Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond

"In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."
Desidarius Erasmus, Dutch Philosopher (1466-1536)

A character who, in their own reality/universe, are fairly normal, if not underpowered. They'd be a Mook or 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. Compare and contrast Mighty Whitey.


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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
    • In the arc immediately after Goku and Piccolo are established as the two strongest on Earth, we find out this is mostly because they're from alien species that are naturally much, much stronger than humans. By standards of their own species, Goku was weak for a Saiyan and Piccolo average for a Namekian, while both were weak compared to the average intergalactic warrior. This is then subverted, as within two years they are both far stronger than anyone of their kind has EVER been.
    • Raditz is the weakest among his fellow Saiyans, but still strong enough to catch bullets from a farmer's shotgun and curb-stomp 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. Vegeta eventually works up to training in a chamber that generates 500 times Earth's gravity (or 50 times his own home planet's gravity).
    • Freeza's mooks are easily curb-stomped by the heroes, but they are still magnitudes more powerful than regular humans and can easily conquer planets who don't have superpowered defenders.
  • This comes up several times in One Piece, where characters, usually one-shot, 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", a Drunken Master octopus 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 in their entirety. They take over Fishman Island (and even that requires them to beef up on Energy Steroids), but the Straw Hats 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 (and at least some of his former crewmates were substantially stronger than him as well), especially when he loses to Vice-Admiral Borsalino (future 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.
    • Bellamy the Hyena had the largest bounty in the area he had made base at, and was all too happy to gloat about it and taunt and rough up the Straw Hats because they didn't want any trouble. When he sees Luffy's newest bounty come in, he panics a little before convincing himself the bounty's a fake. When Luffy picks a fight, seething with pure fury over Bellamy roughing up their new friend Montblanc Cricket and ransacking his house, Bellamy accepts and goes through a long charge up with his Devil Fruit that makes him so fast he can't be seen... then Luffy sends him through the docks in one strike.
    • Downplayed with Eneru. He is much stronger than anybody on the Sky Islands, and he has an almost unbeatable Devil Fruit power (he can create and turn himself into lightning). In fact, Luffy only defeats him because his rubber body cannot conduct electricity, and his Haki allows him to predict his opponents' moves that made the fight with him pretty damn close. The general consensus is that he is one of the strongest characters in the series. However, when Luffy fights him, he (Luffy) comments that Eneru may be a Physical God in the sky, but on the Blue Sea there are so many strong guys that Eneru will look like a weakling. Oda has also said that if Eneru ever descended to the blue sea, he would be wanted as a very dangerous criminal.
      • To clarify, he possess the Rumble Rumble Fruit, which is explicitly referred to as the one of the Logia-classed Fruits which grants virtual invincibility'. However, between the fact that Haki users can nullify Devil Fruit powers and the existence of at least one Paramecia (the Quake-Quake Fruit) that exceeds the Rumble Fruit in power, that advantage isn't enough.
    • Captain Smoker qualified before the Time Skip. While we was certainly badass, he was also a Logia user stationed in the weakest sea then later in the first half of the Grand Line. Neither sea has many (or any for the East Blue) people even capable of touching him, let alone fighting. However, one guy on what seems to be on a whim stopped over at East Blue to see how his son was doing, and make Smoker quake in his boots without physically doing anything to him. Said man was admittedly later revealed as "The World's Most Wanted Man" Dragon the Revolutionary.
    • Many logai users, people able to fully transform, either partially or completely, into an element or thing (Smoker becoming smoke), can see the first half of the Grand Line as their very large "tiny pond" as any person or crew who survives in the later half is going to be trained in Haki abilities, ki attacks which nullify the advantage of becoming one's element and allows them to sustain damage.
  • 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 due to their experiences in the Bakumatsu). It's eventually subverted, as Sanosuke becomes strong enough to hold his own even if he's not quite as powerful.
  • 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. By the tail end of Part II, though, Naruto and Sasuke are quite clearly among the strongest ninja in the world.
    • Likewise Sakura is praised for her chakra control but as she learns during the Chuunin Exam, most of the participants have control roughly as good (if not better) and are far superior to her in every other aspect.
    • Jiriaya, and to an extent the other Sennin, (Orichimaru and Tsunade) are large fish in a normal pond, being incredibly strong ninja in their own right but are horribly outclassed by people such as Hanzo and Itachi, let alone Nagato. Jiraiya's final thoughts are to compare himself to a frog in a well that has made it to the ocean (referencing a Japanese proverb similar to this trope)
  • 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.
  • In Tenchi Muyo: War on Geminar, Kenshi Masaki says he was a weakling and idiot compared to his more famous brother Tenchi and Tenchi's Unwanted Harem...which is true given that some of them are Physical Gods. On the planet Geminar, Kenchi's strength, speed, and skills are vastly superior to most of the people there. He can casually lift a concrete slab with one hand that two workers couldn't budge.
  • In Toriko, the chapter that introduced the Four Beast explained that some of the Human World's most dangerous beasts are merely the ones who were too weak to compete in the Gourmet World. The text then mentions that the Four Beast is an exception, since it came to the Human World because it preferred to eat humans.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Touma himself acknowledges that his Imagine Breaker is useless if there are no superpowered beings around. In Academy City or the Magic Side, he's practically unbeatable. Faced with average street thugs or gunmen, and he's just a regular guy who can street fight.
  • Invoked by Mephisto in Blue Exorcist: to this point Rin has been facing small fry and had one major victory against the Impure King (by using the power of another demon to purify the decay). In order to make sure he understands that he's still in the kiddy pool Mephisto resumes the "sparring" match Rin was having with Amiamon, the weakest of the 8 Kings of Hell, only this time Amiamon burns out his human shell to show his demonic powers.
  • In Zipang, a Japanese Aegis destroyer gets sucked back in time to WW2, and has to decide how to resolve the war.

    Comic Books 
  • 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. Especially since Superman has been taught martial arts by Batman.
    • Back in the Golden Age the ultimate source of his powers was that he had the body of a man meant to live on a high gravity world like Krypton while actually living on the relatively low gravity world of Earth.
  • Same can be said about Martian Manhunter - a completely normal Martian... which means he's a shapeshifting psychic who's as strong as Superman.
  • 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.
  • There was a one-shot graphic novel in the late 1990's featuring Stan Lee's reimagining of several classic DC characters. The "Superman" adaptation was an alien cop named Saldan, a normal guy who ended up chasing a serial killer into an experimental spacecraft and ending up on Earth. Saldan discovered Earth's gravity was absurdly weak and human language was childishly simple, allowing him to settle in pretty effortlessly as a popular superhero. Solar energy wasn't a factor — like Siegal and Schuster's early concept of Superman, Saldan was just built for a much harsher world in which he considered normal.
  • In Vampirella's Warren years she was an inhabitant of the planet Drakulon and never said to be particularly powerful for one of them. That still made her superpowered compared to humans.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In a later chapter of Thousand Shinji, Shinji unleashes four Chaos Space Marines against NERV special forces. While normal for Warhammer 40,000, a Space Marine against normal humans is a textbook example of this trope.
  • Warhammer 40,000 fan fiction in general tends to do this, partially because the setting takes so much Refuge in Audacity. Heck, one of the primary weapons is a gun that shoots automatic, armor-piercing, .75 cal 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. And the Dark Gods will likely just make it worse.
  • Example related to the above; in The Mission Stays The Same, Captain Gallardi starts off as an Elite Mook with a slightly better than average gun, and Maeteris is young for an Eldar Farseer. Once they arrive in the Mass Effect universe, though, Gallardi's lasgun can punch through most armor and shielding with little difficulty, and Maeteris' abilities allow her not only to see upcoming danger, but destroy multiple squads of enemies by herself.
  • 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.
  • Milo from Harry Potter and the Natural 20 isn't a particularly powerful Wizard by D&D standards, but he can pull things that the Potterverse can't, which sorta makes up for what the Potterverse wizards can do but not him.
    • On the other and substantially more frightening side of the equation, there's the witch who got sent over, strongly implied to be Bellatrix Lestrange, who is not bound by The Rules of Milo's world and stomps his old party with ease.
  • Enforced in one Naruto fic. After the Fourth Shinobi War, Naruto is given a mission to beat the chuunin exam "like a rented mule. Like it owed him money. Like he wanted revenge." After all, when it comes to ringers, it's hard to beat an S-Rank genin.
  • Tatsuki in After The Fairy Tale Ends. She's one of the strongest students at the shinigami academy and is receiving hakuda training from Soifon and Yoruichi. However, despite what she thinks, she can't take Ichigo (sneaked into the academy by his friends) in a strictly hand-to-hand fight. As Ichigo put it, "Come back when you've got a captain's haori. Matter of fact, come back when you've got a captain's haori and two friends that also have captain's haoris. No, better make that ''three'' friends, because by the time you're at that level it will take at least ''four'' captains to hold me back."
  • In Gray Morality, Sakuya Izayoi is summoned to be Louise's familiar. While Sakuya is rather powerful in Gensokyo, several characters like her mistress Remilia Scarlett are magnitudes greater than her, and most inhabitants can survive a knife to the gut. She's practically invincible in Halkeginia, especially since she's no longer restricted by the spell card battle rules.
  • Mass Effect Clash Of Civilizations: Many of the technologies that the UNSC take for granted, such as artificial gravity, slipspace, and crystal computational devices, are utterly amazing to the Citadel Races, largely because they did this without any Element Zero, which was thought to be essential for the first two technologies, at least. That being said, the UNSC has no knowledge of Biotics, Mass Effect weapons, and many other advances the Citadel takes for granted.
  • The Light of Remnant establishes that the heroes and villains of RWBY may be among the most powerful fighters in Remnant, but most of them are small-fry compared to the main heroes and villains of the Kingdom Hearts universe. In one scene, Mercury kicks Sora in the head, and is shocked when it doesn't snap his neck or even knock him unconscious. Sora remarks that his kick is strong, but nothing compared to a kick from Larxene.
  • In Black Flames Dance in the Wind: Rise of Naruto, Naruto is S-rank by graduation. However, the weakest of his major enemies are also S-rank. At one point, Shizaru beat Naruto so badly that when Yugito brought him to the hospital, the medics mistook him for a mangled corpse.
  • Naruto in Just A Boy In A Ninja Mask ends up in the Sailor Moon world. Despite being the dead last in all aspects and rather short compared to his old classmates, in Japan he's smart enough to skip two grades on top of being taller along with far stronger and faster than any of his peers.
  • In The Watchman, Warren thinks that because he has magic orbs that allow him to fight a Slayer evenly, he's invincible. Unfortunately for him, Warren seriously pissed off Xander who's become The Sentry. Xander makes an example of Warren by ripping of his head, vaporizing the body, then dropping his severed head off at a local demon bar as a warning.
  • In Emergence, Team RWBY are decent fighters in their native Remnant, able to handle the average mook with ease, but still outclassed by graduated Huntsmen and those who can fight them equally. On Earth, they're virtually Goddesses of War.
  • In A Thin Veneer, the Minbari have to face 2293-era Starfleet and Klingon warships. The Minbari soon find themselves outclassed hard.
  • Venus Flash, a crossover between the manga versions of Sailor Moon and Cutey Honey, portrays accurately the difference in power between the members of the revived Panther Claw and Sailor Venus (who is still having troubles with her full power of the first story arc and thus is far weaker than how she would be when she finally showed up in the manga) and the Dark Kingdom, but surprisingly averts it with Honey herself: while her physical abilities are still far behind what the Dark Kingdom's youma have, her having modified the Airborne Element Fixing Device (the device that grants her transformation powers by rearranging atoms from air and her own body) to work with everything is a Game Breaker, as she can disintegrate the enemy and turn them into food (or whatever she wants. She prefers food because her powers are recharged by eating). Sailor Venus herself was pretty scared when she saw her doing it the first time...
  • In Opening Dangerous Gates, an "average" shinigami or arrancar from the Bleach universe is many times more powerful than all but the most top tier characters of Fairy Tail.

  • 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. And at the end the smartest pimp alive wakes up.
  • This is a major premise in the Men In Black series. Our race is considered to be extraordinarily weak compared to some alien races, and extraordinarily strong compared to others.
    • In the first film, an entire galaxy of intelligent beings is so small that on our world it is a pendant on a cat's collar. At the end of the movie, however, a pan-out sequence reveals that our own galaxy fits into a mere marble that is used for games by aliens with a similar difference in size.
    • In the second film, an entire species of aliens fits into a train station locker. They revere the main characters as gods; they see a light-up watch in the locker as a holy light, and they consider a business card that was put in there to be a religious text. As in the first film, this situation is turned around, as it is revealed at the end of the movie that an entrance to our world leads to another processing station... for aliens as big as skyscrapers.
  • John Carter has this as a plot point: as Earth's gravity is stronger than that of Mars', John can make incredible leaps and bounds, giving him an advantage over his enemies.

  • 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.
    • Except we later learn that the Forsaken aren't necessarily the strongest of their day. They had various reasons for turning, but it seems they were chosen mostly because they were willing to turn, rather than because they were the best of the best. Moghedien, for example, finds herself evenly matched by Nynaeve, a young woman considered almost completely untrained even by the standards of the current day.
      • Of course, it is important to remember that the Forsaken are gripped by a crippling sense of overconfidence and don't actually take advantage of a lot of their superior knowledge, and Mochedien in that case arrogantly let herself get caught in what essentially came down to a game of tug of war and throwing knives with the strongest modern channeler alive at the time, which is not horribly complicated in channeling terms and mainly decided by brute force and reaction time.
  • 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 leads to his "boons" only causing trouble ensures he'll stay weak and unimportant for a long time.
  • 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.
  • Older Than Radio: In Gullivers 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 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.
    • When Elfangor decided to live the rest of his life as a human, he found it hard to pretend not to know the subject matter of his college lectures better than the professors. He had to pretend to struggle with concepts he'd learned and memorized since childhood (standard Andalite education).
  • In Harry Potter, Hagrid's full giant half-brother Grawp is much larger than Hagrid and is pretty much the biggest thing in the Forbidden Forest. In the giants' homeland he's a runt among the other giants. In the final book Harry finally sees a full-sized giant and realizes that there's big and there's big.
  • In Flatland, this is how higher-dimensional beings appear to lower-dimensional ones. From the eyes of the 2-D main character, the 3-D sphere appears like a sorcerer, able to phase in and out, change shape, and see everyone's internal organs. The sphere is not particularly special in his own world, but his ability to intersect himself with Flatland quite easily makes him a god there.
  • Donal Graeme, the protagonist of Gordon R. Dickson's Dorsai, grew up among people who had selectively bred as warriors for generations, ending up with the average man a seven-foot hulk with a powerlifter's build. Donal, being only half-breed Dorsai, spent his youth focusing on his strategic and marksmanship skills, because he couldn't compete in strength or toughness. Then he ventured out into the wider galaxy, where he discovered that his one failing - his "puny" physique - was still exceptional among the non-Dorsai masses.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the backstory explains that the Targaryens, the legendary house of dragonriders from Old Valyria with magic in their veins, were a mere minor noble house in Valyria. They just happened to be the only ones lucky enough to escape the Doom of Valyria. Fortunately for Aegon and his siblings, the people of Westeros were totally unprepared to face the family dragons.
  • In the Robert Sheckley short story "All the Things You Are", a human expedition visits an alien planet, only to discover to their horror that bizarre and unpleasant maladies are inflicted on the natives every time the humans interact with the environment, to the point that even breathing causes problems.
  • Averted in The Country of the Blind by H. G. Wells. Wells took the Erasmus quote and completely flipped it around. In this case, a sighted man stumbles into a society of composed solely of blind people (their blindness is congenital and the society has completely forgotten what sight is). The sighted man expects to be able to awe the blind natives and rule over them, unfortunately, in a society built by and for blind people, is actually a disadvantage (everyone works at night and houses have no windows, for starters). The sighted man is shunned until he considers blinding himself to better fit in.
  • Discussed in The Horse and His Boy, where Bree (a horse with human speech and intelligence) has an overinflated opinion of his own importance and intelligence after growing up surrounded by ordinary Calormene horses. Several characters remind him that when they finally return to Narnia, he'll be just like all the other Talking Animals who live there.
  • In the A Wizard in Rhyme novels by Christopher Stasheff, the hero Matthew Mantrell is, in his original reality, simply a man who has made an extensive study of English literature. After he is transported to a reality where poetry literally works magic, he's a Reality Warper.
  • In the William Barton military science-fiction novel When Heaven Fell, The Master Race have conquered almost the entire galaxy (including Earth) in a series of curb-stomp battles using only their second-string technology and slave races; in fact, they only have to bring out their most advanced weaponry when the Hu start causing trouble. At the end of the book it's revealed the Masters came to the Milky Way while running away from an even more powerful adversary from Andromeda, and they've caught up with them and begun to take apart their own empire just as easily.
  • The Lord of the Rings: As Maiar go, Sauron isn't all that powerful (though he's got perhaps the keenest mind around). But by the Second Age, he's pretty much the last Physical God left in Arda, and the Elves and Men who were powerful enough to challenge him are long gone. His rise to Evil Overlord status is largely due to a power vacuum among the Forces of Evil; everyone stronger than him is either dead or banished from the world. Basically the pond shrank around him while he stayed the same size.

    Live-Action Television 
  • An early 1980's made-for-TV movie, The Final Countdown involves the USS Nimitz, a standard aircraft carrier, being transported to December 6, 1941. Its typical-for-1980 combat power is depicted as being such a huge spoiler that the crew considers it no particular challenge to destroy the entire Japanese attack fleet, and the only debate concerns the ethics of changing history.
  • Agents Of SHIELD gives us the Berserker, an Asgardian hiding out on Earth as a mild-mannnered mythology professor. He's not a Physical God like Thor or Loki; by Asgardian standards he's just your Average Joe. But your Average Joe Asgardian is still strong enough to bend metal with his bare hands, tough enough to heal from injuries that would kill a human, and long-lived enough that he still only looks to be in his mid-forties despite being at least 2800 Earth years old.
  • The Doctor in Doctor Who. He is unique amongst his species in terms of his eccentric political opinions and the breadth of life experiences he obtained as a result of those, but he also struggled in school and his powers (regeneration, some Psychic Powers, two hearts, physical resilience, a 'respiratory bypass system', 'time sense' and lack of aging to name just a handful) are typical for his Bizarre Alien Biology and fairly weak into the bargain. However, amongst humans and most other species, he's an Impossible Genius and his powers range anywhere from unusual gifts to utterly godlike. Several arms of the Expanded Universe attempted to develop him as unique for Time Lords through mechanisms like making him the reincarnation of a godlike figure from Gallifrey's past, but little of it stuck - though getting rid of the other Time Lords in the New series made him suddenly unique.
  • In Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Spartacus was one of the greatest warriors of his village in Thrace, regularly defending it from invaders. Then he is enslaved and made a gladiator in Capua, where his prowess and past accomplishments impress no one and he is scornfully informed that all his past victories were a result of facing subpar opponents. This is proven when Crixus effortlessly beats him down. Of course, after going through Training from Hell and gaining a lot of experience in the arena, he eventually becomes one of the greatest warriors history has ever known.

  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • In Touhou, Sanae Kochiya grew up on Earth, where her power over miracles made her get revered as a deity. Then she moves to Gensokyo and finds that her powers impress no one and most of the locals are much more powerful than her.

  • 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.
  • At one point in Captain SNES, Crono is transported to a Final Fantasy airship. Where FF's battles start with a Fight Woosh, CT's battles take place on the overworld, meaning he can attack them with total impunity.

    Web Original 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Inverted for Orko in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983). He is an archmage in his home dimension, but a difference in how magic works reduces him to comedy relief on Eternia. In the 2002 remake, losing his wand just minutes after arriving on Eternia was also a major factor.
  • The Simpsons: Lisa is a smart kid, certainly, but only brilliant by comparison with Springfield's stupid children and horrible school system. When she gets the opportunity to study at Waverly Hills, an elementary school with actual standards and quality, Lisa is traumatized to learn that she's really only a B student, as opposed to the straight A's she got at Springfield Elementary. In another episode, she gets to skip to the third grade early, but finds it difficult (made more embarrassing for her because Bart was demoted a grade and found it easy):
    Principal Skinner: Lisa, you have a choice: you may continue to be challenged in third grade or return to second grade and be merely a big fish in a small pond.
  • In his episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog, Robot Randy is an outcast among his peers due to his relative weakness, lack of interest in conquering worlds and fixation on carving wooden reindeer. That said, when he arrives in Nowhere with intent to conquer, he is still a sapient Humongous Mecha with laser weaponry.
  • The eponymous ogre of Shrek is pretty standard for his kind. He still manages to fight off a dozen armed guards and take on a dragon, and he regularly sends thugs running. The fourth film shows he isn't a particularly strong, large or well-trained ogre — in fact he's actually smaller than most.
  • The Futurama episode The Duh Vinci Code reveals that Leonardo Da Vinci was actually an alien. Amongst his own race he was considered to be a dunce, but amongst humans he was one of the most intelligent people ever to live.
  • Ben 10: Omniverse: Blukic and Driba are Galvans, which makes them technologically savvy enough to get by as Bungling Inventors on Earth, but by standards of their own planet they're complete idiots.
  • Played with in Darkwing Duck in the episode "Planet of the Capes." Darkwing Duck is taken to a world where he must use the standard-issue Earthling super-power of ... not having super-powers. The entire planet is populated by superheroes, and their society will fall apart without a powerless "normal guy" they can save.
  • In the Mega Man animated series, there was an episode where Mega Man X chases Vile and Spark Mandrill back in time. Though being relatively equal in strength to each other, just as Mega Man is to his own adversaries, all three are from the future and thus vastly more powerful than anyone in the present; Mega Man's shots simply bounce off their armor, and X makes giant explosions with each shot.
  • Storm Hawks member Junko is a Wallop, a species known for being big and strong. However, Junko himself is actually weaker than your average Wallop, being a nerd to his peers. All told, he's still stronger than most humans, being able to take down Snipe when sufficiently incensed.

    Real Life 
  • This is effectively the danger behind invasive species. A species that is normally kept in check from overpopulation via lack of suitable food and an abundance of predators/competitors may easily find themselves in an environment that that's perfect for them. They then overpopulate and out-compete the native species who are usually in no way prepared to deal with the introduced ones.
  • Italy's conquest of Libya and Ethiopia in the early 20th century. For European standards, the Italian army was better than many, if underequipped due bureaucracy screwing up technological development and logistics, but nowhere in the league of major forces like the French army or the Imperial German army. The Libyan tribes were disorganized and armed with a mix of muskets and some modern rifle the Ottomans had forgot before retreating, and the Ethiopians, while better organized and having some artillery, tended to arm most of their troops with spears, and what firearms they had ranged from old black powder muzzle-loaders to what weapons they had tricked the Italians into selling them in the late 19th century, and they were overrun as soon as the Italians started taking things seriously.
    • The Royal Italian Navy was at the receiving end of this during World War II. The Italian Navy was truly powerful, starting the war with six battleships (of which the new Littorio-class ships outgunned anything in the European theatre until the arrival of the American monsters) with two more under construction, nineteen cruisers, fifty-nine destroyers, sixty-six torpedo boats, and one hundred and sixteen submarines. Their opponents was the Royal Navy, whose Mediterranean Fleet (based at Alexandria) and Force H (based at Gibraltar) together were more than a match for the Italians (especially due the presence of carriers, that the Italians lacked) and could be reinforced as needed (and in fact they did). To be fair, the Italian high command knew they were simply outmatched and tried to rectify the situation (in particular they tried to have two carriers built, but were stopped by Mussolini), and had the appropriate reaction when Britain decided to not surrender after Dunquerque. All in all, it's kind of a miracle that the Royal Italian Navy somehow managed to stay a threat until Italy switched sides (and for a while was actually at advantage).
  • The Spanish-American War could also qualify. The United States had not fought a major conflict since the American Civil War, and so its military tactics and leadership were hopelessly out-of-date. Among other deficiencies, many infantry regiments still carried single-shot, black powder rifles where the Spanish had smokeless repeating Mausers. Foreign observers almost universally remarked on the American military's dismal performance in the Cuban campaign, where the commanding general William Shafter exercised little control over events, leaving it to subordinates. Nonetheless, America won because of a) naval superiority, b) the Spanish leadership being even worse.