"I have been baptized twice: once in water, once in flame."
As two of the four classical elements, and probably the two most frequently used in fiction, it's no surprise that fire and water can play dominant roles in building atmosphere in visual media. A raging rainstorm can carry as much pathos as a burning house, just as a roaring bonfire can be as comforting as a calm lake. When a writer wants to form an immediately obvious contrast between two
characters, places or events, though, it can be particularly visually stimulating to associate one with fire, and one with water—perhaps drawing a contrast between creation and destruction, tranquility and belligerence, or nurturing and consuming. A downpour can signal the end or the turning point of a Battle Amongst the Flames
Alternately, it can be equally stimulating to create a contrast between fire and ice
, with the two playing into differing flavors of destructive power, or mutually destructive elements that help form the world.
If writers want to play with religious motifs, this trope can play into imagery frequently associated with baptism, with a "baptism by fire" forming a contrast to traditional baptism by water. If this trope is employed, expect lots of playing around with the Orange/Blue Contrast
or some other form of Color Contrast
Compare Evil Is Burning Hot
and Evil Is Deathly Cold
(when this trope is employed in two differing portrayals of evil), Kill It with Fire
and Kill It with Water
, Lightning/Fire Juxtaposition
(Where Lightning replaces Water as Fire's counterpart) and Elemental Rivalry
(when this trope is used to set up two elemental wielders as adversaries).
This trope frequently comes into play in Four Element Ensembles
, when characters' uses of fire-based and water-based abilities
are used to set them up as Foils
. Depending on the form that it takes, this trope can be a sub-trope of Elemental Powers
(if characters are associated with fire, water or ice through their uses of elemental abilities) or Empathic Environment
(when changes in the state of the physical world reflects changes in the emotional state of the characters that inhabit it).
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Anime and Manga
- One of the openings of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX featured Bastion Misawa with Water Dragon and a similar fire dragon. However Water Dragon was the only one of the two to have ever been used in the anime (and the only one of the two to be Defictionalized).
- In Dragon Ball GT we have the two brothers Nova Shenron (fire) and Eis Shenron (Ice).
- In One Piece is seen with two of the Admirals: the lazy but righteous Aokiji and the ruthless General Ripper Akainu.
- In Naruto, we have Kisame and Itachi (who can use Fire techniques.)
- In Gamaran, the Boisterous Bruiser Zenmaru specialize in the "Kagutsuchi Kata" (Fire God Form) style, while the much calmer Shinnojo is an expert of the "Mizuchi Kata" (Water Dragon Form).
- Digimon Adventure: The Hero Tai was Fire, The Lancer Matt was blue Fire in his early forms and Ice in his more powerful stages.
- Fairy Tail has boisterous, hot-blooded, red-haired, fire-wielding hero Natsu (Fire) and his serious, level-headed (most of the time), ice-wielding foil Gray (Ice).
- In Rurouni Kenshin: Kenshin and the Kyoto arc Big Bad Shishio Makoto can be considered rivals (both were highly skilled hitokiri during the Bakumatsu period (1853-1868), and now they're enemies. In their final battle, Kenshin's revamp and secret attack summons forth a fierce squall, while Makoto's special attack and power up are announced by roaring flames.
- Rin Natsuki/Cure Rouge and Karen Minazuki/Cure Aqua from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. The former uses fire elemental magic and is designated as the Cure of Passion. The latter uses water elemental magic and is designated as the Cure of Intelligence. These two characters early on are depicted as rivals that couldn't get along most of the time and hate being one-upped by the other. However, over the first season, they came to an understanding, and the rivalry became less severe.
- Lyrical Nanoha
- In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the character Homura (whose name means both 'fire' and 'dawn') experiences her greatest failure while kneeling in water spilled by a broken pipe. Walpurgisnacht had recently attacked Mitakihara, killing Homura's only friend and leaving the town in ruins.
- This was the basis of the first superhero crossover in the history of comics back in 1940, when Marvel Mystery Comics #9 had the Sub-Mariner (the Prince of Atlantis) facing off against the original Human Torch in a showdown that was billed as "the ultimate battle of Fire against Water".
- The aforementioned rivalry between Namor the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch also carries over into the current comics, where Namor is a frequent supporting character in books featuring the Fantastic Four (of which the second Human Torch is a member). Namor, a proud, overbearing monarch known for his stoic personality, provides the perfect foil for the compassionate, fun-loving daredevil Johnny Storm.
- In X-Men, this trope is part of what helps solidify Cyclops' two love interests, Jean Grey and Emma Frost, as diametric opposites of one another. note
- Justice League of America's aptly-named Fire and Ice, who have something of a surrogate sisterly relationship with one another, are a fairly straightforward example.
- Batman and the Outsiders has a villainous couple with heat and cold powers, who are actually trying to find a cure to their opposite powers.
- The first page of issue #1 of 100 Bullets is a flashback sequence showing the the central character Dizzy Cordova standing in the rain with a gun to her head, and it's immediately followed by a scene of a nude Dizzy taking a shower. The final page of the final issue has Dizzy in the burning Medici manor, pointing a gun to Agent Graves' head, possibly about to be burned to death.
- Heat Miser and Snow Miser in The Year Without a Santa Claus.
- Iceman and Pyro in the X-Men film.
- Discussed in Freddy vs. Jason where it's suggested that some of the animosity between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees stems from the fact that the former was created from fire, and the latter was created from water (Freddy became a dream-dwelling demon after being burned to death by an angry mob, and Jason became a hulking zombie after drowning as a child).
- Employed in V for Vendetta, as a contrast between V and Evey's respective "rebirths": we see shots of Evey basking in a rainstorm following her imprisonment and torture at V's hands interposed with a flashback of V emerging from the fiery ruins of Larkhill Concentration Camp.
- Spread across two films with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, which are (not coincidentally) the only two James Bond films to be direct sequels to one another.
- The climax of Casino Royale has 007 fighting to save Vesper Lynd from the bad guys amidst a collapsing building in Venice, and ultimately diving into the water in an attempt to save her from drowning.
- The climax of Quantum of Solace has 007 and Camille fighting the bad guys in a burning building in a desert in Bolivia, and just narrowly avoiding being consumed by flames.
- In Sherlock Holmes, the two most dramatic murders carried out by Lord Blackwood (both of which occur at the midpoint at the movie, just as Blackwood's plan is coming together) employ this trope. First he drowns Sir Thomas Rotheram in his bathtub, then we see him burn Ambassador Standish alive about 15 minutes later.
- Used as a plot point in Constantine, where it's explained that water is a "universal conduit" that can facilitate transportation to Hell and its surrounding realms. In order to reach Hell, which is made of fire and brimstone, a person has to suspend at least part of their body in water while on Earth.
- Played extremely straight in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, through the obvious differences between Sharkboy (a bitey, angry water-guy) and Lavagirl (the feisty, but caring fire-girl). Although the characters themselves seem like they wouldn't be able to get along (and indeed, they are often hurt by each other), together they make up for the other's weaknesses.
- Used in the climax of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where the Connors and the T-800 finally battle the T-1000 to the death. First they freeze him with liquid nitrogen and shatter him into a million pieces, which apparently kills him for good. A few minutes later, he manages to reform himself when the heat from a factory foundry melts the frozen pieces of his liquid metal body—forcing the T-800 to kill him by throwing him into a vat of molten steel. The second time, it sticks.
- In keeping with Gareth Edwards' stated "Man vs. Nature" theme for Godzilla (2014), and to emphasize just how small and helpless the humans are, one scene shows soldiers firing off tiny-looking flares in front of the massive Godzilla, who is still dripping with many gallons of sea water.
- Also spread across two installments in Orson Scott Card's The Tales of Alvin Maker.
- The first scene of Seventh Son, the first book in the series, has the protagonist nearly dying as an infant when his family is caught in a flood (which ends up drowning his oldest brother).
- The first scene of Red Prophet, the second book, introduces us to a man with the ability to control fire, who nearly ends up killing the book's Big Bad by burning down his fortress.
- Used for the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where the first challenge requires the competitors to face off against four fire-breathing dragons, and the second challenge requires them to swim to the bottom of the Black Lake while battling Merpeople.
- According to Word of God, each of the Four Houses of Hogwarts is also associated with one of the four elements. Fittingly, Gryffindor and Slytherin—the two houses with the bitterest rivalry—have fire and water as their respective elements. Gryffindor's colors are red and gold, and their thematic association with fire ties into their primary virtue of courage, but also their notoriously stubborn personalities (Gryffindors, like fire, are incredibly difficult to control). This contrasts starkly with Slytherin, whose members pride themselves on their cunning and adaptability (much like water constantly shifts forms, assuming the shape of whatever container holds it).
- Turns up constantly in A Song of Ice and Fire.
- There are two conflicting religions based around the ocean-dwelling Drowned God (whose followers show their devotion by anointing their heads with seawater) and the fiery "Lord of Light" R'hllor (whose followers show their devotion with huge bonfires).
- This trope is used to contrast several of the warring factions in the War of the Five Kings.
- One major faction is led by the dragon-taming House Targaryen, whose members follow the motto "Fire and Blood", have a dragon as their sigil, and claim to trace their lineage to an ancient civilization that was destroyed by volcanoes. One (in)famous member of the family started a lot of drama by attempting to use alchemical weapons to burn his kingdom's capital city to the ground.
- One faction is led by Lord Stannis Baratheon, a militant follower of the religion of the aforementioned god R'hllor, who wears a red gold crown with points fashioned to look like flames, and has a heart-shaped ring of fire worked into his personal sigil.
- One faction is led by the island-dwelling Greyjoy family, whose members have a kraken as their sigil, anoint their leaders with crowns made of driftwood, and follow the religion of the aforementioned Drowned God.
- One faction is led by the Stark family and their Northern allies, who are constantly associated with ice and cold, following the motto "Winter is Coming", and are (initially) led by a man who carries a greatsword called "Ice".
- Two major inciting events in the series involve the simultaneous return of the Others (undead creatures from the frozen North who carry weapons made of ice, and melt like ice when killed) and the fire-breathing Dragons. Both happen on opposite sides of the world, and both happen in the domains of two opposing factions of the war.
- The Robert Frost poem "Fire and Ice".
- The Divine Comedy uses both Evil Is Burning Hot and Evil Is Deathly Cold during its description of Hell; fire and heat are used to punish the souls of the damned at various points, such as the burning sands and the rivers of blood, but the deepest layer, Cocytus, consists of a frozen lake where the worst sinners of all are partially entombed within the ice.
- James Baldwin's famous 1963 Civil Rights essay The Fire Next Time takes its title from a Negro spiritual that uses this trope, predicting an eventual fiery apocalypse that will finish the work started by the Great Flood in the Book of Genesis.
- In Bluestar's Prophecy, the eponymous message she receives from StarClan compares her to fire, but warns that even the greatest flames can be extinguished by water. Bluestar eventually dies from drowning, but survives just long enough to say goodbye to Fireheart (her apprentice) and her RiverClan children.
- The character Flametail dies when he falls through ice and drowns in a lake.
- In The Dresden Files, the mage protagonist is infamous for his fire spells, and it's a sign of his greatly increased power (and changed worldview as the Winter Knight) when he can master ice, the opposite element.
Live Action TV
- The first Bad Future in Heroes has a fire-using Peter battling Sylar, who is using ice powers.
- Life After People: Comparing the fates of Co-Op City (which would flood and collapse in a century) and the San Rimo Apartments (which will eventually burn):
- The first two major villains introduced in Power Rangers Operation Overdrive were warring brothers Moltor (fire) and Flurrious (ice).
- Just prior to that, Power Rangers Mystic Force and its counterpart Mahou Sentai Magiranger had a more complementary version, as the team's mentor was an ice sorceress, and it was eventually revealed that her husband was a fire mage. It can also apply to the water-themed Blue Ranger and her love interests in both versions: in Magiranger she eventually married the Sixth Ranger who had The Power of the Sun, while the Mystic Force version of the character was Ship Teased with the Red Ranger, another fire wielder.
- Used in Hannibal to contrast Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham. Hannibal is shown cooking almost every episode, is frequently framed by firelight, and has a very warm and friendly disposition. He's also a devouring, destructive, catalytic force who is symbolically linked to the Miltonian Devil. Will, meanwhile, is a fisherman who frequently dreams of water and ice, and whose mental retreat is a calm river. His personality is off-puttingly cold and forbidding, and his talents involve assuming the mindset of killers in the same way that liquid assumes the shape of a container.
- A major event in Game of Thrones is the Battle of Blackwater Bay, when the ocean's surface burned with green wildfire. You can tell that the set designers had fun with this.
- In "Seven Devils" by Florence and The Machine:
Holy water cannot help you now
See I've come to burn your kingdom down
And no rivers and no lakes can put the fire out...
Mythology and Religion
- In Norse Mythology's creation myth, runoff from Niflheim (the world of ice and mist) got too close to Muspellheim (the world of fire and heat) within the Gaping Nothing, which eventually led to the creation of the Universe.
- In Hawaiian mythology, Pele the fire goddess is in a constant battle with her sister Na'maka the ocean goddess. This conflict actually creates Hawaii, continuously, as runoff from the volcanoes reaches the sea and solidifies.
- Many depictions of Shiva Nataraja ("Dancing Shiva") traditionally depict Shiva dancing inside a ring of fire and water, symbolizing his mastery of opposites (i.e. his mastery of destruction, which makes creation possible).
- Invoked in Chapter 43 of the Book of Isaiah in The Bible:
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you."
- In Götterdämmerung, after being burned on Siegfried's funeral pyre along with its final owner, the Ring, cleansed of its curse, is finally reclaimed by the waters from whence the gold was stolen. While the Rhinemaidens play with it in the river, Valhalla bursts into flames.
- In The Magic Flute, the final test for Tamino and Pamina is to pass through banks of fire and water (though the guardians' duet suggests the other elements are also involved).
- Most Toa teams in BIONICLE have a Toa of Fire as The Hero and a Toa of Ice as The Lancer, typically having a Red Oni, Blue Oni dynamic. Tahu and Kopaka are the most prominent example, although they're both just as likely to start arguing with Gali, the Toa of Water, as they are with each other.
- Any and all literal instances of Hailfire Peaks.
- Joshua Graham from Fallout: New Vegas DLC Honest Hearts describes himself as having been baptised twice in his life; once in water (referencing his Mormon upbringing) and once in fire (he abandoned the faith and became a soldier under a warlord named Caesar, but when he led his soldiers into an ambush and lost an important battle, Caesar had him covered in pitch and set alight as punishment for his failure; he survived somehow, and returned to his home to re-join the faith).
- In Metal Gear Solid 3, the final two members of the Cobras are set up using this trope. First, Snake battles "The Fury", who's perpetually angry, and battles his enemies by burning them with flamethrowers and jet engines. The very next boss battle takes place in a river in the middle of a raging rainstorm, where Snake is pitted against "The Sorrow", who's eerily calm, and never even throws a punch at him.
- In the Diablo series, the hell you visit in Diablo II has overall a lava and rock motif, while the heavens you visit in Diablo III has a water and crystal motif (at least, before Diablo starts corrupting them). This is especially notable at the part where you must take some portals from the heavens to hell: the contrast is quite evident there.
- In the Heroes of Might and Magic series, Gelu wields the Armageddon's Blade in battle against Kilgor, who wields the Sword of Frost. When the two blades meet each other, they unleash a destructive magical shockwave that nearly destroys the planet.
- Killer Instinct contrasts Glacius, an ice-themed alien shape-shifter, with Cinder, a human who was mutated into a living flame by an experiment gone wrong.
- Charizard (fire) and Blastoise (water), starting from when they were the opposing version mascots of Pokemon Red And Blue. It's been more common to depict them as counterparts in various media, including in Pokémon Origins where Red's ace Pokémon is Charizard and Blue's equivalent is Blastoise. Series director Junichi Masuda later decided to avert this for the remakes, FireRed and LeafGreen, by not giving the latter an international retitle. He felt that the juxtaposition of fire and water had more aggressive connotations than fire and leaves, and he wanted to portray a peaceful world.
- In Pokemon Ruby And Sapphire, the legendary Pokémon Kyogre and Groudon are linked with the oceans and the continents respectively, but Groudon can also use fire attacks and creates a 'Sunny Day' effect when on the battlefield. There are also two groups of Pokémon trainers locked in a feud and battling for control of these legendaries: Team Aqua wants to use Kyogre to flood the continents and expand the sea, while Team Magma want to harness Groudon to evaporate the sea and raise new land.
- Scorpion and Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat. Sub-Zero uses ice magic to complement his fighting style, while Scorpion frequently has some form of attacks that utilize Hell Fire. They also have a rivalry borne from Scorpion's belief that Sub-Zero was involved in the massacre of his family.
- Samurai Warriors has Kenshin (ice) and Shingen (fire).Note that it may refer to the chosen element of their ultimate weapon.
- Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands has the elemental opposition between Razia the Marid Queen (who has powers over water, which in the series symbolize life) and the Ifrit Lord Ratash, who has power over both fire and sand (which, in the series, is opposed to water as a symbol of death and entropy.)
- Golden Sun: Dark Dawn: Two gems that give you the power to evaporate water or turn it to ice are held by the Sand Prince and the Frost Queen. The former is a Worthy Opponent who battles you to gauge your strength before he willingly gives you the gem, the latter is a textbook evil queen who won't give up her gem peacefully.
- King of Fighters has 'K and Kula Diamond, whose styles are similar, yet, they use fire and ice respectively.
- There is also some sort of rivalry in Mana-Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy between Whim and Yun, being a Water Mana and Fire Mana respectively.
- In Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, Main Character Mao is able to learn Ice magic naturally, while his Childhood Friend and rival Raspberyl excels in Fire magic.
- Final Fantasy has the recurring summons Ifrit and Shiva for Fire and Ice. Final Fantasy VI pairs them up as bosses, while Final Fantasy VIII sees Ifrit pull an Oh, Crap if you summon Shiva against him.
- In Final Fantasy V, Lenna and Faris are foils in several ways. In addition to their personality differences, Lenna represents the element of water and Faris represents fire. A bonus job added in the GBA release gives the party members special elemental attacks which reflect this.
- Final Fantasy VI, Terra learns primarily fire spells, while her Foil Celes focuses on ice spells.
- Dissidia: Final Fantasy, Tidus carries a water-theme with his attacks, leaving a trail of bubbles with his sword (which is blue) and leaving splashes as he runs in EX Mode, references to his original game's water themes. His father Jecht on the other hand throws out Spell Blade and Elemental Punches of fire.
- In the same game, the goddess Cosmos is associated with water, and her throne, Order's Sanctuary, is covered in a shallow layer of water. Chaos on the other hand is associated with fire, using many fire attacks in battle, and his throne, Edge of Madness, is a Mordor area covered in magma with fireballs raining from the sky.
- Ryu and Fou-Lu in Breath of Fire IV have very similar movesets, but Ryu's moves are generally fire-themed, while Fou-Lu's are themed around water and ice, and Fou-Lu is explicitly described as having an affinity for water (and a corresponding weakness to fire). This represents the fact that Ryu and Fou-Lu are two halves of the Yorae Dragon, an immensely powerful god that was split into two beings when by the ritual that summoned it.
- Serph and Heat in Digital Devil Saga; the former is a Stoic who almost never speaks and shapeshifts into an ice-themed demon, Varna, while the latter is a hot-headed and impulsive Blood Knight who shapeshifts into a fire-demon, Agni. The backstory also reveals that they, or rather the humans their personalities were based on, were involved in a Betty and Veronica Switch Love Triangle over Sera.
- In Dragon Age II, one early sign that Anders has changed since merging with the Spirit of Justice, is that one of his starting spells is Ice; a stark contrast to Awakening where his introduction had him wielding Fire, though his starting spells were ice-based in both games, showing that the potential for what he would become was always there.
- In Tales of Phantasia the Eternal Sword is made by fusing a fire-elemental Flamberge (taken from the fire-themed level Odin's Tower) with an ice-elemental Vorpal Sword (taken from the ice-themed level Fenrir's Cavern).
- Fireboy and Watergirl, a series of flash games in which you control both of the title characters simultaneously and must use their elemental powers to solve puzzles.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is practically built entirely on the Four Element Ensemble, the first protagonists introduced in the show hail from the peaceful and simple Water Tribe, while the main antagonists are from the despotic and warlike Fire Nation.
- The Avatars themselves often encounter this as well. Fire-native Avatars often find learning Waterbending to be the most difficult bending art to learn, and vice versa for Water-native avatars. Earth- and Air-native avatars also have similar difficulties, but this trope doesn't directly apply.
- The grande finale also features a rather striking battle between Azula (fire-based powers, destructive, uncontrollable) and Katara (water-based powers, compassionate, in control).
- In Adventure Time Flame Princess ( fire elemental ) sees Finn crying over her. She thinks he's a water elemental because he "releases water," which is why they can't get along.
- There's also the episode "Hitman", which has the Ice King—a goofy, fun-loving Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain—trying to defend Finn and Jake from the overzealous assassin Scorcher—an eerily silent, ruthlessly efficient killer—when he almost accidentally has them murdered. Notably, this is one of the first episodes of the show in which the Ice King is completely on Finn and Jake's side, and signals the beginning of his Character Development into a more sympathetic Anti-Villain.
- In the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Magicks of Megas-tu". During Captain Kirk's magical battle with the Megan prosecutor, the prosecutor summons up a wall of flames in front of Captain Kirk. Kirk responds by creating a cascade of water to put out the fire. The fire represents the prosecutor's desire to destroy Kirk, while the water represents Kirk's basically defensive and non-aggressive posture (as appropriate for a representative of the Federation).
- Well, more like "Lava/Water Juxtaposition" in the case of Lilo & Stitch: The Series with experiments Yin (#501) and Yang (#502). The majority of the episode sets them up that they must never meet or the elemental clash would cause a deadly reaction, but it turns out Opposites Attract and their powers combined can create new landforms.
- Given that Lilo and Stitch takes place in Hawaii, this could very well be a reference to the legend of Pele and Na'maka in Hawaiian mythology (see "Mythology and Folklore" above).
- In Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, the "Amazing Friends" were Iceman and Firestar.