"Of course you realize, this means war!
In a sitcom, one character does something slightly bothersome to another. The other retaliates, but goes the first character one better; which the first character tries to top; and so on for the remainder of the episode. At some points it will enlarge with scary speed, in which Disproportionate Retribution
is in effect.
Specific variant: Truth-Telling Session
. Compare to Zany Scheme Chicken
. Cycle of Revenge
is the noncomedic and often bloody version of this trope. Not to be confused with Lensman Arms Race
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Anime and Manga
- The box war episode of Rozen Maiden.
- In Maison Ikkoku, new tenant Nikaido says insulting things about the other tenants, leading to a prank war between him and Yotsuya.
- In Patlabor, The Seven Days of Fire, a civil war between the labor mechanics at Special Vehicles section 2.
- In the comic book and various adaptations thereof, Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm of The Fantastic Four are involved in an ongoing escalating prank war with each other.
- Ditto with the Human Torch and Spider-Man. Johnny usually ends up the worse of the pair in these confrontations, thanks to Pete's Spider-Sense.
- Occasionally happens in Donald Duck comics, between Donald and his neighbour.
- In the ongoing Discworld/sci-fi/crossover saga Slipping Between Worlds, lord Vetinari is greatly concerned about the Visitors to Discworld. If any of them were to reveal the secrets of their high-technology weaponry to one of the world's powers, whether for ideological or mercenary reasons, he can see the existing balance of power so badly skewed that simmering hostilities and an uneasy peace between finely-balanced enemies could erupt into first local war, then into all-out world war as the Superpowers (Klatch and Ankh-Morpork) are forced to step in to support their allies/client states. As Vetinari's foreign policy relies on keeping the balance of power by ensuring both sides remain equally balanced (through a sort of Mutually Assured Inconvenience), the prospect disturbs him. Hell, he doesn't even want Ankh-Morpork to have gonne technology...
- TD's feud with Blueblood in TD the Alicorn Princess quickly starts to get out of control after Blueblood sets up a machine that pies TD in the face.
- Octopussy: Orlov's plan to invade Western Europe is villified by the Politburo. Gogol and another official state that the Soviet military is for defending the Motherland.
- The entire plot of Penn & Teller Get Killed revolves around Penn & Teller subjecting each other to a series of escalating practical jokes which eventually causes Teller to shoot Penn and himself.
- The plot of the movie Tin Men revolves around this after two aluminum siding salesman have a fender bender, and subsequently escalates to taking bats to each other's cars, seducing the other guy's wife, and breaking into his house.
- Bride Wars had the two friends sabotage each others weddings from sabotaging a dye job until it escalates into having a embarrassing slide show done on the wedding day.
- Neighbours, Norman McLaren's Oscar-winning short film for the National Film Board of Canada, takes this to a disturbing (and not at all humorous) level, which combines with a bizarre type of Stop Motion using live actors. Watch it here.
- This is the main plotline of the short film Nemesis. The film's protagonist actually specifically requested someone to be his rival.
- The Laurel and Hardy short Big Business plays this for hiliarious effect. Stan and Ollie are trying to sell Christmas trees door-to-door. They wind up irritating a homeowner so much that he cuts up their tree. Stan then cuts up the homeowner's doorjamb. This leads to an escalating war of destruction in which Stan and Ollie wreck the homeowner's bungalow, while he in turn annihilates their car.
- In Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures book series, an escalating prank war that began when Garkin (Skeeve's first master) left Aahz with the check at a restaurant resulted in Aahz losing his powers when Garkin used joke powder on him and was killed before he was able to provide an antidote.
- Not really done to each other, but in ''More Information Than You Require, the cities of Richmond, VA and Milwaukee, WI are consistently one-upping each other for the title of "Strange Rain Capital of the United States". It's that kind of book.
- Happens in Aaron Allston's Wraith Squadron books. Wes Janson has the talent and inclination... Wedge Antilles has the resources.
- In Fleet of the Damned, Sten and the other cadets get into an escalating water war.
- The first several chapters of The Twits focus entirely on the Twits pulling cruel pranks on each other. Finally the narrator says this has gone on long enough and he wants to move on to a lighter topic.
- The great Proxy Prank War of The Tatami Galaxy started with two guys who were interested in the same woman and has since been passed on through generations of Kyoto University students. By this point, the pranks are highly elaborate and cunningly planned.
- Subverted in Beetle Bailey, eventually. When going out for a three-day holiday, Beetle slaps Sarge on the back just before leaving. He runs after him and whacks him with a chair. After a trashcan thrown from a roof and dynamite, when Beetle is pointing at Sarge with an enormous artillery piece of some sort, Sarge tells him to wait and points out that while what they're doing is fun and all, Beetle should perhaps consider what kind of shape he wants to be in for his holiday.
- Calvin and Hobbes featured one of these with water fights. Calvin's use of a water pistol merits Hobbes hitting him with a water balloon. Just as Calvin is getting out the hose, Hobbes walks around the corner with a wading pool...
- In Shadowrun, Dunkelzahn and Alamais exchanged fruitcakes (or possibly just the one fruitcake) on Christmas for years. The specifics aren't given, but the implication is that the 'exchange' required each dragon to outwit the other's security staff...
- One of Worms 2's introductory movies is an escalating war between two worms showing off ever deadlier weapons, starting with standard weaponry, then moving into missile tanks with more and more missiles on each one. Finally the second worm brings out a vehicle which casts a giant shadow and the first one screams. It turns out to be a tank-mounted hammer the size of the Eiffel Tower. Smoosh!
- Team Fortress 2's Sniper and Spy were engaged in this (their updates were released at the same time, so most of the new gear is designed for fighting each other.) Brief synopsis: The Spy is always backstabbing the Sniper, so the Sniper taped a car battery to a tribal shield and electrocuted the Spy. Then, it turns out the Spy had a watch that caused him to cloak and feign death when he took damage. Then the Sniper's new weapon turned out to be... a jar of his own piss that shorts out cloaking devices.
- In Kanon Makoto and Yuuichi have one of these going on... unfortunately, the term 'stealth' is apparently not part of her vocabulary, so whenever she tries something it always backfires. Makoto is essentially in an escalating war with herself.
- In Mass Effect 2 Joker and EDI, an artificial intelligence, end up in one of these. First Joker mutes her until his thumb breaksnote , so she makes his chair spin, so he puts grease on her camera lenses, and so forth.
- The Insecticomics routinely has one of these between the Insecticons and Vector Prime.
- Rose Lalonde in Homestuck is engaged in an escalating war of passive aggression with her Mother (or so she thinks, anyway).
- This was the original intention (at least, before the kids broke the game beyond repair) of the war inside Skaia. They share genetic engineering facilities used specifically to raise the stakes and add more pieces to the Battlefield, so that the players have some impetus to beat the game quickly.
CG: THE VEIL IS KIND OF LIKE NEUTRAL GROUND FOR THE KINGDOMS, LIKE OUR PLANETS.
CG: SOME PLACES ARE USED TO GENETICALLY ENGINEER SOLDIERS AND AGENTS FOR THE TWO SIDES.
CG: USING GENETIC MATERIAL FROM THE EXOTIC MENAGERIE OF CHESS PIECES ON THE BATTLEFIELD.
CG: TO HELP FUEL THE WAR AND KEEP RAISING THE STAKES.
- This also happened among the trolls. To summarize, Tavros became crippled because of Vriska, so as revenge Aradia tormented Vriska with the ghosts of the people she'd killed. Vriska in response arranged for Aradia to be killed by Sollux using her mind control, who, just to rub salt in the wound, she had a crush on. Terezi then set up Vriska to lose her arm and eye when her 8 ball exploded in her face, and in retaliation Vriska had Terezi blinded. Terezi and Vriska finally agreed to a truce to settle this, but then Aradia came back as a robot and kills Vriska, though Death Is Cheap so it doesn't really stick and Vriska ascends to God Tier and kills Tavros, and then Terezi and Vriska have their final confrontation, wherein Terezi kills Vriska for good. Whew.
- The campus whiteboard war in Mac Hall. Unfortunately, the only one we see involved someone picking a fight with Drew. The result wasn't pretty.
- Tagger in Nip and Tuck tried to loosen up a new student. Hilarity Ensues.
- The SCP Foundation's Great Researcher Prank War of '09, caused by various personnel vying for possession of SCP-050, a statue which follows whomever demonstrates themselves to be "the cleverest".
- Barats and Bereta use this trope quite a bit in their videos:
- Whateley Universe example: as of the winter term at Superhero School Whateley Academy, Beltane and Thorn are having an Escalating War of pranks. Since both have the power of creating and manipulating ectoplasm, the pranks are getting out of hand.
- Some Tom and Jerry cartoons have this dynamic: one character will do something minor (sometimes even inadvertently) to irritate the other at the beginning, and then it's battle on.
- A common feature of Donald Duck shorts, particularly those co-starring Chip 'n Dale.
- This has been the basis of the relationship between Kyle and Cartman of South Park for over 15 years. As the seasons progress, what were verbal volley of insults has escalated to levels including Cartman infecting Kyle with his HIV virus to Kyle convincing Cartman to go to Somalia as certain death.
- An episode of The Simpsons mentioned a feud with Shelbyville but only shows the final prank.
Lisa: What's so special about this game anyway? It's just another chapter in the pointless rivalry between Springfield and Shelbyville. They built a mini-mall, so we built a bigger mini-mall. They made the world's largest pizza, so we burnt down their city hall.
Homer: Heh heh heh. Yeah, they swore they'd get us back by spiking our water supply. But they didn't have the guts.
Marge (drinks a glass of water and then sees the walls start to run): Ooooh. The walls are melting again. (giggles)
- An episode of Itchy & Scratchy features this trope with each character pulling out bigger and bigger handguns at each other. In the end the guns are the size of the Earth.
- The Danny Phantom episode "Eye For An Eye" does a rather sinister take on this trope with the rivarly between Danny and Evil Counterpart Vlad. It starts with Danny tricking the local equivalent of The Men in Black to raid Vlad's mansion, continues to Vlad electing himself mayor, and ends with a brutal fight between the two that Danny barely manages to make a tie, with the revelation that Vlad's motives have shifted from borderline-sympathetic to outright-megalomaniacal.
- The Venture Bros.. The guild of calamitous intent doesn't take kindly to murder. Dr. Girlfriend said it best: "Then the guild steps up THEIR game. If you throw a rock, they throw a knife. You throw a knife, they come to your house when you're sleeping and murder your family."
- Artha and Moordyrd do this in the Dragon Booster episode "Pride Of The Hero." It starts with them getting into a fight at the racetrack, this soon escalates to Artha talking Moordyrd into riding Beau, then their little feud gets out of control when Moordyrd uses a bonemark on Beau. The episode ends with both Artha and Moordyrd realizing their mistakes or as Artha puts it, "Think about that, I will".
- Darkwing Duck and Negaduck do this almost accidentally in the episode "Disguise the Limit," when Darkwing is momentarily transformed into a duplicate of Negaduck (I know, it makes my head hurt too) and the two of them keep pulling larger and larger weapons on each other.
- Lets not forget some of the Looney Tunes classics. For instance, Rabbit of Seville, where Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd continually pull out bigger guns to point at each other. Or Daffy as Duck Dodgers, claiming Planet X for its supply of the shaving cream atom, and getting into an escalating war over it with Marvin the Martian. Let's just say the results were not pretty, and widely considered something of a parody of the unwinnable nature of nuclear war, something of a worry at the time.
- Family Guy: The Peter/Chicken fights were over an expired coupon.
- In the Back to the Future parody episode "Meet the Quagmires", we see that it may have started even earlier, when Peter bumped into the Chicken at the dance.
- The Flintstones features Fred playing countless practical jokes on Barney, who then comes back with a "counterfeiting scheme" (using money he won in a contest). This goes on until both get in trouble with the Mob, only to realize Wilma and Betty were behind the whole thing, in order to get their husbands to call off the endless pranking.
- In Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation, Buster Bunny starts a water fight with Babs. By the end, Babs opens a dam, then Buster triggers a massive tsunami, and Acme Acres ends up underwater.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Fall Weather Friends''. Applejack and Rainbow Dash get overly competitive going into the annual Running of the Leaves. When Rainbow Dash (wrongly) suspects Applejack of cheating, it triggers an escalating war of interference and misdirection that culminates in a Big Ball of Violence that carries them over the finish line, where the both of them end up coming jointly dead last.
- Bobby and Luanne get in an escalating prank war in an episode of King of the Hill, which eventually leads to Luanne convincing Bobby that he got her pregnant. Hank and his friends assist Luanne by arranging a fake Shotgun Wedding . . . then turn the prank back on Luanne by telling her the wedding was real.
- Dan's feud with the Lemonade Stand Gang in Dan Vs.., Dan Vs The Lemonade Stand Gang. It starts with the Lemonade Stand Gang stealing Dan's parking space, strong-arming him and Chris into buying overpriced lemonade, and throwing a lemon with a threat written on it through Dan's window. Dan responds by making Chris dress up as a monster and break into the ringleader's house — it goes horribly wrong of course. The Gang goes on to outright mug Chris and Dan for their wallets. Dan and Chris wreck their bicycles with an axe. The Gang wrecks Chris' car. At this point Elise is prepared to ship the Gang to a Korean weapons factory where they would never be heard from again. Chris puts a stop to this insanity and they defeat the gang by showing their parents proof of their crimes.
- Taz-Mania: "War and Pieces" consists entirely of an escalating war between Taz and Molly that begins when Molly's loud music causes Taz to drop his sandwich, and he retaliates by eating her CDs.
- There's an old Pink Panther cartoon which escalates from a non-returned lawnmower to a full on shooting war, under the influence of an unseen voice that turns out to be the devil.
- There was a news story about a prank war between two brothers-in-law who kept exchanging the same old ratty pair of pants between them for Christmas. The methods they used for "wrapping" the pants became more and more outrageous over the years—to the point where the pants were being embedded within hundreds of kilograms of welded-together copper piping one year and then placed in a car that was filled with cement the next. Alas, the pants were destroyed when a packaging scheme went awry.
- One more real-life example, though farcical: Firefly actors Nathan Fillion and Jewel Staite engaged in a "war of birds". Each came up with more and more creative ways to flip the other off. Some people believe Jewel won the contest at Comic-Con 2005, when she got the entire audience at the Serenity panel to flip Nathan off.
- One could say the Cold War.
- At least in the first half. The fact that it (fortunately) remained "cold" for the most part kinda puts a crimp on the "escalating" part.
- How about the Space Race?
- This is why the policy of massive retaliation was replaced by flexible response. By having options that avoided total war, the United States could combat the Soviet Union without a nuclear war.
- Two members of thew on College Humor have been having an escalating prank war going on for some time now. It started out innocently enough (innocent being a very relative term (not quite safe for work)), but at the time of writing, the latest prank involves guy A making guy B's girlfriend think that guy B was proposing to her. On the giant screen at a Yankees game. Said girlfriend was not pleased.
- Streeter (Guy B) got back at Amir (Guy A) by making him think he'd won $500,000 by making a blindfolded half-court shot at a University of Maryland basketball game. He did this by having the crowd cheer as loudly as possible no matter how bad Amir's shot was. Amir's shot was wide left, the crowd screamed, he went crazy and then Streeter walked onto the court, in disguise, to give Amir his check. Then the disguise came off.
- This famous series of car ads.
- This◊ rather amusing Church sign debate.
- There was a story about four shops (or other kinds of service) located on the same street. One day, the first of them put up a sign declaring itself to have the best wares (or service) in the city. The second responded by declaring itself the best in the whole country. The third one soon followed by calling itself the best in the world. Then, the fourth one put up a sign saying it's the best on this street.