Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond
"In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."
— Desidarius Erasmus, Dutch Philosopher (1466-1536)
Sure we have abilities and "powers" that set us apart from "normal" Earth humes... But isn't it the height of arrogance t' call ourselves super heroes when all we are is a bunch of lost, outcast or refugee norms from our own worlds?
A character who, in their own reality/universe, are fairly normal, if not underpowered. They'd be a Red Shirt
back home, or someone fairly low key. Or maybe back home they're weak because they have to measure up to god-level opponents or Eldritch Abominations
. Whatever the reason, they're not considered strong.
However, due to the nature of the world they are dropped into, they are unbelievably powerful.
This trope is about when Power Creep, Power Seep does not
come into play. To be a Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond, you don't have to be a Mary Sue
, but you must be much more powerful than the locals, without gaining anything you didn't have before.
Compare Like a Fish Takes to Water
, where the individuals transplanted have some unique gifts or knowledge. This one is just a normal guy or person in his/her universe, but is special in another. Fish out of Water
goes hand-in-hand with this trope. This is a staple of comic book alien supers. Invoked
for Summon Everyman Hero
. See also Those Were Only Their Scouts
. Contrast Outside Context Villain
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- Ginta from MÄR is a relatively normal boy in his home universe. However, when he comes to MAR, he's considered super strong because of the difference in gravity.
- Dragon Ball Z
- Goku may be one of the strongest fighters on Earth but on his home planet he was called a weakling among Saiyans... at least in the early series. By the climax of the Saiyan saga he would have been considered pretty powerful by his people, had they still existed.
- Raditz is the weakest among his fellow Saiyans, but still strong enough to catch bullets from a farmer's shotgun and curbstomp Goku and Piccolo in his first (and only) appearance.
- The concept is also consistently used for training; characters will train in harsh, high-gravity environments so that they'll be even stronger under normal conditions.
- This comes up several times in One Piece, where characters, usually oneshot, are hyped up as the strongest in whatever nation or island the story is taking place in at the time, only to be Worfed by a more worldly, and therefore more powerful, fighter. Zoro had this happen to himself in his "epic duel" with Mihawk at the Baratie;
Mihawk: You may have a reputation, but you're still just a bunny. [...] You're a little frog, croaking in your puddle. Time you learned how big the world is.
- Mihawk's presence in the story itself, when he effortlessly defeats not only Zoro, but Don Krieg, one of the strongest pirates in East Blue, also references this. By the time the protagonists head for the Grand Line, they are the strongest pirate crew in East Blue, but as the pirates from East Blue are considered weaker than the other seas, almost all of their opponents to come are more dangerous than anyone in East Blue.
- This was called back to after Zoro trained under Mihawk during the timeskip. His first "serious opponent", an octopus drunken swordsman, bragged about being the strongest swordsman in Fishman Island. Zoro kept calling him a frog, until the swordsman was sufficiently incensed, at which point Zoro stated he was bragging like a frog in a well, unaware of the world.
- Pretty much the New Fishman Pirates. Can pretty much take over Fishman Island, but the Straw Hats can easily defeat them.
- Arlong was one of the elite members of Fisher Tiger's crew, but not necessarily all that powerful compared to the rest of the Grand Line, especially when he loses to Marine Admiral Kizaru. However, when he arrives in East Blue, it provokes an Oh Crap reaction from the residents, largely on the basis that he's from the Grand Line, and he's more than a match for the East Blue Marine forces that try to oppose him, since the best ones are stationed in the Grand Line.
- Similar to the One Piece example, Bakuman。 has this happen with Mashiro's uncle, Nobuhiro "Taro Kawaguchi" Mashiro. When he's first introduced, his drawings are fairly cartoon-like, bordering on Stylistic Suck, and he is said to have been ignorant of several manga drawing techniques. However, Kaya's father reveals that Nobuhiro was quite good at art compared to his classmates.
Mr. Miyoshi: (Nobuhiro) always had good ideas in his head, and got good grades in art class. He was especially talented at drawing.
Takagi: Whaaat!? Taro Kawaguchi was good at drawing?! No way!
Mr. Miyoshi: He was better than the rest of us— a big fish in a small pond.
Mashiro: Yeah, my uncle told me he realized how bad he was only after he decided to become a professional manga artist.
- Ishizawa is a far cry from Mashiro's talent as an artist, although he'd like to believe the opposite is true. However, when they're both in college, it is revealed that Ishizawa has a series in Chara Kira Magazine, around the same time Mashiro and Takagi's first series was canceled, and is looked up to by the members of the manga club.
- Death Note: Among Shinigami, Ryuk is actually mid to low ranked. However, he's still a being that can kill any human by writing their name in the Death Note, no matter how manipulative or intelligent they are including the protagonist Light, whom he eventually kills out of boredom.
- In Girls Und Panzer, Miho Nishizumi, the main character, comes from a family that has long been in the practice of tankery, and feels inferior to her mother and her sister. When she transfers to Oarai, a school that had no tank program until it started it up the year it arrived in an attempt to avoid being closed down permanently, she's immediately sought after to join the tankery group, and soon becomes the commander. Erika, a former schoolmate of Miho's, comments that it must be a weak school if Miho became its commander, referencing this trope.
- Rurouni Kenshin: Saito points this out in regards to Sanosuke, stating that while his abilities may make him one of the strongest fighters in Tokyo, he doesn't match up to either him or Kenshin(who are some of the strongest fighters in Japan). It's eventually subverted, as Sanosuke becomes strong enough to hold his own against some of the strongest characters.
- In Naruto, Naruto and Sasuke had pretty much established themselves as pretty strong genin...until Haku showed up, seemingly killed Zabuza with a flick of the wrist, and disappeared without a second notice. When they try to fight him again, Haku reveals he had been holding back (and holds back through the entire fight) that the only challenge he gets is from Naruto's first use of Kurama's chakra. And even then, its only because Haku doesn't go in for the kill he's taking a beating. This becomes even more apparent when Orochimaru and even more villages are introduced, and it takes a LOT of training from Naruto to catch up to Gaara or Neji in Part I and surpass the latter.
- In Suisei No Gargantia, Ledo is an ordinary soldier among his peers, piloting a mass-produced Real Robot. Until he finds himself stranded on a long forgotten, far less advanced Earth. It's no surprise every time he fights the local hostiles with his mecha, it ends up being a Curb-Stomp Battle.
- Booster Gold was originally less than a muggle, he was a total loser: an ex-football player from the 25th century disgraced by betting on his own games who ends up as the security guard of a museum. He steals a time travel device, a Force Field, a Legion Flight Ring, and a Robot Buddy and transports himself to present day... and has surprisingly become a great hero despite himself.
- The Flash, of DC Comics fame, is considered a bit of an inversion when DC and Marvel did one of their crossovers. In the Marvel Universe, there's no Speed Force (the source of his super-speed), so he's basically an ordinary man.
- Inverted in Tim Boo Ba, a pre-FF Monster story from Stan Lee & Steve Ditko. TBB is the absolute monarch of his world, brought down by a drop of water spilled by a preteen boy on the model world he lives on.
- One story in the Silver Age had Jimmy Olsen go to another world, where the low gravity meant he had the equivalent of Superman-level abilities.
- Mr Mxyzptlk, the imp who occasionally pops over from the Fifth Dimension to bug Superman, was said in his first appearance to be a nobody in his home dimension, where his powers are nothing out the ordinary.
- Superman looks at first sight like a prime example; he's a completely normal Kryptonian, but the completely normal ability of Kryptonians to absorb solar energy makes him on Earth, well, Superman. Then Averted in the (many) instances when he loses his powers or fights against other Kryptonian or overwhelming god-like beings; showing him to be a resourceful, intelligent and an absolutely relentless warrior and leader ready to face the apocalypse and save the world no matter what. To Kryptonians he is pretty much a non-rich Batman that emotes.
- Same can be said about Martian Manhunter - completely normal Martian... which means he's a super-strong, shapeshifting psychic.
- While Loki is often more of a schemer than a fighter when dealing with Asgardians, and is supposed to be a weakling compared to fellow giants, it's sometimes acknowledged that he's still way beyond the physical capacity of any human. For instance, in Hulk Vs., he's shown giving Bruce Banner a weak slap that is strong enough to launch Banner across the room, and as discussed by Tom Hiddleston, who will play him in The Avengers, being a god, Loki can easily take down the Badass Normal heroes, even World's Strongest Man Captain America. Some of Thor's comrades like the Warriors Three or Balder also qualify - they are pretty average if skilled warriors among their own people, but each of them is much stronger than human.
- Nemesis the Warlock is well-respected among his race, but is not portrayed as being extraordinary powerful. In fact, his crazy uncle Baal is said to have much greater power than him and he can be put on a spell even by young and inexperienced female Warlock (as they are by default more powerful than males) and the only thing that makes him special is being in the possession of the Sword Sinister, through it's unexplained why. Compared to humans and other races he is however seen almost as a godlike being and Galaxy's only hope against the Termight Empire.
- In Thousand Shinji, in a later chapter, Shinji unleashes four Chaos Space Marines against NERV special forces. While normal for Warhammer 40000, a Space Marine against normal humans is a textbook example of this trope.
- Warhammer 40000 fan fiction in general tends to do this, partially because they take so much Refuge in Audacity. Heck, one of the primary weapons is a gun that shoots automatic, armor-piercing, rocket-propelled grenades. This is considered one of the tamer weapons in the setting. More exotic guns include ones that fire monomolecular shards of metal, acid, fire, hypersonic projectiles, lasers, sound, horrible energy that strips you down to your core, molecule by molecule, and the power of Hell itself. God help the other universe and their puny mundane magic solid shots and plain Thunderbolt Iron swords in any crossover, because the God Emperor isn't.
- Inverted in Sleeping with the Girls as the protagonist finds himself suddenly far more fragile in other universes due to them involving over the top Slap Stick violence with everyone trying to give him a Megaton Punch and him just being a normal human. This trope is played straighter, though, as the protagonist comes from our world, which has no magic. Thusly, when he goes to other worlds that do have magic, he isn't hurt by magical attacks at all. He can still be hurt or killed by magical side effects, such as the heat of a fireball causing his clothes to burn or to boil water he's drinking.
- This trope applied to humans is the basis of many a "Humanity, Fuck Yeah!" story: See Humans Are Warriors and related tropes.
- The Thessalonica Legacy: Ramirez's Valkyrie is a Light 'Mech, bottom of the totem pole, and not even the best of that bottom-dweller pack. Without any other 'Mechs in Equestria to compete with, though, it is the absolute sovereign of the battlefield.
- In the Ranma ½ fanfic, Akane's Terrible Day, in response to suggestions that Akane is weak, the author points out that while nowhere near Ranma's league, Akane is far stronger than most "normal" people in the setting.
- Harry appears to be this in The Wizard In The Shadows, until it is quite spectacularly established that he is crazy powerful even by Potterverse standards.
- The Nations in Axis Powers Hetalia come across as rather powerful beings when compared to humans in some fics, although among themselves they think each other as somewhat normal.
- Essentially the premise of Idiocracy: The soldier who was frozen was chosen specifically for being perfectly average in every way, but humanity evolved to be stupider, so when he wakes up, he's the smartest man alive, and the person who was frozen with him is the smartest woman alive.
- Several of The Forsaken from The Wheel of Time series have shades of this. In The Age of Legends, when the Forsaken were born, Traveling (the ability to cross great distances in a single step) was commonplace and Balefire (a spell that destroys a target then erases their actions several moments backwards in time) was used as a tool of war by both them and their enemies. Fast forward 3000 years and several nigh-apocalyptic wars and Traveling and Balefire are both mostly forgotten skills. When The Forsaken step back into the flow of time these abilities which they take for granted suddenly make these channelers (all of whom were the most powerful of their day to begin with) into extremely powerful and dangerous individuals.
It's also mentioned that channelers are born weaker and in lower numbers with each generation following the Age of Legends, believed to be a result of those that are born failing to breed (because the men go insane and either kill themselves or get hunted down, and the women get whisked away to the all-female Aes Sedai and don't have kids). Lost knowledge aside, an Aes Sedai who is exceptionally powerful in the modern world would have been average at best when the Forsaken were born, though some exceptional modern channelers like Nynaeve stand out because they actually can go toe-to-toe with some of the Forsaken in sheer raw power.
- In Isaac Asimov's "Azazel" stories, it is implied that the title character, a demon, is comparatively weak and unimportant in his own plane of existence, which is why he likes to entertain himself by granting wishes for people on Earth. It's also suggested that the way one becomes more important and powerful in his plane is by helping others — another reason he grants wishes... and the fact that a combination of his own vague-at-best understanding of humanity and his incompetent intermediary lead to his "boons" only causing trouble ensure he'll stay weak and unimportant for a long time.
- An example that appears to make this Older Than Radio: in John Carter of Mars, the main character is a random American soldier... who ends up one of the strongest guys around on Mars because of that planet's lower gravity. (Thoroughly confused in one of the later books where he visits Jupiter and doesn't seem to have a problem walking there...)
- The protagonist of the first three books of the Spellsong Cycle is an opera singer Trapped in Another World in which music is literally magic - sing something, and it happens. Because being a musician in that world makes you a Person of Mass Destruction, knowledge of music theory never got very far and much of the world is locked in Medieval Stasis. Her real-world education ends up making her an extremely dangerous and powerful individual.
- Dragonlance: The Dragon Overlords of the War of Souls trilogy, dragons hundreds of feet in length, came from a world near where Takhisis moved Krynn to so she could be the dominant goddess. They came to Krynn because they were weaklings on their planet of dragons. Scary place.
- In Gulliver's Travels, the title character is a classic example among the Lilliputians: Gulliver is a fairly normal human, but because the Lilliputians are about six inches tall he becomes like a One-Man Army (or more accurately, Navy) for them.
- There is a similar story titled "Gift of a Worthless Man", written by Alan Dean Foster for the ...Who Needs Enemies anthology, where a low criminal crashlands on a planet inhabited by sentient roach-like creatures stuck in Ancient Ages. He teaches them agriculture and basic craftsmanship and essentially uplifts their society, so that 100 years later, they are already have industry.
- Maxim Kammerer in "Inhabited Island" (Aka "Prisoners of Power") by Strugatsky Brothers. For Earth, he is ordinary, but on Saraksh, his Bullet Time capabilities and ability to survive heavy wounds make him very powerful. Even more important however, is that being a non-native, he is immune to the mind-control beams...
- It's the Basic premise of the 1632 series. An unremarkable Appalachian town is sent back in time nearly 400 years. This goes about as smoothly as one would expect.
- Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen starts with the USS Walker, a World War One-era destroyer, running away from the powerful Japanese fleet at the height of World War II. Even the US Navy considers destroyers of her class little more than Cannon Fodder. Then a freak squall takes the Walker to an alternate Earth where evolution took a different path and end up fighting ships straight out of Wooden Ships and Iron Men. Suddenly, the Walker is not only the most powerful ship in the world but also able to run circles around any other ship (until the Japanese battlecruiser Amagi shows up).
- Lorcan in Brimstone Angels is introduced as the enigmatic, manipulative, powerful devil who convinces heroine Farideh into entering a pact with him to acquire magical power. All around, he comes off as an extremely impressive, charismatic, frightening guy. Then we see what his home life in Hell is like, and it turns out he's the youngest and weakest of his family and pretty much a complete nobody as far as the cutthroat devil hierarchy cares- to inexperienced mortals he may be a big deal, but at home, he's near the bottom of the food chain and is painfully aware of that fact.
- In Animorphs, though the heroes are technically super-powered with alien technology, in morph they're only as powerful as whatever they're transformed into. When the heroes go to Leera and morph into their usual water morphs (dolphins and a tiger shark for Ax). The Leeran Controllers shoot them with "deadly" spears... that are mere pinpricks to dolphins and sharks. Turns out Leera never evolved the concept of predation, so their life forms are much more fragile than Earth's.
- In the first radio version of Superman, his abilities were the norm on Krypton, even though since it was the golden age, that's just superstrength and limited invulnerability - no heat/x-ray vision, and technically no flight (but they could "jump hella high"). One of the first scenes is Lara and Jor-El marveling that humans have to take hundreds of steps to get around.
- In the Mega Man animated series, there was an episode where Mega Man X chases Sigma, Vile, et al back in time and meets the original Mega Man and crew. Though X is analogous to Mega Man in terms of strength in his own continuity, in Mega Man's time he is extremely powerful, as are the villains - the Mega Buster can't harm them.
- In Bob and George, the title characters are originally from a Superhero-esque webcomic universe, however, once they enter to the Mega Man Universe, they are considered Sue Tier (Bob even lampshades this on one occasion). Also, since time and interuniversal travel are common topics here, we've only seen one "native" (from the Mega Man Universe) big bad invasion (two if you count the whole "X going rogue" incident) and on top of that, he was the local version of a previous big bad who attacked first.
- Kid Radd:
- Radd is a Four Hit Point Wonder from an 8-bit game, but when he visits a fighter-game universe, it's noted that he gets Mercy Invincibility when injured. And since the fighter-game characters rely on combo moves...
- His girlfriend is an NPC (at least initially) meaning that she doesn't have a health bar to be taken away from, so she is effectively invulnerable to any attacks. She takes a job with the Moderators in which she evacuates sprites from video games, and her ability enables her to avoid coming to harm if they attack her by mistake, regardless of how dangerous their attacks are meant to be.
- Also, Radd has a Charged Attack that's only limited by the word size of the system he's in. In his original 8-bit game, he is able to do a max of 255 damage, a 16-bit video game allows him to do 65,535 damage, and in the 32-bit Internet he's able to cause The End of the (Digital) World as We Know It if he spends enough time charging; not only does charging longer increase the damage and area of effect of his attack, but at a certain level, it destroys code. Mercifully, 64-bit systems weren't yet widespread when the comic had its run...
- In the Love and Capes webcomic, Amazonia is this. She's one of 12 sisters in a dimension where everybody has powers like hers, and she likes the fact that on Earth, she's something special.
- Discussed in Magellan during a support group for extra-terrestrial and extra-dimensional students.
- Three Panel Soul pokes fun at the concept in this strip.
- Tailsteak illustrates the well-known example of Superman.
- Sluggy Freelance features Blinky and Clyde transported to fantasy stereotype alternative dimension. They are a pair of bumbling idiots in their own world, two faceless expendable footsoldiers for Hereti-Corp. But in this world...well, they're still a pair of bumbling idiots, but they're a pair of bumbling idiots with a fully-armed War Mech in a world where Dakka does not exist.
- In a side story of Drowtales the Highland Raiders ovehear several humans talking about "The Dark Knight" a drow who terrorizes local villages, kidnapping women and bringing dread with him. The Raiders immediately realize that it's a guy they refer to as "Val'Doomed" and speak of derisively since he ran off to the surface and started a harem of human women (something the drow consider akin to bestiality) and whom they beat up whenever they get the chance, since due to being on the surface he suffers from rapid aging due to mana deprivation and is pathetically easy to knock over.
- In Red vs. Blue, the later seasons show that Agent Washington is Weak, but Skilled compared to the other Freelancer agents, especially the powerhouses like Tex, Carolina, and Maine. He's a complete badass compared to the regular Blood Gulch crew, though, especially in his first few appearances. In the prequel bits, Wyoming's shown to be virtually useless compared to the other Freelancers, but in the Blood Gulch episodes, he serves as a rather dangerous villain, with most of his appearances before the finale have him getting the better of the Reds, Blues, and even Tex (who easily tossed him around during their first meeting in Season 9). This is largely due to pulling off sneak attacks, alongside having the ability to manipulate time.
This trope also gets inverted. The Freelancers did pretty well against hordes of regular, competent enemies in the prequel seasons. When the meet the Reds and the Blues they still toss them around like the incompetent idiots they are but they tend to have a much lower success rate.