"The four elements, like man alone, are weak. But together they form the strong fifth element: boron."
The four classical Elemental Powers
(though Air is often referred to as Wind) and usually appear simultaneously inside the same setting. It is tacitly acknowledged these are the
four forces of nature, and so naturally, there is some form of magical ability associated with each of them. Sometimes mages are restricted to only one school.
But wait- what's all this talk about a mysterious fifth element? That's right, boys and girls, turns out there's actually another element on top of these that is so incredibly bad-ass, it defies the normal classification system. Magic of this element is about as strong as the other four put together. Where a wind mage has control of, in general, wind, this element controls pretty much everything. It will have very few restrictions, but it will also be quite difficult to use. If the normal magic system is defined in term of Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors
, Element Number Five will usually exist outside of it. Sometimes it will actually be the source of all the other elements in the first place, making it more of a Zero-th element.
Another common variation is for this to be some kind of mental, spiritual, or energy
to the physical elements; The Power of Love
, Mind Control
, and Light 'em Up
are all common choices. The above rules may still apply (especially if the hero or the villain are the ones using it), but non-omniscient powers are equally likely to be balanced as not. The Inverse Law of Complexity to Power
often favors Element Number Five
since it doesn't always fit the same system as the rest.
Is most commonly used as a distinguishing feature from fantasy work to fantasy work. In order to combat the relative commonality of this fifth element its nature will often vary, to the point that this trope can often turn into Our Fifth Element Is Different
In spite of the name, this trope can also be another number- the Chinese elemental system, for example, normally contains five elements (Earth, Fire, Water, Metal, and Wood), so in works based on that mythology this will be Element Number Six. This trope occurs naturally in the Greek
elemental systems, where Aether, Space, Sky and Void
fulfill the narrative role of this trope - note that these four are essentially the same thing.
Not to be confused with Boron
, the fifth element in the Real Life
periodic table; The Fifth Element
, which uses this trope as its eponymous Plot Device
; or The Fifth Elephant
, which has nothing to do with any of this but is rather a cheap pun
See Infinity+1 Element
for the gameplay ramifications of this trope occurring in Video Games
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Anime and Manga
- Zero no Tsukaima features Void, an element about which the general population knows nothing but that is nonetheless incredibly powerful. Void users are very rare, and only appear once every several centuries. The easiest way to identify one is apparently they always summon a human as their familiar
- The Rokumon (Six Gates) franchise already has six elements as part of its premise, with the fifth and sixth being light/holy and dark/curse. The anime Mon Colle Knights introduces a seventh. This element is called Time, but seems to work more like existence itself. It has no specific form, and exists in everything. Messing with it causes the physical universe to start falling apart very quickly.
- In Naruto, there are five regular elements who have a cyclical Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors dynamic (Fire, Wind, Lightning, Earth, Water) and advanced elements (which are combinations of the other five and behave the same in the RPS cycle). The other type of chakra is Yin and/or Yang release, which is/are responsible for everything that's not elemental.
- Astral Shamanistic magic, to go along with the classic fire, water, earth, and wind shamanistic magic in Slayers. Astral magic is unique insofar as it can damage a person's "astral body" (something of a spiritual form) instead of their physical body. There are various elements used in the series' line of Black Magic and Holy Magic as well.
- The second movie of Cardcaptor Sakura had "The Nothing", an extremely powerful card created by Clow which is as strong as the other fifty-two put together, and which functions by destroying localized fabrics of reality. Sakura defeats it in the end by turning it into "The Hope".
- Ordinarily, the Katekyo Hitman Reborn! universe uses the seven Elements of the Sky: Sun, Rain, Storm, Cloud, Lightning, Mist, and Sky. Each one is associated with an Element of the Earth. But the best example of this would be the eighth element: Night, which is fueled by the Power Of Hate.
- In Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro, the New Bloodline's six major members each have an element. The five fingers cover the four basic ones and threw in plants, while Sicks can not only use them all but also control Metal as his element. In sense, a sixth element.
- The Fifth Element uses this trope as a central plot point, as the title implies. However, it's not until the very end that this is explained, and it's never explained why this futuristic society places such emphasis on classical elements when, you know, things like spaceships sort of operate on the assumption that all that stuff is superstition.
- The society doesn't, at least no more so than our own (the characters were familiar with the idea in general terms— ie, they can recognize that the traditional elements are fire, earth, water and wind without being told). It's the ancient protector aliens and sect of monk-guardians they inspired who believe in the "superstition" because those metaphysical concepts are used to trigger a Big Bad slaying machine.
- Parodied in The Gamers, as seen in the page quote.
Live Action TV
- Seen often in Super Sentai and Power Rangers, where Elemental Powers are frequent. When you've got four elements but six Rangers, what do you do?
- Seijuu Sentai Gingaman has fire, water, wind, thunder, and flowers as its elemental line-up, with the Sixth Ranger not possessing an elemental theme. These aspects were downplayed in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy.
- Rescue Sentai GoGoFive/Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue plays with this theme by having mecha based on a fire engine (fire), a tanker truck (water), a jet (air), a hazardous rescue vehicle (earth), and an ambulance (heart?). GoGoFive lacked a Sixth Ranger but Lightspeed Rescue had one whose mecha/zord was a solar-powered spacecraft.
- Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger/Power Rangers Ninja Storm starts with three: Land, Sea, Sky. We get Three Plus Two this year; the Thunder Rangers are Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The Sixth Ranger gets his powers from a different source and isn't bound to any of the elements, though there is fire reflected in his helmet during his Super Mode Transformation Sequence (The Super Sentai version is often said to be associated with fire, but while he does call his Super Mode "Fire Mode," the Shurikenger has baseball-themed attacks).
- Mahou Sentai Magiranger/Power Rangers Mystic Force makes lightning the power of the Yellow Ranger. The Sixth Ranger has the Power Of The Sun. There are other elements such as Moon and Snow.
- Samurai Sentai Shinkenger/Power Rangers Samurai gets us to five by going fire, water, wood, earth, and sky, with the female yellow Ranger getting earth while the male green Ranger gets wood. The Sixth Ranger's element is Light, which manifested in using a cellphone rather than brushstroke-derived powers.
- Tensou Sentai Goseiger/Power Rangers Megaforce only has three: two for Sky, two for Land, and one for Sea. The Sixth Ranger can use all of the above.
- In The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, there is a fifth element hinted at throughout the series. It's Aether, or the magic of Time.
- The Sovereign Stone trilogy uses Void as its fifth element.
- In the Discworld, the fifth element is the element of Surprise.
- The Dresden Files is an interesting example - magic flows from the mind, so no single elemental system totally encapsulates it. We've seen wizards use fire, water, ice, electricity, wind, earth, and even particle beams, but none of these are more mystical than the others, and every mage uses his or her own different system. However, Angels and Fallen Angels possess Soulfire and Hellfire respectively (and can grant it to others), which are shown to be solidly this trope, even when actual numbering is impossible.
- Harry himself claims his pentacle amulet represents fire, air, earth, water, and spirit, all bound and controlled by will. However, he calls these the five forces of magic, not the five elements.
- In the Diablo novels by Richard Knaak, the necromancers consider Time to be the fifth element.
- Garrett, Deadpan Snarker protagonist of the Garrett, P.I. series, has claimed that stupid is the fifth element of creation, and the most common. Either that, or it's magnetically attracted to his home city, given how many stupid people he runs into.
- The Kane Chronicles parodies this with the element of cheese. It's been mentioned repeatedly, but never explained or demonstrated, and the most said about a battle with cheese demons is "don't ask."
- In Vampire Academy, Lissa discovers she's a spirit user, which puts her outside the regular elemental magic-set.
Mythology and Religion
- Void was the traditional fifth element in Japanese Mythology.
- Greek Mythology is the basis of the Four Elements, with the often forgotten fifth element "Aether" or Quintessence, often translated as "spirit". There is really nothing much about this element in that it is the only element outside the sphere of Earth and is the "stuff" that planets float in.
- This is why the traditional magic circle has a pentagram, one spike for each element (at least, this is the Wiccan reason, satanists insist that the pentagram is the emblem of the human will reordering the universe to its liking).
- In Magic: The Gathering, the Eldrazi are a good example. They were the first non-artifact spells to be colorless and contain some of the most expensive and powerful creatures in the game. They are also effective against all colors through spells like All is Dust or Emrakul's protection from colored spells, showing that they defy the usual Rock Paper Scissors system.
- Out of the five colors of mana, White, Blue, Red, and Green can all be modeled to the four classic elements, wind, water, fire, and earth. That leaves Black to fulfill this role, usually with powers of life and death. But one can also interpret Blue as water and air and Red as earth and fire, leaving three other colors without element and averting this trope.
- Mage: The Ascension featured Quintessence as "the power source behind all spellcasting, the stuff of magic itself."
- One of the more interesting ideas of this was featured in a Shadowrun novel, where an Indian magical theorist worked out a different Element Number Five than the usual Chinese translation. Specifically, he found that while Fire, Earth, and Water matched up to their standard concepts, the literal translations for Wood and Metal were "Wood that burns" and "Metal that gleams" respectively. "Wood that burns" would be perhaps one of the only ways to visualize Air (as smoke), so perhaps it also wasn't the Metal ancient Chinese mages were referring to... but the gleam. Then he summons a Light elemental which he designates as a "Farohad," it incinerates him, and escapes, then begins making hit-and-run attacks on the Matrix (the futuristic, VR-based internet) to destroy all traces of itself. Unfortunately, since the scientist's project was called "The Lucifer Project," this ends up creating lots of collateral damage to places like churches, seminaries, and an unfortunate woman named Lucille Ferraro.
- With the advent of the fourth edition, Shadowrun has a definitive fifth element. When conjuring, magicians can summon up spirits of Earth, Fire, Air, Water, and/or Man.
- In Promethean: The Created, Frankensteins are Fire, Tammuz are Earth, Galateids are Air, and Osirans are Water. Ulgans, the fifth Lineage? Ectoplasm. (They're deeply connected to the spirit world.) Later, we get a Sixth Element - Radiation. Poor, miserable Zeka...
- The Tau in Warhammer 40,000 have a Fantastic Caste System thematically based on the elements: The Fire caste are warriors, Water are politicians and bureaucrats, Air are the Space Navy, and Earth are manual labourers and artisans. The rare and mysterious ruling caste are "Ethereals".
- Warhammer's magic system is based on the eight "Winds of Magic" - each wind being an elemental force in its own right. The eight winds are the lores of Light, Metal, Life, Heavens, Shadow, Death, Fire and Beasts, and human wizards can learn to manipulate only one of these elements due to their limited magical capacities. High Elf wizards, on the other hand (and the ancient Slann) can manipulate all eight winds at once, leading to "High Magic" - somewhat analogous to a fifth element, though really just the perfected ordering of all the rest together. Dark Elves and some Chaos Sorcerers use "Dark Magic", a disorganised, roiling, chaotic mixture of the eight winds, which is likewise more powerful than the individual elemental winds, but far riskier and less controlled than High Magic.
- Classic Advanced Dungeons & Dragons started with the four elemental planes of water, air, fire, and earth. And added the two energy planes, positive and negative. And the para-elemental planes, where the elemental planes touch: smoke, ice, magma, and ooze. And, also, the quasi-elemental planes, where the elemental planes touch the energy planes: lightning, minerals, radiance, and steam on the positive side; vacuum, dust, ash, and salt on the negative side.
- Conversely, the old Basic/Expert/etc D&D game's cosmology acknowledged five "Spheres" of spiritual force, each with a corresponding element. These five Spheres are: Energy/Fire, Matter/Earth, Thought/Air, Time/Water, and Death/Entropy.
- Gamers always being quick to spot patterns and fill in gaps, it's been suggested that there should also be para-quasi-elemental plains. Spark, crystal, obsidian and clay where the para-elements touch positive energy; fumes, frost, pumice and silt on the negative side.
- Pathfinder naturally introduced the four "Classic" elementalists in the Advanced Player's Guide as wizard archetypes, then followed up with the Chinese-inspired Metal and Wood elementalists in Ultimate Magic.
- The now-defunct trading card game Anachronism merged traditional western elements with eastern ones, since both were covered by the game. Fire, water, wind, and earth were represented, as were wood, metal, and aether. For whatever reason, a single Norseman was all seven.
- Exalted uses wood for its fifth element; or, depending on how you look at it, it uses the Chinese element system with Metal swapped out for Air.
- RuneQuest has Darkness as a fifth element, and the Red Goddess recently added Moon as a sixth.
- BIONICLE started with six elements: Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Stone, and Ice. Then Light was introduced as the Sixth Ranger. Though in this case it's not necessarily stronger than the other six, just rarer and more effective against the villain's Shadow powers. There's also a bunch of additional elements acknowledged in the Expanded Universe, such as Iron, Sonics, Psionics, Lightning, Gravity, Plant Life, etc.; but they're way less prominent than the main ones.
- Kingdom of Loathing has five elements to begin with (similar to the Chinese element system, which uses earth, water, metal, wood, and fire), but adds a sixth element, cute, in an arc that blatantly parodies The Fifth Element. There's only one item that provides Cute Resistance, though, and there's no way to dish out or receive Cute Damage.
- For reference, the five elements are Hot, Cold, Spooky, Stench, and Sleaze.
- There's also slime, shadow and bad spelling, but those only show up in the Slime Tube, the Naughty Sorceress's Tower and the Orc Chasm, respectively. You can't equip items that are resistant to these elements (except Slime, but this is generally not beneficial), nor can you wield them yourself. These don't really count as elements because their weaknesses are usually specific items. Slime deals a status effect which can be removed with a chamoix, shadow is vulnerable to healing items and bad spelling is vulnerable to dictionaries.
- Five classic elements are powered by six colored moons in Skies of Arcadia (although on a technical level, there are six, as both water and wind elements are drawn from the Blue Moon; the other five have one element). The sixth element, drawn from the Silver Moon, is life and death - spells that either kill opponents instantly or resurrect your allies (or cure status ailments). Fina, as a member of the civilization that once lied under the Silver Moon's orbit, learns this magic the fastest.
- The four elements of magic spells in the Shin Megami Tensei games are Fire, Ice, Wind/Force, and Electric, with "Almighty" as the fifth, ultimate element. Nothing is weak to it, but usually nothing resists or nullifies Almighty either. It's a double-edged sword, as it gives both bosses and players a method to deal damage regardless of immunities.
- Interestingly enough, Almighty is not necessarily a literal FIFTH element per se, as there are other elements which could qualify as a fifth and sixth element. Most of the games in the Mega Ten universe include Light and Dark elemental spells in the form of "Hama" and "Mudo", who, despite the fact that they function as instant kill spells, are still classed as Elements since enemies can be weak to these spells. Digital Devil Saga even includes the Earth element.
- The early Persona games also have water and NUCLEAR as additional elements.
- Two Worlds has Earth, Fire, and Water. Death was added when the orc god died.
- In the Quest for Glory series, the fifth element is Pizza, which researchers describe as representing the well-roundedness and wholeness of the world. That, and it tastes good. In the fan-made remake of the second game, there's even a Pizza Elemental as a Bonus Boss.
- Bahamut Lagoon features no fewer than three extra elements. (Actually a sixth, seventh and eighth. The classical elements are represented, but there are four nonstandard elements;) Earth, Light and Dark aren't visible in your dragons' stats. Earth is the first extra element, a dragon who knows Fire, Ice and Lightning magic can use Earth at the same level as its worst element. Then, a dragon with maxed out Earth, Healing, Poison, Strength and Defense will gain access to the Light and Dark elements. Very few monsters resist these elements, and finishing off enemies with them gives a chance to drop the best items in the game. Unfortunately, they also cost a lot of MP to cast.
- The Match Three Game Elements is about distilling the four classical elements (Earth, Fire, Air and Water) and the sub-elements they create as you follow the story of Luca Pacioli's research on the same thing you're doing. The fifth element eventually reveals itself to be Cosmos, and you'll have to distill the sub-elements that result from it and the other four elements.
- An alchemist in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's Shivering Isles expansion theorises that each of the four classical elements corresponds to a part of the body (fire is meat, earth is bone, water is blood and air is breath), and that these elements when brought together create the fifth element, Flesh.
- In Klonoa 2, there are four bells — Tranquility, Joy, Discord and Indecision — but it is revealed there is a fifth: Sorrow. In this case, it does exist within the Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors scheme, but it's been suppressed.
- In Final Fantasy X, there are five elements, but you see the fifth (Holy) only extremely rarely, with the other four being much more common working in opposite pairs (Fire/Ice and Lightning/Water).
- Other Final Fantasy games also tend to have elements more obscure than the "main" ones. The four western elements (earth, fire, air and water) are standard set for the crystals and the elemental archfiends, but the magic system is more complicated. While the standard three elements for spells are fire, ice and lightning, there are quite a few spells and special attacks with other elements or element-like properties, including air, water, earth, poison, holy, darkness, healing, gravity, as well as non-elemental spells.
- In Luminous Arc 2, Ayano, Bharva and the Mage Queen, Elicia possess the Silver element, which is resistant to all other elements. In particular, Ayano can use it to the point that she can efectively nullify all magical damage for a turn.
- Has started cropping up in the Golden Sun series with the release of Dark Dawn. Before there were the classic four, with some hints that a joint combination of those four as the eponymous Sun being a possible fifth. However, in Dark Dawn there are a large number of monsters with a Darkness element from the midpoint on that seems to be largely independent of the Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors and radically more powerful. Their presence is unnatural and is interfering with the state of the world.
- Then it's revealed at the end that Chalis and Blados are Dark Adepts. And it appears that we now have a Sixth Element in the form of Light Adepts.
- Lucia, the sole citizen of the Blue Star, wields a sixth special element in Lunar: Eternal Blue. It is meteor/star-based, and this is more or less justified because it's thought that she has access to a higher power.
- In the Mystery Case Files game Dire Grove, items representing the five elements have to be inserted into an underground ice shrine in order to defeat the Big Bad at the end. They represent the fifth element with mercury.
- World of Warcraft has elementals, items which are the elements in a tangible form that are used for advanced crafting recipes. Originally there were more than four, but with each expansion the extra elements have been phased out; as of Cataclysm, there are five such elementals called Volatiles: Fire, Water, Earth, Air and Life.
- Relatively obscure puzzle game Water And Wind Puzzle Battles has Fire, Water, Metal, Wood, and Earth as the main elements; it also has Wind (yellow) and Void (pink/purple). Combining three Water and one Wind into a valid combo removes all Water blocks from the board. Surrounding Void with one of each element (including Wind) creates a special "Void Clear" and removes every single block from the board. Technically a black 'Null' element also exists, but is only used in special puzzle modes and demonstrations, and cannot be chained or otherwise combined.
- OFF has an artificial element, Sugar, made through rather macabre means: Burning corpses, and filtering the smoke the right way.
- Eternal Darkness substitutes the three Ancients, Xel'lotath (representing sanity, or lack thereof,) Chattur'gha (representing brute force and health) and Ulyaoth (representing the mind and mana) for the four elements, their respective runes being used to power spells and trumping each other in the standard Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors style. There's also the fourth Ancient, Mantorok, who's conspiring to destroy the other three Ancients, and who's rune trumps all the others. Word of God states that there's also a fifth Ancient that is never seen, but does have a few enemies with its color coding who appear.
- Tales of Symphonia has eight standard elements (fire, ice, earth, wind, water, electricity, light and darkness,) each one represented by its own summon spirit. While there's technically no ninth element, there is a ninth major summon spirit, Origin, who's called the Summon Spirit of All Things and uses a variety of spells of different elements, as well as Maxwell, the Summon Spirit of Birth, who uses the non-elemental Meteor Storm.
- Tales of the Abyss is an unusual example. Elements are called fonons, and there are the 4 classic elements of Earth, Wind, Water and Fire, as well as two more, Dark and Light, both of which also cover two of the classic elements and thus could be considered more powerful (or at least more useful) and so fit this trope. However there's an even greater one introduced very early in the game, the Seventh Fonon. It's considered the most powerful and most dangerous element in the game, and only people born with the ability to control it can do so, and even then, they aren't able to do it themselves (until the point the game takes place). The reason why it's so powerful? The Seventh Fonon's element is Sound, which is what all other Fonons are made of (fonons are just vibrations of particles, which is exactly what sound is) and are what allow matter to be distinguished, making anyone who can control The Seventh Fonon a borderline reality warper. Its power is purely in terms of plot, however, as it never pops up in gameplay (a few special attacks notwithstanding, that are considered non-elemental anyway, plus being a requirement for using healing spells) unless you count it as being an In-Universe justification for Save Points.
- In Ultima VIII, which is based heavily on the four elements, the fifth element is Aether, which even has its own Elemental Plane outside the actual world. This element powers the fifth school of magic, Thaumaturgy, but does not have an actual Titan representing it.
- Captain Planet featured the element of Heart, which was described as important, and indeed, has pretty powerful abilities when you think about it, but ended up a source of derision in pop culture writ largely because of how poorly utilized it was.
- Appears late in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Spiritbending (also referred to as Energybending) can actually be considered generally weaker than the other elements, as it is typically only used on oneself and using it on another is incredibly risky. Even if it can permanently disable Bending. They never really go into what Spiritbending can do besides disable or restore someone else's bending abilities either.
- In The Sequel Series, The Legend of Korra, it appears it can also be used to do the reverse, and restore someone's bending.
- Having named one season after each of the four physical elements (Water, Earth, Fire, and Air), the 2nd season of Korra was named "Spirits."
- In W.I.T.C.H., the girls have powers based on the four elements, with Will being the heart. Instead of getting this fifth element later, she gets a power-up that lets her use Quintessence, an electrical power that could bring appliances and golem-like beings to life, summon ghosts from the site of their deaths and a whole lot of other applications.
- In Trollz, amber is the fifth element and is the source of all troll magic.
- Pariodied, as usual, in Codename: Kids Next Door, in one episode Numbuh 5 speaks of ice cream flavors in the same vein as elements (chocolate, vanilla and strawberry) and mentioning there's a legendary fourth flavor hidden somewhere in the world.
- Real Life alchemists sometimes talked of such a concept - also called Quintessence (Latin, roughly, for "Element Number Five"). Common ideas were "Aether" and "vital essence" (essentially life itself). It was thought that the heavens were made of pure quintessence, and the imperfect Earth of the lesser elements. The extraction of quintessence was considered one of the fundamental goals of alchemy.
- The Goethe-Gymnasium in Berlin-Wilmersdorf was built a few years before World War I in a historicist style. On the side facing Uhlandstraße are carved representations of the five elements - fire, earth, air, water and electricity.
- Though note that, in Wuxing, electricity falls under Metal, so it being an element has historical precedent.
- If you consider the four classical elements to refer to the four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas and plasma, then the fifth is the Bose-Einstein Condensate.
- Actually, at least according to The Other Wiki, there are at least seven other states of matter, meaning that, under certain interpretations, there are up to twelve elements in Real Life.