Examples: Spoilers Ahoy
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Anime and Manga
- Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion embodies this trope perfectly. Every awesome moment he has is negated by horrible failure shortly after.
- Naruto: Repeatedly applying The Worf Effect to secondary cast members without giving them any wins has this side effect. Sakura Haruno and Rock Lee arguably have it the worst, made all the more poignant by how very hard they try to avoid failure.
- Dragon Ball:
- Yamcha suffers this way due to The Worf Effect. Early on, he was used in each Tenkaichi Budoukai to show off how amazing some new character was. This continued with successive new enemies killing or almost killing him first to prove their threat level. After Android #20 impaled him through the chest, Yamcha decided just to call it quits for the day and start rocking a yellow Miami Vice suit. He still ended up being murdered (again) by the Big Bad an arc later.
- In Dragon Ball Z, every non-Saiyan fighter (or more specifically, every fighter not named Goku or Gohan) suffers this by the start of the Frieza Saga. Even Piccolo who gets two hefty powerups, is still only good for holding off a major foe for an episode or two before being disposed of. Vegeta suffers a similar fate, despite being a Saiyan and second in strength to Goku. Vegeta practically exists to show that being a Saiyan with cosmic levels of power still isn't enough to make a dent in the enemy for long, you have to have heart like Goku has.
- In Dragon Ball Super, Future Trunks gets this hard. For over a year, he fights Goku Black and loses every time despite his best efforts. Black also gets stronger every time they battle, making victory for him more impossible. After going to the past to get help, Goku, Vegeta, and he still can't beat Black and Black has a powerful ally, Future Zamasu, who is an immortal. During their second battle, he learns that Black specifically chose his timeline to punished him for breaking the time taboo and creating a new Time Ring when he saved Goku from the heart virus. All this frustration and anger causes him to transform into a new form of Super Saiyan…which only puts him on par with Black and Future Zamasu, and he's quickly overwhelmed. Then, just when it seems he finally won against all the odds thanks to unconsciously creating a Spirit Bomb from all the survivors on Earth, merging it into his sword, and slicing Merged Zamasu in half, it all comes crashing down when Merged Zamasu's soul fuses with the multiverse and kills everyone in it except for a named few. What's left is erased by Future Zen'o, leaving Trunks' timeline nothing but an empty void. Except for Future Mai, Trunks literally lost everything.
- Osamu from World Trigger is what happens when you take a regular, normal character and put him in a superpower infested hellhole. Quite practically everyone is stronger than Osamu, even the girl he swore to protect, and he has to consistently be helped and saved during fights. This very barely get better through the series, as Osamu's power progression is painfully slow, taking several dozen episodes to be able to beat even the weakest of his enemies. The saving grace he has is that he's willing to work hard...But that can only take you so far.
- While Clare from Claymore is introduced as a badass demon hunter with a cold attitude, it appears most of the reason for her existence the entire rest of the series is to show how much more awesome her comrades are than her.
- Albeit understandable, as she's ranked dead last by the Organization.
- As a matter of fact, most of the heroes in the series spend the majority of their battles being Curb Stomped and horribly mutilated by every other baddie they face. It's not even an uncommon occurrence for the warriors to outright lose their fights, or even die without ever having their conflict resolved. Though one could argue that this makes the series a tad more realistic — if you were to go up against an army of all-powerful demons with only half their blood keeping you anywhere close to even footing, you'd damn well better expect them to mop the floor with your half-breed ass.
- Though, many of Clare's early failures are justified by the revelation later on that she focused all of her training on fighting Awakened Beings — while all the Claymores tend to get curb-stomped by them, she's usually able to fight far above her weight class when they're involved.
- From Black Lagoon, one gets the sense that Rei Hiroe is a sadist from the fact that Rock is never going to learn that trying to do good in the Crapsack World he voluntarily entered will always end in tears.
- Kuro from Black God ends up falling into this, since she rarely wins, and the few times she DOES win is either against very early opponents, due to a Deus ex Machina, made moot anyway by plot events, or several of these at once. Probably because, much like Yuusuke Urameshi, even she has problems catching up.
- Fate seems to be against the main heroes in Bleach.
- Ichigo Kurosaki could not seem to get a break after the Soul Society arc. He suffered a crushing defeat by Yammy (someone he should've easily been able to beat) on behalf of his inner hollow's interference and was later beaten to a bloody pulp by Grimmjow during his invasion. Later a weaker Grimmjow (he had lost an arm) had beaten him again (once more due to his hollow, but this time it was because he couldn't use his hollow mask) and would've killed him had Rukia and Shinji not interfered. Later when Orihime was abducted by Ulquiorra, he suffered another crushing defeat by Ulquiorra which would've certainly meant his demise. Only after Grimmjow had Orihime heal him was when he was able to beat Grimmjow. However, the moment was brief as Nnoitra was able to wipe the floor with him and Nel before having his right-hand Tesla pulverize him. Once again, it took someone else's interference for him to proceed (in this case it was Kenpachi). Even after all that, Orihime was kidnapped by Stark and brought to Ulquiorra, who once again was able to beat him easily and only through the intervention of his inner hollow was he able to kill Ulquiorra. After that he fell victim to another power lapse and Yammy (who has become more powerful) was able to gain the upper hand and nearly kill him before Kenpachi and Byakuya intervened. It wasn't until his fight against Aizen that he finally secured a victory (granted he needed the aid of Urahara and Yoruichi, but still) and even then he ends up losing his powers.
- Yasutora "Chad" Sado got hit with this just as badly, if not worse. He was already defeated by Shunsui rather easily and was unable to even make Nnoitra flinch. The latter was able to easily defeat him. Not to mention Yammy was able to make quick work of him in his pre-release state.
- Rukia Kuchiki as well, though she wasn't hit nearly as hard as the former two. She was barely able to beat Aaroniero and was beaten by Yammy as if she were cannon fodder. One could argue she suffered this as early as the first arc as she was captured, unable to use her shinigami powers (she gave most of hers to Ichigo and as a result was weaker).
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory: Kou Uraki only manages to fight his main antagonist to a draw two times, and ultimately fails to avert the Colony Drop at the end. Then again, can't derail what comes after it, can we?
- Digimon Frontier: The Royal Knights Saga has the entire legendary heroes being straight up beaten up by the titular Royal Knights for 9 episodes straight doing little to no progress in stopping their attempt. However, perseverance ultimately pays off.
- Ladies and gents, let us introduce Saya Kisaragi of Blood-C. Taking Failure Hero to a whole new level. She has an innate talent for killing the Monster of the Week... after said monster has managed to viciously slaughter everyone she was intended to protect. She does manage to save a girl from the Eyeball Elder Bairn in the park, but scares her to death when she tries to help her while covered in blood. Considering the ultimate fate of the town, however, this probably didn't amount to much. She does become perfectly competent in the movie. Her incompetence from the TV series is brought by Fumito having drugged her to hinder her abilities.
- Kinnikuman in his early appearances was so pathetic that monsters wouldn't even bother attacking Tokyo if he was the only hero they'd get to fight. Fortunately for him, things start improving for him in the first Choujin Olympics arc.
- The main cast of Cowboy Bebop rarely ever manage to successfully bring in a bounty, and never as the focus of an episode. Most of the bounty heads they go after end up dead before they can be brought in, and when they don't, something else inevitably happens to make it impossible for the bounty to be collected, such as the bounty head turning out to be an artificial intelligence or the bounty having been placed under false pretenses. On the rare occasion that they do collect a bounty, the property damage and medical expenses incurred in the process guarantee that they won't come out ahead... assuming that the payout isn't so paltry as to barely count as pocket change.
- Luffy from One Piece got hit with Failure Hero status hard in the Sabaody, Impel Down, and Marineford story arcs. First, he failed to protect his crew at Sabaody from an admiral and his subordinates and they all nearly died only to be saved by Kuma who traumatized Luffy by separating his crew one at a time before his eyes before sending him off. Just when he was ready to reunite with his crew he finds out that his older brother is about to be executed in less than a week, forcing him to break into the most dangerous prison in the world to save him. He is then defeated in said prison by the warden and left to die by poison. Luffy is saved, but it cost him ten years of his life and because it took him so long to recover he failed to reach his brother in time before he is transported to his execution ground. After fighting his way out, Luffy escape the prison, but he had to leave behind one of his friends to do it. When Luffy finally reached the war zone, he is promptly beaten up by every strong person there and is pushed past his physical breaking point. He is forced to risk his life further by taken more adrenaline just to keep going. When Luffy did finally succeed in saving his brother, Ace died in his arms saving him from a killing blow from one of the admirals. To say the least, Luffy had a terrible week. The entire experience convinces him and the others that they're not yet ready for the New World, and they spend two years training.
- In the second season of Princess Tutu, Duck sees herself as this due to being locked out of the loop and feeling unable to help anyone or stop what's happening.
- Invoked In-Universe with Sakura Hagiwara from Wanna Be the Strongest in the World. Since her debut in Pro Wrestling, she has done nothing but lose, in the same way: She is put on a Boston Crab hold and dragged away from the rope, and, unable to get out of the Boston Crab, she gives up. She had 50 losses this way so far. Her fans diminish with each loss, and the audience starts booing her... until she got dragged into a Training from Hell where she's forced to stop giving up or else her mentor will break her bones via Boston Crab (doesn't take 'give up' for an answer) and afterwards, she would avoid the booing and instead being cheered despite her losses. Rinse and repeat 15 times afterwards until she gets her own Finishing Move and then she started avoiding the trope.
- Shuzo Matsutani from Now and Then, Here and There attempts plenty of heroic stuff, but doesn't accomplish anything at all. In the first episode, he fails to rescue Lala-Ru from the giant robot snakes, then he is captured and tortured. Ultimately, it's Lala-Ru who defeats the Big Bad, not Shu. And the final shot gives the impression that Shu should have just stayed home and not talked to Lala-Ru on the smokestack. Remove him from the series and very little would have changed.
- The first season of Hell Girl tries to shake up its formula of every Victim of the Week using the Hell Correspondence to damn both their tormentor and themselves to hell by introducing Hajime, a tabloid reporter who discovers the Hell Correspondence and starts trying to prevent people from using it. Except that nothing really changes, because he fails every single time. The only person that he manages to stop from using it is his own daughter.
- Princess Hime/Cure Princess of Happiness Charge Pretty Cure is this, especially at the beginning. Her first appearance has her being knocked into a transition transformed stage by a Monster of the Week, who ends up being destroyed by another Cure, who promptly lays her ass out for being The Load. Three episodes later, she's still this as the Rookie Pretty Cure Megumi/Cure Lovely is racking up some pretty impressive kills while Hime's on her back. It seems that Chypre was a little premature in "Weakest Pretty Cure in History" calling.
- Whenever Koyomi Araragi of Bakemonogatari attempts to solve a problem with his fists, expect him to lose, and pretty badly as well. While he is often helpful, he rarely resolves the problems of the girls he attempts to help out, and sometimes his Chronic Hero Syndrome decisions exacerbate the problem, as seen in the case of Nadeko Sengoku. This is mainly because he doesn't want to BE heroic at all; what he really wants is to make a Heroic Sacrifice, so he is subject to many What an Idiot! moments over the story.
- A good number of the Hero Association members from One-Punch Man fall into this trope. It's very rare for anyone other than Saitama to defeat a major villain. Especially notable are Genos, Sneck, Mumen Rider, and Darkness Blade. Mumen Rider at least has the excuse that he's a muggle who's punching way above his weight class — and he knows it. His Chronic Hero Syndrome just won't let him stand aside. He's not even an example of The Worf Effect because he's just a regular joe riding a bicycle. Without a license. That being said, there's one thing he did succeed at: if he hadn't pulled a You Shall Not Pass! against the Sea King to protect a shelter full of civilians, the Sea King would've slaughtered them before Saitama could arrive.
- Bakugan Battle Brawlers:
- Julie, who never won on her own besides the debut episodes of Gorem and Hammer Gorem. Then her last focus episode involves practically her boyfriend her primary cast member status, to the point she is defeated in the penultimate battle, while her boyfriend is the secondary character not defeated.
- Mira takes to almost Faux Action Girl levels as despite being the leader of the Battle Brawlers Resistance every victory she has involves needing help from someone.
- Macross Delta: The Chaos mercenary group has done nothing but lose in some way. None of their long-term strategies work against the Windemere Kingdom and more than once they are forced on the defensive or just run away. All the heroes tend to get is motivation to do better next time... and they're lucky to even achieve that! It does make their victory at the end of the series a lot more cathartic, though.
- Loof and Gin in Genma Wars have a hard time saving or protect anyone. Over the course of the series, they lose their respective loved ones, their attempts at heroism backfire spectacularly Gin's attempt to liberate his village from an tyrannical ape leads to the Genma retaliating without mercy. When they decide to join forces with their half-siblings to destroy the Maoh King, all of them except the two perish in the fighting and they can't even defeat the Maoh King themselves, its his own wife Parome who kills him. Finally, when they travel back in time in order to undo the future they came from, they discover the Genma have already controlled the past (roughly modern times) and are completely powerless to stop them from causing a nuclear war that destroyed civilization. All their efforts are rendered null as they return to their native timeline only to discover nothing was changed.
- Re:CREATORS: Despite their intelligence and familiarity with stories, the Creators and the good-aligned Creations constantly come up short in everything they do and when they do succeed at something, it's often at a great sacrifice. Mamika, Aliceteria and Sirius all fail to kill Altair, Selesia only stops Charon at the cost of her life and the whole Elimination Chamber Festival ends up being hijacked by Altair to increase her power. The only reason the series even has a happy ending is because the Creators bring Altair's Creator, Setsuna, Back from the Dead, which convinces Altair to give up her plan to destroy the world and instead go with Setsuna into another dimension when they can be together for all eternity.
- Land of the Lustrous: Phosphophyllite is a relatively weak gem that wants to fight on the front lines with their fellow Lustrous. Despite Phos' attempts to be of use, they near almost always fail in the tasks they are assigned. Even with the augmentations they get later on to strengthen their body (legs at first, then arms, eye, and head), Phos is never strong enough to save the one person that needs the help most; every mentor Phos has learned under was taken to the Moon under their watch, and they're gradually losing their original self despite their protests to the contrary.
- Much of Willem’s backstory in Sukasuka revolves around this trope. In the past he was one of humanity’s chosen heroes who fought in a war against the godlike Visitors in order to protect his adopted family. After defeating one of the last Visitor’s guardians, he was petrified due to the side effects of the forbidden spells he used. Upon being awoken 500 years later he discovered that his Heroic Sacrifice meant absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. In spite of winning their war against the Visitors, humanity was wiped out by the 17 Beasts not long after he was frozen. Sadly, he continues to play this trope straight throughout the series, ultimately losing his Love Interest when she sacrificed her life to save him from the Beasts. Ironically, his most successful heroic act is a result of him intentionally taking on the role of a villain.
- Superheroes in general have this problem, due to the effects of Joker Immunity in regards to villains. Due to popularity, all of the most well-known villains will be unlikely to be truly killed or defeated, as all they need is a Hand Wave whenever a writer wants to use them again. Regardless, a few heroes have it worse than others.
- Spider-Man unfortunately was thrown headlong into this trope after the events of One More Day took away his only consolation prize for his life of misery and failure. Many fans still aren't happy about it at all. Spider-Man in general can be quite easy to flanderize into one of these; whilst his life has not been without its difficulties, many of the poorer writers who have handled his character tend to forget about his successes and reasons for optimism (which he is not entirely without) and make him 'all failure, all the time'. While the appeal of the character has always been the struggles and losses, when written badly, he's just a total loser instead of an example of a relatable, grounded superhero.
- When Doctor Octopus took over Peter's body in the Superior Spider-Man saga, Otto's aghast that Peter has all of this potential and had squandered it, deciding he'll be better than Peter. Superior, even. He ends up creating an army to protect New York with, creates his own company, and gets his PhD, at the cost of his friends, his family and the goodwill of New York City. When the Goblin King struck and brought everything down around his ears, Otto's forced to realize why Peter was the true "Superior" Spider-Man: because of all of his smarts and power, he sabotaged himself from using it greatly because he felt he didn't deserve being successful because of the great cost it came with - With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.
- Daredevil doesn't have it much easier. Because of his gritty setting, it's easy to have his life picked apart, and even his power plays for more permanent victories end in failure and despair.
- Alas for Batman, his darker turn in the 70's gradually slid him into this position. It's been very clearly detailed that his presence did manage to break the Gotham mob and send most common criminals into a panic, allowing Gotham to at the very least, clean up its police department. Unfortunately, in their place arose Batman's infamous Rogues Gallery. Psychopaths, serial killers and all manners of gang lords who frequently carve up Gotham however they please. It's gotten to a point where some people are just begging for Batman to just kill The Joker and move on, complaining that his grand dream is utterly unreachable and only death and failure can follow in his wake.
- Empowered frequently crosses into this trope. Especially in her earliest stories. She is a perennial loser who is constantly getting captured and tied up by supervillains, even bush leaguers like Glue Gun Gil and regular old non-super thugs. In fact it isn't until about the middle of the vol. 1 that the reader actually sees Emp succeed at anything. Even when she does succeed it often backfires on her or her victory goes unnoticed by her fellow capes. Like when she defeated a supervillain that had taken out most of the Superhomeys by ramming him with a Humvee she ended up tangled in the seatbelt and Major Havok, despite being unconscious at the time, took credit for Emp's victory. Then again when the Capey's were besieged by Fleshmaster aka dWARf! Emp single-handedly defeated him and saved the day!...And then her teammates promptly accused her of being the real mastermind behind the whole thing. All that being said, in one volume Emp went up against Deathmonger and totally mopped the floor with him. Major Havoc doesn't believe her and call BS on the whole affair, while Captain Rivet is skeptical, but the Superdead defended her and named her as their liaison with the superhero community, so that has to count for something.
- Jon/Skeleton Man from Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose is this in spades. Besides the fact that he's in a world full of dragons, witches, The Fair Folk and worse, his ineptitude is legendary. The most notorious example is probably when he's forced to stop pursuing a cadre of homicidal ghosts because they refuse to tell him the address of their next victim. His only consistent victories are over grave robbers and vandals (which are surprisingly common in Salem).
- Tarot has shades of this. Over the course of the series, her effectiveness in battle is heavily degraded to the point where she can be stripped naked in a duel with her Evil Counterpart, a random fish minion in her own home, and animated snowmen. She'd have died several issues ago if not for the fact that her opponents need her for something, taunt her, or are Too Dumb to Live.
- The titular character of Captain Alcohol fights several villains and only defeats one of them. In fact when he attempted to save a Damsel in Distress, he had to be saved by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
- The titular protagonist of Rat-Man. He rarely wins, most of his victories are ridiculous (he defeated the Mud Man by getting him to clean his shoes before entering) or are made meaningless by his own idiocy (an early story shows him inflicting a Curb-Stomp Battle on a gang that had kidnapped an orphan for ransom, only for him to pay the ransom. The gang's boss can't move due the sheer idiocy of what has just happened), the few that aren't end up getting him worse than before, and when he finally has defeated both The Shadow and the Greater-Scope Villain Mr. Mouse, the Sequel Hook reveals that he's about to become the new host of the Shadow.
- One of the back-up strips in Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham featured a scathing parody of Alpha Flight called Awful Flight. The heroes were depicted as incompetent and useless in the story, being distracted from solving Canada's acid rain crisis because they find an American dollar bill and use it to buy root beer, the ending narration snarkily implying that they'll never get around to solving the acid rain problem.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Eyes Without a Face, the main character Rose attempts to right her wrongs after her meeting with Twilight Sparkle. Unfortunately for her, her earlier mistakes sneak up on her: the other ponies she's hurt are out for her blood, she's gained the attention of the mob and the police...
- In The Adventure Through Runescape, the main protagonist Mainiac97 is always forced to rely on another character to save him from whatever predicament he falls in. Did we mention that he's the main character?
- Blackjack from Fallout: Equestria - Project Horizons. Nothing ever goes right for her: everyone in the Equestian Wasteland she helps or saves winds up mutilated, raped, or killed anyway, every wrong she rights turns out to be a mistake, and to top it off she's painfully aware of her inadequacies and despises herself for them.
- Maria Nitzschmann, (aka Miho Nishizumi from Heimatfront. She's a BDM conscript who's tasked with delivering several tanks to the front, but things quickly get out of hand, and she's in charge of a mostly female group of combatants who do what they can to ensure that Germany gets more favorable terms in the post-war peace talks. Unfortunately, even apart from the Foregone Conclusion involved, Maria faces much steeper odds than Miho with all of Miho's weaknesses and none of her strengths. Since Maria's only qualification for commander is knowing more about tanks than is socially acceptable for a woman in Nazi Germany, she's lucky to even survive.
Films — Animated
- The title character of 9. 9 first turns on a literal killing machine despite all evidence at the time saying his actions would be a bad idea. The machine kills 2, whom they were trying to rescue in the first place. Later, when 7 and 8 are kidnapped, he orchestrates a plan to both rescue them and destroy the machine. 8 ends up dead while the machine still works, which proceeds to kill 5 and 6. He comes up with yet another plan which involves sacrificing himself. But this changes when 1 shoves him out of the way and gets the ax instead. Despite that, he did finally achieve success when he used the talisman to defeat the machine.
Films — Live-Action
- Brad and Janet in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At no point in the narrative do they even come close to stymieing Frank at anything he wants to do. In fact, if the credits didn't identify them as "a hero" and "a heroine," most people probably wouldn't even notice.
- Both Professor Anbronsius and his assistant Alfred from The Fearless Vampire Killers are so terrible at their jobs of vampire hunting, they fail in killing a single vampire, but they end up spreading vampirism to the rest of the world by bringing a vampirized Sarah along with them.
- Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. Absolutely nothing goes his way throughout the film, and his attempt to save his friends at Cloud City ends with them saving him. The Last Jedi explores this further, in particular about the idea that failure is the best teacher, and that experience comes from learning from shortcomings to be better off during the next conflict. Taken even further than in Empire Strikes Back, as none of the heroes succeed at any of their plans, and even their moderate successes come at an extreme cost.
- Huff in Stone Cold. All his plans to stop the Brotherhood with proper police procedures fail, and while he shoots all the bad guys by the end, their big plan succeeded.
- In Inferno, the main character Mark does absolutely nothing that contributes to the villain's death. The villain died in a fire that she unintentionally set through one of her murders. All that Mark did was explore the building and escape it while it was burning down.
- Captain Picard in Star Trek: Generations fails a lot. Upon gaining the ability to transport himself to ANYWHERE in time and space, Picard chooses to go back minutes before Soren launches his missile, instead of say going further back and just arresting him or going back even further to save his brother and nephew who died in a fire which is established in the same damn movie! So, his family stays dead, his ship stays destroyed and he gets Captain Kirk killed because he apparently wanted a macho last minute action movie confrontation. The expanded universe explained that Picard knew that the further you go back in time, the greater the chance that you'll screw everything up in horrible fashion, and he wanted to avoid that risk as much as possible, but still...
- James Bond:
- In Skyfall, Bond fails at every objective he has during the movie: he leaves the MI-6 agent to die; loses the MI-6 hard drive; allows an assassin to kill a politician; fails to get information from said assassin; fails to protect the mole; falls into Silva's trap; fails to stop Silva escaping; fails to stop several deaths in Parliament; loses Skyfall Manor; kills Silva instead of letting him rot in prison; and finally fails to protect M. The only positive thing that can be said is that he survives. In a sense this is exactly the way Ian Fleming first conceived of Bond.
- The Man with the Golden Gun. Other than killing Scaramanga, Bond doesn't accomplish all that much.
- Indiana Jones succeeds at very little in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He loses the golden idol to Belloq at the beginning of the film, which perfectly exemplifies Indy's failures throughout the rest of it: the Nazis are always a step ahead of him or manage to turn his successes into their own, culminating in the Nazis obtaining the Ark of the Covenant, the very thing he had been trying to prevent the whole time. Indeed, it's possible that, without him, the Nazis would never have obtained the Ark at all. Indy doesn't even get to save the day at the end, since it's the Ark itself, not Indy, that defeats the villains. Finally, he can't even keep the US government from locking the Ark away instead of putting it in a museum. This isn't to knock on Indy, though, because it's clear that he gives everything his absolute best, and we love him for trying. A lot of people love to point out that the entire flick would have ended the exact same way had Indy just stayed at home, but don't forget he at least saved Marion who otherwise would have been tortured to death by Toht. Of course, the Nazis were also following Indy when he went to visit Marion, so they might have never found her without his help.
- Reid in The Lone Ranger may have killed the bad guy, but he utterly failed to save the Commanches from being massacred, although given their historical fate, there's an overlap with Doomed by Canon here.
- Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Sure, he can easily beat Mooks and lesser villains, but put him against a major opponent and he loses. Hard. Examples include Saruman trouncing him in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Witch-King of Angmar destroying his staff in The Return of the King, and Sauron wiping the floor with him in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Even when he defeats the Balrog in The Two Towers, he still dies.
- When the bird apocalypse happens again in Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, Bill gathers together his survivor friends and decides that he needs to rescue as many people as possible, before demonstrating that he's absolutely horrible at it and should've just holed up somewhere. Despite traveling around to numerous locations, his group only manages to save one person, who just dies later (hell, at one point he goes into a silent film theater to see the audience under attack by birds...and then just leaves without even trying to save anyone.) Near the end of the movie, his group finally reaches a zoo that the birds aren't attacking (apparently because the zookeeper understands that they're attacking because of global warming...or something.) Rather than camp out and wait for things to die down, Bill ignores his complete failure of a track record and decides that he has to find more survivors, before leaving and getting two more of his group killed before the end of the movie (one of which dies within seconds of them leaving the zoo.)
- In a variant of this trope, Out of this World by Lawrence Watt-Evans is a rather vicious Deconstruction of both High Fantasy and the Flash Gordon style of sci-fi, so the hero fails because he's just an ordinary person in the real world and the stuff he's trying to do is only possible by the Theory of Narrative Causality. (At times the book swings towards Deus Angst Machina, particularly when the villains rape and murder his wife and his daughter.)
- A Song of Ice and Fire has Brienne of Tarth, no matter what her task is she either fails or circumstances make things impossible for her to fulfill them. She was tasked in protecting Renly, but he was killed by a shadow assassin that she couldn't stop . She was then tasked in exchanging Jaime Lannister for Sansa Stark on behalf of Catlyn Stark. But Jaime loses his sword hand, and the Starks are all killed . Now she has to find Arya Stark and keep her safe, but Arya has now left Westeros for Braavos, and things go downhill for her when she meets Lady Stoneheart AKA Catlyn Stark .
- This is Darth Vader's perspective on himself at the start of Dark Lord—The Rise of Darth Vader, set just after Revenge of the Sith. He turned to The Dark Side to save Padmé, and what does he have to show for it? Padmé is dead by his own hand, as are most of his former colleagues, he himself has undergone an Emergency Transformation into a cyborg trapped in a walking iron lung, and his Master is also disfigured. Vader sinks into a depression that Palpatine finds irritating and counterproductive, and the Emperor spends most of the book telling Vader to get over himself—the galaxy is theirs, they won.
- Prince Bifalt in The Great God's War spends the first book managing to do the exact wrong thing at every turn. Feed some starving peasants? They were enemy spies. Set an ambush for his enemies? Their advance was a diversion from their real plans. Tell the truth about his goals to the caravan master who saved his life? He's actually working for the scheming sorcerers who disapprove of those goals. To make it worse, Bifalt is perfectly aware of how lousy his track record is, but that just makes him more angry and frantic, and thus prone to making even worse decisions.
Live Action TV
- A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017): A case that happened by the adaptation. The VFD's role is expanded, meaning that the organization is present and its existence is made known from the very start. What happened is that the series went on to follow the same idea as the books and the VFD's attempts at helping the Baudelaire Orphans constantly fail. As of the end of season 2 about 10 members of the organization were killed by Olaf and Esmé. Out of the 4 members left, none of them have scored a meaningful victory against Olaf, and Lemony is believed to be dead by the organization.
- Game of Thrones: How the Lannisters see Jaime after he returns; King Joffrey and Cersei both note that they survived a siege without him and the war was won without him playing a major role and he for his part, sat out of it as a captive and returned as a cripple. This is amplified furthermore when Joffrey gets poisoned at his own wedding in full view of everyone, with Jaime unable to do anything but watch. It's worse in the TV show because his book counterpart wasn't even present at King's Landing at the time. And then his actions directly lead to Tywin's death. Harshly, but accurately summed up by Cersei:
Cersei: Tyrion may be a monster, but at least he killed our father on purpose. You killed him by mistake.
- Heroes can't seem to write a good guy who isn't one of these, with Peter and Mohinder getting the worst of it (and Hiro beginning to catch up). On the rare occasions they aren't carrying the Idiot Ball or Villain Ball or doing a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!, they're up against opponents heavily favored by Diabolus ex Machina. It's no coincidence that characters like Angela Petrelli, Noah Bennet and Sylar — ranging from morally ambiguous to downright evil — tend to be extremely popular, given that they have been shown actually succeeding at their goals on a fairly regular basis.
- It feels like the Writers constantly throw the idiot balls at Peter because, let's face it - if he actually knew how to use his powers correctly he would be a God-Mode Sue, while the others... the writers just don't know how to write dramatic tension.
- This was part of the massive Cerebus Syndrome that hit Supernatural. In the later seasons, there was very rarely an episode where hunting was portrayed as a good thing or that they were doing it for the right reasons and more often than not, someone got a little bit more destroyed or slipped down the humanity scale, died or managed to break something.
- Torchwood. They can't straight-up win the day ever, ending up with Pyrrhic Victory at best. By the end of Children of Earth, three of the initial five main characters are dead, one's on effective maternity leave and one's buggered off into space.
- This trend continues right into Torchwood: Miracle Day. As of episode five Jack has lost his immortality, Ester has gotten her sister separated from her children by child care services, Oswald Danes refused to fight PhilCorp, Rex destroyed the throat of the one man who could give them information on the villains, Vera has been burned alive and Gwen has her father set up to go down the same route. Go Torchwood!
- Everybody Hates Chris. The title of the show alone should already give you a clue what the title character is.
- Ninja Warrior competitor Katsumi Yamada has not only never managed to obtain Total Victory, but from the 14th tournament on he hasn't even manage to complete the first stage. The fact that he's focused his life completely on this (which cost him his job and his family) makes it all the more heartbreaking. Nevertheless, he is considered an All-Star and fans (as well as the other All-Stars) continue to cheer him on for him to one day reach on top of Midoriyama.
- Wallander seems to be this, especially in the Kenneth Branagh version. He's basically a Swedish Shinji Ikari. The moment something goes right for him in his personal or professional life, it is certain to ultimately end in tears. Usually Wallander's, who cries in literally five out of six episodes of the six-episode series. Because he fails. All the time.
- It's often conceived that in the Ultra Series this is effectively the lot of the defense team in any given series — to spend the first twenty minutes of every episode throwing everything they've got at the Monster of the Week to absolutely no effect, until Ultraman shows up and saves the day in the last five minutes. How true this is varies from series to series, as defense teams can range from utterly incompetent (such as ZAT from Ultraman Taro) to being a Badass Crew (like the Night Raiders from Ultraman Nexus).
- This was lampshaded in one of the last episodes of the original Ultraman, in which Ide feels Science Patrol is useless because Ultraman is always the one who saves the day in the end. It leads him to not trying at all during the episode's monster climax and just deciding to wait until Ultraman arrives to kill the kaiju (which results in the pointless death of one of their allies). Earlier in the episode, Hayata (Ultraman's human host) had stated that Ultraman only appears if nothing else can be done and that there were many times that Science Patrol were critical in helping Ultraman save the day.
- In Ultraman Mebius, the Ultramen make it clear that they are there to protect the Earth, but really want to fight alongside humanity as equals. Mebius usually gets to kill the Monster of the Week at the end of the episode, but his allies in defense team GUYS often help to pull his butt out of the fire during the battle and are usually the ones to neutralize the monster's special abilities.
- John Wiles's tenure producing Doctor Who edged into this. "Mission to the Unknown" (the handover episode) was a Bottle Episode where a bunch of people die at the hands of Daleks and the Doctor never shows up. "The Myth Makers" is a comedy story that ends with most of the endearingly well-characterised guest characters being slaughtered in a sudden, horrific bloodbath and the time travellers having no choice but to abandon them to escape. "The Daleks' Master Plan" ends with every heroic guest character dead, two companions Killed Off for Real, a planet reduced to an arid desert, and the remaining companion saying What the Hell, Hero? about the Doctor's methods. "The Massacre" involves Steven having virtually no idea what is going on for most of the story and the Doctor failing to save anyone's life from an atrocity he knew was going to happen. Only "The Ark" has a happy ending and that features the Doctor ruining everything just by arriving on an alien world by spreading an alien virus to the last remaining humans, and his attempts to fix this problem end up causing a race Happy In Slavery to Turn Against Their Masters. The Doctor is straight back to having a generally more competent role once Innes Lloyd takes over, and "The Celestial Toymaker", "The Savages" and "The War Machines" all show him using his intelligence to create a relatively happy ending.
- For much of Castle Beckett had this problem with regard to her mother's murder. Though she slowly makes progress, she almost always looses her cool and is easily caught off guard by events. She finally is victorious outright in Season 6, gaining enough evidence to bring down the mastermind.
- In season 3 of Person of Interest Finch is this, completely ineffectual at stopping the creation of a second machine, without the restrictions of his own creation. In season 4, once that AI goes fully online, he is also unable to prevent it from very nearly killing his own creation.
- Peanuts: Charlie Brown is the world champion of this trope, forever destined to demolish all challengers to the throne in his hilariously cruel world, managing to find new and creative ways to make him fail at life.
- To be clear, Charlie Brown fails, often through no visible fault of his own, in ways that are explicitly stated by other characters to be physically impossible. Not that this stops them from blaming him.
- Charlie Brown did win a game of marbles, winning back Rerun's marbles from a bully in his last animated special. Lucy could not believe it.
- And he won a motocross competition in one of the animated shorts...though his prize was less than impressive.
- And he kicked the damn football while taunting Lucy in It's Magic, Charlie Brown.
- There was a baseball game that Charlie Brown's team won. He was doing a happy dance like you would not believe. He was happily proclaiming "I won! I won!" The person he was saying this to responded "You won?"
- There is a strip where Charlie Brown enjoys Snoopy missing his suppertime with a Happy Dance mocking Snoopy's usual dance.
- The first full-length movie with the Peanuts gang, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, specifically revolved around Charlie Brown's role as an eternal failure, demonstrating that even when he wins, he ultimately loses.
- To be clear, Charlie Brown fails, often through no visible fault of his own, in ways that are explicitly stated by other characters to be physically impossible. Not that this stops them from blaming him.
- Averted in Garfield, where Garfield's owner Jon finally gets the girl of his dreams after 28 years. In these 28 years, however, all of Jon's plans to get a relationship fail horribly. Even when he scores a date, you can bet that either he, Garfield or the environment would ruin it.
- Tom the Dancing Bug sporadically features Sam Roland, the Detective Who Dies. Each appearance gives us another case of Sam dying before solving the crime. Sometimes before answering the phone to get a new case.
- The newspaper comic version of Spider-Man has always been this. He's utterly incompetent and completely ineffective. It's not at all unusual to have a street thug get the drop on him and knock him out with a piece of debris they found nearby — despite the fact that his Spider-Sense should make this virtually impossible. He's often shown more likely to just sit around and watch TV and many of his storylines have been resolved despite Spider-Man's involvement.
- Cited as one of the main reasons why WCW went under in its later years; every single Face that tried to go up against the Heel stable NWO invariably got ruthlessly squashed, including Sting, Ric Flair, and even in one of its most infamous moments in history Goldberg, who was a Showy Invincible Hero before. It was almost a ridiculous cycle of kicking the dog and then yanking its chain just to get it back into kicking range. Sting seemed to have the nWo beat... and then it resurged. Flair returned and The Four Horsemen were reformed... and they did nothing. Bill Goldberg was, well, Bill Goldberg... and Nash beat him with outside interference. Nash was all right though, because his nWo was opposed to Hogan's... and then the Finger Poke of Doom happened.
- They're called Jobbers for a reason — the very few occasions when a dedicated midcarder ever achieves anything remotely resembling success, their hopes are quickly dashed.
- Taking the trios concept from its Mexican origins up to eleven, Dragon Gate can largely be described as several power stables competing for dominance, with the few "good" groups usually coming up short. Most likely, the "rudo" stables end up imploding due to their own internal conflicts.
- Ring of Honor had a case where a number of factors combined to create a team of Failure Heroes. Early in 2007, longtime Tag Team partners Austin Aries and Roderick Strong split, with Strong forming the No Remorse Corps alongside hot new talents Davey Richards and Rocky Romero. Aries, the Face in this feud, teamed up with the less established wrestlers Matt Cross and Erick Stevens. Unfortunately, Aries was soon forced to leave ROH for a few months due to contract obligations with TNA - leaving Cross and Stevens woefully outmatched by the No Remorse Corps. Wrestling logic dictated that the NRC get the early advantage in the feud, but without Aries around, Cross & Stevens had no credibility to begin with. By the time Aries returned, Cross and Stevens had already lost to the NRC so many times that nobody could get excited about their comeback.
- In TNA EV2.0 had been this since day one, whether if it was during their feud with Fortune (led by Ric Flair) or Immortal (led by Hulk Hogan). Whatever victory they managed to obtain was only short-term as they lost many of their key members, including the FBI, Sabu, Rhino, and Raven.
- Ted DiBiase Jr. slowly become a Failure Villain. Lampshaded by his girlfriend Maryse, who even accused him of causing her to lose matches by association and outright called him a loser. On the 1/26/11 edition of NXT, however, he did finally managed to score a win. Who? Daniel Bryan! Cleanly. And Maryse actually complemented him! And his rookie Brodus Clay won the Fatal Four Way elimination match! ...But wait! That match Brodus won? The winning rookie had the opportunity to switch Pros! Brodus then pointed out all of DiBiase's failings before ditching him for Alberto Del Rio. And to add insult to injury, he took him out with the Tongan Death Grip! After this DiBiase leaned more into Face territory and started to gain more actual victories. He never got out of the midcard, but still got clean wins every once in a while.
- Montel Vontavious Porter went through a similar situation during a heel run, losing every match he had for a very long period of time (albeit for different reasons ranging from legitimate failures to outside interference and flukes). Story actually implied he was becoming bankrupt as a result of this, leading him to gradually gain audience sympathy and eventually get cheered with great enthusiasm as he finally started to gain wins as a face.
- On paper, Daffney's All-Star Squad seemed capable of reigning in the heels running roughshod over SHINE by the twelfth show. In practice, the three core members often act without Kimberly and Amazing Kong, leaving them outmatched and or outnumbered by the heel stables, who aren't above teaming up against them. Their luck hasn't been much better in SHIMMER, where Daffney was lucky to simply escape Sweet Saraya's pseudo faction.
- Big In USA in Pro Wrestling NOAH. Beloved by the crowds, consistently awarded by the promotion's staff, respected by most of their opponents but they keep finishing at the bottom of the annual Global Tag league.
- Depending on codex and writer, the Imperial Guard of Warhammer 40,000. Conscripted by the billion, given laughably inadequate equipment, following moronic plans by incompetent (if not outright traitorous) generals and of course, executed whenever they complain, piss themselves at the horrors they're facing or think of a way to win that isn't the way the Imperium has been doing for the past few thousand years. All for nothing, as the Imperium steadily crumbles further.
- Anytime an army is victorious over Chaos could count as this, as the Ruinous Powers are actually strengthened whether or not they win (one is worshipped whenever blood is spilled, another by both pain and pleasure, one has so many Xanatos Gambits running that the failure of one just means another can now function, etc.).
- The Craftworld Eldar, to the point that they are depicted as a Dying Race even in their own Codices. All but the most arrogant and delusional Eldar know that they are totally screwed, but keep fighting anyway since the alternative would be to just lie down and accept extinction.
- A serious contender for the most blatant example of this trope is the Lamenters, a Space Marine Chapter cursed with extremely bad luck. Apparently, they are cursed by fate or by the Ruinous Powers to be the single unluckiest chapter in the history of the Imperium of Man. Even when they win a battle, it will be through great sacrifice or that victory will make way for an even bigger defeat. Still, the fact they're still committed to the protection of humanity in the living nightmare that is the 41st Millennium is worthy of admiration.
- It's easy to miss, but Ash doesn't win a single Pokemon battle throughout the entirety of Pokémon Live!. He's knocked out by Jigglypuff's song, and Giovanni soundly defeats Pikachu.
- Chrono Cross's Serge unfortunately became this trope after his third Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!. There's a reason that why that trope was named after him in The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Clichés.
- Leo of Zone of the Enders. Despite some victories, things still get destroyed all around him, and the end of the game is a humiliating defeat. He has better luck in the sequel, but that's when he's not using Jehuty.
- However, you can save plenty of civilians from BAHRAM if you're good enough, you prevent Jehuty from falling into BAHRAM hands, and you save the colony from destruction before you're defeated by Nohman.
- Rameses. There are even conversation choices where you can stand up to the bully, insult the toadie, or defend The Woobie, but the PC will nearly always reject them with a variation of "Why bother? I couldn't do that anyway."
- Isaac and his son Matthew in Golden Sun and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. Every single decision that they make unfortunately leads to world destruction and/or furthering Alex's plans. And there's nothing they can do about it. This combined with their Heroic Mime status and the Draco'ed villains makes them the least popular of all 16 Golden Sun protagonists within the fandom.
- A problem in the Metal Gear series after Metal Gear Solid, which applied via retcon. Anything the main characters do advances the Ancient Conspiracy's goals somehow. If the series didn't get a sequel after 3 it would have been a The Bad Guy Wins Downer Ending to the series. Used in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The main character Raiden is told before the ending that all his actions have been scripted and defeating the Big Bad would just help the group that has been forcing people to against their will. As a result, before the final fight against Solidus Snake, Raiden tells the Patriots AIs he prefers not to fight and is threatened with the death of his girlfriend and an infant if he is murdered. In the end Raiden has to defeat Solidus, leaving the other conflict open for the next games.
- Kingdom Hearts overlaps this with Invincible Villain. The heroes frequently suffer from (1) holding the Idiot Ball so Xehanort's plans can go more smoothly and/or (2) having most, if not all, of their progress just retconned into being part of his Gambit Roulette anyway. Kingdom Hearts III looks to finally subvert this, but a lot of fans Arc Fatigue'd by the Xehanort Saga just think it's too-little-too-late at this point.
- Mortal Kombat:
- Taven in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon is sent on a quest to halt the titular event that will destroy all of existence. Not only does he find out that his brother went crazy with power and murdered their parents with Taven unable to do a thing to prevent it, his quest turns into a failure since the elemental being he was supposed to defeat in order to gain godhood and stave off Armageddon turned out to have been long tainted and the canon victor of that game turned out to be Shao Kahn. That ended up leading to the whole timeline being rebooted.
- Raiden becomes this in Mortal Kombat 9. His actions to change the future only makes things worse; he loses the trust of Liu Kang, gets many heroes killed through his indirect actions to change the past and only barely wins the battle because the Elder Gods arrive to help him at the last moment.
- Leonard in White Knight Chronicles, the actual main character of the game. Despite being possessing the power to transform into an indestructible 20 foot tall walking tank whenever he feels like it, he consistently fails to achieve his goals or take any action that isn't a direct response to the actions of the antagonist. He allows the Princess he's supposed to be saving to get kidnapped in front of his eyes multiple times, even allowing to her to get recaptured after rescuing her for about 15 seconds. He is consistently fooled by the bad guy's spies and infiltrators, and can't wrap his head around the fact that every time his friend Kara disappears, the evil Black Knight appears. He suffers a Heroic B.S.O.D. and outright quits the party for half of the second game. Then, in a misguided attempt to save the day, he parachutes back into the party during a crucial battle underleveled, underdeveloped, and undergeared and usually gets the entire party killed as a result of the player being forced to field an unprepared character. And finally, he leads the charge into the final dungeon and defeats the Big Bad Wannabe, only to wind up fulfilling the real Big Bad's Evil Plan and become the final boss himself via a Grand Theft Me. He's last seen limping off screen slumped over someone else's shoulder, with the Princess he spent the last game repeatedly failing to rescue having killed the Big Bad herself when everyone else wasn't looking.
- The goal of the game in the Interactive Fiction title Inhumane is to enter a pyramid full of traps and get killed by every single one. Even if you succeed in all of this, the throwaway in-joke about the author's math teacher destroys your mind when you try to exit the pyramid with the treasure.
- Hawke in Dragon Age II. Fails to save his/her sibling in the beginning. Fails to keep his/her remaining sibling safe. Fails to save his/her mother from a serial killer. Fails to stop the Qunari attack on Kirkwall. Fails to prevent the Mage/Templar War. Fails to properly kill Corypheus. Essentially, Hawke tries to stand against massive wave after massive wave and most of what they achieve is getting soaked to the bone. Even their one unambiguous success (the Deep Roads expedition which makes them rich) turns out to have disastrous effects in the long run thanks to their discovery of red lyrium, and potentially gets their remaining sibling infected with the Blight. The best that can be said for Hawke is that their actions at least prevented bad situations from becoming many times worse. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the Nightmare demon taunts Hawke with the fact that nothing s/he did made a big difference and that s/he couldn't even succeed in saving Kirkwall.
- Mike Dawson in Dark Seed II. While he was competent and knew what he was doing in the first game (even if it was only because the player used a walkthrough), in the sequel he seems to struggle with things that shouldn't really be too problematic, and gets himself into situations that could be easily avoided. His attempt to stop the Dark World invasion, something he achieved handily in the first game, is implied to be badly botched. The ending is left ambiguous, but it doesn't end well for him, either way.
- Walker from Spec Ops: The Line. His attempts to be a hero, save Dubai and thwart Konrad all end in failure, and despite his protests to the contrary it's 100% his own fault (and your's.) By the end, he's accidentally killed Dubai citizens with white phosphorus mortars, destroyed Dubai's only source of water, dooming the surviving inhabitants to die in the harsh desert sandstorm, gotten his squadmates killed, and in the end Konrad was Dead All Along and the voice in the radio taunting him for most of the game was in his own head.
- Konrad himself turns out to be one as well. He defies his orders in order to help the people of Dubai, and after six months of draconian military occupation he realizes that his efforts only made the situation worse and and takes his own life.
- Canonically, the Hanzo Shinobi in Senran Kagura do spend an awful lot of time on the back foot and dealing with opponents who "Weren't really trying", but this is presented as a series of hardships leading to a well-earned victory. Then you play as a different faction, and the "heroes" of the setting come across as utterly incompetent - they never pull the same "not trying" trick, and are the only team to lose clean every time.
- Failman, the star of a Flash point-and-click game. He saves all of the problems... to create even bigger ones.
- Tales of Berseria has a villainous example. Not in a Minion with an F in Evil way; Oscar Dragonia is the first non-Big Bad antagonist to get a name, being in charge of the Hellhole Prison where Velvet was being kept, and brings her to a standstill when they clash using a variety of powerful artes while espousing his loyalty to the one person Velvet can't stand. In short, he has all the trappings of a classic Tales of... rival character, and then the rest of the game happens. His entire story is one failure after another. An unwanted spare of a noble family, he was made to join the Abbey to give them more influence, but his career has been unknowingly propped up by his beloved sister - who, despite being a baseborn bastard, has more clout in the Abbey than him. He passed over a prestigious assignment because he felt the other candidate deserved it more; instead of being rewarded, he ended up in charge of Titania, which is a dead-end shithole of a post. What looked like skillful use of powerful Artes during Velvet's escape was actually Oscar jumping straight to tactics of last resort just to slow her down, and the only clean hit he gets was a cheap shot. After being beaten and disfigured by Velvet, he's reassigned to the boonies and not heard from again for half the game, where his sister has petitioned for him to get a safe-but-important gubernatorial role in the sticks. He's not there a week before Velvet causes him to utterly fail at every aspect of his assignment, including not being fought because Velvet knocks him out mid-sentence with a single kick. This results in him being "asked" to act as a candidate for a powerful but completely untested new arte; despite finally putting up a boss fight with a prototype he was apparently compatible with, it ultimately goes completely haywire and he has to be killed in self-defense. It's not for no reason that his title in his final battle is "Failed Oscar".
- Otus in Owlboy, already considered a failure and constantly chewed out by his mentor Asio even before the game starts for real, goes out of his way to do things right but it always happens to backfire or accomplish nothing : chasing a troublemaker while on watch duty in Vellie actually gives an opening to the Sky Pirates that assault the village, he is then sent to re-activate an ancient device that happens to be worn out beyond repair and no one will believe it and still punish Otus for failing, he then infiltrates the Dreadnought during the siege of Advent to sabotage it from inside, only for Molstrom to nearly kill him and destroy Advent by himself... It fortunately gets better by the end of the game when he reverses the effect of the ancient cataclysm that shattered the world and defeats Molstrom.
- One of the sample comics in WarioWare: D.I.Y. Showcase features the titular "Failure Man", who attempts to stop an asteroid from crashing into Earth. It goes as well as you'd expect.
- Rean Schwarzer in The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel probably beats almost everyone in this list where he ends up losing in his games three times despite being the protagonist of the series for three of them. From the first game alone, he doesn't stop the leader of the terrorist group from assassinating the chancellor and occupy his school because it turns out that said leader is one of his dear classmates who has a Humongous Mecha of his own (Rean does have one as well at this point) but is clearly trounced by his years of experience compared to Rean's day one inside the Divine Knight. Then in Cold Steel II, he fails to bring Crow back to the academy because Crow, who was the leader of the terrorists in the first game, sacrifices his life to save the crown prince who is being used as a battery for an Eldritch Abomination. Oh and the chancellor that Crow tried assassinating faked his death throughout the Civil War so he ends up on top despite not showing up for most of the game. And finally in Cold Steel III, he fails to stop putting the giant turtle back to sleep as he was overpowered by it and his sword is useless against the might of a beast sent by the goddess to guard her treasures which forces his friend, a young girl, to sacrifice her life to become the Sword of Plot Advancement for him. He then gives in to his Superpowered Evil Side and kills the beast instead of putting it to sleep, causing the Erebonia country and maybe its neighboring countries to be affected by the curse that was kept at bay by the beast. It remains to be seen if Rean will finally be successful by the fourth game, but it sucks to be him.
- Good people finding the strength and resolve to make a difference in a troubled world is one of the key themes of Overwatch, but you probably wouldn't realize that if you had to gauge the difference the heroes have actually made. Ultimately, Overwatch itself initially fell due to the heroes being unable to handle their own internal strife, and its in-story reputation in the wake of its fall is one of futility and misguided leadership. Each encounter they've had with the villains in the time since has, one way or another, ended in the latter's favor, and what few accomplishments they have been able to retain either came at a cost or are inconsequential to the greater conflict. In all fairness, the core premise of the story is about the heroes getting their act together and regrouping, and a big recurring theme is coping with your failures and rising up from them, so there is a very good chance they can turn things around. Still, this trend has been holding steady for two years, and a lot of characters have failed in ways that just seem pointless without offering them any appreciable development, which can make following the lore often just feel exhausting.
- Collar 6 struck the protagonists with this for its second major arc. Any fight was either lost or interrupted, which lead to them getting captured twice. The first time, they would've spent the entire arc in captivity if their maids hadn't come to bail them out. Ultimately, they could have stayed home and the whole thing would have worked out for the best, if the bad guy's plan didn't require kidnapping Laura and a sudden Greater-Scope Villain that required stopping.
- Curse Quest: Implied with the Owl Hunter, he doesn't seem competent enough to actually take down the owl-bear he was wrestling, and is openly seen crying at the convention after failing to do so. Walrus also gives off similar vibes, considering he didn't do anything to hurt the owl-bear despite trying to fight it and getting launched at a tree.
- Homestuck: anything that Karkat Vantas wasn't guaranteed to fail at due to You Can't Fight Fate, he managed to bungle on his own, with the exception of calming Gamzee down and a few other things. When tasked with creating a universe-frog, he wasn't patient enough to do the job right and ended up giving the poor thing cancer (although waiting any longer may have made the game unwinnable, due to the black king becoming exponentially harder to beat the longer the game goes on). When he tried to lead his group to victory, he managed to keep at most five of them alive from a group of twelve. His efforts to prevent the creation of a Hero Killer God of Evil were kicked in the head by destiny, and his dating life has been kind of consistently disastrous. Even his childhood dream of joining the Threshecutioners was doomed from the start due to a) his mutant blood colour and b) the destruction of the universe, and his efforts to learn programming ended up killing his lusus. It's no wonder the guy hates himself so much, and is so consistently pissed.
- Ironically enough, many of his failures seem have side effects that turn them into successes, for example, the robotic Aradia clones that came from doomed timelines that were attributed to his failures were essential to win, and Aradia also states the the Mobius Double Reacharound virus was essential to winning as well. Similarly many of his successes turn into horrific failures- the ectobiology that he was initially successful with later making the game unwinnable, for example.
- Other examples include Calming Gamzee prevented the other trolls from offing him, and considering Gamzee is one of the main sources of problems for every group of protagonists...this... isn't a good thing. Not only that, Vriska speculates that if attaining Godhood is related to attaining your species equivalent of maturity, then Karkat's efforts to keep his murderous race of friends together may have kept most of them alive for as long as it did, but had he been a BAD leader, half of them would have killed the other half but the survivors may have gotten FAR more power as a result.
- Ironically enough, many of his failures seem have side effects that turn them into successes, for example, the robotic Aradia clones that came from doomed timelines that were attributed to his failures were essential to win, and Aradia also states the the Mobius Double Reacharound virus was essential to winning as well. Similarly many of his successes turn into horrific failures- the ectobiology that he was initially successful with later making the game unwinnable, for example.
- In Red vs. Blue we get Tex who was created from the Director's memory of his dead girlfriend. Since said girlfriend died in battle, the memory and thus Tex herself have that failure deep seated within them. As a result, despite being perhaps the most badass character in the entire series, she fails just about any mission that has actual importance no matter how hard she tries.
- Splendid from Happy Tree Friends. Without exception, he kills every single person that he tries to save. Lumpy is another example, though he at least has occasional bursts of competence.
- ElementGames's custom WWE 2K17 story, "Corporate John Cena," has The New Ministry. Despite being led by The Undertaker — who, as an individual, actually averts this just as much as his Real Life self — they lose every Tag bout they're in (including their debut), one member (Finn Balor)'s soon humiliated and destroyed right before WrestleMania, and then the other (Sting) suddenly betrays The Deadman right after his victory there. What's especially sad is that their Malevolent Masked Men buildup beforehand was actually quite impressive.
- The Nostalgia Critic very rarely gets what he wants or wins anything. The "hero" part is downplayed, as he's not a particularly good person.
- Roadkill's hosts, David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan, qualify as this. Usually, not only will the zany car build fail as they're attempting to do whatever they had planned with it, it will usually fail in a spectacular manner. The on-the-spot makeshift repairs that they make to get the vehicle back on the road usually don't last too long, either.
Web Serial Novel
- Statless and Tactless: Kyle is styled like an archetypal pulp-era adventure hero, very much the group's most obvious good guy. He's also spread so thin on skill points that he's pretty much incapable of succeeding in any task he attempts.
- The Action Girl main character of Æon Flux would often die at some point in her animated shorts through her clumsiness and Too Dumb to Live tendencies, and even if she made it to the end she'd often still fail her original objective, her only accomplishment over the mission being having mowed down tons of random mooks. The show is a deconstructive parody of Cyber Punk action films.
- Racing cartoons tend to have one of these characters:
- Wacky Races' Dick Dastardly, despite being as lukewarm a Villain Protagonist as you can possibly get, definitely falls into this trope. Even in the rare instances he conquers his obsession to cheat he still manages to become a Boring Failure Hero. He actually managed to win once, even to the narrator's surprise.
- His Expy Phantom Fink suffers the same problem; when he does win, the prize is absolutely horrible.
- No matter who wins in Yogi's Space Race, something happens to make the prize undesirable. One wonders why the racers keep coming back.
- The protagonists of Ed, Edd n Eddy. Not only do Eddy and his crew fail at their attempts to scam kids, they also completely fail at legitimate ventures or even completely innocent goals like gaining a little respect from their friends. The constant teasing and harassing of their Jerkass neighbors only rubs salt into the wound. In the movie this is subverted. The other kids finally accept the Eds into their group after seasons of turmoil.
- The main theme of The Venture Bros., where all the characters are failures, both heroes and villains. It really says something when even the most badass character on the show, Brock Sampson, is a failure. Brock was a promising college football player who had to quit school because he accidentally killed a man on the field. Then he goes off to OSI, where he gets paired with a guy tagged as a crazy conspiracy theorist by the department. Despite being as awesome as he is, he gets assigned
guardbabysitter duty to Dr. Venture, a washed-up, sociopathic Omnidisciplinary Scientist, and his Cloud Cuckoo Lander kids. He's viewed as just about as much a waste of great potential in his field as Dr. Venture in his own. On top of everything, he can get any woman on the planet, except the one woman he actually loves.
- Chuck Jones' interpretation of Daffy Duck was meant to represent a polar opposite of Bugs Bunny, constantly attempting to take on The Ace role, be it a super hero, a western sheriff or a detective, only to get his ass handed to him by even the most incompetent of villains, with real heroes Bugs or Porky usually clearing things up. Other directors occasionally placed Daffy as a bumbling hero as well, though it varied whether he was an actual failure or not.
- One of the major problems most fans have with Young Justice is that no matter what the heroes do, it almost never matters. They usually end up soundly defeated, and on the rare occasions that they do win, it just furthers the villains' goals somehow.
- The titular character from The Legend of Korra zigzags with this trope. While she manages to save the day a number of times and defeat the Arc Villains, she makes more than a few mistakes. During the first two seasons, she makes a lot of mistakes partly due to how she was raised. During the third season, she matures and learns from her previous mistakes along with playing a vital role in restoring the Air Nation, but the trope is played straight towards the end of the season. The Red Lotus capture her twice, and her plan to rescue the airbenders almost completely failed. After she is poisoned by the Red Lotus, she is able to prevent them from killing her in her Avatar State right away, but she ultimately needs help from Jinora and the other airbenders to defeat Zaheer. As a result of being poisoned during her capture, she is crippled and it takes her three years to fully recover. This continues into Season Four, where after finally recovering her ability to walk (which in itself was a struggle), she is unable to get back into the swing of fighting right away. This leads to her getting beaten up on multiple occasions in the first half of the season, including by Toph, Kuvira, and a few random earthbenders. Ultimately, Korra subverts this trope during the second half of Season Four between saving Prince Wu from Kuvira's forces, managing to overcome her PTSD by facing Zaheer, taking up a leadership position against Kuvira's forces, and ultimately defeating Kuvira and convincing her to surrender.
- Archer. His luck/skill during missions is almost always just enough to ensure that he lives to screw up another one. It gets to the point where villains will sometimes hire him to foil their own plots because they're so sure he'll fail.
- Freakazoid! has a Show Within a Show called Hero Boy, a parody of Astro Boy, where the eponymous hero always fails in comic fashion. In the one episode we see, he tried to beat the Kaiju attacking Tokyo by ineffectually beating its foot before it brushes him off with nary a second thought. It also happens to be Freakazoid's favorite show.
- The Boondocks:
- Huey was this in "The Passion of Reverend Ruckus" and "It's a Black President, Huey Freeman". The reason? Cause he couldn't get a ride.
- Riley in "Shinin" because he couldn't get his chain back from Butch Magnus. All of his plans to get the chain back failed and when he had help from Flonominal, Butch overpowered him too. He did get the chain back, but only because it was worthless and Butch couldn't get any money off it.
- One of the most notable examples in South Park was Wendy Testaburger in "The Hobbit". She first tried standing up for Lisa Berger after Butters called her fat and later tried to tell Butters the truth about Kim Kardashian using photoshop. Naturally, it makes things worse and the tables are turned on Wendy, who is unable to fight back against the issue. In the end after some convincing from Kanye West, she tearfully makes a photoshop photo of herself. Long story short, the photoshop trend got the best of her.
- Season Two of The Dreamstone flanderized Rufus and Amberley into Invincible Incompetent variations, making it apparent most of their victories against the Urpneys in Season One were because the latter were too ineffectual to even put up a fight against two children. Just by slightly upping their game, the two Noops became useless or outright made the situation worse, always relying on their far more powerful comrades or dumb luck saving them after they screwed up. Season Three had them gradually become competent again, though some episodes make it apparent they got an easy target.