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The Big Bad
is sending our hero (and his Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
companions) through the wringer. He clearly has the power to wipe them out any time he feels like it. But he's content (for now) with sending out wave after wave of progressively stronger mooks
, Elite Mooks
, and the occasional Quirky Miniboss Squad
to test our hero. Maybe he's even fought them personally, but let them live, maybe even let them think they beat him.
Maybe he even leaves them alone to train for their inevitable confrontation. So why don't they finish the protagonist off and be done with it
Because it's All Part Of his Evil Plan
. Maybe he needs the heroes strong enough to get to the top of Mount Tropey and retrieve the Crown of Trope-Tan
. Maybe he needs The Chosen One
as strong as possible before he takes his power or body
as his own. So he keeps sending out one stronger opponent after another to test Our Hero (or lets him seek them out on his own). After all, if he can't handle that, he's no good for the Master Plan. Or the Big Bad
just may be a Blood Knight
who wants to beat him at his strongest.
The pitfalls of such a plan, however, are painfully obvious. If the schemer needs his pawn to secure the Crown of Trope-Tan due to restrictions on his own presence, he needs to make certain the pawn will deliver it to him straight away, lest the pawn put it in safekeeping, destroy it
or, worse, use it against him
. There are many ways to go about ensuring it, however - a hostage exchange
is one such way.
If the schemer is seeking the hero's body or power, there is a fine threshold between "strong enough to work" and "too strong to handle" that the schemer needs to keep in mind at all times - the instant the threshold is crossed, things get complicated
. A Blood Knight
is less inclined to care, especially if defeat is the desired result
Both of these also share the same pitfall as all Evil Plans
- the plan is only good as long as the pawns never figure it out. The instant they do, they may try to incorporate a power incompatible with the schemer
or seek to invoke a backfire
. Long story short, if they catch on, it's only a matter of time before the schemer and his plan go to hell
This is a subtrope of Evil Plan
. See also: I Let You Win
, Not Worth Killing
, Bring Him to Me
. Often a part of a MacGuffin Delivery Service
if the hero is an Unwitting Pawn
. Compare Stealth Mentor
. Contrast You Will Be Spared
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Anime and Manga
- Cell and Vegeta on Dragon Ball Z took turns with the Blood Knight variant of this trope. Vegeta could've easily destroyed Imperfect Cell (or let Future Trunks do it). But Cell appealed to his Saiyan blood, allowing him the opportunity to absorb Android 18 and achieve full power. Likewise, Perfect Cell could've wiped the Z-Warriors out after this. But his Saiyan blood (since he was created using the DNA of the most powerful warriors, including Goku and Vegeta) caused him to give Goku and company time to train and get stronger, so he could crush them at their best, with the whole world watching.
- In Naruto, Itachi decides not to kill Sasuke along with the rest of the Uchiha clan. The reason why he does this changes several times, always somehow related to this. Then it's revealed that the actual reason was that he was Good All Along.
- Saiyuki: Journey to West: The Sanzo party travels over land at the request of the Merciful Goddess, in order to be more of a team.
- In Bleach, Aizen allows Ichigo to go through one last bout of Training from Hell because he wants him to be stronger when Aizen finally "eats" him. Given how Drunk with Power Aizen is during their later fight, it becomes clear that Aizen just wanted a Worthy Opponent to crush with his new powers. It backfires on him because Ichigo took too many levels of Badass and was actually much stronger than Aizen anticipated.
- In Lost Universe, the main villain Yami doesn't kill Kain Blueriver when they first meet, wanting him to be stronger. Making him stronger worked too well.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, this is why Edward Elric and Roy Mustang survive long enough to win, in the manga. Well, Roy at least; Ed is already 'strong enough;' it's just that it's not yet time for the sacrifice.
- Alarmingly, if Roy had caught a bullet during the coup, it would probably have ruined the Big Bad's plans more thoroughly than any of the heroes' actual endeavors.
- On the other hand, given the way Roy ended up being coerced it looks like they didn't need nearly as high a level in their sacrifices as they tried to obtain—they could have pulled that trick on every alchemist in Central starting with Armstrong, if necessary, until they hit one who survived the Gate.
- On the other hand, the eclipse window was kind of small.
- In Hunter × Hunter, Hisoka is the Blood Knight variant. He just wants to have fun and fight strong opponents, and Gon and Killua look like they could grow up really fun to fight, so he lets them live and encourages their...development. And ogles their butts. Togashi doesn't even try to get crap past the radar, he just throws crap in and goes 'neener neener.'
- This is the guy who cut off his own arm to make a casual fight more interesting. And who had a years-long plan that involved betraying some of the most dangerous people on earth just to fight their leader. You should have seen his face when a side-effect of relying on Kurapika's vendetta turned out to be that Chrollo Lucifer would die if he used his powers again. Chrollo thought it was pretty funny, himself.
- In One Piece, Mihawk spares Zoro's life in their first encounter even though he's a massively inferior fighter. This is because he sees Zoro as having the potential to give him a truly challenging fight once he's traveled the Grand Line. He even goes so far as to personally train Zoro during the timeskip.
- In Shaman King, Yoh tells Hao that he's not afraid of him, because Hao will only kill him once he's reached his full potential.
- In MÄR, Phantom sees the potential in Ginta and actively encourages him to get stronger. Even preventing his army from killing him during their invasion of Dorothy's hometown. Course this came to bite him in the ass during the final round of the War Game between Ginta and him as Ginta begins overwhelming him, to which he even lampshades before pulling out his trump card which likewise fails.
- In Revolutionary Girl Utena the dueling game is designed with the purpose of strengthening the champion's Soul Sword to be stronger and to encourage them to exhibit princely virtues. It is strongly implied that Utena's many miraculous wins were actually due to Anthy and Akio's intervention as they planned for Utena to reach the final duel, at which point Akio could take her sword from her and use it to try to regain Dios's power, as he has done multiple times before with previous champions.
- In Kill la Kill, Satsuki makes Ryuko duel the club leaders, the Elite Four, and Satsuki herself to strengthen Ryuko so that she can help fight Satsuki's mother, Kiryuin Ragyou, when Satsuki makes her planned Heel-Face Turn.
- In A Certain Magical Index, Aleister Crowley manipulates things behind the scenes so that Touma Kamijou constantly runs into bad guys and problems to fight and solve, wanting him to gain experience and get stronger for some undisclosed goal. Later, the True GREMLIN organization reveals that Touma's entire adventure with Othinus was an "experiment" of their design to manipulate Touma's growth.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW): The trials Chrysalis puts the Mane Six through are meant to strengthen their friendship so their emotions will peak and Twilight will be at her strongest when she drains her magic.
- This winds up backfiring as Twilight's magic turns out to be much stronger then she realizes. Added with the magic comet amplifying her power and Twilight manages to defeat Chrysalis in a one on one duel.
- In Harry Potter and the Natural 20, Voldemort continuously sends minions and dangers Milo's way. Milo levels up with each fight and adventure and will eventually gain the power to revive the dead, a skill of course useful to the Dark Lord's plans.
Films — Live-Action
- In Star Wars, the Emperor wanted to make Luke Skywalker stronger, eventually making him his right-hand man.
- Pai Mei invokes this trope in Kill Bill Vol. 2 while training The Bride; "Since your arm now belongs to me, I want it strong."
- We see a form of this in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where "Mad-Eye Moody" nudges and helps Harry along in his Tri-Wizard Tournament challenges, for the sole purpose of luring him into a death trap.
- In The Pendragon Adventure, This trope is the reason Saint Dane doesn't simply kill all the Travelers. In fact, it's also the reason he even lets Bobby find him in any territory at all. When Saint Dane says he his done with his work in a territory, he means it.
- In the updated Battlestar Galactica, it's never exactly clear why the Cylons didn't simply Zerg Rush the fleet, destroying Galactica and picking off the rest of the fleet at leisure. After all, they'd wiped out 99% of humanity already. Why tiptoe around killing the rest? It's been suggested (but never spelled out on-screen) that this was Cavil/One's doing: He wanted to prove to the Final Five that Humans Are Bastards and not worth saving (thus justifying his own hatred of the Five and humans) by hounding what was left of the Colonies until they turned on each other (which sort of was the case). The hypocrisy of this did not go unremarked upon.
- In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger episode 28, the Monster of the Week is an alien bounty hunter and thrill-seeker who does it twice. In the past, he nearly killed Captain Marvelous but stopped short and even injured himself to create a weak point and taunted Marvelous to come back strong enough to challenge him. Then in the present, he handily defeats Marvelous a second time (mostly due to his being paralyzed by fear) and leaves mid-fight despite being paid to kill the Gokaigers.
- In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), the Yellow-Eyed Demon reveals that he has been working to make Sam stronger as part of his Evil Plan.
- In The Wotch, it's clear that Xaos has enough power to take out Anne or Miranda (possibly both of them at once), as does Kohaine. He's explicitly testing Anne, wanting her to grow as strong as possible before stepping in and stealing her powers. Why he can't just take them now and be done with it...? *shrugs*
- In The Order of the Stick, Xykon invokes this trope to Roy, offering to let him go so he could gain a few levels because "good heroes make good villains." Roy decides to fight him anyway. (Xykon then subverts the trope by going ahead and killing Roy. Don't worry: He gets brought back.)
- Later, General Tarquin does it too, letting Elan go even after he's tried to kill him. so he can gain some more levels, finish the current questline, and THEN come back to try again. His reasons are cleverer than most, however - he basically says that, should he lose in a climactic duel against a powerful hero, he'll go down in history as a legendary villain. And if he wins? Then he wins. Of course, the fact that he's Elan's father may also play a role in his decision.
- In Our Little Adventure, the Palm Tree Ghost tells Julie that the city of Everwood should be her next destination, but she'd probably want to spend some time gaming a level or three before proceeding there. Made explicit later, when they discover that the second Magicant piece was far closer to their original starting point than the first They're told that although that piece was closer, the monsters in that area were far stronger, and they would have been slaughtered had they tried for the closer one first.
- A variant on this shows up in 8-Bit Theater, when Sarda reveals that the true purpose of the Light Warriors' questing was to make them as strong as possible, just so they would know that not even that much strength could stop him from killing them.