A weapon or type of weapon, once common, that is now only used by one or a few people. Qualification for such weapons is extensive, and often tied to other skills that "aren't magic". They are often granted by a master or passed down through the generations.
There are times when this is a Justified Trope:
Inverted in The Five Star Stories. Personal combat has come back into fashion once more not because ideas of honor or elegant but because people realized what a waste it was to nuke things from orbit. The goal of most warfare in the series is to conquer territory while doing as little damage to said territory as possible (after all, who wants to rule over a radioactive crater?). The trope is also deconstructed here, as the dominance of showy, impractical weapons like Laser Blades and ridiculously elaborate, sword-fighting Humongous Mecha are seen as a sign that war has become some kind of sick game to the rulers of the galaxy.
Belkan-style Devices in the second season of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha are optimized for close combat in a variety of forms and they are used by knights. They have honor codes and fealty oaths and other stuff. Their weapons get more common in the third season, but the majority of mages still wield staff-type ranged weapons.
The Caster Gun from Outlaw Star qualifies. It was formerly used by mages in many places across space. By the main story, It's not unique but very old, and very rare. It's just barely common enough for its ammunition to be available, albeit in extremely short supply, in various knick-nack shops and from merchants.
Thoroughly deconstructed (as with anything else about classical heroes) in Fate/Zero. Mages have obsession with 'the elegance of the ancient age', and this is exactly why Kiritsugu uses guns against them to great effect. Screw duels of honor by spirits of champions, I have guns!
Dane Whitman - Marvel's Black Knight who was an ex-Avenger, ex-Defender, ex-Ultraforce, ex-Excalibur and current MI 13 member is a highly skilled scientist and engineer and has made high-tech weapons before. But because he's a descendant of a knight of the round table, he prefers using magical swords and armor as a link to his ancestry (not to mention his magical items are better than what he can manufacture with mundane tech).
In The Last Samurai, the samurai rebellion is caused because the Emperor wants to modernize and Westernize Japan. They fight the Imperial army with old-fashioned bows, spears and swords and do surprisingly well before getting cut down in a hail of machinegun fire. The real rebels upon which the film is based used equally modern weapons. They died in a last-ditch charge when their ammo ran out.
The Operative in Serenity uses a Chinese-style sword as an apparent throwback to the warrior traditions of old. He lectures one man about how a dishonored Romans would fall on their sword... while forcing the man to do so.
The film adaptation of Starship Troopers features a scene where the soldiers are learning how to use knives. One recruit questions the wisdom of stabbing weapons in a push-button war and it's explained to him; painfully.
The novel touches on this as well, with the Mobile Infantry training in everything from unarmed combat to twentieth-century infantry arms. The training not only prepares them to use the powered armor, but also gives them skills to fall back on when the armor is impractical or not available for whatever reason.
In addition, the training was also designed to help the troopers avoid a When All You Have Is a Hammer mindset, making sure they realize that using the maximum possible force is not always the best choice on how to deal with a situation.
The martial arts training came in handy at the end of the book when the bugs launched an ambush in a tunnel; the power-armored soldiers tore through them with their bare hands.
Star Wars: lightsabers, the weapon of a Jedi knight. Obi-wan Kenobi's description provides the Trope Namer. Essentially swords for a futuristic setting, they help paint the Jedi as a futuristic version of the Knight Errant or samurai. The weapons seem to have a number of clear advantages over blasters, being able to cut through anything and deflect blaster fire. Obi-Wan is the only person to call them "more civilized," however. In Revenge of The Sith, he's forced to use a blaster carbine and sniffs, "So uncivilized!"
In the Expanded Universe, it's explained that the Jedi think of blasters as uncivilised because they allow one to kill from a distance. Due to the Force's deep connections to all life the Jedi believe that if you must end a life, you should be close enough to sense it end, hence the lightsabers. By making killing a very up close and personal thing, Jedi tradition discourages ending a life unless it is absolutely necessary and you understand the full implications of what you are doing.
The ironic part being that many blasters have a stun setting, whereas the typical non-lethal use of a lightsaber involves permanently maiming the target.
In The Hobbit, the trio of elven weapons found in a troll cave are these; Glamdring, Orcrist, and Sting. Elven, Elegant... and lethally sharp.
It was an ancient tool of his people and a laughable anachronism, save that Stenwold had witnessed what he could do with it.
Robert A. Heinlein - who was a competitive fencer in his Naval Academy days - goes to some length to point out how a sword is great in several of his books. Never jams, never runs out of ammo, and so on and it was a nice thing to have in some rough parts of town. It is long, sharp, intimidating and precise enough to do exactly as much damage as the wielder wishes. For instance by using the flat or a slash cut to the ribcage with a downward inclination(because the bones overlap in that direction and prevent entering the vitals the way they would in an upward blow) someone can make an assailant uncomfortable without killing.
One story involves Lazarus Long talk about learning how to best use a bayonet in the twenty-fifth century.
Hiro Protagonist, the hero protagonist of Snow Crash, carries a katana for various reasons, not least because it makes him look like a Badass. In one job he was equipped with a particularly powerful pocket-sized handgun that looked like a fashion accessory and so was inadequate for intimidation. Carrying a sword, on the other hand, gets you a little more respect.
Justified in Dune; swords, knives, and such have made a comeback in Herbert's universe, not because they're more civilized, but because they don't cause small nuclear explosions when they hit shields, like lasguns do.
Averted in a Spider Robinson short story. Street gangs carry swords because they look cool, and a critic dies because he refuses to accept a world with both swords and laser pistols. He walks into a sword while getting mugged.
Bored of the Rings parodies this. At the battle of Minas Troney, Goodgulf is said to carry "an ancient and trustworthy weapon, called by the elves a Browning semi-automatic."
Live Action TV
The Klingons in Star Trek love to fight with their swords, (called bat'leth), even though energy guns, such as phasers or disruptors, are very common in the Trek universe, and the Klingons themselves know perfectly well how to build and use the latter ones. They obviously consider it to be more honorable to defeat your enemy in close combat. In addition to the bat'leth they also have the mek'leth (paired fighting daggers used not unlike sais) and the d'k'tagh (a ceremonial dagger with spring-loaded secondary blades built into the guard). No other Star Trek race, except maybe the Vulcans with their ceremonial weaponry, devotes as much loving attention to edged weapons as the Klingons.
This is justified in the later series, since energy weapons seem incapable of killing anyone in Voyager or Enterprise.
Semi-averted because shooting guns inside a ship does bad things to delicate electronics, so melee is used in order to have a usable ship after boarding.
More because cutlasses aren't really intended for war; they are intended for sport and for dueling. Swordplay is an activity that provides good exercise and is suited for the limited space of a starship.
Eldar Phoenix Lords wear armor and wield weapons forged probably more than 20,000 years ago, all of which are at least as good as their modern counterparts.
It should be noted that Eldar armour is psychically bonded to the wearer's spirit stone, and can presumably deform or expand (to an extent) to accommodate to new wearer.
A lot of the Imperium works like this as well: Artificer Armor and Master Crafted Weapons tend to be centuries, if not millennia, old. The reason they're still in use isn't just because of sentimentality; it's because they still work better than a lot of newer things, and in fact repairs and modifications may make them worse. This also plays into the fact that, prior to the formation of the Imperium, humanity lost vast swathes of technological knowledge during the Age of Strife, afterwards leaving the newly-formed Imperium to scramble to secure whatever was left over. It's rather a Big Thing whenever a new Standard Template Construct is discovered.
That, and the Imperium of Mankind (or at least, the Inquistion) frown rather heavily on innovation or invention - it's like 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' taken Up to Eleven. As a result, Imperial technology has spent about 10-15 thousand years stagnating while races less afraid of designing better wargear (like the Tau or the Tyranids) are slowly overtaking.
Final Fantasy VIII features the gunblade, a weapon which combines elements of sword and gun to create an ImpossiblyCool Sword that is also so difficult to use that only the most dedicated soldiers are able to master it. And the more advanced the model, the more elegant it becomes.
It's so difficult to use, in fact, that only three people in the game use them: Squall, Seifer, and Laguna (who only uses it as an awkward sword). Seifer uses it because it matches his fantasy, and there's some in-universe speculation that Squall uses it because it's difficult to master, reflecting his stubborn nature.
The Keyblade Wielders were once common enough to form a Knighthood. By the time the first game rolls around, there are only a few left.
Inverted by the Howling Voice Guild of the Suikoden series, who are the only people in the world to wield guns. As Cathari explains in Suikoden V, they're louder than bows, so worse for stealth, less accurate, and less reliable (Though not in actual combat, where one shot from Cathari can do more damage than most fighters can pull of in three, she also has a high hit rate). In a civilized age, they're the only ones using these uncivilized weapons. The only thing that makes them useful is as an intimidation tactic.
Parodied meta-wise in Halo. Luke Smith says that the Spartan Laser is not an overpowered weapon, but an elegant weapon from a more civilized age. Said "Elegant Weapon" is a GoddamnLaserCannon that kills nearly everything that goes into the path of the laser. And that thing costs more than four fully-armed warthogs and is worth only five shots per battery! (Not that it isn't fun to use)
The Lord of the Rings Online extends the reforged weapons from earlier ages (as seen referenced above from the books) to players with Legendary Items.
The various beam katanas from No More Heroes are quite common, but the people who actually know how to skilfully use them, like Travis and Henry, aren't the ones who are getting their heads cut off.
In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, the kingdom of Dernholm is in terminal decline due to their refusal to embrace technology. In the last war, their much-celebrated Dragon Knights were slaughtered en masse by rifle-wielding infantry. In the good ending, The true king returns and usher in an era of prosperity by uniting the new ways with the old.
Sudeki references this with Buki's weapons, handheld claws. Despite being a traditional Shadani weapon, they're falling out of use as they require a lot of training to use,and many recruits prefer easier-to-handle human weapons like swords and spears.
Boss: A weapon for a more civilized time, eh? Well guess what - times have changed...
In the Fallout series, the Brotherhood of Steel are individually highly trained warriors who use powered armor, energy weapons and combat robots, which are all from a more civilized age. They are fewer in number compared to the raiders, mutants and NCR Army, but one Brotherhood Paladin is the equal of three to five (or for even less developed foes, ten or more) of the aforementioned. However, their inability to quickly replace lost soldiers was a major reason why they lost the Brotherhood-NCR conflict. A similar statement can be said for the forces of the Enclave.
Errant Story Features "Durus Flamma" weapons, that look a lot like lightsabers and are used by the elves exclusively for duels. And a dual bladed one, that is completely impractical, (even in-universe) but the one person who uses them anyway is just that Badass.
Gwynn: Torg, are you stupid or something (...) running into a gunfight with a sword?
Torg: A sword is an elegant weapon. Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster. CHEEEARGE!
(Torg runs into battle. Cue hail of gunfire)
Torg(running away): Clumsy and random's got my name all over it!
Double Subverted when the sword does prove decisive, in that battle and in others down the road. It saved the characters more than once, in situations where other weapons would obviously fail (soul trading demons in the spirit world for example).
Today, there are many groups worldwide committed to the reconstruction and safeguarding of old European weapon martial arts, particularly with the light, two-handed longsword. These martial arts prove to be highly efficient and holistic, often including unarmed combat and use of other weapons as part of the complete martial art.
Swords, particularly some varieties thereof (the Rapier and the Jian, for instance) have often been the mark of noblemen, military officers and others in high social standing, presumably owing to the fact that they were expensive. Ironically, one of their functions was to hack at any Dirty Coward who tried to break formation and run away.
During World War One, Europe was fairly surprised at the effectiveness of automatic weapons and artillery. Infantry and cavalry blocks very quickly gave way to trench warfare, tanks, and moving through cover.
In the Battle of Agincourt, where France clung to the weapons and tactics of chivalry, charging at the English army of longbowman, who rained arrows down on them as they slogged through mud and sharpened stakes. Bows were considered a lowly peasants weapon by the French, but the English made them the backbone of their army. Plus, an English longbow (pulled by someone who'd spent his life building the strength to use it), put about 160 lbs of force behind the tip of an arrow. It was the equivalent of hitting a tank with a depleted uranium round or an EFP - it's going to make holes in armor, no questions asked.
While this is the english view, the reality was the opposite. Even the transitional harness used at Agincourt was almost impervious to arrows, and while the english warbow only had about 50 years of life left to it on the battlefield as a mainstream weapon (it was useless in Italy, useless against the Scots, and by the end of the HYW, useless against the french), plate armor would still remain an important piece of military equipment until the 17th century, and was still part of the uniform of heavy cavalry until the advent of the machine gun.
The reason this had been played straight in Japan for for so long wasn't because Katanas Are Just Better, but because most noblemen and warriors were trained in melee weapons and archery. Nobunaga comes along with a unit of trained musketeers and the strategic skill to use them effectively and then suddenly he's unified Japan (mostly).
The Satsuma Rebellion: A small group of more elite samurai faced down against the larger Imperial army using modern weapons of both Japanese and European origin, using European tactics. The more "elegant" and "civilized" samurai were eliminated to a man. The Boshin Wars, despite popular depiction, were not the same case. Both sides used modern weapons, infantry tactics and foreign aid.
Blades have long been used and still have a place on modern battlefields, because firearms have limited ammunition and (mainly nowadays) because rifles may not be practically aimed and fired in close quarters. Over-reliance on the ability to simply shoot the enemy can lead to a soldier's death. A knife doesn't jam or run out of ammo. In extremely close combat, as can happen when clearing apartment complexes in Urban Warfare, an operative may score vastly more kills with their knife than they do with their bullets. For militia that are made of people who live in metropolitan areas, melee combat is a heavily emphasized skill.
Famous saying by some 19th-century Russian general: "A bullet sometimes misses; a bayonet never does." A similar saying is from Generalissimus Alexander Suvorov, who lived in the late XVIII - early XIX century: "Bullet is foolish, bayonet is bold".
There were a few decisive bayonet charges in the Iraq war when ammo ran low, the most famous being the Battle of Danny Boy. The chargers had body armor and the insurgents did not, thus, a rout.
Bayonets, however, are NOT a major part of melee combat anymore. While they once were considered vital in warfare, as long ago as World War 1 it was recognized that bayonets are actually terrible weapons - guns are not very good spears, and there are far too many ways to get inside the weapon's reach. This is why combat knives grew in popularity - bayonets were unwieldy, but a knife is very handy for a wide variety of tasks AND can also be used to stab or cut people. Modern bayonets are more or less knives that can be (but which usually aren't) attached to rifles. The military has been de-emphasizing them in recent years due to their lack of real value - the primary purpose of bayonets nowadays is poking dead bodies and threatening prisoners, not actual combat, and the US military removed bayonet training from its basic training curriculum.
The above entry may be somewhat countered by the fact that bayonet charges are insanely effective against people who cannot deal with crazed soldiers willing to get up close and personal in order to have the primal satisfaction of stabbing their victims to death in the most painful manner possible. The Battle of Danny Boy ended after British troops ran out of ammo and decided that bayonets were to be the killing blow to Iraqi insurgents. The insurgents, taught to believe that all westerners were cowards, fled when they realized that the British were obviously not running away but hellbent on getting revenge for casualties and a wrecked radio (and perhaps some spilled tea).
Archery fell out of military use due to the long training time needed. However, hunters commonly abandon guns in favor of bows, for both sentimental and practical reasons (bows/arrows are quieter and lighter than guns and make cleaner kills). This is often an Enforced Trope. Gun season for deer is often only a week or two (with half that time dedicated to black powder arms), while bow season is open for the entire winter.
Archery fell out of military use because bows' battlefield function (indirect fire) is accomplished better by cannon. What was supplanted by firearms was the crossbow. Archery was never mainstream in most of Europe. An exception is horse archers, which did see bows replaced by firearms on the steppes.
Most fly-fishermen have a discreet snobbishness about their way of angling as compared to spin-rod and bait fishing. In particular, it is the fly rod itself—thinner, lighter and longer than its counterparts, giving it greater sensitivity to the angler's whims, with a reel whose basic design still looks very 19th-century—that symbolizes this.
Compared to ubiquitous pump-action shotguns and military surplus semiautomatic rifles, the venerable break-action rifles, shotguns and combination guns with multiple caliber barrels are seen as old-fashioned, anachronisms. They are among the most expensive hunting guns in production and in many cases they are tailored to user's request, beautifully carved and engraved. With a wise choice of calibers the same combination gun may hunt from pheasant to Cape Buffalo.
Black powder weapons, especially in the United States, are still used for hunting. These weapons can be modern rifles made out of state-of-the-art materials or reproductions of famous muskets such as the Kentucky rifle. One reason for their use is that it is considered a more traditional way of hunting, another being that the low velocities of rifles and their long reload times make hunting with them a Self-Imposed Challenge.