He's badass. He has cool clothes. He's a little less idealistic than the hero. He makes a grand entrance. And does it in half the time the hero does. Why's he a loner? Generally it turns out to be some kind of betrayal, or maybe they lost friends or family and now they just want to be alone.
Unfortunately, he'll win battles but never win the war. If he's lucky, he might not get killed by The Dragon. He's also obnoxiously condescending because all Loners Are Freaks, and, if written badly, has only an Informed Ability.
The Ineffectual Loner does not understand The Power of Friendship, or just isn't concerned. The problem is this attitude makes someone pretty single-minded, and he's afraid to trust anyone as an ally or they'd be a liability/distraction. He's also extremely susceptible (if not outright gullible) to villains who know how to think this way. He may catch on eventually, but he'll be a tool (in several senses of the word) for a bit.
An Ineffectual Loner usually starts to catch on to their role the first time they get their ass handed to them, and the other heroes bail him out. This is often a tempting trap laid by the villain, who knows the loner has no friends to warn him about the obvious danger.
A forgiving lead hero will usually be sympathetic to his intentions, even if other characters regarded him as an annoyance. Indeed, sometimes there's a specific character who does that intently — sometimes a little too much.
In short, an isolationist kind of Grumpy Bear. If he's lucky, he'll be upgraded to Rival or Sixth Ranger. If not, he gets served as a testimonial to going against the series Aesop. Some writers take the middle ground to be more fair, but that usually results in conveniently being Put on a Bus until the writers need them again.
On the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, these characters only appear in idealistic stories or when the main cast isn't a team. In a cynical story they might be the main character.
A subtrope of The Stoic. See also Loners Are Freaks, In the End, You Are on Your Own, The Complainer Is Always Wrong. Contrast The Aloner, who is a Loner by (apocalyptic) force rather than choice.
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Anime and Manga
Played with in GaoGaiGar. Soldato-J doesn't fight alone, but he doesn't have the same kind of camaraderie with his partners that Guy and Mamoru have with theirs. Despite this, he's actually better at his job than Guy is, at least at first, and makes his entrance by curbstomping a trio of Robeasts moments after they'd beaten Guy to a pulp. He goes on to be Guy's rival for the rest of the series before apparently going out in a blaze of glory at the end of the tv series. FINAL plays this a bit straighter; while he remains as badass as he's ever been, J is also completely unable to do anything against the Sol Masters until the heroes show up (to be fair, he was outnumbered eleven to one), and can't even challenge his own Evil Counterpart until he teams up with Renais and gains a new Super Mode / Combination Attack with her.
Fakir in Princess Tutu certainly starts off this way. As soon as the main heroine figures out he's not really that bad of a guy she tries to convince him to team up with her, but it takes until near the end of the season until he finally does, and even then it's reluctantly. In the second season he doesn't mind quite as much, but he still maintains a bad habit of trying to do things on his own.
Nao Yuuki from Mai-Hime is mostly this, but not because she's ineffective. Rather, she's utterly disinterested in the battles the other HiME are involved in, preferring her own path of preying on creeps she lures to her via the internet. And when she works with the others to stop the Sears Foundation's invasion of Fuka Academy, she's just as effective there. However, almost immediately afterwards, she's framed for attacking another HiME and loses her eye in the ensuing battle, causing her naturally distrustful personality to blow into full on paranoia, leading her to take out her feelings of revenge on everyone she almost trusted until the events of the Grand Finale.
Natsuki Kuga from the same series is a by the numbers case of this. Pretty much every solo action we see her undertake onscreen doesn't work, or blows up in her face. Her attempt to dissuade any Hime from showing up to Fuuka in the first episode really sets the stage for this. From there, there's her plan to deal with the panty thief orphan, her discovering and attacking Alyssa Searrs, and her attempts to deal with the seemingly traitorous Nao. Ironically, this all leads up to her final confrontation with Shizuru, which she only wins because she acknowledges that she's not alone in the world, and thus super-powers up Duran to the same level as Shizuru's Kiyohime, allowing her to carry out her plan: eliminate Shizuru (and by extension, herself) in order to give Mai a clear shot at ending the entire Festival, thus sacrificing herself for the good of others. Quite the full circle of Character Development. Her special in the 25th episode even has her acknowledging the power of friendship and love.
"The feelings Shizuru had for me and the feelings Mai and Tate had for each other made me realize people can't live alone. It might seem obvious to anyone else, but it was an important truth I discovered only recently."
He has every reason to stay away from other people though: He is a magnet for megalomaniacs who plot world domination and evil supernatural beings and holds both a Superpowered Evil Side and Season 3's main villain within his body. And after the hell he went through for three whole years, who can blame him for being a little more mopey than before?
Or, more precisely, he has accepted that he can't go running around without a brain in his head, because he has the power of Good Darkness, and actually needs to start thinking before he acts. He spent most of the season trying to get his friends into positions where they'd be able to achieve the goals they wanted, as well as making up his own mind on his future: helping others instead of being a selfish brat.
Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune from Sailor Moon have a consistently condescending view of many of the other characters, despite being surprisingly useless when combating actual Dragons or Big Bads.
Jung Freud from Gunbuster is introduced early on as The Rival hot "foreign" mecha pilot. She hangs around the edges of the main two characters, never quite getting to be the big heroine, or to save the day. To her credit, she gives up her seat in Buster Machine, to allow the classic pair to team for the final mission. She is left behind near the climax, not even allowed to make the Heroic Sacrifice made by the two leads.
Asuka Langley Soryuu from Neon Genesis Evangelion is introduced in a manner very similar to Jung Freud (same director, same company). This is soon subverted; instead of fading into the background after her first (slight) comeuppance, she is promoted to love interest (a much more dangerous position in a Gainax giant robot story) and then to central cast member. She still suffers like most Ineffectual Loners - it's just longer in coming and much nastier when it happens.
Or an ancient apocalyptic force will cause you to turn all of humanity into a vat of orange primoridal ooze. Let's face it, Shinji's also an ineffectual loner despite being the main character. He beats more Angels than Rei or Asuka, but just gets more traumatized each time.
To make the trio complete, Rei is also rather ineffectual whenever she fights alone.
Gary in Pokémon until the Johto arc, and the first two video game generation rivals, are prime examples. They don't understand The Power of Friendship and can't learn to love and respect their Pokémon. Butt kicking results.
Actually, it was never implied Gary wasn't close to his Pokemon, merely that he just wasn't as idealistic about the bond as Ash was. But then again, who is?
Also in the anime; Charizard, Sceptile, Buizel, and Croagunk. However, they've all proven at some point that they do care for their trainers...it just took a while to open up.
In part 1, Uchiha Sasuke from Naruto starts out as The Rival, but quickly descends to Ineffectual Loner. He is introduced as a grim and solitary prodigy at the Ninja Academy with a special inherited power that should make him all but invincible. Other characters admire and are intimidated by his skill, while women swoon over his good looks. He then goes on to get bailed out of every major fight by Naruto. With the start of part 2, however, he has become something of a subversion - now that he really has split himself off from the protagonist he has become one of the most powerful ninja in the series, not through the power of friendship but through fighting alone.
He heads back towards being a straight example from about his fight with Itachi onwards, as he only got out of that because the fight was thrown, he goes back to being bailed out by his new team in his next fight though he fought Danzo alone, it was mainly thanks to Karin continually supplying him information through the fight that he won, and it generally seems as if he's never going to achieve anything he aims for.
Except then he promptly ditches his team, and gets anotherpower upgrade. As with just about every other trope, Sasuke keeps us guessing on this one.
Though literally every single fight Itachi takes part in goes exactly as planned, his ultimate goal fails completely due to his belief that he was the only one who needed to suffer the burden of the Uchiha Clan's darkness. Later on, he admits to Naruto that if he had been willing to share the pain and let others help him, especially Sasuke, things would have worked out much better than they did.
The X-Laws from Shaman King are an entire team of ineffectual loners.
Gareki from Karneval fits the first paragraph to a T, although he's a main character and too Badass to fail (so far; being rational and aware of his lacking strength next to a Circus fighter helps too). Also, he's a Type A Tsundere, which goes along charmingly with the personality trait (Badass; it's kept him from being Ineffectual thusfar).
Digimon generally has at least one of these per season, or at least an otherwise main character who decides for no apparent reason that they need to be a Loner. In the first season, Matt/Yamato can't be bothered by anyone but his younger brother, so he gets the Crest of Friendship to force him to be more powerful by working with others. Rika/Ruki in Digimon Tamers: in the beginning of the season she sees Digimon as soulless fighting machines, treats her own Digimon partner as such, and actively tries to destroy the Digimon belonging to the main character. She lightens up later, thanks to her mother and digimon partner.
A lot of the loners are this way because of their Broken Bird origins.
Angel Salvia from Wedding Peach is this at first. Because of the nature of their powers and the enemies they fight, the four Love Angels aren't able to use the full power of the Saint Something Four until they all work together. Also, the part that made me think of this trope was where Salvia kept cutting a snow demon in her angry desire to get revenge, and even though cutting it was making the demon grow more each time, she wouldn't stop cutting it until Peach made her stop. Making that a rather literal example because her method (which she wanted to do by herself) was worse than just ineffectual, it was making the enemy stronger!
Katekyo Hitman Reborn! has Hibari Kyoya, the ostentatious head of the Disciplinary Committee (Although he is only ever seen with one of its members at any given time), doesn't like groups. He hates groups, and people who group, to the point of beating them senseless with the only warning being a derogatory "I'll Bite You to Death." He's considered invincible by his peers in the manga (most of whom are afraid of getting on his bad side), and has only lost one battle total due to a cheap trick pulled by the resident Manipulative Bastard Rokudo Mukuro. Despite this completely ridiculous winning streak, when it comes to the appearance of the Big Bad, he doesn't even try to pull a stunt, leaving it to the hero. (He is also the reference image for this page.)
Kai Hiwatari, from Beyblade is this massively all the way through season 1 ("There's no Kai in team!", anyone?), is less obnoxiously so in V-Force (re. goes off to fight wind Weasel thing alone), reverts back to season 1 persona in G-Rev. And never beats Tyson. Bless.
Partially subverted at the end of G-Rev, when he scares to death, defeats and drives into madness the apparently invincible Brooklyn through determination alone.
Played straight, subverted as part of Character Development, and then sort of zig-zagged with Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z. He always lives alone, constantly training himself mentally and physically. Even when he starts getting some concept of The Power of Friendship, he still prefers to do things his own way. Often times being the only one who can even remotely stand up to the Big Bad of the arc, up until around the time Cell finishes up becoming Perfect, but the only finishing blow he gets against a serious fighter requires a Heroic Sacrifice by his then-Worthy Opponent. The zig-zag comes around because, even though he (eventually) openly admits that some threats are simply too big to fight alone, the only time he's shown spending any time with anyone else is when they're in the middle of training to combat said big threat.
George Schyuter of Muhyo And Roji, quoted above, has a Freudian Excuse that because his assistants ended up dying so often, he attracted a bad reputation and decided to avoid causing or being blamed for others' deaths by practicing Magical Law alone with a spescial sword and envoy. He initially obstructs Muhyo and Roji's efforts to deal with Vector by threatening to revoke their licenses if they interfere, before setting out to deal with him alone. This doesn't go very well, and he ends up being forced to pull a You Shall Not Pass in order to buy time for Roji to wake up Muhyo, who proceeds to finish the fight with Vector.
Jean-Pierre Polnareff from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure started out like this, as he was mainly driven by vengeance against J. Geil, the man with two right hands who killed his sister. He insists to do it alone when the gang arrives in India, upon knowing that he is there. He grows out of this after J. Geil and Hol Horse kill Avdol, and Kakyoin helps him track down J. Geil and give him the thrashing of his life, and afterwards, he 's the one who's preaching about working together in order to defeat Dio.
Barnaby Brooks Jr. from Tiger & Bunny begins the series as one of these. While he has a public front as being very friendly and charming, in reality he's entirely too wrapped up in seeking revenge to form any sort of relationship with other people. It takes Kotetsu thirteen episodes and a flamebolt to the chest to drag him out of it.
In Saint Beast, Kira's loner behaviour is largely due to Fantastic Racism, but never became good with people even after meeting angels who accepted him. However, the heroes aren't the kind of angels to leave him alone and his aloof behaviour never helps him.
Captain, Zero, and Bakunetsumaru start out this way in SD Gundam Force. Captain shrugs off Shute's companionship at first because he has to mantain The Masquerade, but rethinks this when he realizes that the Soul Drive runs on the Power of Friendship. Similarly, both Zero and Bakunetsumaru when they first appear are disdainful of the Gundam Force, but come to recognize them as warriors of worth, and decide to help them protect Neotopia as they would their own nations. Gunbike actually lampshades this trope;
"I know you, the proud, cocky type who likes to do things on his own, and gets the rest of his squad in trouble!"
Hikigaya Hachiman from Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru prefers to be left alone, but after his teacher forced him to join a club that helps other students with their problems he has situations where helps people alone (even if almost the entire school hates him for it later on)
MakoPi/Cure Sword of Doki Doki Pretty Cure was this, preferring not to get involve in Mana's growing Pretty Cure team so she can handle her own revenge for letting her home get destroyed. It isn't until all four Cures are trapped in MakoPi's world and seeing how big Mana's Balls of Steel are in mocking one of the Quirky Mini Boss Squad while powerless, she lets it drop.
During the No Man's Land storyline, Batman became this by cutting himself from all his allies and forbidding them to help. Finally, he realized this approach was counterproductive and recalled them all.
Batman: I want to thank you all for coming on such short notice... and... Before we get into why you're here, I wanted to say... well, I just... I... I know that I'm not an easy person to know. That's all.
Arnie, in Dr Franklins Island, is more independent and contrary than his two companions, and insists on his own plans. But he usually has to go with what Miranda says anyway, since she's usually right and he needs that. His plans do not actually work out so well, anyway.
Live Action TV
Battlestar Galactica: By the end of the series, Galen Tyrol has become this. But really, after discovering that he was a Cylon and never really picking whether he was going to identify as a human or a Cylon, then later finding out his half-Cylon son wasn't actually half-Cylon or his at all, then also that his wife was actually killed by a fellow Cylon, can you blame him for being disillusioned?
Dr. Foreman on House. He's quit and gone to work for other hospitals, and attempted to run a drug trial, but pretty much always gets kicked back to working under House.
Arguably, Dr. House himself, at least in recent seasons where the focus has been shifting from him getting away with crazy stunts to stick it to the man to him getting away with crazy stunts to distract from his crippling emotional issues, while failing in any actual attempt to resolve them.
Eric Myers, the Quantum Ranger of Power Rangers Time Force consistently thought himself superior to the other Rangers (and, on paper, he was) and never actually joined the team in any real sense. He only actively works with the others in the finale, and then it's only by giving his powers to the Red Ranger, Wes, when he is incapacitated. (In Time Force's counterpart Mirai Sentai Timeranger, the equivalent character, Naoto Takizawa, actually experiences Redemption Equals Death).
Avon of Blake's 7. He starts off with no choice in the matter, stuck on a spaceship and on the run from the Federation... but he somehow keeps finding reasons to not leave the ship and Blake, whom he professes to despise. After losing Blake he should have been free to go, but instead spends the remaining two years in command of the crew and looking for Blake.
In Survivors (2008), Greg claims to want to survive on his own. He tolerates Abby's presence, who turns out to be a Team Mom and gathers a crew of seven. Despite mentioning leaving the group a few times, 12 episodes later, he's still there.
Kopaka starts out like this in BIONICLE. It doesn't last long, though because Destiny has other ideas. He's still The Stoic, but he's not as opposed to teamwork as he once was.
Wild ARMS 3: One of the best examples of this trope is Jet, not just because he is the Ineffectual Loner to a tee, but because Virginia calls him on it — asking him what he'd managed to accomplish on his lonesome. Considering that the four of them managed to save the world three times, and save villages and towns many times more than that, together, she has a point.
Subverted in Valkyria Chronicles. Through Nils Daerden and Marina Wulfstan, who actually get stat bonuses for being alone and penalties for being with others. In short, they actually DO work better alone. The latter is also considered by many to be the best sniper in the game.
But it could also be considered to be played straight anyways; for all his effectiveness, Delita never really gets what he was looking for and ends up alone and unhappy, while Ramza gets what he was looking for and lives his life free, with his sister.
Squall Leonhart is a hero version in Final Fantasy VIII, and he never wanted to be the hero anyway.
Brandt of Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light tries this, ditching Yunita so he can turn himself into a badass lone hero after feeling inferior to Krinjh. It lasts exactly until he reaches Arbor, whereupon the town's defenses turn him into a plant. (Fortunately, the little white cat following him was really Aire, who found a way to turn him back... after a few steps.)
Neku, main character of the video game The World Ends with You. He wants to find his way out of the Game by himself, however, the rules of the game make this extremely difficult if not impossible.
L'Arc Bright Lagoon, main character of Arc Rise Fantasia. He begins this way, but on his journey as 'Child of Eesa' he embraces the Power of Friendship.
Touhou's Fujiwara no Mokou fits perfectly into this type. Shortly after she killed somebody and then tasted the elixir of eternal life, she spent the rest of her life in a form of solitude at a bamboo forest because she couldn't fit into society because she couldn't die. Nowadays she spends her time taking on her rival's assassins and saving people's lives.
In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, that guy who wants a make a world where people can't interact with each other cause he doesn't believe in relying on people sure relies on you a lot for emotional support and dungeon crawling.
Actually, it was because of that, which is why he conceived of such a philosophy, as he was tired of being so dependent on the hero.
Arlin, the loner swordsman from Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana, leaves the party midgame to go hunting down his Evil Counterpart and Big Bad Mull on his own because the party doesn't make a quick progress in finding him. It doesn't go well. He's turned in a stone by his nemesis, and he can't be cured until you beat the game once.
Solo in the Mega Man Star Force games, thanks to his Freudian Excuse, believes wholeheartedly that only weak people form groups and develop friendships. He maintains this belief despite a huge number of inconvenient facts, such as his homeland of Mu being destroyed because nobody trusted anyone else, or the way The Hero uses The Power of Friendship to kick him around like a soccer ball on a regular basis.
Mass Effect 2: Garrus Vakarian starts out this way, causing trouble to the gangs of Omega. He worked with a team of 11 other people up until the gangs joined forces. The only reason Garrus is alone when you first meet him is because the rest of his team was killed. He's quite happy to join Shepard and, outside of a burning hatred for the man who sold out his team, is not bitter about the concept of teamwork.
Knuckles from Sonic the Hedgehog was a loner because he was given a job to guard the Master Emerald in Angel Island. Even though him and Sonic became friends, that doesn't mean he will always assist him in his adventures since he must return to his duties. Also, he doesn't rely on him or the others. By the time Sonic Heroes appeared, he seems to grow out of his shell.
Blaze in the Sonic Rush Series is this. She rejects the help of Sonic and his friends in believing that she must find all of the Sol Emeralds by herself. At the end of the game, she begins to learn The Power of Friendship and accepts the heroes as her friends.
One of Yuuto's two big flaws in Eien no Aselia is his inability to accept or ask for help. While he's competent and probably the strongest person on his side, he's just not good enough to do everything by himself. This does not just apply to fighting or being a general, however, as raising Kaori was far more difficult than it needed to be thanks to his stubborn refusal to accept any help after their parents died.
Subversion: In Fate/Stay Night, the Archer character is the Ineffectual Loner; this is a subversion as he is actually the disillusioned future self of The Messiah who realized at the end of his life that trying to save everyone was an impossible goal. Plus he's far from ineffectual.
Antimony from Gunnerkrigg Court used to be self-sufficient. She's apt to become good pals with any beings from psychopomps to the Minotaur to a trickster god, but didn't interact with living humans on her own initiative. Even Kat is her best friend only because she approached Annie first. From the chapter 19 or so she occasionally noticed the problem and tried to communicate. By 28 and 30 her failure to cooperate even with the teacher whose help she'd request when things gone wrong or fellow Mediums-in-training was an obvious crippling flaw.
Dimension Heroes: Wyn from the web fiction serial is unwilling to join with the other Dimensional Guardians until he finds himself in over his head.
Red vs. Blue: Agent Tex from is great at winning individual fights and battles, but when it comes to an overarching objective, she always falls short.
And Prowl from Transformers Animated. He's skilled enough, but often screws up due to a tendency to try to take on things that would require the entire team.
Prowl rises out of this for a few episodes early in the first season, seeming to have no problems working with Bulkhead... but seems to have a case of Aesop Amnesia, probably brought on by having to put up with Bumblebee.
Darkwing Duck starts off this way, with Darkwing spurning Launchpad's offers to team up, and disregarding Gosalyn's well-meant advice. By the end of the two-part pilot, he comes to accept the two as True Companions, but the trope of rejecting assistance comes up again and again in the course of the show, in episodes like "Slime Okay, You're Okay" and "Jail Bird". The strongest manifestation was in the show's only other two-part episode, "Just Us Justice Ducks", where Darkwing's rejection of allies leads to his summary defeat, an Aesop about the importance of teamwork, and an immediate comedic subversion of the Aesop, after which the battle royale between the Justice Ducks and their collective raison d'etre, the Fearsome Five, can proceed.
Peppermint Fizz from the 2002 Strawberry Shortcake series. She generally only shows up when the lesson of the day is something the nicer characters don't need to learn (like "don't be a xenophobe"), and is usually depicted as looking down on the others.
Cera in the first Land Before Time movie nearly got herself killed by a Sharptooth and went hungry so that she wouldn't have to ask for help from the others. Eventually, she joined the rest of the group in a somewhat touching scene one night. She's pretty integrated into the group immediately after that.
Twilight Sparkle of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic starts out as this. More interested in studying than spending time around anyone who isn't her Mentor Princess Celestia, she's less than thrilled when she's sent off with the none-too-subtle suggestion that she should meet new ponies and try making friends. Doesn't help that she thinks she's the Only Sane Pony around...