of her ruthless use of magic for power, but she treats it as this trope.
Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts and leader of the Order of the Phoenix, is the only one who could kick Voldemort's ass in a duel.
Averted elsewhere in the Harry Potter series, however. Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge was never shown to be an outstandingly powerful wizard. His successor Rufus Scrimgeour was undoubtedly better, having been the former head of the Aurors, the Ministry's special forces; however, his chronic limp may be a handicap in a fight — and anyway he was killed with relatively little struggle when the Ministry was taken over. Played relatively straight after the war, when Kingsley Shacklebolt is elected Minister, a powerful Auror who actually fought alongside the protagonists a few times and was assigned as personal protection for the British Prime Minister, lest he be magically dominated via the Imperius curse. Dumbledore himself was repeatedly offered the job of Minister, and he always turned it down; it was suggested that Voldemort may have wanted to take up the post earlier in his career, but he never did — though he controlled the acting Minister for most of a year.
However, played straight with the Hogwarts professors during the Battle for Hogwarts, when the school's teachers proved themselves more than a little adept at the use of magic in the defense of their students against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Those who can do, teach, eh?
The Death Eaters themselves are an example. Voldemort can hold his own against Dumbledore in a duel, and can fight any other THREE wizards simultaneously and without effort. His highest-ranking Death Eaters also tend to be his most dangerous servants; in fact, most duels between named Death Eaters and any good guy tend to go in favor of the Death Eaters.
Played straight in the Urban Fantasy environment of the Nasuverse, at least when a character is involved in an organization. The heads of particular divisions in the Magi Association tend to be holding their position due to their overwhelming brilliance. Naturally, this means that the Lords of the Association are scarily powerful. On the other hand, you also have oddities like how the last person on Earth who can use the Unified Language is teaching in a random high school.
Heavily justified. The main principle of the Mobile Infantry is "Everybody drops, everybody fights": all officers are promoted from enlisted ranks, and even generals are expected to be the first soldiers on the ground (although they have bodyguards to help keep the enemy riffraff away). Plus the higher-ups get command suits with both the speed of scout suits and weaponry and gear on par with if not superior to that of standard marauder suits. And to get the highest rank of Sky Marshal, one has to go through the ranks of both the Mobile Infantry and the Navy.
Subverted in The Film of the Book, when they find a general hiding in the freezer while exploring an abandoned fort. He's shown to be completely useless; he's probably suffering from shellshock after seeing his men get their brains sucked out.
While Klingon Promotions are not supported, an officer is proven to be incompetent if he lets the morale and/or his personal level of asskicking sink so low that his underlings would even think of attacking him and surviving the attempt.
The Wizards (at least in the earlier books) are an example of this. Progression is by the time-honored "Dead men's pointy boots" system, and the wizards don't usually wait for them to get emptied naturally.
Archchancellor Ridcully is possibly one of the most powerful combatants on the Disc, and the Patrician is a trained and skilled assassin.
In full force. Alerans have access to "furies," kind of like D&D elementals, which confer power over fire, water, air, earth, wood, and metal. Societal hierarchy is based on the power of one's furies, with Knights typically showing exceptional strength in one area, High Lords possessing amazing abilities in all areas (i.e. capable of causing conflagrations, flying, and possessing super strength and swordfighting skills), and the First Lord, well... he approaches Physical God status.
Also you have Canim leaders Varg and Nasaug, two of the deadlist hand-to-hand combatants on the continent, and the Vord Queen, who is far more powerful than any of her spawn. Of course, since the Alerans are practically a Proud Warrior Race, the Canim are definitely a Proud Warrior Race, and the Vord are a Horde of Alien Locusts with a Hive Mind centered in their queen, all of this makes a certain amount of sense.
This trope is played with a lot in this series. Alera is in a 20-year succession crisis because the current First Lord has no acknowledged heir and he's getting old, but as we see during the series, he still has amazing power with furies in his own right. Societal hierarchy is not actually based on the power of one's furies, but is strongly influenced by it; for just one example, a bastard will generally have his parent's power with furies but only the status he is born into. The protagonist is considered a freak at first because he is unique in not having access to any furies, (though he gets some slight power at the end of the third book, he remains subpar through the fifth) and yet he eventually gets a great deal of authority because he's capable of Awesomeness by Analysis.
The Senior Council. The governing body of wizards is comprised of the seven strongest wizards on the planet; the youngest and weakest, Ebenezar McCoy brought down a decomissioned Soviet satellite on an island full of vampires for revenge at the end of Death Masks, and the Merlin and the Gatekeeper stalled an entire army of Red Court vampires and Eldritch Abominations with a single ward during the events of Dead Beat (Harry's comment: "You don't get to be the Merlin by collecting bottle caps"). The Wardens are also ranked by badassitude, but since they're a somewhat military organization that needs everyone they can get their hands on, it's more justified.
Other example include the Sidhe queens, the Red King, and other similarly powered rulers. Mostly justified in that these are beings who have been alive for thousands of years or more and have had time to build and consolidate power, although people promoted to some of these positions (such as the Summer Lady) essentially immediately become a Person of Mass Destruction.
On the vanilla mortal side of things, we have GentlemanJohnnyMarcone, who can hold his own against a Fallen Angel with a Kalashnikov.
On the heavy end of the scale are the Lords of Outer Night from Changes—vampires so old and powerful that they actually are the pantheon of the Mayincatec civilizations of South America. The very next book, Ghost Story, shows this trope on the light end of the scale, with a smalltime sorceror (someone who has some magical ability but is beneath the notice of the White Council as friend or enemy) pushing around a group of teenage orphans a la Oliver Twist.
In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, the duke trusts in his captain of the guard, who has only been defeated once. But a minion points out that the prince who is trying to marry his niece was that one defeat.
The series is full of royals who not only actually fight things, but tend to be totally awesome at fighting them. Of particular note are PrinceGwydion, King Smoit, King Morgant and King Pryderi, all feared and respected war leaders as well as being mighty warriors in their own right.
High King Math is a double subversion. He is very idealistic and peace-loving, and far too old to fight. However, in the final book he proves himself to be the most badass man alive by getting out of his deathbed to make a heroic final stand against the Death-Lord's army of undead minions.
Subverted with ArawnDeath-Lord who, despite being a powerful sorcerer, barely fights (though he does kill someone) before being decapitated.
Frequently the most powerful nobleman leading an army is also its more powerful swordsman. During the First Blackfyre Rebellion, the royal pretender Daemon Blackfyre was considered undefeatable with a sword. During Robert's Rebellion, each side was lead by their strongest fighter: Robert Baratheon and Rhaegar Targaryen. After Robert killed Rhaegar in single combat and won the war, he became king. Also, the most powerful noble families breed most of the continent's best warriors: Loras Tyrell, a great jouster and Jaime Lannister, the greatest swordsman are all members of Great Houses. This is justified, as heirs and leaders of Great Houses they'd receive the most and best training, nutrition, and even genetics, as the need to appear strong is important as vassal houses are known to overthrow them if they appear weak. True choose to slack off. For example, when Jon Snow becomes a member of the Night's Watch and thinks he's better than the other recruits because he can beat them all in single combat. It's pointed out, In-Universe, that he's been trained for years by his master-at-arms, whereas the lower class recruits can't even afford a sword, let alone receive proper training in it.
Justified in the case of the Dothraki, who only follow the powerful. Khal Drogo in particular was never defeated in battle and led an incredibly large group of warriors.
Subverted quite a few times when it comes to certain noble characters, despite certainly looking and acting the part. This is noted by some characters.
The most textbook cases are when a young knight, supposedly much better trained and equipped, ends up being defeated by an older, more lowborn man. The reasons tend to range from the lowborn man being much stronger or the young knight underestimating him to the knight misunderstanding the finer technicalities of battle (e.g. terrain, fatigue, mobility vs. protection) and acting inappropriately, while the lowborn man has much more experience.
Justified in The Book of the Named, Clan leaders can be challenged for their position by any Clan member, and thus must be good at fighting to stay the Clan leader.
Starship Traveller, an interactive novel in the Fighting Fantasy series, has this. When in combat, non-security personnel have a penalty to their skill rating. The exception is you, the ship's captain. "Your own fighting skills are equal to your professional skills, as befits a true hero."
Beowulf, from the epic poem of the same name, is an inversion. He's far more kickass than the local king, and becomes king after his amazing feats of badass in defense of Hrothgar's land. He still dies against a dragon.
This is an unspoken assumption in Dune. When Baron Harkonnen learns that the guards escorting Paul and Lady Jessica have been killed, he asks who their rescuer may have been and his Mentat replies, "It was a clean, silent killing, my Lord. Hawat, perhaps, or that Halleck one. Possibly Idaho. Or any top lieutenant." Apparently, the Atredies couldn't possibly employ competent assassins without giving them high ranks, and no ordinary soldier would be able to manage a clean, silent kill. Besides, isn't Hawat, like, a hundred?
Grand Admiral Thrawn doesn't fight anything. He's The Strategist. He watches everything, plans, and gives orders; he's got to be highly intelligent, but there's no sign of him being physically adept, and no one knows how old he is or if his species is more or less powerful than humans are. Track down the Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook, a supplement for West End Games' now-defunct Star Wars RPG, and you see that his physical stats are pretty damn good, better than any of the other bridge officers', better than his counterparts in the New RepublicRebellion, better than almost any of the others who don't actually, physically, fight.
Other parts of the Star Wars Expanded Universe prove him to be really good with a blaster, and he can move in armor. He impersonates Jodo Kast, a Palette Swap of Boba Fett, and actually makes Kast seem cool.
In Outbound Flight, we see him board a slaver ship to lead his men into battle. While he has the crew of his ship backing him up, it's pretty obvious that he's cowing his opponents through sheer chutzpah.
And once we meet his species (the Chiss), we find out that they're all extremely badass, though more in his "planning ahead" vein than in physical prowess. Thrawn is still portrayed as exceptionally talented even among the very-talented Chiss, though.
In Currahee!: A Screaming Eagle at Normandy, a memoir from a WWII paratrooper, he recounts how someone sabotaged the parachute chord of a strict drill sergeant during parachute training, which was fortunately noticed before he jumped out of the plane. In response, the sargeant challenged anyone who had a problem with him to fight him. Two large recruits then fought him, but he beat them both. After that he didn't have any more parachute problems.
The universe is filled with this, which makes sense, because Post-Shift Atlanta is pretty much ruled by survival of the fittest.
The Shapeshifters are the most prominent example of this, since positions of power in the Pack are won by fights to the dead, so all Clan leaders have to survive a bunch of challenges to stay in power. Since they are the strongest and best fighters, they also take the lead in any violent confrontations.
Curran is the Beast Lord, the Alpha of Alphas, because he is strong, fast, and lethal enough to utterly destroy them. He won his position by single-handedly taking down a rampaging were-bear that weighed in over 2000 pounds and had killed several dozen people. At age 15. He's not only their leader, he's also their biggest weapon, so he takes point at nearly every confrontation involving the Pack.
While not technically a shapeshifter, Kate becomes the Consort of the Beast Lord, which means she has the same position of power as Curran. She earned her position by surviving 22 challenges while wounded, tired and emotionally compromised because of Curran's coma. All shapeshifters are stronger, larger and heavier than Kate when in warrior-form, and yet she killed them all with a six-inch knive.
A lot of the higher-level warlords in the web-novel Domina are also extremely physically dangerous, due to the fact that there's an easy Bio-Augmentation device lying around, so anyone with the money (such as people in charge of a culture) can make use of it. It also goes the other way into Asskicking Equals Authority; people who manage to get augmented on their own can carve out their own culture easily
Live Action TV
The titular character of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She's the most combat-capable of the Scoobies. When she left at the end of season 2, the Scoobies picked up the slack without her, and got curb-stomped by common vampires. It got to the point that, after her death in season 5, the Scoobies actually had to reactivate and reprogram the Buffybot to make any dent in Sunnydale's demon population.
The high-ranking main characters (who, more often than not, are officers in the virtually pacifist Federation Starfleet) all seem pretty handy in a punch-up. Kirk's martial arts "skills" are legendary, and at various times he takes on big lizard guys and genetically engineered supermen. It's very noticeable in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where the crew of the eponymous space station regularly kick the asses of Klingons and Jem'Hadar when it comes to a hand-to-hand brawl (Sisko's Q-punch has to rank pretty far up, too). Justified for Dax and Worf, maybe (who at least have the martial arts credentials to back up what we see on screen), and Kira as well (she spent fourteen years fighting for her life in the Bajoran Resistance, what did you think would happen?) and Starfleet training is pretty well-rounded, but where did Sisko learn to use a bat'leth? (Probably from Curzon Dax, the Federation ambassador to the Klingons.)
Speaking of Klingons, there's the Next Generation episode where Worf is trying to defend his family honor, and his second is taken out. As a replacement he chooses not a seasoned Klingon warrior, not a fellow security officer, not the clearly able-bodied Riker, but old, bald Captain Picard. When he gets jumped by two Klingons later he fatally stabs one of them before help arrives. This may partially be because Patrick Stewart is no slouch himself. Go rent Excalibur, which was a break out film role for both him and Liam Neeson, and check him out in the armor. Or I, Claudius for that matter. The man may have gotten older but he he looks like he could take Riker in a fist fight. Pragmatic Adaptation of the actor, perhaps.
Especially egregious in the two-part episode "Chain of Command," where Picard, Crusher, and Worf covertly infiltrate a Cardassian facility. This would be like asking a naval O-6 skipper to do a job normally performed by Navy Seals.
One could argue that all Star Fleet officers would be likely to have a myriad of skills because, in Roddenberry's future, you don't "need" to do anything and do what you do in order to improve yourself as a person. If you were given full freedom to do anything, especially with a holodeck, you'd probably be in great shape and know some very exotic martial arts. Sulu was into fencing, Riker was into "Anbo-jitsu" (that blind stick fighting thing he did with his dad), and we see several other officers playing difficult sports. Things like that would make you pretty handy in a fight.
Also consider that self-defense was pretty much required training at the Academy. In one of the novels, a class is taught covering not only human but Klingon and Vulcan martial arts (pacifists they may be, but any culture that thought up the Nerve Pinch is pretty dangerous).
The Vulcans became pacifists only relatively recently in their history. Keep in mind this is the same race that earlier split with one faction becoming the Romulans, who are a close-second to the Klingons in their level of aggression. The whole 'logic used to suppress emotions' schtick is outright stated to be a (mostly) constructive response by the Vulcans to their inherently violent nature. In the TOS episode "Amok Time" Kirk and Spock are manipulated into the kal-if-fee, a duel with traditional Vulcan weapons that wouldn't have looked out of place in the Middle Ages on Earth. Such duels are provided for as part of the Vulcan marriage ritual when the prospective bride wants to back out...meaning that not only can Starfleet officers generally (and Kirk in particular) kick ass hand-to-hand, but every Vulcan male has trained with these weapons in the event such a duel is called by their prospective consorts!
We also see T'pol teaching Vulcan martial arts to a group of miners to defend themselves against Klingons, specifically focusing on moves to counter the Klingons' preference for oddly-shaped blades.
In the Deep Space Nine episode "Blood Oath", for all the guards protecting The Albino, he himself was the only one who put up a fight.
Played straight in an episode of CSI: New York. A company had training sessions for its higher ups. Two of them beat each other, two of them got into a fight at a pool hall so heated they were running on the ceiling, and one of them assassinated a man by hanging from a tree and doing an upside down Diagonal Cut through the man's neck. The head stayed on until the cops came.
On Heroes, the 12 founders of The Company are described as having been very powerful superhumans, although the show has been very vague as to what the exact power of many of them were.
Rear Admiral AJ Chegwidden from JAG was, before he became the Navy's top uniformed lawyer, a Navy SEAL who earned a Navy Cross in The Vietnam War, and he's had more than one occasion to showcase his credentials in Bad Ass...including one or two Papa Wolf moments. And one incident involving an actual wolf...
Colonel Jack O'Neill came out of retirement and promptly went to Abydos and picked up where he left off in personally f'ing up Jaffa.
Teal'c was the First Prime, aka the Head Jaffa in Charge for Apophis. Thus it makes sense when as the series progresses he's laying waste to hordes of Jaffa all by himself. And his kills include other First Primes as well as System Lords.
The few times General Hammond ends up in a fight of some kind, he shows exactly why he's in command of the SGC.
In Stargate Atlantis, the basic Wraith Mook troopers go down just like any human after a burst of P90 fire. The "officer"-type Wraith can take a handful of pistol rounds and keep on coming. The Wraith 'General' from "Sateda" was strong enough to effortlessly toss Proud Warrior Race Guy Ronan around like a rag doll, and the Wraith 'Uber Queen' from "Submerged" ate a full clip of P90 fire and kept on coming. Part of that has to be due to the fact that Wraith regenerative abilities are directly dependent on how much and how recently they fed. A higher-ranking Wraith would have first dibs on any prisoner to feed on.
Colonel Young from Stargate Universe, who started the series with a limp but recovered and ended up kicking a lot of ass.
Ben from LOST seems to have elevated to this status during season 4. Added to the fact he's the Magnificent Bastard he was in Seasons 2 and 3, in Season 4 he is the one who takes out Keamy, that season's Big Bad.
In 24 the villains get deadlier the higher up the villain authority ladder you go.
Alias plays this trope fairly straight. While the mooks Sydney/Vaughn/other agent fights are easily deterred, usually the Big Bad/episode mini-Bad has some freaking sweet skills. And in the later seasons, when Jack became head of APO, the trope took effect. Check out the episode "Nightingale".
Battlestar Galactica. Both Admiral Adama and Colonel Tigh are capable of some serious butt-kicking, as seen in The Mutiny episodes. President Roslin on the other hand, while quite ruthless, only handles a weapon on one occasion. And she manages to miss at point-blank range.
On Ultimate Force, Colonel Aidan Dempsey reliably kicks a lot of arse when called upon, most notably in the episodes "Dead Is Forever", "Never Go Back" and - particularly - "Charlie Bravo". In the latter, he strides through a gunfight, casually taking one-handed potshots at rebels, while exhorting his local counterpart to "Pretend you're an officer and get your men in order!"
WWE chairman Vince McMahon is frequently booked as a fairly strong wrestler, and is usually the favorite in matches featuring him against anyone below main-event level. Partially justified by the fact that McMahon is actually a very muscular person in real life. Though, it's ultimately inverted in most of Vince's matches with main eventers, as he ends up getting the worse of the beating against them. Keep in mind, that Vince is still the boss of said main event wrestlers, even after getting his ass kicked. When he does win, it's usually through outside interference or dirty tricks, not through McMahon himself winning it on his own.
Subverted in an episode of The Sandbaggers where the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, Neil Burnside, "James bloody Bond" - is mugged by some hoods while walking about late at night.
Just about every ruler from the 1998 Merlin series, including Uther, Arthur, and most impressively, Vortigern, who is aging and past his prime but still a force on the battlefield.
And in the other Merlin, we have King Uther, getting up there but still able to kick butt in the tournaments. Even if Arthur did let him win. Arthur kinda fits this too.
True Blood plays it straight with Godric, Eric, and Russell Edgington, but totally subverts it with Sophie-Anne Le Clerq, who apparently relies on luck more than anything. In the third season Eric points out that he only lets her kick him around because of his respect for her rank; when he switches sides, Sophie-Anne is screwed. She is shown to be much stronger than Bill, though, until he is revealed to have brought a SWAT team armed with wooden bullets. Averted with Bill himself, after he is crowned King of Louisiana.
In Castle, Captain Roy Montgomery is usually seen in his office calling the shots, but in the season 3 finale, he kicks all kinds of ass. He manages to kill three hitmen with precision before they can even get their weapons out. Although Lockwood manages to fatally wound him, Montgomery is still able to kill the last hitman with a hidden gun in his sleeve.
Darken Rahl in Legend of the Seeker is a skilled swordsman and a sorcerer. He is also the ruler of the most poweful empire in the world (as far as he knows, at least; the series was cancelled before the discovery of the Imperium) Admittedly, he is not as skilled in magic as Zedd, but he is able to beat Richard the first time they meet in battle. In another episode, he effortlessly kills several Sisters of the Dark, despite them being Elite Mooks (in the books, at least). Averted with most other rulers.
The Headmaster from Tower Prep is quite capable of kicking ass.
In The Sopranos, all of the capos and bosses in the mob are either capable fighters and killers, or they used to be in their younger days before they rose so high that they no longer need to get their hands dirty.
Many of the kings and rulers in Greek Mythology were themselves formidable warriors. One of the most famous examples is The Iliad, where Idomeneus, Menelaus, Ajax, Diomedes, Agamemnon, Achilles, Patroclus, Odysseus, Philoctetes, Hector, in short almost all the major warriors are kings or princes of some sort.
Zeus, king of the gods, is the most powerful of the Olympians. (It seemed to run in the family too; his father Chronos was the most powerful of the Titans, and their leader. Not to mention that most - well, pretty much all - of his sons were no slouches.)
Destroy The Godmodder: Because the Godmodder is one of the highest-leveled godmodders on the Internet, he is insanely powerful.
Breland king and local pimp, Boranel, is a 3rd level aristocrat/8th level fighter, outpowering at least 95% of the population of his country. Karnath vampire king with the complex of "I am my grandpa", Kaius, outpowers 99% of the continent at CR 16, based on 11 levels of fighter, a lot of magic items, being a vampire with magic to remove the flaws, and action boost, a almost-exclusive PC trait. Heck, even Queen Aurala from Aundair is fairly tough compared to some people of the army. And she is a pure Aristocrat.
Quite apart from that, it was more or less a standard part of 2nd edition D&D to assume that any feudal lord was at least tenth level because the rule mechanics actually said that was the time to find some permanent holding — to become a feudal lord, head of a local church and so on. It was strangely meritocratic.
For that matter, it would be easier to cite Dungeons and Dragons authority figures that did not enact this trope. After all, Money is Power and high level anythings will have lots of money. This in turn buys them lots of shiny magic items, allowing them to kick the ass of those that will invariably challenge their authority thereby getting more loaded and stronger... By contrast, the lower level sorts just won't hold up above their station, because their right to rule only extends as far as their fist. Which means they'll either get into a Curb-Stomp Battle with the previous owner or some newcomer will fulfill that role.
The Plane Scape campaign setting occasionally surprised players from other settings when not every authority was extremely high level. Many of the factols were below tenth level, which may be far beyond most mortals but due to typical power creep, many players dismiss this as "low" level. Others, such as Factol Hashkar, are no more powerful than a commoner or two. Some, however, play it straight.
One place this is usually subverted is with yugoloths. In many cases, 'loths of lower rankings are actually much stronger than their superiors. Ultroloths are the leaders of the race, but nycoloths are in many ways, tougher than they are (despite being two ranks lower). In fact, the de-facto leader of the race, the Oinoloth, is a position that used to be held by Anthraxus, a unique yugoloth of godlike power, but he was tricked into relinquishing the title by an ultroloth named Mydianchlarus, who wasn't even close to being as powerful. (A 4th edition guidebook, however, claims that Anthraxus, now called Phraxas, challenged Mydianchlarus again for the title and killed him.) In short, among yugoloths, the most important trait for a leader is the ability to manipulate others, not raw power.
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In GURPS Goblins, something like this is in place as a game mechanic: according to the rules which govern the late Georgian setting, differences in social status affect combat rolls, to reflect divine favoritism and the natural order of things.
In d20 Modern, a character's rank is usually tied to the character's level. Taken to bizarre extremes in some d20 products. In the Stargate SG-1 game, for example, Dr. Frasier can out-fight most of the base S Fs, because she is a high-level medic.
In the pseudo-Japanese fantasy setting of Rokugan, for over a thousand years the Imperial dynasty has ruled by divine mandate. And it was not the Emperor's job to be the greatest fighter, but instead to be the wise ruler and source of all honor and authority. And even changes in the ruling dynasty have been only by the will of and with the blessing of the gods, not by either war or combat or anything else. At least, not until now, where the game line has suddenly decided to choose the next Imperial dynasty by having the gods come down bodily just as the chief villain of the setting has finally won and utterly nullify his victory by declaring the Mortal Kombat tournament.
And then they subvert the entire point by declaring the winner to be an Empress who couldn't cut her way out of a balsa wood box with a masterwork katana, because she showed "proper spirit". Well goodness, if that was all it took, why hold a tournament in the first place?
In general, the setting follows the normal logic with leaders indeed focusing on leadership skills, not fighting and having soldiers and bodyguards for that (although still requiring some skills to survive the assassination attempts). In case of Exalted leading mortal societies, be it openly or covertly, they are vastly more powerful than people around them, but that is a consequence of being the one with superpowers, not of authority.
Played straight with the spiritual world: gods grown in power with the amount of worship they receive, and it also helps with growing in official station in the Celestial Bureaucracy (although political skills are also necessary). Played straight with the top of the hierarchy: the leader of all gods, the Unconquered Sun, is literally invincible, and his chosen weapon deals infinite damage to anyone in the world. His fellow Incarnae are leaders of their own domains and are similarly powerful. For other gods, they are unassailable both physically and politically.
Among the Exalted, the Solars were made to be the best at everything, and were given the right to rule the world, with the Lunars and Sidereals below them and the weaker but far more numerous Dragon-Blooded below them. Thus, Solars in general had both the asskicking and actual leadership skills, but individual ones have been specialising in their areas. In general among the Exalted, the older ones have both asskicking and other skills, honed across potentially millennia.
In the Scarlet Empire, the Empress packed both immense political acumen and the raw power of both herself as an Elder Exalt and the Sword of Creation. Now that she is vanished, the contenders for the throne realise that while straight military may land somebody on the throne, it is not enough to keep them there.
Mostly averted in Autochthonia. Although the world of Autochthon has it's own Exalted, who are champions of the people, their superiors and the leaders of any given city or nation are mortal. Still, the cities they live in, though subservient to these mortal leaders, are themselves giant Exalted capable of magically empowering the people inside them.
BattleTech uses this trope in a surprisingly restrained way. As the Inner Sphere is the feudal system IN SPACE!, most Great House leaders are accomplished Mech Warriors. Some aren't, being better at diplomacy and/or magnificent bastardry, but your average Prince, Archon or Coordinator is generally among the most effective Mech Warriors out there. The restraint comes from the fact that 1) aforementioned leaders all get the best of training, equipment and backup, and 2) there are plenty of non-royalty Inner Sphere Mech Warriors who would easily defeat anyone short of a Katrina Steiner, Ian Davion or Takashi Kurita in single combat. And that's not even considering the Clans.
Built into the system in the both universes - higher-ranking units are always tougher than their basic counterparts, with the Emperor Karl Franz being one of the most nasty heroes in the Warhammer universe. With most armies in either game, this is justified with better training, magic or Applied Phlebotinum, but in other cases — like the regular-human Imperial Guard or Empire armies — it's really hard to justify why army officers are better shots than the armies' dedicated marksmen or special ops, and able to absorb more damage than Ork Nobs or Powered Armor-wearing Space Marines.
Possibly the Emperor of this trope is the God Emperor of Mankind, who may or may not be a Physical God and defeated the vessal of all FOUR of the Chaos Gods. Unfortunately, he was mortally wounded and put on a permanent life support system called the Golden Throne, but still literally keeps the Imperium together by maintaining the Astronomican with his own power (and many pskyer sacrifices), a psychic beacon which allows faster than lightspeed travel - without which, the Imperium's worlds would fall into confusion and be easy pickings by a tenacious enough invader (or many other invaders...) with no way to work together. Oh, and the Golden Throne produces a metabolism product which is used to make an Anti-Magic grenade called the Psyk-out grenade. Yes, you heard that right, The Emperor's shit kills psykers.
Entirely Justified with the Space Marines, as their entire background is that of Knights Templar in Space. Logistics are handled by Techmarines, Intelligence by Librarians, and Morale by Chaplains. The only thing Captains do is Leadership, and when you're an eight foot tall Super SoldierSpace Marine asskicking is about the only form of authority you respect. Tactical and Strategic skill is secondary, but present in the most successful.
It could be just about justified by the fact that high-ranking Imperial officials do have access to advanced biological and technological upgrades (not of the same order as the Space Marines, but still) and they will have taken part in many campaigns to achieve their rank. Considering the extreme danger of the Warhammer 40,000 battlefields, a soldier who survives long enough to attain high rank probably accrues a lot of combat skills, and a sheer, stubborn tenacity to survive.
Ork hierarchy is literally sorted by size, so it's completely sensible for Da Warboss to be the biggest murder machine on the battlefield for that army. Some relatively philosophical Orks (and the bar is very low here) have reflected on how unclear the human chain-of-command is, because we're "all 'bout da same size."
Works both ways for Orks: since their culture (for lack of a better word) and chain of command is based on liberal ass-kickings, the physically strongest Orks tend to lead the rest. For a given value of "lead", of course. More like prod them in a general direction. However, because Ork beliefs tend to kick the normal laws of physics in the jollies and reshape them in proper Orky ways, and the belief that "da boss is da strongest an' da meanest" is held by every single Ork in the warband (after all, if he wasn't, he wouldn't be da boss, QED), a high ranking Ork actually becomes taller and stronger over time because they is da boss.
This is actually built into the biology of the Orks: The more asskicking the Ork does, the more praise he gets from other Orks. The more praise he gets, the more he physically grows (akin to puberty, but happening every time he kicks ass), which in turn leads to more asskicking. So Orks gain Authority by Asskicking, and Asskicking by Authority. Go figure.
Skaven and Ogre hierarchy is determined solely by your ability to kill the former guy to have held the position. In the Skaven's case you have to be sneaky enough to do so, and you are respected (which means feared in Skaven tongue) for being sneaky. Ogres just bash the hell out of eachother. And since food is an important resource in both societies, leaders (who have access to better food and more nurishment) are in better physical health than their underlings. In addition, the positions in the Council of 13 can only be attained by first touching a radioactive stone and survive, then defeat the current placeholder. None of the current Council of 13 has been defeated in 200 years (the average skaven lifespan is 20 years).
Similarly, a Dark Elf who holds any title of authority for long will have to be both cunning and strong, to fend off attempts at mutiny or assassination.
Chaos of all kinds plays this straight because of their patron gods; the more you do, the more the gods pay attention to you. The more attention you accrue, the more mutations (gifts) you get. These gifts are directly proportional to how much asskicking said champion is capable of. Daemons plays it straight in a different way; The Chaos Gods themselves are implied to be no different than their Daemon servants; they are simply the most powerful of their kind (and by a huge margin no less). Skarbrand's attempt at invoking Asskicking Equals Authority on Khorne is exactly why he's the only bloodthirster unable to fly.
The game relies on this trope in that the strongest standard infantry dice in a given race are the largest, have the most health, have more capability in melee/ranged combat/maneuvering/magic than lesser troops, and have special abilities not available to lesser troops - they are also the various leaders of their factions.
Somewhat averted in that the largest and generally most powerful dice in each faction represent monsters that are allied with that faction or under their control, rather than their leaders, though they are also not strictly members of the species that the race represents.
The game varies with its use of the trope, usually depending on creature or organization. It's rare for the highest-ranked ruler in charge of a race or faction to be the most physically powerful, but it does happen—the threelegendarySlivers, for example, are all much bigger than even the largest of the rest of the species.
Although whether they're physically powerful or not, most leaders do have extremely powerful abilities.
Let's also not forget Lord Konda is more powerful than many dragons in combat and, thanks to a stolen child deity, is indestructible.
The players themselves are also the ultimate authority on their side of the field and have the power to back it up. A massive assault on a player with tons of monsters can be casually dismissed by some of the most trivial spells in the game. Even Physical Gods and Eldritch Abombinations can be eliminated by a variety of spells.
Justified for the upper management of Pentex in the 20th Anniversary Edition of Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Not only is it largely populated by supernaturals, but anyone — be they human, vampire, fomor, or Black Spiral Dancer — who can not only survive but thrive in a ruthless, physically and spiritually toxic environment where assassination by werewolves is a fact of life is going to be a bit more tough than your standard manager.
Also his successor, Gravekeeper's Oracle, who even taps into the power of the Egyptian God Cards, as indicated by his artwork and effects.
Firstly, a strange subversion of this is in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, where after defeating Silver Sonic in Death Egg Zone, Dr. Robotnik tries to escape through a long corridor on foot. You run after him, but it turns out that Dr. Eggman, the obese scientist who was re-named for his poor physical state is faster than, or capable of keeping up with Sonic, the fastest thing alive and you can't catch him! All because he immediately jumps into the cockpit of the final boss.
Strategy games often make leader units and campaign characters stronger fighters than regular troops.
In Streets of Rage 2, you have to fight your way through Mecha-Mooks, monsters, and The Dragon - Shiva, legendary martial artist - to get to Mr. X. He's just a big dude in a business-suit, but he's nonetheless tougher and more dangerous than any of those preceding him. No small part of this, however, is the fact that he packs an assault rifle, but even close-in, he's no slouch.
In No More Heroes, the bosses are ranked in the UAA according to their ranking as an assassin. While this trope is played straight in both games with the higher ranked assassins (Bad Girl, Jeane and Henry in the original game; Alice and Jasper Batt Jr. in the sequel), it also tends to be subverted at times: higher ranked assassins like Destroyman and Capt. Vladimir tend to be easier compared to lower assassins like Shinobu, Margaret and Ryuji. It could be possible that Shinobu, Margaret, and Ryuji were still cutting their way up to a higher rank when Travis came along.
Leaders of villainous groups are classified as "Archvillains", and because of this, they automatically require a large, well-coordinated team of superheroes to take 'em down.
Averted with The Center, leader of the Council. The two missions where he actually appears he doesn't fight... because he's somewhere around 120 years old, and in spite of his rank as the leader of the Council, one of the largest paramilitary groups in City of Heroes, he has no real combat abilities. Instead, he calls down the entire chain of command on you in the first of these, then summons several of his elite guards to fight against a hero ambush in the second. All of this while nonchalantly readinga newspaper.
Played very straight with Countess Crey who story-wise is just the CEO of Crey Industries with villainous business practices yet is a legal Karma Houdini. However in a late-game story arc when you finally manage to get a warrant to arrest her, she turns out to have devastating psychic abilities that are never mentioned in story.
In Crusader: No Regret, when you finally cross paths with the Corrupt Corporate Executive who's had it in for you since the previous game... surprise, surprise, he seems to have acquired a Humongous Mecha and is blocking your exit. Not that he's particularly good at piloting it, but...
Higher-ranked Sangheili/Elites are far more skilled at fighting than their subordinates. This is Justified as Elite promotions are based almost entirely on how many foes they killed and, by extension, how much experience and skill they have as warriors. Additionally, promotions come with better equipment; the highest ranks, like Zealots and Ultras, generally have shielding so powerful that they can withstand a charged Plasma Pistol shot on Legendary, which would instantly destroys the shields of a lesser Elite. They also get one-hit-kill energy swords.
Brutes work the same way, but in an even more brutal way; never mind the kill score, if they topple the current pack chief, they get his seat and shiny helmet along with tough shielding, rounded off with a gigantic more-often-than-not OHKO hammer. On higher difficulties, even being licked by its impact shockwave hurts like crap. Even if they eschew the hammer, they'll still carry around the heaviest ranged weapons available. In fact, even the client Covenant species seem to be promoted based on combat ability; they also receive better equipment as they advance in rank.
On the other hand, the Prophets, who are the religious and political leaders of the Covenant, avert this entirely, being frail and barely capable of fighting. The one fight you have against one of them consisted of avoiding the easy-to-dodge fire from his hoverchair before jumping on and punching him to death. It would be an utter Curb-Stomp Battle even on Legendary if it wasn't for the continuous waves of his Elite Honor Guards.
Forerunner Prometheans, the highest order of Warrior-Servant a Forerunner can ascend to, are made up of only the biggest and strongest Forerunners. In fact, due to their custom of assuming different "forms" based on their rate and rank, they are specifically engineered to be the pinnacle of what a Warrior can be, mentally and physically.
Emperor Palamecia from Final Fantasy II, the Final Boss, a master sorcerer who ends up taking over Hell itself and absorbing its power. They never make clear if he's Emperor because he's badass, or if he's badass because he's Emperor.
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, of the twenty-one main playable characters, eight are royalty, and another is brother to a king. In the world of Final Fantasy IV, Asura and Leviathan rule the Feymarch, Bahamut is King of Eidolons, and Odin is the former King of Baron, so the four highest ranking Summons are all royalty too.
In the case of Final Fantasy V, four of your five party members are royalty, and of those four, one is a badass alien king and one becomes queen by default partway through the story.
While you never actually fight him, Emperor Gestahl is able to cast high-level fire spells that are only available to the party at the very end of the game. Unfortunately for him, however, when he actually tries to use them, it is revealed that his Psycho for HireOmnicidal Maniac Kefka has found a way to make them ineffective. Oops. Later on you discover the personal "secret treasure" he was keeping in reserve, and it turns out to be an item that grants (among other things) most of the high-level fire spells he is shown using earlier in the game.
Kefka himself starts out as a subversion. He is a wimp who runs away from you when you face him for the first time. It's only after he starts infusing himself with more and more magic that he becomes a threat beyond his military power and complete lack of morals.
On the good side of things, we have Edgar, king of Figaro, Gadgeteer Genius, and all-around asskicker. His brother Sabin counts too, though he had forsaken the throne and fled the kingdom. Celes is a former Imperial general, Cyan is the retainer to a king, and Guest Star Party Member Leo is an Imperial general too.
This is the only explanation for Palmer. An obese and incompetent member of the Shinra Board of Directors, the party gets a memorable fight against him where he survives a good few minutes of being hit by machine guns and giant swords before getting run over by a truck.
Rufus Shinra is an exception to this rule, however. He is the President of the Shinra Company but is actually one of the weakest bosses in the game, compared to his Humongous Mecha-riding military directors and his mutating mad scientist. On the other hand, he did manage to fight Cloud (admittedly with help from his pet) while using a double barreled shotgun (with one hand!) and escape with only a few injuries (while grabbing onto a helicopter with one hand, holding the gun, and presumably being injured). His stats are more a matter of gameplay rather than story (Reno also had fairly low stats when you first fought him). And during his encounter with Kadaj he managed to shoot between the latter's fingers while falling down the side of a building.
Sephiroth, the Big Bad of the game, plays this straight as he used to be Shinra's General and was designed to be perfect for the position.
In Final Fantasy X-2, Nooj, Baralai, and Gippal, who each lead one of the political factions vying for control, are easily the most badass members of their respective factions.
Final Fantasy XI has examples for pretty much every single nation. The final mission battles for each of the three starting nations has you fighting alongside a major political figure: Prince Trion, Captain Volker, and minister Ajido-Marujido. Archduke Kam'lanaut is a bit of a subversion, though: while he is a major storyline boss, it's his "little" brother Eald'narche who's the real Big Bad. Prince Trion is portrayed as a warrior-prince, Captain Volker is a captain of a special forces squad and a famous war veteran and minister Ajido-Marujido is the head of the department in-charge of the nation's Orastery (or Department of Magic). The game also takes place during wartime/a post-war period as well so there is understandably a high number of war veterans around the world.
First the Judges Magister. This is justified by the backstory, since they are both the highest-ranking officers of the Imperial Army AND handpicked by the emperor for their martial skills to be his guardians, officers, and advisors.
Then, we have Ashe and Vayne, two mighty warriors and heads of state with enough backstory to justify their power. Vayne spent his life trying to survive Archadia's murderous politics, led his country's army against two neighboring countries, both of which give him enough experience to be a credible Magnificent Bastard. Ashe has led the Resistance for two years prior to exploring three continents, battling men and monsters, taking control of Scions, and finally, successfully crossing blades with Vayne.
And finally, we have Cid and Larsa: Cid is an impressively dangerousresearcher, smart enough to earn the respect of the borderline eldritch being Venat. Venat teaches him how to create artificial nethicite a powerful supernatural resource. He is the most influential man in the Empire after Vayne's coup. Larsa, by contrast, is a 13 year old boy skilled both with the sword and interlocking machinations, who uses his talents to stop the world war his brother planned to use to "free" mankind from the Occuria. Experimentally-enhanced fighters rising in rank and even gaining political powers is believable, and Cid's abilities can be accepted since they adhere to the rules of the world's magic, but a pre-teen able to outwit senators, emperors and even gods? House Solidor must have some interesting genetic material.
Larsa was guarded and trained by one of the five aforementioned Judge Magisters. Quite appropriately, he is the only non-Judge character who knows how to Dual Wield.
Final Fantasy XIII has Galenth, the leader of Cocoon, and also one of the main antagonists who is secretly the leader of the fal'Cie of Pulse.
Final Fantasy Tactics plays with this. Non-nobility characters can have high base stats and be just as effective as some of the unique characters, but chances are the characters with the cool, unique classes have a title backing them up. Ramaza's father was a high ranking noble and purportedly a beast in combad. "Thunder god Cid" is of equal rank, and his skills are apparent. Agrias, Beowulf, Ramza's brothers, and others have unique classes to go with their nobility, and Delita only acquires a unique class after he moves up on the social ladder.
An in-universe example in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, Chiaki wants to reshape the world so that this philosophy (the Reason of Yosuga) is to her liking - where those who are deemed weak are slaughtered, and the strongest are deemed the upper classes.
In Fire Emblem, almost without exception, commanding officers are at a significantly higher level than their subordinates.
The main characters, all members of the nobility (sans Ike) and the leaders of your army, usually have the potential to become the most powerful characters available.
Justified in Path of Radiance for the laguz and Daein. The laguz earn their ranks and respect based on strength, meaning the kings really can kick everyone else's ass. Likewise, Daein's King Ashnard lets any decent warrior become a knight, and promotions are based on talent.
Also justified in FE4, were members of nobility had holy blood which gives bonus % growth and the ability to use Legendary Weapons.
In FE7 and FE8, the antagonists had Dark Druid and Necromancer as their classes, respectively. However, the antagonist of FE6 doesn't need Dark magic, for he is a King. And he's just as strong as his other GBA antagonists, if not stronger.
An interesting version of this trope is present as simply occupying a throne gives out lots of bonuses and makes characters more powerful than a fort ever could.
Geese Howard, at first, seems to be your run-of-the-mill crime boss. Once you actually fight him, though, you can easily see why he is where he is. After all, he was the very first SNKBoss.
Fatal Fury 2 brings us Wolfgang Krauser, Geese's half-brother and the latest in a line of bodyguards to various European nobility. He has his own bodyguard, Lawrence Blood, but Krauser really doesn't need him: he's strong enough on his own.
Likewise, Rugal Bernstein has two secretaries, Vice and Mature, who also function as his bodyguards. Like Krauser, Rugal doesn't really need them, as he once took out an entire company of Heidern's troops before beating Heidern himself to a pulp. Then he killed Heidern's family for the lulz. It was also implied at one point that he had beaten both Geese and Krauser one-on-one.
Kain R. Heinlein from Garou: Mark of the Wolves. His Super Mode is unlimited, and his bodyguard, Grant, is also an SNK Boss. He's Geese's (and Krauser's) brother-in-law... there's something about that family...
And Mr. Big of Art of Fighting ain't no slouch either. He's the head of a Southtown crime syndicate, and wields two Kali Stick-things which he uses to good effect, not only for smashing heads open, but he can create Power Wave-style energy blasts from them. Add a huge, imposing body build to that mix and you have the perfect Don.
Years earlier in the Samurai Shodown universe, we have Gaoh, the leader of a rebel army. He is dangerous, wielding a deadly looking polearm. We haven't even GOTTEN to the fact that he can turn into a demon mid battle.
Terran units have ranks going strictly by unit power/tier. Space Marines are Privates, Firebats are Corporals, and so on. By contrast, character units are a lot stronger than their normal versions but their rank is plot-dependant (and not particularly high in most cases).
Perhaps one of the more ridiculous examples is the video game adaption of Tomorrow Never Dies. In the movie, the primary villain is merely a Corrupt Corporate Executive and doesn't have any exceptional physical abilities. In the game, though, he's one of the final bosses and is able to take about a dozen grenades to the face before he dies.
Captain Price, apart from being literally unkillable for the most of the game, is usually the first one to dash into the next room full of mooks and clear the way for his team, including the PC. He also does some impressive tricks when subtlety is required.
Played straight with General Shepherd in Modern Warfare 2, where it turns out that the general is capable of completely whooping both Captains Mactavish and Price (two S.A.S. commandos) in a stand up fight. The two only survive because the half dead Soap manages to pull a knife out of his gut and throw it into Shepherd's eye as he's distracted while beating Price to death. Keep in mind that Shepherd has just survived a helicopter crash (whereas Soap and Price "merely" fell down a waterfall).
Also, Price demonstrates his extreme badassitude in MW2 when he shoots down a combat helicopter with an antipersonnel sniper rifle while dodging a minigun ON A FRICKING RUBBER BOAT IN THE MIDDLE OF A MOUNTAIN RIVER. He also has some mad hacking skills, as he hijacks a Russian nuclear submarine and rigs one of its missile to detonate exactly above Washington on his own under extreme time pressure.
Call of Duty is rife with this trope, yet still subverts it with Al-Asad beaten up and summarily executed by Price and Victor Zakhaev commits suicide to avoid capture, which is at least better than Al-Asad
The Simpsons beat-em-up video game has this, too, sort of. The final bosses are a bomb-crazed Smithers who can smack you across the screen with impunity, and C. Montgomery Burns in a breakaway huge mecha. Then again, once out of it, he shows his true strength—which is on par with Maggie's.
In Lost Odyssey, Prince/King Tolten wields an unusual variant of this. He's a bit of a wuss, and compared to the two Immortal melee-fighters, his stats aren't impressive. However, BECAUSE he's a member of the Royal Line of Uhra, he's got access to unique and powerful accessories, weapons and skills. Including the Ultimate Hit and the Age of The King. Once you put those things together, he actually ends up being a fighter on par with the thousand-years-old main character. Now only if there was a way to fix his accuracy problems...
The Star Wars video game Knights of the Old Republic had this in the villain of Admiral Saul Karath, the number two on the evil hierarchy under Darth Malak. When you fight him on the bridge of his flagship, it takes a whole arsenal of high-powered weaponry to take him down. Not bad for a guy whose reputation was as a tactical genius. Of course, Darth Malak himself is difficult and justified in being so.
Averted within Front Mission 3. There are commanding officers among your enemies, but that doesn't necessarily make them stronger, although they do tend to have better training. There are even a few battles where the strongest Mecha on the field will be a lower-ranked individual or a non-voluntary test pilot, or even standard enemy pilots. Used straight by the time you get to Front Mission 4, where only higher ranking individuals get a name, and always come with extra abilities.
Mayor Mike Haggar, who took a somewhat more direct approach than most to reducing the city's crime rate. To be fair, he was a wrestler and street fighter before becoming mayor. And after, too.
The crime syndicate leader and boss of the same game, Belger. He has the largest health bar of anybody in the game, and has a rapid-fire crossbow. Oh, and he's invulnerable for most of the fight with him. And he starts the fight in a wheelchair... which is entirely to lower your guard ("would you hit a man in a wheelchair?" style). Once you hit him enough, it breaks and he gets up.
In Max Payne 2, the "boss" criminals (Kaffman, Cowboy Mike, and Big BadVlad Lem can all survive more bullets than the standard mooks, but the difference is barely noticeable. Kaffman has something like 4x as much health as a standard mook, but that just means he goes down after several shots instead of just a couple. Likewise, Vlad only has somewhat more health than a normal enemy, but you fight him in an elaborate Puzzle Boss arena.
Alejandro Sosa from Scarface: The World is Yours, the powerful drug lord Tony has spent the whole game building up to vengeance on, takes multiple rounds from the otherwise-One-Hit Kill Desert Eagle and gives as good as he gets. Enemy gang leaders usually pack better heat than their underlings too. Of course, you as Tony kick far more ass than any of your innumerable Red Shirtmooks.
In Crysis, it takes almost a dozen sniper rifle shots to the face to bring down minigun-wielding North Korean leader General Kyong. Granted, he's wearing a nanosuit, but that still doesn't explain how he can survive headshots without wearing a helmet, or the fact he survives much more damage than regular nanosuit-wearing enemy soldiers.
The entire Dynasty Warriors series operates off of this trope. Ordinary soldiers are cannon-fodder. Only enemies ranked Lieutenant or higher are any sort of a challenge, while master Strategists like Sima Yi and Zhuge Liang kick ass with the best of them. The Kings of the Three Kingdoms are, of course, packing boss-level HP whenever you meet them on the battlefield. This is particularly noticeable in various scenarios that allow you to face them before they became kings at much lower power. All player-characters are ranked Lt. General at the very least, and their rank increases as they level up. All of the titles you can attain have 'General' in it somewhere, though.
In Dynasty Warriors Online, this is a much more straight example. lowly mooks still die by the hundreds. Named characters, or characters named by their rank if you are facing the non-specific kingdoms that have little importance in the story of the three kingdoms, are stronger than mooks, but sitll pushovers. Your character, starting at "guard" working his way up, can (not necessarily will) kick all kinds of ass, and the musou generals, who are the orginal chracters from the game, are teh strongest out there, and have many special abilities as backup, including backup. As a player character gets higher ranked, they can use more powerful weapons, meaning that they will get many bonuses to facing a lower level chracter if they use that ability.
In Warhammer Online, this trope is taken to its logical end point; the ONLY difference between new characters and end game characters is their rank. Naturally rank allows access to better items and skill, but the fact is that a newly minted mage has the same "power" as one who can duel a greater daemon and win.
Valkyria Chronicles uses this partially. On the side of The Empire, battlefield commanders (probably sergeants or at least corporals) are signified by a red armor, and invariably have more HP and a better chance to dodge bullets. They also hit better, and (somehow) do more damage. However, while your own corporals and sergeants starts out pretty strong - and remain so for the entire game - several of them are eventually surpassed by some of the enlisted troops. Your second-in-command, however, is probably the most powerful unit around, and you yourself (a squadron commander ranked Lieutenant) gets to drive around in a Super Prototype tank. The truest use of this trope, however, falls to the trio of Imperial Commanders leading the invasion under the direction of Evil Prince Maximilian. Two of them pose impressive challenges by having access to unique vehicles, as does Maximilian, and the third, well, she just kicks unholy amounts of ass. And finally, at the very end, Maximilian shows that being ranked prince gives you access to some really nifty toys, and single-handedly goes up against your entire squadron, including two tanks.
Both a hunched over old man and a drunk (who in the preceeding cutscene is implied to be able to kill a warrior only because he was sleeping) can take more hits then most of the randomly spawning monsters in the chapter, for no reason other then that they are pillars of the community and (one of the possible) final fight in the chapter. While the fight is not hard by any means, the necessity of this trope is questionable; they are preceeded by a much more climactic boss.
This is subverted with the arrival of King Foltest, appearing the macho cavalier as he insists he'll survey his city no matter what a warzone it's turned into. An assassination attempt sends him into a huddle surrounded by his footmen. After being rescued by the leader of a knightly order, who plays this trope straight, Foltest retreats to his palace with all the dignity he can muster.
The aforementioned leader of a knightly order who is also the Man Behind the Man and Big Bad counts. Justified in that he is the accomplished swordsman and the source who mastered his own power through the sheer force of will.
Regal Bryant in Tales of Symphonia, a noble and president of an important and powerful company which almost controls a whole city. He fights with his feet while handcuffed and would be more powerful if he fought with his hands, but he made a promise not to kill anyone with his hands after he euthanized his lover with them. Still uses them when it doesn't involve fighting. Case in point: he broke the group out of a prision cell with a Kame Hame Hadoken.
Gaius is the ruler of the country of A Jule, and is strong enough for the first fight against him to be an Open Ended Boss Battle. He ends up being the final boss, and come Tales of Xillia 2, he's now the ruler of the entire world of Liese Maxia, a playable character, and even more of a Badass then before.
Bisley Karcsi Bakur from Tales of Xillia 2 is the CEO of the Clanspia Company. He makes it rather clear he's not a run of the mill guy when he effortlessly avoids some attacks from one of his top agents early on, but his true strength doesn't come to light until much later where it's revealed he's the holder of the ultimate Corpse Shell, a Big Bad, and ultimately ends up becoming the final boss after he takes out Khronos, the other Big Bad. He gets extra Badass points for choosing to fight with his fists when he's just as capable of conjuring a lance to wield as Ludger is.
The faction leaders (one or two special NPCs per race) in World of Warcraft are all boss-level creatures who will mop the floor with your face if you attempt to take them on without an army behind your back. (Well, except the king of Stormwind, but he just happens to be a 4-year-old kid.) Likewise, no instance endboss ever attained his lofty status by virtue of guile, cunning or charisma. It's always a case of having more power than all other pretenders. The king of Stormwind has since been replaced with his father, who easily ranks as among the most badass characters in the game◊.
Odin Sphere has this trope all over the place. Pretty much everyone who kicks ass is, was, or is related to, royalty. The only real exceptions are the Three Wise Men, who are just normal (though powerful) mages, and only actually failed in their schemes because every PC (sans Gwendolyn) and even an NPC or two was gunning for them at them, all at the same time. They really should have tried to make fewer enemies...
This is justified by the Tasen Commanders and Elites having superior weapons and power armor. In the case of the Komato, it's more Asskicking Equals Authority, since the strongest and most skilled Komato get upgraded to the highest ranks... but they also get equipped on promotion with Berserker cybernetics, Annihilator exoskeletons, or even General Tor's Eidolon exoskeleton, which is the nastiest machine in existence. The only character who invokes this trope without justifying it with superior equipment is Asha, leader of the Assassins, who holds his rank by dint of skill and not gear.
Touhou use this trope straightforward time and time again, except in Subterranean Animism where the bosses of stage 5 and 6 are domestic pets of stage 4 boss (who is also the mistress of the dungeon your character is fighting through).
In just about any Franchise/Pokemon game, the hero faces an evil organization of sort, and whoever leads it (along with The Dragon and other high-ranking members) are usually the most powerful bosses in the game.
Towards the end of Ninja Gaiden, Ryu faces the two monstrously huge forms of the Holy Vigoor Emperor, the head of state and absolute monarch of his country. While not the toughest bosses in the game, they put up a good show for themselves, and by dimensions, are the largest. The third form is revealed in the DS sequel to have been small, humanoid, and capable of running the day-to-day affairs of the small, militarized land locked Asian monarchy.
In Ninja Blade, it is no big surprise that the Master of your Ninja Clan is an asskicker of unsurpassed magnitude. However, it IS somewhat surprising when your Unit Commander, generally a Voice with an Internet Connection (a gray-haired bureaucrat in a pin-striped suit) turns out to be a Jui-Jitsu master powerful enough to kick The Dragon's ass in unarmed combat.
Subverted with the ZOE squadron pilots in Ace Combat 2. The Captain gets a F-14, the Major gets a F/A-18E and the Colonel gets a F-22. Seems to be holding up so far, right? Well... the General gets a relatively dinky F-15S. Then the Commander, who would pretty low on the totem pole by Common Ranks, is the Final Boss with the ADF-01 superfighter that is as capable as one would expect a non-AnticlimaxFinal Boss to be.
A side quest in Fallout 3 finds the player scavenging the ruins of a DC museum in search of Abraham Lincoln artifacts. One such antique the player can find is "Lincoln's Repeating Rifle", a gold-plated weapon that fires .44 Magnum bullets and easily outclasses most other weapons in the "Small Guns" category. Honest Abe was packin', folks. Somewhat Truth in Television, Lincoln's family had to hunt for their own food and he always kept himself up to date with developments in ordnance technologies.
Talon Company's leader, Commander Jabsco, who's armed with a rocket launcher and can survive more damage than a Deathclaw (the toughest "non-boss" mob in the game, not counting the expansion packs), and the truly insane General Jiang Wei, who carries a lightsaber and (depending on player level) can have more health than any other mob in the game, including the 15-foot tall Super Mutant Behemoth.
Averted in the game's main plotline, though, as Big Bad President Eden is a supercomputer with no combat capabilities, and his The Dragon Colonel Autumn turns out to be only marginally tougher than a standard soldier.
Fallout had Big BadThe Master, an evil mutant head attached to an armored throne armed with dual gatling lasers. His The Dragon, The Lieutenant, was also the toughest member of the Mutant Army.
And in Fallout 2 you had Frank Horrigan, who was the toughest member of the Enclave. Although completely averted with the President.
In Fallout: New Vegas the player can have the Courier play on this trope, doing the Wild Card main quest will allow the Courier to take control of New Vegas himself/herself, and involves stopping both the NCR and Caesar's Legion from taking control of Hoover Dam and taking New Vegas for themselves, as well as killing, or disabling Mr. House to take control of the Vegas strip from him.
Caesar's Legion goes both ways on this trope. Caesar himself is no stronger than his Elite Mook guards. Legate Lanius, his second in command, is one of the strongest things in the game. Vulpes Inculta, the leader of the Frumentarri, is on-par with a Prime Legionary at best, and Lucius, third in command of the Legion, is also no stronger than any of Caesar's Elite Mook guards. However, Centurions, the field commanders, have the best combat skills of any type of soldier in the Legion, and carry the best equipment, including named characters like Aurelius.
The New California Republic generally averts this; their leaders are leaders and their soldier are soldiers. Similar to Caesar, General Oliver is no stronger than an Elite Mook. However, this is thrown to hell in the Lonesome Road DLC with Colonel Royez, a power armor wearing badass who has boss-level health, 100 points in every combat skill, and a Plasma Caster. He's only accessible if you decide to nuke the NCR.
Sometimes averted, sometimes played straight in the Total War series. Depending on the traits that a leader possesses, he may be a god of war in human form that can charge into enemy ranks and massacre them easily, capable of striking fear into the hearts of enemies and raises his own army's morale through the roof. Or he can be a hypochondriac wimp that can be killed by being surrounded by peasants armed with pitchforks...
Subverted, then played straight in BioShock: Andrew Ryan turns out to be an Anticlimax Boss who orders you to kill him with his own golf putter, but Frank Fontaine juices himself up with ADAM so that he can be the final boss.
This trope is one side-effect of the way Soul Nomad & the World Eaters handles unit setup. All units in a "room" fight and move together on the battlefield, and one unit is designated as the Leader. The Leader tends to be more powerful than any other unit in the room, because all the other units contribute a percentage of their stats as a constant bonus to the leader as long as they're alive.
Played fairly straight in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Although the Emperor himself is a One Hitpoint Wonder, Martin turns out to have extensive knowledge of forbidden magic, not to mention turning into a dragon in the final act. Not bad for an unknown priest in the middle of nowhere.
Dremora may fit as well, as high-leveled character will encounter only Markynaz and Valkynaz-ranked ones (which are considered to be lords and princes of their realm).
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has it for the guilds where the player has to fulfil attribute and skill requirements to get promoted — at least for the guild heads, who generally have very good attributes (far above what is required, and pretty good in the other attributes, too) and are fairly close to fulfilling the skill requirements (mostly, they don't have any that are quite that high, but have several that are almost that high). They tend to be relatively well-equipped, as well.
Organization XIII uses this trope in various ways. In Kingdom Hearts II the Final Boss is the organization's leader, playing this trope straight. Simultaneously subverted; The Organization's members are ranked chronologically by the order they joined from one to thirteen (with the oldest being #1, and the youngest being #13), but they gain authority by completing missions. So even though Vexen (#4) has been around for a very long time, he's done few missions for the Organization, so he's looked down on by pretty much everyone else.
And on the heroic side, there's Mickey, a keyblade master and the strongest Guest Star Party Member in the game... and, of course, he's also the revered king of the Magic Kingdom. Practically a meta example, as he's also the mascot and leading character of the Disney half of KH's Square-Enix/Disney team-up, and his power and role in the storyline reflects his real-life importance.
Both used and averted in Prototype. Elizabeth Greene and the Supreme Hunter are both far more capable than standard Infected, and Leader Hunters are stronger than normal Hunters, but "mere" Captain Cross proves to be tougher than any of the random higher officers Alex consumes, and definitely more badass than the Blackwatch leader.
Subverted in the Revenge of the Sith game, where the leaders of the Separatist army are easily the weakest enemies in the game. Incapable of attacking and trapped in a small conference room with Anakin, all they can do is attempt to run away as Anakin slaughters them all. Played straight later in the level, when the main one (the green grub guy from the first two movies) pilots a spaceship and becomes the level boss.
The Metal Gear Solid series had both Big Boss and his predecessor, The Boss. Both initially handled by the storylines as villains, both incredibly powerful warriors, and both far more complex than any of the games' heroes could have guessed.
Averted where the end boss after a cut scene is weaker then most random mooks you face and is taken out in one shot.
Played straight in the event that the player amasses property wealth in excess of 2.5 million gold, at which point they are named King/Queen. Wielding weapons like the Royal Scepter (A high-power mace with four enchantment slots), wading through bandits, Hollow Men, Hobbes, and Banshees, once the player occupies the position of authority, it most certainly does equal asskicking!
Averted again in Wet were after taking out the dragon, there isn't even a gameplay fight against the main boss; it's just a cutscene of Rubi executing him.
In Strong Hold, the Lord is the most powerful unit, being almost immune to arrows and able to outmatch up to three heavily armored swordfighters simultaneously. Unfortunately, the player cannot make much use of this advantage, since the lord's death equals a Game Over.
In The Godfather game, higher-ranking enemy mobsters have more health, deal more damage and must be softened up before you can grab them. On your end, as you gain Respect levels and rise through the ranks of the Corleone family, you also gain health, damage and a variety of other perks.
In The Godfather 2 The player starts out almost maxed out. As they advance through the story they are allowed to recruit up to 7 followers, even though they can only have 3 following at once. Followers have 3 ranks:
Soldiers are capable of a single specialization, though some rare ones have two.
Eventually you can promote up to two of them to become Capos which have double the health of a Soldier and have an additional specialization.
Ridley is the leader of the Space Pirates and is a SpaceDragon to boot. Being badass is inevitable, as proven by how incredibly powerful he is everytime he shows up.
Averted and played straight by Mother Brain and played straight by the rest of the Pirates. Mother Brain can't even attack in the first game, but is protected by indestructible turrets and has immense durability and a Healing Factor. In Zero Mission, she lost the healing factor but gained an attack, and in Super Metroid she is attatched to a Humongous Mecha that can wipe the floor with Samus, requiring a Deus ex Machina to defeat. For the rest of the Pirates, higher rank usually nets better equipment, like the Pirate Commander's indestructible armor and personal teleprter. Weavil, a Pirate General (the same rank as Ridley, actually), has armor on par with Samus' and wields a miniature nuclear reactor in his crotch.
In the Quake games in which they show up, the Strogg have a supreme ruler, called the Makron. The first Makron was the final boss of Quake II (it's said he got the job by destoying any rivals), and his successor was the final boss of Quake IV (who was specifically built to counter the Human counterattack). Justified in that the Strogg are cyborgs, which means giving your leader more guns and armor on the assembly line is doable.
Shao Khan, the Final Boss in many games in the Mortal Kombat series, is ruler of the Outlands, and clearly didn't gain the position just by good looks. He's a terror whenever your character fights him (unless you take advantage of his frequent habit of gloating, which is pretty much the idea).
In Armored Core: For Answer, the world is pretty much ruled by a group of arms-manufacturing megacorporations which resolve disputes using Humongous Mecha. Guess what two of the CEOs of these corporations do to earn pocket money... yep, that's right. Semi-justified as both of them exclusively use their own respective corporations' products in combat, thus serving as walking (or rolling) advertisements.
In American McGee's Alice the demonic Queen of Hearts is the ruler of Wonderland not to mention the embodiment of Alice's insanityand the Final Boss of the game. To say that she's hard to beat is an understatement.
The Nihilanth in Half-Life and the Combine Advisors in Half-Life 2, both leaders of vast armies and both possessing immense psychic powers. Breen could have been an aversion, though he was a figurehead at best.
General Viggo in Fur Fighters is naturally the Final Boss and one of the most powerful characters in the game.
The world of Basel is effectively a fundamentalist state, ruled by a group of Cardinals. You get to fight 4 of those Cardinals through the course of the game. (Well, technically only 3, since one of them left his position just before attacking you.) The first one inexplicably possesses Villain Teleportation, wields a grave-marker in one hand and a Sawed-Off Shotgun in the other, preferring to teleport directly behind you and unload an undodgeable combo which can (and will) take you from full health to 0 in one go... but he can be somewhat forgiven for this since he LOOKS the part.
The next one, however, is a Mad Artist with a french accent, who dual-wields a golden Luger and... a picture-frame. His bullets are powerful enough to make the roof collapse on your head, and he soaks up damage better than most of the giant mutants you've fought before. The next one is a bald, white-bearded old man who is mostly famous for his huge collection of rare books, and studious inquisitiveness. He wields a BFG and is even tougher. The final boss is Cardinal Rowen, the highest-ranking of the Cardinals, and de-facto leader of Basel. He goes Guns Akimbo with a Gold AND Silver Luger, and can absorb SICKENING ammounts of bullets.
The game takes place on a small, east-indian island-state, run by the short, egomaniac tyrant, 'Baby' Panay. He's clearly patterned after real-world dictator, Kim Jong-Il of North Korea, and seems to compensate for his diminutive size by errecting huge monuments in his own honor - and, of course, by executing anyone he doesn't like. However, after shooting your way through his entire army - tanks, gunships, torpedo-boats and all - he turns out to be virtually invincible on his own, starting out by shrugging off a hand-grenade to the face, and then wielding a supercharged rocket-launcher in one hand while ignoring the hail of bullets you throw his way. In the end, it takes a NUKE to kill him.
A lesser case is the Colonels - high-ranking army officers you are tasked with assassinating. They all wear nigh-impregnable body-armor, and if using small arms against them, can only be damaged with headshots - of which they can absorb several. Even if you bring in some heavy weaponry - a tank or a missile-armed gunship - you can expect him to take at least one direct hit without dying.
In Destroy All Humans! this is done with varying degrees of justification. General Armquist and Silhouette only pose such a challenge to Crypto because they've kept the best Schizo Tech for themselves, and President Huffman is originally an aversion, getting killed as easily as any random civilian . . . until his brain's put inside a 50-foot tall robot, at which point he becomes the toughest enemy in the game. However there's no real explanation for why cops can take more volts of electricity than civilians, or why soldiers can take more than cops, or why Majestic agents can take more than anyone else.
In the RTS game Seven Kingdoms 2: The Frythan Wars regular soldiers, once out of training, start at level 20. The King (Player) starts the game at level 100. However, it's possible for normal soldiers to equal the King eventually, at least in combat. To hone their leadership though, they need to be promoted and improve it through leading.
Largely averted in the first Assassins Creed when it comes to your targets; they're powerful and influential people, but (unless there's a good reason for it), usually (and logically) less difficult to fight than their guards.
Played straight with Robert de Sable. Living up his title of the Grandmaster of the Knight Templars, the guy is a monstrous tank on two legs and it takes a lot of time and energy to just even hurt him.
Altaďr becomes the leader of the Levantine Assassins by the end of the first game.
Connor starts his career in the Assassins as a teenage boy on a Vision Quest. Within the next couple decades, he is not only a hero of the American Revolution, but also rebuilds the American branch of the Assassins and built a thriving community in modern day Rockford, MA.
It seems this trope runs in the Kenway family as Edward, Connor's grandfather, starts out as a washed-up pirate. By the end of the Golden Age of Piracy, he has become a fearsome captain of the seas.
One of the Optional Bosses requires this trope to explain his very existence. Rupee, the leader of a legendary band of desert-bandits, inherited the position from his recently-deceased father. He's maybe 8 years old, scrawny, cowardly, and wears Nerd Glasses. His hulking bodyguard practically has to DRAG him into battle. But when it comes down to the actual fight, he's got an immense pile of HP and an arsenal of powerful magical attacks (mostly, but not solely, support-spells.) Worse yet, once you wear his HP-bar down past the halfway point he Turns Red, and starts dishing out powerful physical attacks that deal far more damage than anything his aforementioned bodyguard could hope to inflict, virtually always causing a One-Hit Kill. Noteably, those special attacks are prefaced by his Nerd Glasses turning into Scary Shiny Glasses...
A more subtle, but nonetheless interesting application of this also occurs in the game - the 'Captain's Stripe' item you receive after winning major ship-to-ship battles. Using it powers up your current ship's stats, including HP, armor and speed. Apparently, the simple act of adding another stripe to your uniform makes your ship tougher.
The Kenget Kamulos in Albion make this extremely true by having their current leader become the avatar of the god of war.
In Vanguard Bandits, the nation leaders each have a ExcavatedATAC which is significantly more powerful than the common grunt suits reverse-engineered from them. Being some of the best pilots in the game helps too.
In Grandia II, Roan can hold his own in battle alongside a professional mercenary, a robot warrior and a tough beast-man, despite being just a little boy. Why? 'Cause he's a prince, I guess. Later, he becomes a full-fledged king and becomes even more powerful.
In Liberal Crime Squad, authority is represented by how many people can work under your liberals. This depends on Juice. Since Juice and also increases statistics (Like Agility and Health]], The better you are at leading, the better your stats. And the current leader of the LCS gets 6 extra recruit slots... And a 75% damage reduction.
Averted in Sword of the Stars. Destroyer-based Squadron Command and Control (CnC) ships are poorly armed and best kept far from the fighting, cruiser-based Strikeforce CnCs are not much better, and while dreadnought-based Armada CnC and Flagship vessels are pretty tough they usually lose to proper combat dreads in a straight fight. Played straight with Leviathans in the sequel, which are the toughest craft in the game and have the best command.
Partly played straight but mostly averted in Dragon Age games. King Maric Theirin of Ferelden was pretty badass. However, as the novel Stolen Throne indicates, he was a wimp for a good portion of the book before circumstances forced him to grow into a badass. He was officially crowned king later. Inverted with Loghain Mac Tir, who became a nobleman because of his badassery. The novel Calling reveals that Duncan, the head of the Grey Wardens in Ferelden, also earned his position.
Averted in Dragon Age II with Viscount Marlowe Dumar of Kirkwall, who is a politician, not a fighter. The Arishok, though, is the most skilled and toughest of all the Qunari in Kirkwall. Played straight with Prince Sebastian Vael of Starkhaven, who can handle himself pretty well and is a crack shot with a bow.
Mostly played straight in The Last Remnant. If an important character is playable, they will be a leader in battle (as opposed to a common soldier). If they also happen to be high-class or the leader of an organisation, they will usually have more skills and higher stats than the average leader, and often get a Limit Break as well.
Both played straight and averted in Saints Row. Some of the various gang and faction leaders are undeniably talented ass-kickers, while others are barely a threat in a straight fight. For instance, the Ronin gang carries katanas on their backs, and it's no surprise their leaders and officers are well versed in their use. Conversely, some of the Vice Kings leaders are no more threat than their Mooks. The player character pretty much becomes one of these in the course of the sequel, being both the leader of the revived Saints and the only one among them with a body count higher than Johnny Gat, the resident crazy violent bastard of the bunch who was once on trial for literally hundreds of murders. In a single case.
Kirrahe: You all know the mission, and what is at stake. I have come to trust each of you with my life — but I have also heard murmurs of discontent. I share your concerns. We are trained for espionage; we would be legends, but the records are sealed. Glory in battle is not our way. Think of our heroes; the Silent Step, who defeated a nation with a single shot. Or the Ever Alert, who kept armies at bay with hidden facts. These giants do not seem to give us solace here, but they are not all that we are. Before the network, there was the fleet. Before diplomacy, there were soldiers! Our influence stopped the rachni, but before that we held the line! Our influence stopped the krogan, but before that, we held the line! Our influence will stop Saren; in the battle today, we will hold the line!
Mordin Solus led a science team, then a mission to Tuchanka to create and release a new version of the genophage. How good is he? He killed a krogan with a pitchfork.
Pokémon is always this way. Gym Leaders and the Elite Four are always harder to fight than other trainers of the same level, and the legendary Pokemon are the same way. Of course, some of it is because The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard.
A standard rule in Makai Kingdom and the Disgaea series, due to the general demon mindset. The Overlord rules the Netherworld because they're strong enough to fend off anyone else trying to take over. If another demon manages to defeat the Overlord, they become the new Overlord. An Overlord can even conquer another Netherworld by defeating its established Overlord.
Played straight and subverted in Dark Souls. Plot wise, each boss you face that you receive a Lord Soul from was one of the Lords who rebelled against the Dragons and defeated them with the power of the Flames. This includes Gravelord Nito, Seath the Scaleless, The Four Kings of Anor Londo, and the Bed of Chaos, formerly the Witch of Izalith. But then there's the final boss, the withered husk of the God of the Sun, Gwyn, Lord of Cinder. Unlike other bosses in the game, his attacks are absolutely relentless, and he has close to no openings during the entire fight. Not to mention that he wields a massive flaming sword that can kill you in only a couple of hits, and can damage you even as you guard. He is extremely powerful, even if at this point he's little more than a burnt-out hollow of his former self.
The webcomic is a rare example of this rule being used by mad scientists. Most of the Sparks that have appeared in the comic so far have proven to be quite competent fighters - part of this may be justified by them often having a Death Ray or two in their pockets, but even in unarmed close combat, several Sparks have demonstrated high levels of skill. Gilgamesh Wulfenbach demonstrated an ability to smack a BIG Jäger around while injured (but flipped out). Baron Wulfenbach has also had action hero-level fighting skills, but that may be attributed to his past adventuring with the Heterodyne Boys. The Heterodyne Boys themselves may also, technically, be said to use this, seeing as they were the hereditary rulers of Mechanicsburg. Agatha "doesn't fence", but she's quite the slugger with a 3/17 Occipital Left-Leaning Heterodyne Wrench. Or any heavy wrench, for that matter.
Justified in that the magical intelligence boost that allows the sparks to create military wonders and various supersoldiers also increasingly makes them impatient and crazy enough to install said wonders and perform said experiments on themselves or their loved-ones. It is at one point suggested that should Gil prove faulty (i.e. less than perfect in every way) his father will simply take him apart and try again, and no one seems to find this particularly implausible. Baron Wulfenbach has visibly performed various surgeries on himself and augmented himself to the size of a small tank. The heterodynes casually drink from a spring that, in a very dilute and weakened form, turns ordinary soldiers into near-invicible superstrong jagermonsters.
Additionally, the paranoia the spark brings isn't really unjustified, as few sparks actually survive to adulthood due to the usual torch-bearing mobs and the danger of their own creations. Even a spark in the rational state is liable to see some advantage to augmenting themselves being the toughest thing in the immediate vicinity at all times. If not for the law that dying causes one to lose one's properties, most of Europa's rulers would probably be undead abominations by now.
There's also the strong implication that the Baron experimented on himself to keep going in his adventures (much like Othar), and there's the possibility that Gil inherited some of those... improvements.
Don't forget the Jager generals. On the Castle Wulfenbach one take a crashing plane head-on. When they fight, even the lesser Jagers don't want to be around. Later Oggie thought that being "detatched" is a sufficient reason to disobey Mamma Gkika — see the result on the next page. Presumably, you get to be a Jager general by being tougher than any other Jager around you.
Raizel from Noblesse, who is the True Noblesse, the leader of all nobles. He won EVERY FIGHT he got into, which all ended in a Curb-Stomp Battle. This is later downplayed; While Noblesse is an important title, it is not for the leader of the nobles; nevertheless, the actual leader, titled the Lord, is nothing to sneeze at either. And the Lord's seconds-in-command, titled the Clan Leaders, are also much stronger than normal nobles. Their enemies, the Union, also follow the same hierarchy, with the leading Union Elders being scarily powerful. Made worse by the fact that one of those Elders is actually a Clan Leader who defected.
Tower of God: The Rankers are ranked solely on their performance while they climbed the Tower. Which is kind of a big deal. Rankers move on to become agents, bureaucrats and test administrators, positions of great authority. So yeah, being a test administrator equals major asskicking abilities.
Captain Tagon is no slouch: a trained, experienced, and highly skilled soldier, he isn't someone you'd want to cross. Still, in a fair fight, he'd probably be creamed by any number of his enlisted beings. Good thinghe cheats.
Kevyn, the second in command, isn't all that tough physically; but between the antimatter-bomb epaulets and just being the Mad Scientist, everybody reacts like he could kick their asses. Also, he and his sister are good enough at it to surprise the unarmed combat instructor.
The trope is used even further when Xinchub, a fat general who is mostly into politics, manhandles a bounty hunter. He explains that he has "boosted" (meaning enhanced in various ways) more than she has, probably because he has the political clout to get away with it.
In Erfworld the higher level your chief warlord is, the higher a bonus your troops get. This means that chief warlords are almost always the most powerful speaking unit around, Which makes people wonder why Parson ever becomes chief warlord
Subverted when Roy mistakenly assumes that Lord Shojo is a high-level paladin when he is, in fact, a non-combatant aristocrat.
Later played stright with his nephew, Hinjo, who is a very capable paladin and becomes the leader of the Sapphire Guard and exiled Azurites after Shojo's death. And then Hinjo goes on to somewhat subvert it later in the story. While he's focused on trying to keep the survivors of the Azure City battle together, looking for a place to settle them, and dealing with treacherous aristocrats, some of his fellow paladins are fighting against villains and other hazards and continually getting stronger. Eventually Hinjo admits that he's fallen well behind them in level, and when a few paladins are needed for a task vital to saving the world, he opts to remain behind, leaving the job to his more powerful subordinates while he concentrates on keeping his people afloat. He still kicks ass, just not as much as some of the people below him.
Played with in Errant Story. The most skilled members of the Ensigerum, a group of warrior/monk/time-mages, are generally the highest level initiates and newly raised monks as the older members lack recent combat experience and have grown too dependent on magic. The trope is played straight for their leader, Imperatrix Anita, who is without a doubt the deadliest member of the order.
MSF High: Any teacher at MSF High has this. Any Legion Queen has this, with access to all ten Legion 'facets'. Principal Kasumi? Don't even ask. Keiri is not to be messed with as well.
Justified in Homestuck, as Sburb is effectively a video game and thus needs to provide some bosses for its players to defeat. The Kings and Queens of Derse and Prospit aren't very strong on their own, but they are all provided with items (rings for the Queens, scepters for the Kings) that provide power boosts which elevate them far above the rank-and-file. Like many things in the medium, these power boosts are tied to the prototyping of the player's Kernelsprites. The Black King of the Troll's session was prototyped a whopping twelve times and proved an absolute monstrosity to defeat.
Mr. Verres of El Goonish Shive has shown his offensive magical abilities and is relatively high up in the local paranormal division of the FBI. Assistant Director Liefeld, his boss, is an extremely beefy man which means he probably has significant physical fighting prowess even if he is not a magic user.
Zokusho Comics: If Clash is anything to go by, Master Byron is quite capable of opening up a rather large can, despite his age.
Royce from Heart Core fits this trope, considering how he almost killed the protagonist of the story without using his full powers. Being the king of demons and fiends does help, though.
Played straight in TwoKinds, by the Basitin people. On one side we have a new General, who fought and bested every challenger for the right to take the position. On the other side we have the King, who was presumed fatally injured and has been noted as incredibly ill for months. When she asks him if he wishes to challenge her decision he pales and backs down.
Dragon Ball Multiverse: U8 King Cold, who is inexplicably far more powerful than Cold as depicted in the original manga, is the strongest fighter in his universe.
Used in Survival of the Fittest. The leaders of the terrorist organization are Danya, and a group of four terrorists directly under his command appropriately referred to as "The Big Four", two of whom are Danya's bodyguards when they're not doing other things. The Big Four play this straight in that they're all elite soldiers, one of them having been a successful professional boxer between leaving the military and joining Danya's organisation, and Badass Bookworm Jim Greynolds is the only one of them who isn't more or less a master of hand to hand combat. Also used with the group SADD, whose leader Neil Sinclair is probably the best fighter of the bunch (he certainly lived the longest)
Xandus, the most powerful villain in the Avatar Adventures universe, doubles as the Prime Minister of Canada.
It is revealed in Kickassia that Kevin Baugh could teleport and use a sword.
In the Armageddon web-novels, this is how both Hell and Heaven operate - rank and power are equal, with Satan and Yahweh being on the top of the heap. When Michael managed to kill Yahweh with the assistance of his conspiracy, he not only increased in power, he gained the ability to confer power on other angels.
In The Gungan Council, it's either played straight or inverted with Masters and Elites. They are regarded as the strongest characters and usually have or are granted many prestigious titles and responsibilities. Can be subverted or even averted for Padawans, Apprentices, and Trainees that roleplay have a high title.
The show uses this with Fire Lord Ozai, and King Bumi (and to a lesser extent, Azula and Zuko). The Earth King on the other hand couldn't fight at all, and was being controlled by his Evil Chancellor since he was four (though apparently Earth King authority used to equal asskicking). The warden of "The Boiling Rock" was a bit of a pushover as well, but at least had the attitude.
Nearly all of the main characters qualify. While not a really a major authority at the time of show (being gone for a century while people were suffering does not help to endear) the Avatar is considered a sort of King of World and past ones always seemed able to boss around the other rulers a lot. Sokka and Katara are more or less royalty by virtue of being children of the Southern Water Tribe Chief (even though poverty makes them little better than peasants) while Toph is a definitely noble ranked high up in the Earth Kingdom pecking order. Iroh, Pakku, Jeong-Jeong and even Piandao are also either royalty, nobles, generals or aristocrats. Even Suki, essentially the only member of Team Avatar who can't be construed as anything other than a lowly peasant, is still the commander of her island's warriors by virtue of being an asskicker.
And dare we even mention Toph's daughter? Lin Beifong, chief of police in Republic City, after all of her other metalbending cops are knocked unconcious, still goes after Amon anyways, through use of her metalbending. The only person to aid her was Korra herself - and she saved Korra on multiple occasions throughout the fight.
Amon himself. The leader of the Equalists and the most skilled of them all. Although this is thrown into doubt when we learn his physical fighting prowess is rooted in his bloodbending: he can 'read' people's muscle movements and use slight tugs of bloodbending to throw enemies off their game.
Councilmen Tarrlok and Tenzin also count, although the rest of the council, reflecting the demilitarized state of their world, aren't shown to possess any real fighting skill.
On The Oblongs, the mayor is a professional wrestler in a luchador mask who is always introduced as Johnny "the Mayor" Bledsoe. He doesn't appear to be able to do any actual fighting—the one time he tried, he reflexively started faking his hits.
In The Powerpuff Girls, the Mayor is usually content to let the Girls be the heroes. However, in one episode, when Fuzzy Lumpkin took over as mayor, and then had the nerve to take his hat, he became so angry that he wrestled Fuzzy to get his job back - and won.
In the animated movie, Hot Rod gets upgraded from a racecar to a futuristic truck when he was promoted to Rodimus Prime by the Matrix. He got about half again as tall, and upgraded from "pathetic" to "successor of Optimus Prime."
Optimus Prime himself was a small pickup truck type thing when he was Orion Pax, and was rebuilt into the bigger, tougher Optimus Prime. The nice thing about being robots is that you can get an upgrade upon promotion to fit this trope much more easily than with us fleshlings.
The one time this trope was not used in Transformers was a brief period in the 1980's comic series in which the Decepticons were led by Ratbat. Yes, a small purple cassette that turned into a talking bat. He scored the leadership through his popularity and attempted to run the Decepticons with more businesslike efficiency. The comics played it straight aside from that, with leadership landing in the hands of Shockwave, Scorponok, Thunderwing, Bludgeon, and back to Megatron thanks to the superior ass-kicking power of each. The Autobots got into the act, with powerhouses like Grimlock and Blaster trying to take over the Autobots whenever Optimus was absent.
This seems to be part of the Predacon culture in Beast Wars - Megatron leads by fear and intimidation as much as loyalty. When Dinobot first defects to the Maximals, he first tries to do it by challenging Optimus' leadership by force. BlackArachnia, Terrorsaur, and Tarantalus attempt coups frequently. Megatron's stated policy is that he tolerates treachery but not incompetence.
This seems to be a part of Transformer culture in general. Optimus Primal was fully capable of kicking the crap out of his underlings. Pretty much any given Transformer leader stands head and shoulders above most of his troops, sometimes literally.
Rhinox is no slouch either. He's smart, devious, and strong. He simply lacks ambition and is content to follow Optimus. When he is infected by a Predacon-made virus that turns him into a Predacon, he also gains ambition and, in a short order, nearly takes over Predacon leadership. In Beast Machines, when he becomes Tankor, Rhinox nearly causes both Megatron and Optimus to kill each other, while he picks up the pieces.
In Kim Possible, Dr. Director from Global Justice and Gemini from WEE are the big cheese and the best fighters of their respective organizations. And they're twins.
In Winx Club, Faragonda and Griffin are the headmistressess of Alfea and Cloud Tower, respectively. Both are incredibly powerful sorceresses who can fight if the need arises.
A memorable episode of The Penguins of Madagascar pits the Skipper and his crew against a horde of sewer rats in an attempt to retrieve Julien's crown. The rats say they'll hand it over, on the condition that the Skipper fight their leader. Skipper laughs and says he'll try to go easy on the mousy little guy... who's revealed to be in fact a massive mutated lab rat who resembled M. Bison. Cue the stunned looks of Oh Crap! on the penguins faces.
Numbuh 362, the Supreme Leader of the Kids Next Door organization, was a top stealth agent before she took command, and she can still kick a very respectable amount of ass when the need arises. This was memorably demonstrated in the episode "Operation: I.T." where she ate her way through a wall of broccoli to take on Father and made him break down in tears by threatening to force-feed him the dreaded vegetable. Also, in Operation: Z.E.R.O. she held her own against a senior-citizombified Numbuh 60.
And, just to underline the trope, she is eventually succeeded as Supreme Leader by Numbuh Five.
Jerry in Totally Spies! was easily able to defeat Clover, Alex, and Sam when they were turned evil by the enemy. And in an episode previous to that one, he was able to beat another villain senseless, causing Clover - the only witness, who had been turned into an unwilling pawn by said villain - to comment that even she was surprised at how good he was. (As Jerry himself told the guy, "There are a lot of things my girls don't know about me.")
M.O.M. in Martin Mystery is extremely acrobatic and good with weapons and gadgets. She was able to pummel a vicious spider monster on one occasion with her bare hands.
Charles Foster Offdensen from Metalocalypse. Excelling in hand-to-hand combat is a must when you're the manager of the most popular band (and twelfth largest economy) in the world.
Starfire and Blackfire are both royalty, and while superstrength seems universal for Tamaranians (or at least those we see in the palace), the two princessess are apparently the only of their species that can fly and shot energy blasts. (The trope likely applies to all Tamaranian monarchs anyway; seeing as it seems to be legal to assume the throne by defeating the monarch in a fight, one who couldn't fight well probably wouldn't last long.)
Lord Trogar of the Gordanians in the episode "Go" was able to simultaneously beat Cyborg, Robin, and Starfire in a fight on his battleship. He was also able to take an energy blast from Raven which knocked out his ship and immobilized his guards without flinching. Makes one wonder why he needed guards in the first place...
Played for laughs in an episode of My Gym Partner's a Monkey, when Adam convinces Mr. Hornbill, a lovelorn rhinoceros teacher, to challenge Principal Pixiefrog (who is, well, a pixie frog) to a ring fight to prove his masculinity. It turns out this trope is in full effect as Principal Pixiefrog proceeds to wipe the floor with Mr. Hornbill while shouting "who's your principal, Cyrus?!? I said, who's your principal?!?"
Adam: What just happened?!? Jake: A 2-ton rhino just got his butt handed to him by a 6-ounce frog! Where were you for the past 30 seconds?
In ThunderCats (2011) this holds true with Thundera's King Claudus and his two best generals Panthro and Grune, all of whom sport Heroic Builds and illustrate the ability to mow down multiple foes in one blow, and in Grune's case, defeat a monster many times his own size.
The original ThunderCats also qualify as to be recognized as a their full-fledged leader, Lion-O faces a series of trials against his comrades and then is sent to kick Mumm-ra's ass by himself.
In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, pretty much all the leaders seem to be powerful magic users, with Princess Celestia stepping up with laser beams and horn strikes, Princess Luna powerful enough to threaten Equestria with her Super-Powered Evil Side and Queen Chrysalis proving far more powerful than any of the mooks under her command. The Diamond Dog leaders also proved much more competent than their underlings in a fight. Subverted in Princess Cadance who has never been shown to be particularly powerful in combat, though she manages to be badass in other ways.
In ages past it was common for generals to actually lead their troops into battle, but this was really to better direct the troops in an age before radio. The death of a general in battle often ensured his army's defeat, so this tradition was abandoned as soon as distance command became practical.
In feudal societies, the upper classes had more access to military training and equipment, as well as better diets, so you could expect that the lord could wipe the floor with his peasants.
Among the lower ranks of real military forces, however, this is most certainly Truth in Television. A Corporal or Sergeant Major (etc.) will only hold the rank they do because they climbed the rank ladder from the very bottom upward and will have gained valuable combat experience along the way, but are not yet too old to dish out a good asskicking.
Part of a senior non-commissioned officer's job is to mentor junior officers. The officers do outrank NCOs, but are expected to defer to the knowledge and experience of their senior NCO subordinates. The corollary being that NCOs must never in any way be perceived as diminishing or being dismissive of the officers' command authority.
As historically nobility equaled warrior class, worth as a vassal was earned in warfare, and commonplace wars and duels let the stronger take over the weaker. So in the Early Middle Ages, higher nobility had to be highly skilled in combat to stay such, through Asskicking Equals Authority effect. The expense of quality equipment helped that end as well. Later relative peace and hereditary nobility ended this.
Tsar Alexander III was a truly massive man, nearly two meters tall and possessing great physical strength. He was rough and, though his reign was relatively peaceful, was known to train extensively for combat. When his train crashed, he actually held up the roof so his family could escape. This puts the Assassin's Creed example under Comic Books in perspective.
During the Russo-Japanese War, rear admiral Rozhestvensky: chief of staff of the Russian Navy (basically the third highest job in the whole Navy, second only to the director of the Department of the of Navy (counterpart of Defense Secretary in US terms, only dedicated to the Navy and not the armed forces in general) and the General Admiral (a rank reserved for members of the House of Romanov) for the first half of the war and commander of the Second Pacific Squadron when the Tzar decided to send ships of the Baltic Fleet to reinforce Port Arthur, was a powerful man who would punch out any undisciplined sailor unlucky enough to be noticed by him. From the same conflict, Heihachiro Togo: commander in chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the one who defeated the best admirals of Russia, Rozhestvensky included, was a trained samurai and a skilled swordman before the Meiji Restauration and him becoming a sailor.
Subverted in the case of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. While they did serve in World War I, their state's Propaganda Machine made them into much more than they really were. Hitler did get two Iron Crosses, but that probably had more to do with his near-constant proximity to the Regimental HQ. He also turned down a promotion, probably to avoid more responsibility. Mussolini's war record, on the other hand, is almost completely unremarkable.