"I'm supposed to be a ninja, but all I do is cry and rely on Naruto... I thought I'd shaken that off when I came here... but I couldn't do it... I can't do anything, I can't say anything. All I can do... is have faith in them!"
A supposedly modern heroine who doesn't live up to her reputation. An Action Girl whose "action" aspect is more of an Informed Attribute than anything else. She's established from the very beginning as a powerful, capable heroine, but never does anything heroic. She has a well-grounded reputation as a strong fighter in her field, but always fails in the line of battle. Her talents and skills are well known to fellow characters, but they're never seen by the viewers, outside of perhaps a Day in the Limelight episode.
Her status only exists as an established reputation and depends heavily on Genre Blindness; she never acts like the modern heroine she's supposed to be. Sometimes, the only way she qualifies as anything more than the Damsel in Distress is if you Take Our Word for It. If the writers are feeling merciful, however, the Faux Action Girl can be relied on to actually defeat her share of Mooks - or, in rarer cases, a female enemy.
The key to identifying a Faux Action Girl is the disproportionate hype - whether she's overrated or under-performing. Also note that context does play a role; for example, in a show full of incompetents who think they're tough fighters, it doesn't matter if a female character behaves the same way. It is also possible to have a female character who doesn't fight or isn't as capable as some others for perfectly justified reasons. A Faux Action Girl is much less powerful or competent than comparable male characters for no logical reason. Strangely, villainesses are rarely Faux Action Girls, but there are exceptions.
The Worf Effect used too many times on a legitimate Action Girl may turn her into a Faux Action Girl.
Please note that a Faux Action Girl is someone who has a reputation as a fighter. If she is just a girl captured then she's a Damsel in Distress. If she gets rid of the Distress Ball, she's just a Badass in Distress. If she has just started fighting and doesn't have the experience/fame handy still, she's likely Skilled, but Naive or a Naďve Newcomer, and there's still room to see if she can grow into a real Action Girl or not.
The characterization usually involves a form of Informed Ability: Most of these girls have big reputations and great past exploits. More or less the Distaff Counterpart to Miles Gloriosus and Fake Ultimate Hero.
If much of the show's screentime is dedicated to showing the girl in question training and practicing only to lose when it counts, that's not this trope. That's Hard Work Hardly Works, and it can hit anyone who is not The Hero.
Also contrast with Chickification, in which the producers take a character who is shown to be a legitimate Action Girl and make her incompetent. See also Standard Female Grab Area, the standard weakness of a Faux Action Girl.
Like the Standard Female Grab Area and White Magician Girl, this trope is often caused by writers who want females in their action show, but are unwilling (or not allowed) to show a woman being hit by a man. In many cases, the Faux Action Girl will suddenly develop into an actual Action Girl when faced with a female opponent (because a Cat Fight is just fine), only to return to Faux status as soon as that fight is over.
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Anime and Manga
Burst Angel: Meg is supposedly highly skilled at combat, even though she's usually the dame in distress. Of course, since her partner Jo is a big badass Action Girl, Meg has nothing to worry about.
Yihwa Yeon from Tower Of God. The strength test clearly indicated that she was second strongest of the group and she never is too ashamed to boast of her strength and skill, but fact is that she got herself disqualified for burning up her team when she lost control of her flames, had to make herself monetarily dependent from Prince, screwed up the strength test by tripping and got taken over by some no-name antagonists and had to be freed by Viole. It's noteworthy that the author intended her to be that way to begin with.
Kishimoto has admitted he's not good at writing for girls, which makes you wonder why he put so many of them in the series. Most of the kunoichi in Naruto are merely healers for their squads, essentially the pink-collar job of the ninja world. Tsunade and Sakura, the two main female characters specialize in medical jutsu. Even those that aren't just healers often only used for their sensory abilities, like Hinata and Karin.
Sakura Haruno. In the beginning of the series she is constantly described as being prodigiously talented and does all kinds of fighting in the opening credits, but actually helps out in less than a half dozen fights in the first part of the show (and loses each one save against Ino, in which the result was a draw). Her affection for Sasuke seems to contribute to this, as she frequently stands around watching him play the Ineffectual Loner. Following the timeskip and the strengthening of both her character and abilities, her infatuation for Sasuke levels off and she is finally able to get off the sidelines... for two arcs (the Sasori arc and the Sai introductory arc), then it's back to being moving scenery.
Made worse when she pretty much states all that she can do is watch Naruto and Sasuke's backs and have faith in them. This was exactly the sort of thing she DIDN'T want to do pre-timeskip, and in fact the reason why she went to Tsunade for training in the first place was so she could walk with them as an equal.
Ten-Ten makes Sakura look strong by comparison. Her ninja skills seem to consist of summoning a bunch of weapons from a scroll, and tossing them at her enemies. When she's involved in a fight, she loses. Off-screen.
To be fair, Tenten herself admits that she's a backup fighter to her strictly taijutsu focused teammates. Kishimoto himself has stated she was created because he needed another character for Team Guy, not to mention that her only real fight in the manga was against Temari, who's abilities perfectly counters her technique.
Rurouni Kenshin: Kaoru Kamiya is a national level champ at kendo, but she gets severely beaten in the first chapter and is then kidnapped several times. The only time she ever beats a non-mook villain is when she teams up with another girl to fight a crossdresser. The writers Hand Wave it with the idea that all the major characters are underworld fighters who are so absurdly powerful that regular civilians Can't Catch Up. However, Kaoru's 10-year-old male student Yahiko is encouraged to fight underworld assassins on his own after less than a year of swordsmanship training, so we know that's no excuse. It's especially egregious in RK's setting, where the presence of an Instant Expert doesn't make much sense in a time period where the strongest characters honed their fighting skills through years of hellish war.
In Ruroni Kenshin: Restoration Kaoru is is introduced as having won eight straight battles against other sword fighters before the story begins, then defeats Kenshin because he didn't realize he was in a match. After that, Kenshin rescues her from an ambush, and she never fights again.
Misao is in the exact same situation, possibly even worse. She only fights Mooks (with the exception of helping Kaoru fight the aforementioned crossdresser), and doesn't even get to fight in the last arc when the rest of the main cast members (even Yahiko, who's younger than her) involved each get to. Yahiko's victory wasn't terribly impressive. The guy was literally skin and bones, the problem was that no one could REACH him to knock him out.
This gets inverted in Watsuki's other animated work, Busou Renkin. Tokiko ends up sitting out all of the fights in the third arc in the anime. This is because the animators decided to rewrite the third arc to emphasize the threat represented by the Big Bad Victor rather than Kazuki's quest to avoid turning into the same kind of monster Victor is. Because of that, all of the fights Tokiko participated in in the manga version of that arc were cut from the script in the anime. Between that and the fact that she had to sit out most of the fights in the first arc due to injuries, she comes across as a Faux Action Girl in the anime when she's anything but in the original work.
Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit. Her claim to fame? Getting injured in a fight against a mere mook (enough to need Etoh's healing), a few defensive spells here and there, and being held hostage for the whole final third to set up an incredibly elaborate Rescue Romance. Oh, and being clingy to Parn. The producers did fix this in Chronicles of the Heroic Knight. There, Deedlit nearly single handedly defeats Shooting Star, the baddest of dragons in Lodoss, among other great feats of shamanistic magic. Instant Action Girl!
In the King of Fighters games themselves, we have ChizuruKagura. Shinto priestess, biker girl, businesswoman, one of the three members of the Shingi Troica along with Kyo and Iori... but she's seriously injured by Goenitz in the 96 game (though frankly speaking, she does beat the shit out of you, as a Trick Boss), and in the 2003 one she ends up Brainwashed and Crazy by the Big Bad. For worse, if you finish the game with the Chizuru/Kyo/Iori team, she's completely depowered after Ash Crimson steals her Yata mirror after the last fight, so in the XI game Shingo Yabuki has to replace her. However, Iori Yagami also is depowered in the XI game, when Ash takes his Magatama away and leaves Kyo as the only one standing but still... Poor Chizuru.
Ninja Scroll: Kagero, introduced as a supposedly deadly ninja who then proceeds to be repeatedly kidnapped and molested. Kagero actually shows herself as being mostly competent in the movie: she holds off the Mushizo's swarm of bees, and even in the scene where she was being molested, if Jubei hadn't alerted Tessai, triggering his ability to turn his skin to stone, she might have successfully killed him with the needle she was hiding.
Curse of the Undead Yoma has a shrinking violet ninja girl, Aya, whose claim to fame is the big reveal as to how she got her scar during the climactic end battle. It's a paradox. She vanishes at one point and reappears without it. She regains the scar from Maruo's horse tapdancing on her face while she tries to hold it in place with her garroting ninja wires. Not the brightest attack she could have mustered considering it's about 3 times the size of a normal horse.
Mai-HiME: The very Badass Natsuki Kuga tended to serve as the Butt Monkey whenever the tone of the show turned comedic. In its Elseworld spin-off, Mai-Otome, that trait was exaggerated into complete Faux Action Girl-ness. Despite supposedly being both The Ace and a Supporting Leader, she never once managed to achieve anything without blundering and spent a good chunk of the series depowered. Lampshaded in the manga, where in Natsuki's first (and only) fight, there is a panel of her crying tears of joy that she finally gets to do something.
An in-universe example from Berserk. Farnese leads the Holy Iron Chain Knights, but they never expect her to actually fight. The Knights are traditionally led by a maiden, so she is entirely there for looks and because she comes from a noble family. Not that the men she commands are any better, with a few notable exceptions.
Final Fantasy: Unlimited. Lisa is supposed to be a martial artist and a magic user, but most fights have her using a totally ineffective attack, then cowering with the children she's "protecting" until Kaze shows up and saves everyone with one summon.
Fist of the North Star: Mamiya, who is supposed to be the leader of her village's defense force, spends more time getting captured or getting cornered by the bad guys, only to be saved by Kenshiro or Rei at the last minute. Reina, from the first Raoh Den movie is supposed to an elite general in Raoh's army, but all she does is get wounded fighting Souther's army. Twice.
Saiyuki: Yaone is a really good example of this as well as the White Magician Girl. Constantly running around trying to fight off her opponents, she perpetually loses or forgets that's she's supposed to fight against them all together. These days she's just mostly left at home when the boys go out to play.
Fire Emblem Princess Sheeda, in the anime is depicted as a warrior fighting for the heroes' noble cause despite the fact that she consistently fails to so much as swing (or sometimes even hold) her lance when the fighting starts. She is, however, placed in positions where the heroes need to rescue her, given to helping the manly men around her by returning their weapons to them, and bandaging wounded soldiers despite the fact that she is not a healer, but a Pegasus knight. The most heroic thing she does is step in the middle of a fight between two good guys and convince them to stop fighting with The Power of Love. In the games she's a genuine Action Girl, never gets kidnapped and has a good spot on the Character Tiers.
Go Lion/Voltron: When Princess Fala/Allura isn't piloting one of the lions, she can barely do anything useful.
Sengoku Basara: Kasuga shows very little skill for a supposedly skilled ninja. Aside from killing a Mook, her biggest action during season one was trying to protect Kenshin from Nouhime. She failed. And then promptly gets kidnapped by Nouhime a few episodes later. She cut herself loose, completely on her own, but instead of duking it out with Nouhime, she just... ran away. Keep in mind, Nouhime has little hand to hand skill, and usually fights with a gun. The fact that she could easily take a supposed ninja like Kasuga says a lot about her ninja skill.
Vampire Hunter D: Doris is an extreme example. In the first scene of the movie, she's shooting down supernatural creatures with her gun; but after the eponymous D arrives, she's relegated to Distressed Damsel status and never takes up her gun again, instead getting kidnapped by the Big Bad several times.
Samurai Deeper Kyo: Yuya is said to be the bounty hunter with 100% success rate. Too bad we only see her in action for a few time. Later in the story, she acts nothing more than a "damsel in distress"
Virtua Fighter the Animation: Pai Chan has her problem in universe. She's not that bad of a fighter, technically speaking... but her ex-boyfriend aka the Big Bad is Genre Savvy enough to know know how to deal with her kicking-based martial art style, and so he trains his mooks specifically to neutralise her and so the poor kid spends most of her time getting beat down by non-mooks and getting abducted.
Pokémon RéBURST: Eight volumes worth of material, and Miruto never actually let her Pokémon out of its Pokéball and has never actually participated in a battle, allowing the male lead all the action even if he really could've used the help. This despite the fact she is supposedly part of an organization meant for investigating crimes. It gets really kind of ridiculous when she and her group have to take on someone in an area where Burst is neutralized...and she still doesn't take her perfectly working Pokeball out.
Tiger & Bunny: Karina Lyle aka Blue Rose is an in-series case, and treated rather realistically — she's a conflicted teen trying to live up to her public image as a domineering badass despite poor combat abilities that put a serious damper on powers that are actually rather decent, a ridiculously impractical costume for the sake of the sponsors, and serious misgivings about her job. She still gets stuff done because she genuinely wants to save people, but it's telling that one of her named, publicized special moves, the 'Cutie Escape', involves ducking and running from whatever criminal menace is trying to reduce her to a smear on the pavement this week. She gets better by the end of the series, gaining more confidence and skills to match.
In the early days of Marvel, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did a lot towards fleshing out comic book characters so they were more then just guys in tights punching things. In order to keep an option for romance and appeal for female audiences, they often included a token girl on the team. Unfortunately, while they tried, they could never think of interesting powers or personalities for female heroes, so most of Stan and Jack's work tended to include these types. Fortunately, these improved significantly over the years. Examples:
The Fantastic Four: Susan Richards had been a Distressed Damsel in most of the early stories, until rewritten as a far more powerful and effective heroine by John Byrne; however, under later writers, she didn't always live up to this standard, and occasionally degenerated into this trope, mostly by giving her powers some kind of time or concentration limit despite no such obstacle for the others.
'X-Men': Jean Grey, in many of the early books is a Faux Action Girl. While later writers greatly expanded her personality, abilities, and role on the team, here she is mostly a damsel in distress whose identity is based on her longing for Scott Summers more than anything else. Men often have to direct her in the most basic use of her powers. When the team trains in the Danger Room, the males are shown battling or facing danger, while Jean threads a string though board with holes in it. Things improved in the later books.
On the other side of things, X-Men villain team The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants had Scarlet Witch, who had the ability to give people bad luck. Unfortunately, the potential for this power wasn't truly realized until she was expanded upon after doing a Heel Face Turn and joining the Avengers.
The Avengers: Janet Van Dyne/The Wasp, in many of the early comics, is a Faux Action Girl. In one issue, after she has been absent for the entire fight, she reappears on the last page. When asked where she was she responds that she had to go powder her nose. Like the above, she improved later down the line.
Captain America's long time love interest Sharon Carter was a high ranking agent who lead large squads of fighters into the battle field. She was, as a rule, the first to be knocked down, in order to give Cap a reason to protect her. She's now a muchbetterfighter.
Spoofed in Adam Warren's graphic novel Empowered. The eponymous heroine is considerably more insecure than most of the other examples here, halfway between a Faux Action Girl and a pure Distressed Damsel. However, at one point her boyfriend reassures her by saying he admires her guts in continuing to try and fight despite knowing that she'll probably end up getting her butt kicked and captured, as opposed to all the other heroes who have it relatively easy. It's also eventually revealed that when she does maintain her confidence, her powers actually work, such as when she effortlessly rescues said boyfriend early in the story. Also a bit of a deconstruction of this trope, as her poor track record is a major source of misery for her; her self-esteem's pretty much nonexistent and her reputation as a crime-fighter is the exact opposite of what this trope usually calls for: She routinely gets called things like "Useless Lass" and "Captain Kidnapped". In the most recent volume, she shows distinct signs of progress toward full Action Girl status... None of which is acknowledged by her teammates, so we get a side of Inverted Trope to go with it.
As a rule, Black Canary does not get to be a full-fledged Action Girl when she appears in comics that have a single main character who isn't her. The Green Arrow comic is particularly bad about having her lose to villains she really ought to be able to beat.
Thorn became this in the Harley Quinn solo series, where she was essentially served as a tough-talking superheroine who would be easily dispatched by Harley and Ivy. There was even a multi-issue subplot where the girls got sick of her meddling and just kept her bound and gagged in their apartment so they could torture her for fun. Years later, she was made into a more competent vigilante when she reappeared in her own mini-series and a tie-in storyline in Birds Of Prey.
One Biggles comic book set in modern times had the all-British hero declaring there's a place for skirts. At the end he recants this sexist statement as his female sidekick has proved her worth. By pushing a single button. Admittedly it was the Big Red Button of the Self-Destruct Mechanism, but still...
The old Nintendo Power comics of the early '90s gave us a comic based off of the original Star Fox game for the SNES; there the team gained a fifth member, the female fennec Fara Phoenix. She is the leading test pilot in the Cornerian Army and can fly an Arwing well; however when we first meet her, she's hopelessly taken hostage and runs off after being rescued. Later on, she and Fox playfully show off their flying skills, only for her to be instantly shot down by an enemy cruiser (which she charged head-on), and doesn't fully participate in battle or much else when officially on the team.
Jinx from the James Bond movie Die Another Day is supposed to be a top NSA agent, and in an early scene she does manage to complete an assassination, but thereafter she only manages to get strapped to a laser Death Trap and almost drown in an ice hotel. In the end, she's given a Designated Girl Fight with Miranda Frost by way of consolation prize.
A Kid in King Arthur's Court provides a very ridiculous example of this trope with Princess Katie. In the training sequence she is shown to be an excellent swordswoman, archer and horse rider, thus she should be "of course, able to take care of herself". Except, then she gets kidnapped by some mooks, in broad daylight and needs to be rescued by Calvin and King Arthur. A fight begins. Now on the good guys' side we have Arthur (a very old man), Calvin (a nerd who fails at baseball and has only trained swordfighting for a couple of days) and Katie (who is young, fast and has trained swordfighting all her life). Arthur and Calvin fight and kill the mooks while Katie gets kidnapped again. The same film also subverts the trope, however, with Katie's older sister Princess Sarah. The viewer spends the entire movie believing that tomboyish Katie is the tough one of the pair, only to find out that Sarah is the secret identity of the Black Knight, who has been fighting the enemy all along.
In Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonean, Amelia Earhart continually insists she is able to take care of herself, but isn't seen doing anything remotelyBadass except for flying a plane for about two seconds before handing it to Larry.
Underworld Rise Of The Lycans.: Rhona Mitra's Sonja is the leader of the elite vampire "death dealers," but unlike Kate Beckinsdale's Selene, she's almost completely helpless through the entire film. She's introduced while fleeing from werewolves, forcing her werewolf lover Lucian to save her. Later, he has to save her again from being overrun by werewolves. Later still, Viktor imprisons her and uses her as bait to catch Lucian. After Lucian busts her out, she actually manages to best Viktor in a swordfight, but he immediately uses her Standard Female Grab Area to trap her in a classic hostage pose, forcing Lucian to surrender to save her. After all that, she gets executed, while Lucian breaks free and successfully slaughters the castle.
Sheena. Roger Ebert noted the incongruity of "a jungle woman who has ruled the savage beasts since infancy [being] pulled along by a television anchorman fresh off the plane." This is out of Sheena's character, considering that in the comics she's a Badass who takes down many savage animals and corrupt poachers.
The Asylum's movies: Nearly every female lead dresses the part, and we're frequently ''told'' how awesome they are, but they do literally nothing in the movie besides move from one scene to the next.
A nice subversion occurs in Halloween Night when a character who initially appeared to be little more than lesbianeye candy actually beats the killer in a physical fight, and only dies due to the villain getting in a cheap shot (coat hangerin the eye).
The Arcee triplets in Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen, who failed to do any major damage while chasing down Sideways in Thailand, and end up getting destroyed in the film's final battle. Even their screentime in the film was under a minute.
Isabelle from Jack The Giant Slayer is brave and adventurous. Despite all this, she is captured by the giants and has to be rescued by Jack all throughout the movie. To her credit, very few of the male characters, apart from Jack, fare any better.
Audrey in Daybreakers, she gets captured no less than three times, and the men are called upon to save her every time.
Elven ranger Shulana of Mark Acres' Land Between the Rivers Chronicles, who for no explained reason can only kick ass when boytoy thief Bagsby tells her it's okay to go all out, otherwise she'll get trounced by mooks left and right. Really, she's actually more useless than ROLW Deedlit as she HAS shown exceptional skill, it's just that for no reason that ever comes up, she must remain a Faux Action Girl until Bagsby gives the word to whoop ass. Traumatic accidental death maybe? Due to this weird and unexplained character dynamic, the rotund middle-aged farmer woman, Marta, winds up kicking about twice as much ass despite the fact she was never trained for such combat and doesn't know any magic. Welp, someone has to be the Damsel in Distress so it may as well be the pretty one.
Tallia, from Ian Irvine's first tale in The Three Worlds Cycle, is supposedly a master of armed and unarmed combat. Odd, then, that she so often is knocked out, overpowered, or otherwise comes up short.
Alistair MacLean's (actually John Denis) Air Force One Is Down goes to great detail describing master thief (now secret agent) Sabrina and how good she is, then portrays her as a classic Damsel in Distress throughout the rest of the book. Most notably in a scene where Sabrina can't lie to the Big Bad because she can't keep her thoughts off her face (and she's supposed to be a former criminal???)
Alice from Twilight beat her combat veteran boyfriend Jasper in a practice fight in Eclipse. He beat Emmett and tied with Edward, indicating that Alice is the best fighter of the four. However, in a hostile situation Emmett and Jasper are the ones who step up, and Alice's fighting prowess was never even mentioned outside that scene. It should also be noted that she can see the future. This would be a rather useful advantage in battle, though that doesn't explain why she wasn't important in the battle itself.
More specifically, Alice is often the character who is trotted out by Twilight defenders against accusations that the series is anti-feminist. It's usually countered by pointing out that Alice only seems like a "strong female character" in comparison to Bella, but by the standards of just about any other series she's clearly a Faux Action Girl.
Wanderer/Wanda from The Host was apparently quite the badass in some of her previous lives. This is somewhat at odds with how she acts once on Earth.
Unlike most heroines in this situation (where the dashing, rich, and studly hero saves her, has them fall in love over the span of five seconds, and they get married or something), Chryseis was not going to be rescued, and she knew this.
Jaheira in the Baldur's Gate novelisations, to a painful extent. Gee, Mister AbdelAdrian, you think you caught a glimpse of her softer, more feminine side under "her usual tough warrior exterior"? If a fighter/druid can't deal with a spider getting inside her shirt any other way than by having you tear her top off (forced by the circumstances and by no means intentionally, as her husband just died a while ago, after all), then you can be pretty confident something is wrong.
Vereesa Windrunner from Richard A. Knaak's Novel Day Of The Dragon novel (Set in the Warcraft universe). Here we're informed she is just as capable a ranger as her sisters in the first "of the Dragon" book, and in that book and every subsequent one, her grand accomplishments include being kidnapped, marrying Rhonin, and standing around in Dalaran next to her husband leading one of the least active factions in World of Warcraft. In fact, just about every female he's written qualifies.
Whitley from Wereworld who is supposed to be training as a ranger and who says that she can fight faints at the first sight of Drew in his Wolf form and later is thrown of her horse to fall frozen in fear
Mallory of Melissa Marr's Carnival of Souls has been in training all of her life to be able to fight daimons and is sure she can take them. She then loses the only fight she gets in and has to be rescued.
Bernadette Manuelito, a policewoman in the Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee series of the late Tony Hillerman, was criticized for this by Hillerman's own daughter Anne Hillerman. She felt Manuelito across more as the "love-struck girlfriend of Jim Chee" than as a strong law enforcement officer in her own right. Anne was happy that Manuelito was given a bigger role in Skeleton Man - in which she found the missing jewels and confronted the villain - but disappointed that she ultimately had to be rescued by Chee. As a result, Anne's upcoming novel, Spider Woman's Daughter (2013), a continuation of the series, will be centered on Bernie. 
In the John Carter of Mars books, red Martian women in general are supposed to be strong and have adapted to their harsh, violent world in terms of being ready to fight if necessary, but all they can ever do is play the Distressed Damsel. They have attitude, but apparently they're just physically absolutely inferior to both men and monsters. They also don't go properly armed like the men do, even though that should make sense if they were as advertised.
Live Action TV
The Amazing Race: Most of the athletic female teams come off as this, save for Kisha & Jen, who are the only ones to make the Top 4, then they ended up winning when they returned for Unfinished Business. Generally, the strong physical female teams tend to get eliminated earlier than the ones who rely more on their intelligence.
Sam & Renae from the Australian version are another exception, also making the top 4.
Cleopatra 2525: Rose, aka "Sarge", completely failed to live up to her supposedly badarse nickname. Routinely kidnapped, captured and tied up, she was pretty much useless. Worst example was one episode where, in trying to save her younger sister, she herself was captured.
Jericho: Emily Sullivan fell under this for most of the first season. Fixed from the Season One finale onwards.
Kamen Rider Kiva: Yuri and her daughter Megumi are supposedly some of the best Fangire Hunters, but they seldom get in more than two or three blows before the villain begins shrugging off their attacks, and either captures or starts pounding them, requiring them to be saved by Kiva or Ixa. By episode five, you're rolling your eyes at them for thinking they can do anything, like MooksShooting Superman.
Lost: Kate counts as well. Although she is critically praised as being a strong female character and inspirational to women everywhere, almost all occasions on which she tries to help or takes matters into her own hands, she ends up getting captured or otherwise causing trouble for the other characters—usually Jack or Sawyer. (One such example is when she was not invited to go with a group to meet The Others, and they ended up having to bargain for her return after she's been captured following them offscreen. The only time she does something monumentally useful is in the final episode, when she shoots Locke.
Lost Girl: Bo is supposed to be the hero of the story, but the number of times she needs to be saved by Dyson starts to seem kind of high, after a while. She Took a Level in Badass in season 2, however, and has held her own/not needed rescuing all that often anymore.
Isolde was presented as a tough, no-nonsense Action Girl. She is injured in her first battle and dies in her second.
Likewise, Dark Action Girl Morgana is meant to be a dangerous, volatile opponent with her magic and sword-fighting skills, but even before her Face Heel Turn she consistently failed at almost everything she set out to do.
Mutant X: Emma DeLauro. Frequently described as one of the strongest New Mutants in the world and deemed a good enough allrounder to be included in the Mutant X team and yet she very rarely does anything useful, especially compared to Shalimar Fox, the resident Action Girl. Granted she was also there for her psionic powers but if Adam was wanting a psionic why did he not just use Vanessa, a minor psionic character who showed she, at least, could kick some GSA butt.
Revolution: Charlie could be this. As one previous entry mentioned, she's incompetent. On top of that, she usually ends up being saved. However, she managed to not screw up in episode 2 by tricking Nate and succeeded in killing the warden and another man. It may be because she isn't good with closerange or unarmed combat, she is a good shot with her crossbow, but since crossbows can't fire as quick as a real bow after a single shot she tends to be helpless. Which may be why her father warned her notto go into the woods. Too many people in the village have gotten hurt or killed trying to save her ass.
Robin Hood: Kate, in the BBC series of this show. One of the other outlaws calls her "a good fighter", and she insists that "I can look after myself" even though she gets into trouble and has to be rescued by her male co-stars no less than fifteen times in course of one season. To get a gist of this percentage, keep in mind that there were only thirteen episodes per season, and Kate only appeared in eleven of them. At one stage she was kidnapped by an evil tax collector three separate times in one episode.
In the second season episode "Precipice" Lana Lang trains intensely in martial arts. By the end of the episode is able to take down a serious jock. But for the rest of her series run, these skills are never used again.
Then the creators "listened to fan complaints" about her being this and had her come back in season 8 with Faux Navy SEAL training that she somehow got in eight months or so (this is absolutely impossible to do). That training pretty much gave her Charles Atlas Superpower. Then they made it so she radiates kryptonite so that she could have a reason for leaving the love of her life, Clark. Faux Action Girl to God Mode Sue, all in one season. There's a reason she's a Creator's Pet.
Star Trek: The Original Series: If you thought there were no Dark Action Girl examples, you'd be wrong. The Romulan commander in the episode "The Enterprise Incident" is easily duped by Kirk and Spock, and, though explicitly stated to be a soldier, the most badass thing she does is slap Spock across the face in a fit of Woman Scorned fury.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Tasha. She's supposed to be the Enterprise's tough-as-nails security chief; her main contributions to episode plots include being kidnapped, breaking down in tears, and hesitating just long enough to allow Klingon fugitives to take hostages.
Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger: Marie Gold (movie only). She is DekaGold, and has time-stopping power. But then, her only screen-time of power display is when she had her transformation sequence INTERRUPTED then poisoned by the bad guys, so the Dekarangers had to hurry and save her.
VR Troopers: Kaitlin Starr is made of this. She was occasionally used in a real Action Girl fashion, but unlike her female Power Rangers counterparts (who at least got the chance to save everyone as much as the rest of the team) she seemed to exist only to beat up mooks and get in trouble. One episode involved her losing her self-confidence because of the Big Bad, and the clips that played to show she wasn't useless were a few examples of fighting Mooks with not even an attempt at showing her against the Monster of the Week. This is mostly a side effect of Troopers' dependence on Metal HeroesStock Footage. In the series that was adapted, Spielban, Kaitlin's counterpart Diana Lady was a sidekick who would deal with mooks while her partner would fight the monster.
A unique case happens in WWE when they are pushing a woman in a feud who has very little wrestling experience.
The first one to have this happen to her was Sable who had it written into her contract that she couldn't take bumps. In this case she was feuding with Jacqueline Moore who in Real Life could go toe to toe with the men and barely break a sweat. Since Sable wouldn't take bumps Jacqueline had to rely on attacking from behind and using kicks in their matches. Jacqueline won the newly reinstated Women's Championship... when Marc Mero held Sable's feet down for the pin. Sable would only ever do about four moves in total in her match so one Sable Bomb and the supposedly dominant Jacqueline lay limp on the canvas for the 1-2-3. She would recover from this however and become Women's Champion again as well as Cruiserweight Champion while Sable ended up leaving the company.
Luna Vachon also suffered from this in her feud with, you guessed it, Sable. They were set to compete in a mixed tag match at Wrestlemania XIV and in their training for it, Sable refused to learn how to bump and Luna was warned that she would be fired if she damaged or hurt Sable in any way at all in the match. So in the match Luna had to rely on her partner Goldust to do all the work while she acted as Sable's punching bag.
In 2004, WWE planned to give Stacy Keibler a reign as Women's Champion, as she was arguably the most popular woman in the company. However, Stacy had no wrestling skill, no desire to learn and no credibility, so she was put in a series of matches against Molly Holly, a talented wrestler who refused to have the sex appeal WWE wanted their Divas to have. Stacy pinned Molly three weeks in a row, with the plan being that Stacy would win the 2004 Taboo Tuesday Fulfill Your Fantasy Battle Royal and become Women's Champion. Stacy wound up turning down WWE's offer to be champion, feeling she didn't deserve it, but getting beat so many times by one of the worst women in the company is considered the nail in the coffin of Molly's career.
A more recent one is Maryse who is a rare villain case. After her return she was immediately pushed in a Divas' title feud and the announcers constantly talked up how menacing and aggressive she was. Her matches told a different story - she would literally have her opponents beat the crap out of her for 90% of the match while the only offence she would get in would be a few slaps and maybe a backbreaker. If she was winning the match then she'd use her finisher. It was pretty hard to take Maryse seriously as a top heel when she only used one move and was never shown actually kicking any ass like the announcers claimed she was.
Natalya unfortunately went through a rough patch towards the end of 2011. Despite forming the Divas of Doom with Beth Phoenix, Natalya was always portrayed as the inferior one and Beth was the one who got all the wins, while Natalya got all the losses. On the one hand you had the commentators putting over the fact that she was a 3rd Generation Diva and the only female graduate of the Hart Family Dungeon but then you have her losing all her matches and Beth being the one that got the pins when she won. However around the middle of 2012 she got a few wins for herself again and is back to being taken more seriously.
That was because Beth was champion. The face would defeat Natalya to prove she was worthy of a title shot, then face Beth. And Natalya was being taken more seriously - until WWE decided to have her fall in love with the Great Khali.
While Fire Emblem has tons of legitimately badass females, it also has a few Faux Action Girls. Midia from the Archaneia games, for one. She's supposedly a powerful knight, but when we first meet her, she and her squad are in captivity. And she didn't get better in the sequel, when she led a resistance against an evil Hardin... and gets caught AGAIN.
Lampshaded in the Dreamcast version of Record of Lodoss War. The hero finds Deedlit captured by some wimpy goblins and just had to ask, "How can a High Elf be captured by mere goblins"?
A lovely contrast to Pirotess' buzzing about Marmo WITHOUT being captured. Yes, it's her homeland, but storywise Cardice's return is driving the lesser beings completely bugfuck bonkers aggro, so she undoubtedly has been doing her fair share of goblin weedwhacking too.
In the Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace game, Padmé says she's been trained in self defence shortly before you are to fight through a gauntlet of Tusken Raiders, and proves to be useless, screaming for help and falling on all fours when struck. Strangely, you get to control Padmé as Queen Amidala later in the game and retake the city of Theed with only a few men by your side. The leap from Distressed Damsel to Action Girl was much needed.
Sasha, Ratchet's Love Interest, was hyped by the creators as "a female Han Solo". Her supposed enjoyment of video games is never seen in the series, apart from giving Ratchet a console so he could play Vid Comics, and she ends up being the Damsel in Distress by the end of the game, despite having command of a very powerful starship.
Angela from the second R&C title. When she's disguised as the Mysterious Thief, she offers up a very tough boss fight midway through the game, but later on she's captured by one of the villains without even putting up a token resistance, forcing you to come to her aid. Though this can be justified in that she is primarily a researcher, and even as the Mysterious Thief, she left most of the fighting to her robots or hired thugs.
A rare Faux Dark Action Girl example. The series makes a deliberate point of having enemy female soldiers be weaker than enemy male soldiers. In Soldier of Fortune 2, the female Prometheus soldiers are coded to have worse accuracy and a crappier weapon than their identical-in-rank male counterparts. In Soldier of Fortune: Payback, the female boss character (who's apparently the Big Bad's personal bodyguard) is probably the easiest boss in the entire game.
Madeline Taylor from Soldier of Fortune 2. She's introduced in the finale of the first game as a worthy replacement for Hawk, but in the second game we don't see her in combat and, what worse, she gets killed halfway through the game.
Deviant 1 from the same game.
Neverwinter Nights: Aribeth. She spends the first chapter dispensing rewards, the second and third chapters angsting, and the fourth chapter getting her ass handed to her by the player. Though she does improve in time for Hordes of the Underdark.
Rachel in the Xbox Ninja Gaiden is a supposedly skilled fiend hunter who kills an Elite Mook fairly easily, but then gets knocked aside by a (relatively) easy boss, and later gets kidnapped by Doku for most of the rest of the game.
Momiji in Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. The manual suggests that she is a strong ninja, and the player controls her for the first level, which seems to indicate that she might play a role in the action as a secondary player character. Unfortunately, at the end of the level, she loses to the first boss and gets kidnapped, where she is held for the rest of the game. Omitsu is a skilled archer, but Sanji is the one who saves Sakura from Black Spider ninjas with his bow.
Momiji manages to outgrow this one and becomes a competent Action Girl come in Sigma 2 and 3... by fighting like a warrior Shrine Maiden instead of a ninja. Perhaps she chose the wrong class earlier.
Mei Ying in Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb is supposedly an intelligent and tough sidekick, but proves herself to be borderline-useless during fights and even manages to get incapacitated and possessed by the Big Bad during the final battle.
Jayne Magdalene in the Bionic Commando remake. In the prequel comic, she's shown as pretty competent. In the game, all she does is getting clocked, first clotheslined (literally, with his bionic arm cable) by Spencer and then stomped on by the Big Bad.
The PK Girl actually makes this into a plot point, albeit a somewhat hamhanded one. Action Girl Saffy gets herself into trouble that you have to save her from, causing her to feel that she owes you her life and obligating her to try to save you from your problems... and that coincidentally puts her into more positions you have to save her from.
An in-universe example in Cave Story: Sue Sakamoto brags that she's never lost a fight with her brother and is convinced that she's a formidable scrapper, but based on the number of times you have to save her (hint: it's the same number of times as she gets into a fight), even her boast is questionable. Definitely an intentional example, though, as Sue is the only one who even brings up her fighting prowess, let alone tries to convince you she has any.
The Neo-Geo fighting game version gave Marian some legitimate fighting skills in order to make her into a playable fighter, although the game barely has anything to do with the original, save for the names of some of the characters.
Zoe in Bully, by way of game mechanics: her profile info says she likes to fight and makes a formidable opponent, but good luck actually getting to fight her. If the trouble meter maxing out for touching her doesn't get you first, it's more likely that she'll just run away. This is because the programming for the girls is all the same, and the rest are generally nonviolent except sometimes against each other.
To be fair, the rest of your team is about equally worthless. In fact, counting the number of scripted distress moments in Star Fox Assault actually reveals that Krystal gets in trouble the least...which is then made even during regular combat.
Rebecca Chambers from the original Resident Evil. Despite being a member of the S.T.A.R.S Bravo Team (a SWAT stand-in, and she was also a rookie), she spends most of the game either hiding or falling into danger - ignoring her for a few minutes during one sequence can actually result in her getting killed by a Hunter. As Chris's partner, she can heal him, whereas Jill's partner Barry provides extra firepower - for example, when Chris gets captured by Plant 42, Rebecca opts to poison it from another room instead of fighting it, whereas in Jill's scenario, Barry runs headfirst into the room and burns the plant with a flamethrower to save her. It is a strange clash when you play Resident Evil 0, which you play as her and she's pretty capable, but then again, Billy Coen winds up saving her frequently too.
And in Resident Evil The Umbrella Chronicles, which retells the original game's story, NPC and Bravo Team Member Richard Aiken also winds up protecting her frequently, at least until Yawn the snake bites him!
In the original James Bond game Everything or Nothing, CIA agent Mya Starling is your contact in the New Orleans mission, and it can be reasonably assumed that she can handle herself at least as well as the more actiony Bond Girls. You have to meet up with her in a certain amount of time before her cover is blown. Fair enough, but once you get there, her cover is blown anyway and her entire role in the New Orleans mission is Damsel In Distress.
In Fallout 3, Reilly, the leader of Reilly's Rangers, is never seen in combat, and when you first find her, she's in a coma from being ambushed by Super Mutants.
Rosechu in Sonichu is a blatant example - while the author constantly insists that she's a true Action Girl and she's allegedly as powerful as the main character, most of the time she doesn't do anything and gets captured as a Distressed Damsel.
Lita in Jack had dedicated her whole life training to be able to defeat her monstrous father. When she completes her training and goes to Hell to face him, not only is she too weak to win against even nameless male souls and hellspawns, gets captured and nearly raped, but she also gets constantly saved each time by males like Cliff and Jack. And yet she's described as among the strongest female characters in the series.
Brutally deconstructed in Sidekick Girl. Superhero Illumina does practically nothing to fight crime and takes all the credit while her sidekicks do all the work. She has gone through several of them before the comic started. One of her former sidekicks got fed up with her and left, turning to a life of crime, one wound up in a mental hospital, and another died trying to save her. She has been labeled as a sidekick deathtrap due to her track record.
Zenith from Commander Kitty is often played up by other characters as being exceedingly dangerous to take on alone. In truth, though, she wields an exceedingly impractical weapon that isn't even lethal, displays fairly weak stamina, and is never shown fighting without her army of goons to do all the work for her.
The Batman: Detective Ellen Yin spends most of her time being saved by Batman, one step behind Batman, or getting her hand held through mysteries by Batman. A borderline case, as she is competent when the writers realize they have no other choice other than solidifying her slide into full-on Distressed Damsel. However, she is promptly written out at the end of the second season in favour of Commissioner Gordon (thanks to the Law of Conservation of Detail ) and replaced by Gordon's daughter as the only female protagonist on the series. (She did get a Shout Out in a season 4 episode, though she didn't actually appear; apparently twenty years down the road she becomes police commissioner of Gotham.)
The Batman The Brave And The Bold version of Batwoman fits this. She's a cocky, snarky Anti Heroine who thinks she is all that, but ends up screwing up and nearly killing a group of civilians in her only on-screen case, and then gets kidnapped during her subsequent mission to kill the Riddler. She ultimately ends up as a Damsel in Distress who needs to be saved by Batman and his allies, and is then sent to prison for kidnapping and attempted murder.
Alanna in "Mystery in Space!" The men (Batman, Aquaman and her husband Adam Strange) get in trouble early in the episode, but get out of it without her help. Nevertheless she insists on coming along on their next mission, since they obviously can't stay out of trouble without her...and she gets kidnapped by the villain and needs them to save her.
Roll started out as this in the Mega Man cartoon, but by the time season 2 rolled around she'd developed into a proper Action Girl.
It should probably be pointed out though that for the majority of her appearances Shimmer has no powers, enhancements, gadgets, or anything "special" of note, which puts her at a major disadvantage to just about every hero or villain in the series.
In Transformers G1, Arcee is pretty much a faux action robot chick. She fires her gun a few times, but spends much more time running away or getting cornered by male robots. Female robots got tougher after Beast Wars, getting into trouble only about as much as a single male robot is expected to.
In Transformers Animated, Arcee is also fairly weak, but at least nobody goes around pretending she's a tough fighter.