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Karmic Protection
"Of course you realize, dis means war!"
Bugs Bunny catchphrase

Not all antagonists are fire breathing Card Carrying Villains, a good many are Plucky Comic Relief Harmless Villains, or just plain incidental annoyances, and these guys just can't be done away with using the same response as the former. It just wouldn't jibe to have a hero beat said antagonist to within an inch of his life for putting itching powder in his cowl, at least not without the hero being an Anti.

These antagonists have a certain degree of Karmic Protection, even though this character outright annoys others they are protected from harm because they genuinely mean well or at least aren't actually harming anyone. These guys and gals have to be dealt with creatively, and some can even be convinced to tone it down. However, if they do turn bad and Kick the Dog, the protection is lost. Underlying all this is the idea that the typical Karmic Trickster shenanigans can only be justified if provoked to avoid appalling the audience.

In that sense, the Karmic Protection extends both ways: it protects the annoyance from real harm, and the hero from karmic backlash as he's perfectly justified in his response. Sometimes though, the attempts at Karmic Protection don't work for some of the audience and just end up with the protagonist looking like a Jerkass and rooting for the supposed antagonist to get one over on this pompous ass who deserved it anyway.

This is usually why a hero who's a Slave to PR won't be the one to initiate hostilities against an Affably Evil villain.

See also Laser-Guided Karma and Karmic Trickster. Compare Karma Houdini Warranty.

Examples

Anime
  • Haru from Katekyo Hitman Reborn! is a ditz and a little overprotective of children who can take care of themselves, but she means well and ends up a member of the family.

Comics
  • Batmite and Mxyzptlk usually just end up being sent back to their home dimensions in the end, since they are well-intentioned playful tricksters and not outright evil.

Film
  • The Marx Brothers, no matter what characters they were playing. If someone was mean to Harpo, you knew he was going to spend the next 80 minutes of screentime being their Butt Monkey. They are possibly a source for the Bugs Bunny character.

Live-Action Television
  • In the various Star Trek series, the Romulans invoke this Trope in their foreign relations. They often don't try to outright start wars, but instead to provoke or more often trick the Federation into doing so. This lets them cling to the moral high ground as they battle. Naturally, the various Trek captains like Kirk and Picard know they're full of crap.

Western Animation
  • Omnipresent and occasionally played with in Animaniacs:
    • One episode had a nanny parodying The Sound of Music, who greatly annoys the Warner Brothers with her happy demeanor and niceness. The show then breaks the Fourth Wall by showing a kid asking his dad why they don't simply take care of her like they do most of their enemies. The dad answers that she hasn't actually done anything bad to them and genuinely means well. Eventually, the Warners called in a cameo appearance from Slappy Squirrel to deal with her.
    • When they occasionally do pester someone who wasn't mean to them first, the character is previously established as a Jerk Ass (mocking his staff, witholding food, kicking nuns).
  • Bugs Bunny was not like that originally, he was more of a Screwy Squirrel, but was turned into this later on.
    • Director Friz Freleng created Yosemite Sam to directly upkeep the trope, and utilize a clearly belligerent villain Bugs could freely torment compared to Elmer Fudd, who Freleng feared was pitiful enough to make Bugs look like an unheroic bully.
  • Similarly Dick Lundy invented Buzz Buzzard as a more callous foe for Woody Woodpecker, evolving the latter away from his unpunished Screwy Squirrel persona he had against non-provocative victims like Wally Walrus.
  • Similarly Jerry of Tom and Jerry fell victim to this more and more in later Hanna Barbara shorts. In shorts he was defensive and being antagonised by Tom, he usually won. The odd time he started a feud or went overboard in his retaliation, Tom was allowed to have the last laugh.
  • There are elements of this in an episode of Kim Possible where Yori and the Sensei convince Ron to go back and help Monkeyfist because even though he's a bad guy, he hasn't meant them any harm this time round.
  • Averted in early episodes of The Dreamstone, where the heroes always got a free pass for brutally beating or leaving for dead mundane Minions With An F In Evil, the Urpneys. Later seasons started to inflict the trope, the Urpneys were retooled from pitiful slaves to more Not So Harmless lazy employees, with the heroes rarely taking their retaliations outside the bare means of defensive (one episode their over zeal returned ended on a rather sour note). In a lot of the Urpneys particularly ineffectual schemes, the heroes were retooled into The Fools oblivious to their foes undoing their own schemes for them.

Karmic JackpotMorality TropesKnow When to Fold 'Em
Karmic NodKarmaKarmic Rape

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