"The mark of a true hero is somebody who's willing to sacrifice his own personal morality to help keep the world safe."
Most great fictional heroes fall into one of two broad categories: the Ideal Hero
, such as The Cape
or a Knight in Shining Armor
who is pretty much exactly what one would hope for in a hero - skilled, courageous, morally pure, etc., and the Anti-Hero
, who lacks one or more qualities normally considered necessary for an Ideal Hero
. For example, a Classical Anti-Hero
lacks ability or self-confidence. A Knight in Sour Armor
lacks a positive attitude, and a Nominal Hero
lacks morally pure intentions.
A Pragmatic Hero lacks the "moral cleanliness" of an Ideal Hero
. When fighting evil, they often commit acts that might seem more characteristic of a villain than a hero. However, Pragmatic Heroes have morally good intentions and often hold themselves to strict moral standards—it's just that those standards aren't always what others might expect from a hero. This type of hero tends to be much more concerned with whatever heroic business the plotline has assigned them than the niceties of proper heroic etiquette. However, with the exception of unintentional mistakes, they will rarely if ever commit a villainous deed that doesn't further the cause of good in a way.
This character is one step further towards the gray side of Anti-Hero
from the (first type of) Knight in Sour Armor
. While the Knight in Sour Armor
will do the right thing, but cut the nice-ties, the Pragmatic Hero is more about doing the right thing whether anyone likes it or not, and will shove aside more idealistic heroes who give them a What the Hell, Hero?
At the end of the day, their justification is typically I Did What I Had to Do
, they love
giving "The Reason You Suck" Speech
to a poor Wide-Eyed Idealist
, and they might evolve into cynical mentors
. However, they will never say "Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!
". Deep down, they want the best for others, and this character may have shades of Chronic Hero Syndrome
as he/she will often be the one to defend a captured minion or fallen hero. Being pragmatic, they also have both the flaws and strengths a more passionate hero lacks, so are less likely to let personal
intentions get in the way of their job. In this sense a Pragmatic Hero contrasts a Blood Knight
or He Who Fights Monsters
. However, if their methods are excessively violent
or otherwise distasteful, they've become Unscrupulous Heroes
and possibly Knight Templars
. Compare Good Is Not Nice
if the "good guy" extends his jerkassery towards non-villainous characters as well.
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Anime and Manga
- Homura Akemi from Puella Magi Madoka Magica, who is willing to do anything to protect Madoka.
- Patalliro: Most of the cast, to an extent, but Bancoran fits the most as a Yaoi James Bond Expy. He shows it by having a sense of honor and duty during missions and usually being the first to show kindness.
- Minako Aino, of all people, graduated to this at the end of Codename: Sailor V when she killed Ace, her true love for being Kunzite's Dragon. Had shades of this since the start, as her first kill was Higashi, the disguised youma on which she had a crush, but she was holding hope she could save Higashi, while she attacked to kill when facing Ace.
- Fakir in Princess Tutu, to the point that Duck (and most of the audience) thinks he's a villain in the first few episodes. He tries to kill the resident Dark Magical Girl (and threatens to kill Princess Tutu, as well), and his overprotective treatment of Mytho can only be described as emotional abuse (or would be, if he had any emotions to be abused). However, his only goal is to protect Mytho, since he feels it's his duty as the Knight, and once his original plans fall through, he teams up with Duck to find another way to help him.
- In Naruto, Itachi seems to be one of these, as revealed by his comments after he is brought Back from the Dead. Despite all the terrible things he has been forced to do, he still believes in the ideal of the Will of Fire, and considers himself a shinobi of Konoha.
- Ange in Cross Ange is willing to dirty her hands if need be but she's doing it so that her squadmates are safe from harm even if she has to Kill Steal from them. Also disgusted with the society of mana after witnessing its harsh bigotry when nearly executed for being a Norma, and wishes to destroy it, but remains to be seen how far she will go. She was definitely disgusted when she found out the [DRAGONs] she and her comrades had been killing were part-human.
- Wolverine is sometimes portrayed as this, for example in the 2013 Crisis Crossover Age of Ultron, where he goes back in time and murders Hank Pym before Ultron can be created.
- Wonder Woman. While she will always try to find a peaceful solution first, she is perfectly willing to kill if she has no other alternative.
- Nick Fury Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., he has done plenty of rather questionable things. But he did it for the good of everyone, and so that the superheroes would look better than him.
- Eric Finch from V for Vendetta.
- Jason Todd is this in Red Hood and the Outlaws
- In the RWBY fic ''Before Beacon, Otto is this.
The village, he sensed right off, was in trouble. Grimm had likely been troubling it for days, weeks, months- he didn't know and couldn't tell. He needed to clear it, for the villagers' sake. And he would be damned if he didn't get a nice pile of gold doing so.
- Cyborg and Persephone hate the idea of killing anyone in the finale of the Coincidence And Misunderstandings series, but understand that it's likely going to be necessary when storming a base filled with villains.
- Likewise when Mammoth mercy killed Otto/Plasmius, Persephone remarked on how tragic it was that such a thing was necessary. By contrast, Nightwing arrested Jinx for murder after she destroyed Overload.
- Sarutobi allows Naruto to get away with being a Kleptomaniac Hero in Demon's Dirty Dreams partially because Naruto is so good at Loop Hole Abuse that it can't be proven he's actually stolen anything. Mostly however, it's because 1) rich merchants losing things they can easily afford to replace is a small price to pay to keep the resident jinchuuriki from going nuts and 2) Naruto turns in anything he steals that points to a traitor or someone cheating the system.
- Fairy Tail story Angel's Breath has Ryusuke Yugure, a genuinely nice man with Jerk Ass and Deadpan Snarker tendencies who is perfectly willing to torture an enemy to get information on a group who may endanger his guild.
- The title character of the Dirty Harry franchise.
- Some Jedi in Star Wars do not object the creation of clones genetically engineered to defend the Republic from the separatists. Then again, they have strongly held ideals, and think the Republic is the best possible regime.
- Much of Fate/Zero is spent describing Emiya Kiritsugu's cold pragmatism. Originally, he wanted to be "a hero of justice" who would help the weak and needy, but a necessarily brutal career turned him into an assassin capable of committing atrocities in his belief that the needs of the many outweigh those of the few. For Kiritsugu, sacrificing a hundred people to save a thousand is something he would do without batting an eye. Despite this, Kiritsugu never gives up his ideal of achieving a everlasting peace without conflict, and is willing to do anything necessary to bring such a utopia around sooner. This leads to his willing participation in the Holy Grail War for the artifact's supposed wish-granting power.
- Honorable knight Saber despises her master Kiritsugu for using ruthless and dishonorable methods to achieve victory. Kiritsugu retorts that not only do his methods end the war quickly, but they also leave survivors averse to further bloodshed. Meanwhile, chivalry perpetuates war by ennobling and glamorizing it.
- As a child, he is forced to gun down his own father when the senior Emiya's research into immortality infects an entire island with vampirism. At the end of this, he meets freelance cleaner Natalia, who trains him and becomes his mother figure.
- Many years later, he makes the choice to kill Natalia during a botched assassination contact aboard an airliner. The target magus booby-traps his own body to release swarms of bees that irreversibly zombify anyone they stung. Knowing that the airliner could endanger entire cities if allowed to land, Kiritsugu shoots it down even though his mother/mentor is on board. In their last exchange, she seems to approve.
- His ideals are finally tested when he has won the Holy Grail War and obtained said wish-granting Grail. The newfound knowledge that it would bring "peace" to the world through bloody means little different than his own leads Kiritsugu to destroy the artifact instead.
- Harry Potter is constantly breaking the rules and ultimately uses two out of the three unforgivable curses, and robs a bank to stop Lord Voldemort's schemes.
- Dumbledore as well. He leaves Harry in the care of the Dursleys (who are far from the ideal guardians ever), but does so because his living with them will invoke an ancient magic that protects him from Voldemort. Notably the times when he doesn't follow this trope (he keeps from telling Harry vital information because he doesn't want to cause him distress from the knowledge), it backfires horribly since Harry walks into danger as a result.
- Grimble from Guardians of Ga'Hoole fits here, like some other owls in the series do, by virtue of the high stress they have put on efficiency in fighting for good.
- In The Mists of Avalon, Vivian may be one, or be anything else...
- Edmund Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia is this, especially when compared to the chivalrous, idealistic Peter. Edmund seems to have a more cold-natured thinking, a sharp mind and logic. He is rarely driven by emotions and is mostly collected and down-to-earth, having an acute sense of justice, going to the point where he becomes unsympathetic towards enemies and downright cruel, as opposed to Peter, who is more impulsive and emotional. This is proven when Peter battles Miraz, because Edmund tells Peter not to be chivalrous and to strike Miraz. The scene suggests that, if Edmund had been in Peter's place, he would not have hesitated and would have killed Miraz in a heartbeat.
- Warrior Cats features violent fights, tough decisions, and cats betraying the warrior's code, but some of the cats implicated do it for the right reasons.
- The good guys in David Weber's Safehold are clearly good anyhow, but they justify and present their actions and motivations as purely pragmatic moves. Better to be merciful and honorable to defeated enemies so future foes will be more willing to surrender rather than fight to the last, better to treat your people well so they'll be loyal to you in turn, and so on.
- frequent remarks are made along the lines of "Isn't it nice when the moral thing to do and the pragmatic thing to do are the same thing?"
- Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, insists that, contrary to his image, he's an abject coward, and almost always seems to have an explanation as to why a given course of action seemed to best ensure his personal safety. He also tries to complement and be nice to his subordinates, because many a Cowboy Cop hard-driving Commissar has been "accidentally" shot by the men he was leading into battle. Note that the series hints that the claims of cowardice aren't always true; there have been plenty of times when he's been unable to come up with a pragmatic explanation, and blames it on shock or injury when it's clear he's acting out of genuine caring.
- Joseph Carrion from the Mediochre Q Seth Series. Mediochre at least tries to be an Ideal Hero but isn't very good at it. Joseph, by contrast, never saw any need to restrict himself to "good" actions in the first place, and is perfectly fine with gunning people down if it's for a good cause and there's no better option available.
- Pretty much all of Mike's followers in John Ringo's Paladin of Shadows series
- Lord Vetinari of the Discworld series always has the smooth operation of the city in mind, but the people in the city aren't as carefully considered.
- Tennyson Hardwick, small time actor, part time detective and bodyguard, former gigolo and hero of the eponymous series by Blair Underwood, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due is a man hardened by his past enough to kill when he has to but still moral enough to regret having to do it, even though he acknowledges that the men he killed had it coming. he also bends or even break the law often enough to sometimes put him at odds with his former cop father and current cop brother figure.
- A Song of Ice and Fire
- Stannis falls firmly into this. He has a very strong sense of what is right and will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to achieve that right; including having his own brother Renly assassinated. It helps that Renly was a Jerk Ass, but what he had to do still torments him.
- Daenerys Targaryen is... learning. Depending on you ask in-world, however, the various outcomes prove she's a Villain, not a Hero. However, in reality, she tries to go in doing the right thing, bleeds for every mistake she makes and is genuinely learning from both her success and failures. The problem is, gaining experience with pragmatism through trial and error (and a massive resolve to not be like her brother) is a good way to wind up in deep, deep trouble.
- In Acacia, in contrast to her older brother Aliver who is an Ideal Hero , the Acacian princess Corinn is this while she still retains quite a bit of her morals, she's not one to worry too much about that. How so? She overthrows her family's usurpers through treachery, continues her empire's use of drugging the population to pacify them (though she concedes a bit by using less of them), mind-controls opponents and even her own siblings if they get out of line, and drops the equivalent of a magical nuke on an enemy city that does various horrible things including causing a victim to be flayed alive. However her pragmatism makes her queen while his idealism ends up getting her brother killed
- Journey To Chaos: By the start of Looming Shadow Eric is fully willing to use any means at his disposal to win a battle, complete his mission, and keep his team alive. He'd also rather avoid battles unless there's profit involved (he's a mercenary after all) or It's Personal.
Live Action TV
- Elite Agent Rotor in Dino Attack RPG happens to be guilty of multiple war crimes, but he's also fighting to save the world from Mutant Dinosaurs and does a dang good job at it.
Table Top Games
- In general, this is where the people closest to be heroes from War Hammer 40000 fall.
- Yuri Lowell from Tales of Vesperia did what he had to do to Cumore and Ragou and many a "The Reason You Suck" Speech are given by him to Flynn Scifo.
- A Renegade Commander Shepard can be quite pragmatic in Mass Effect. With a general "I Did What I Had to Do" philosophy as the core tenet of the playstyle, all kinds of morally questionable actions can be done.
- Even Paragon Shepard slips into this during the second and third game.
- Mordin Solus falls into this. He's a decent person and firmly on the heroic side, but he's also extremely pragmatic and isn't afraid to be ruthless and do horrible things for the sake of the greater good. He is first introduced as a doctor who willingly went into a heavily plague-infested area to save as many lives as possible... and who mercilessly gunned down mercenaries trying to stop him and hung their corpses up outside his clinic as a warning to others.
Daniel: You're a doctor! You're supposed to help people!
Mordin: Many ways to help people. Sometimes cure patients. Sometimes execute dangerous individuals. Either way helps.
- Raiden from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance firmly believes that some people have to die in order for innocent lives to be saved. His evil alter ego, Jack the Ripper, makes him a borderline Unscrupulous Hero.
Raiden: There's a saying I like: 'One sword keeps another in the sheath.' Sometimes, the threat of violence alone is a deterrent. Sometimes, by taking a life, others can be preserved. It's the code the samurai lived by...
- The new Tomb Raider game has Lara develop into this over the course of the game. While she starts out as a Classical Anti-Hero who must simply kill in self defense merely to survive the extreme conditions around her, she gradually becomes more and more jaded and numb until she's spouting Badass Boasts that imply she's now come to revel in the carnage she reaps. She even has a standard "brushes off of an attempted What the Hell, Hero? " moment.
- Although that moment came directly after a friend sacrificed himself to save her and the What the Hell, Hero? speech was used to unfairly blame Lara for his death, so she was both justified in brushing it off and not in the best frame of mind at that point.
- Jim Raynor in StarCraft II
- Lee Everett in The Walking Dead can be pragmatic depending on player choice.
- Hector: Badge of Carnage, Hector is willing to use any means to get where he needs to be, even if it involves lying, black mail, stealing...anything to get the job done.
- Captain Walker in Spec Ops: The Line certainly considers himself to be one of these. Whether the player still agrees with him by the end of the game is another story...
- Shadow from the Sonic the Hedgehog series became one after discovering his true purpose in his self-titled game. He realizes that Maria's wish for him is to protect the world, but he has no qualms in going the extra mile in doing so, especially if it involves fighting against Sonic and the other heroes. He also has no problem using lethal force if he feels it's justified.
- Sonic himself is this in Sonic and the Black Knight. He was fully willing to allow The Grand Kingdom to come to an end rather than allow Merlina to use her magic to make it eternal.
- Fate/stay night: Archer shifted towards this from Iron Woobie in his former life, working his best towards being an idealistic crusader while recognizing that the world wasn't that convenient and knowing he'd have to kill a few to save many. After he became a guardian spirit and lost his free will, he crossed the Despair Event Horizon and lost all faith in his ideal, even though he technically acts on it through his role. Despite this, in the first two routes Shirou can still convince him that the ideal is worth pursuing.
- Shirou decides to become this in the Unlimited Blade Works route, accepting that he can't save everyone but still deciding to try to live up to his ideal the best he can.
- In Worm, Armsmaster, a Badass Normal Gadgeteer Genius, is a clear example of this. He notes to Taylor that she should avoid fights where she can, develops technology specifically to incapacitate the villains of his city, and gets several supervillains deliberately killed in order to give him a chance to kill Leviathan.
- A later and even more extreme example is found in Alexandria of the Triumvirate, who is entirely willing to manipulate the system that she created to keep parahumans under the control of normal people to put her civilian identity in a position of authority where she can do the most good with her Thinker powers, threatens the lives of a villain's friends in order to force her to give in, is willing to work with a far worse villain for the sake of maintaining security of the foremost parahuman prison, and is guilty of enough crimes against humanity to push her into Well-Intentioned Extremist territory.
- The SCP Foundation is ultimately trying to protect the world (and reality in general) from potentially dangerous items. This occasionally means they are forced to do morally ambiguous things for the sake of their mission. Among other things, many of the items captured are non-malevolent sentients, or even humans. Knowing that a child Reality Warper is rarely more than a childhood trauma away from initiating an apocalypse, and that even the most innocuous items can be abused in the wrong hands, the foundation does what it has to do.
- Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time, of all people, given some of the depths she will go to at times. Finn and Jake have even called her out a couple times, though not always face to face.
- Batman in Batman: The Animated Series.
- Kyle from South Park often plays this role, particularly when confronting one of Cartman's many schemes.
- Rose from American Dragon Jake Long is most likely this, being willing to pull off a Final Solution to save her family and the entire Magical World from the Huntsclan.
- Though this is only after she finds out Jake's secret, up until that point she's an Anti-Villain.
- Few of the heroes in The Dreamstone seem to really give a flying fish if the Urpneys are Trapped In Villainy, and will take any measure to stop them. This bordered on Blood Knight or Unscrupulous Hero territory in early episodes, though later seasons made their retaliations more passive, often disinterested in attacking the Urpneys outside the means to protect the stone. They sometimes relapsed however.
- The Land Before Time: The heroes are not averse to fighting dirty when confronted with sharpteeth.
- Popeye holds himself to a strict moral code, but this doesn't stop him from beating people or animals to a pulp (occasionally for little to no reason, in the early shorts anyway). And a sometimes when he rescues Olive, he does so to prevent Bluto from having her rather than for her own safety.
- Many of the past avatars from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, most notably Kyoshi, who wouldn't hesitate to murder somebody if it would save the lives of innocents.
- Benson on Regular Show is the grouchy, hot-tempered boss who is always threatening to fire the main characters Mordecai and Rigby unless they repair the damage caused by the Eldritch Abomination of the Week. Despite this, he is portrayed to be an honest, courteous, and kindhearted person who cares about his co-workers, even his mischievous slacker underlings. This was beautifully demonstrated in the episode "Benson Be Gone" which is basically him getting fired and replaced with a female boss who ends up being another Eldritch monstrosity, leading to Benson returning to save the day in epic fashion.
- Six from Generator Rex. Despite looking and sounding like a unemotional The Men in Black agent, he has principles he won't compromise; Rex is in fact alive thanks to him, and he has admitted that he stopped being a mercenary *because* of Rex.
- In Moral Orel, Reverend Rod Putty eventually becomes this, being one of the few characters not utterly blinded by hypocrisy and actually caring about the well-being of the main character.
- Daria is as cynical as it gets, but she deeply values her personal integrity and any slip maintaining it is deeply upsetting to her.