"So you won't kill, but you're fine with traumatic brain injuries?"
and Thou Shalt Not Kill
can sometimes be a dodgy combination. If you think about it, it's actually a pretty complicated matter to "take down" somebody without really hurting them. To understand why this is, consider the following problem:
- You need to render someone unconscious, but there are some complications:
- You cannot kill your target.
- You cannot give your target permanent brain damage.
- You cannot give your target permanent organ damage.
- No explosions allowed.
- You are probably fighting on terrain that's dangerous even for people who are conscious and in perfect health.
- You do not have access to chemicals of any kind that could render your target unconscious, or to a Stun Gun.
- All of your weapons are designed to be lethal.
- You have a time limit.
- The person you're trying to incapacitate is trying to murder you.
The answer isn't simple, is it? Conventional Tap on the Head
techniques all carry the risk of doing serious damage of one kind or another even if they don't kill the target, and you don't want to knock your opponent into a Bottomless Pit
, or a fire,
or an Acid Pool
is a trope for characters who adamantly claim they won't kill anyone, but nevertheless tend to endanger the lives of others (enemies, allies, or bystanders) quite often. Maybe their claims are hollow, or maybe they're just overly optimistic about their skills, or maybe they're depending on Toon Physics
to make what they do work out. Maybe you can excuse them for acting rashly under pressure, but whatever their reasons, you have to wonder how it is that they've managed not to kill anyone
Only rarely is Reckless Pacifism Played for Drama
, which usually means that it doesn't work out
Note that this is a form of Fridge Logic
and/or Fridge Horror
. The Supertrope is Martial Pacifist
. Could Have Been Messy
is when this trope is applied to an entire work, as opposed to a specific character.
This trope tends to present itself in media where Nobody Can Die
, or Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight
and/or the Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality
is in effect. Contrast Technical Pacifist
and Actual Pacifist
. See also Destructive Savior
for when pacifists are reckless with property instead of people, and Stupid Good
for when pacifism is the wrong response anyway. Sister Trope
to Suicidal Pacifism
, when refusal to fight endangers one's own life.
Anime and Manga
- If it weren't for Vash the Stampede's Improbable Aiming Skills, there is absolutely no way that any of his opponents would still be alive. And even then, we see that Vash himself pays for this when he removes his coat and the audience sees that he's covered in horrific wounds.
- When Kira Yamato becomes a Martial Pacifist, he disables enemy mobile suits. However, doing so in the middle of a battlefield will probably result in their deaths. He does, however, cleave battleships in half which will invariably cause many, many more deaths. To his credit, Kira does acknowledge this. It also backfired on him spectacularly in Destiny.
- Kenshin Himura does this a lot. Beating people into a pulp with a Reverse Blade Sword may or may not cause internal injuries, but somehow it never kills them, despite the fact that there are plenty of other people in the series who do use blunt weapons for lethal ends.
- In Cowboy Bebop, it's explicitly stated that bounties must be turned over to the cops alive and unharmed, but that sure doesn't stop the crew from using a variety of highly lethal equipment, from handguns to spaceship mounted machine guns and missiles, and display a total disregard for collateral damage. They do actually suffer consequences for their recklessness, however. In the first episode, they are short on cash even after getting a large bounty because Spike's destructive antics during the chase forced them to fork over nearly all of it just to pay for damages and medical bills.
- The Goddess Sariel in Kumo Desu Ga, Nani Ka? always prioritizes saving lives in the moment with no regard for the future consequences. This behavior has resulted in the near-collapse of the system which would kill every living creature on the planet, and yet she still interferes when a solution is being implemented that costs lives.
- All superheroes with a Thou Shalt Not Kill policy deal with this. Some of the more egregious examples include:
- Batman. The Darker and Edgier the continuity you're viewing, the deeper he gets into this trope and the more reckless he gets. Excluding Bat-incarnations that actually did kill people, the deep end for the Bat is around the point where he just barely manages not to run over people with the Batmobile and smash every other mook's skull to bits.
- Spider-Man. His penchant for kicking people off of heights and hanging them upside down with his webs doesn't lend itself well to nonlethal vigilantism.
- Superman has an on-and-off relationship with this trope, Depending on the Writer. The basic idea is that Superman, being invulnerable to everything but kryptonite, can do things that would be too dangerous for normals. This could mean one of two things:
- A) Superman can't get hurt, and so he can afford to pull his punches and work to ensure the safety of his enemies as well as his allies. Not an example.
- B) Superman can't get hurt, and so he can afford to smash up buildings, vehicles, faces, and anything else that impedes him. Definitely an example.
- In Astro City, the Street Angel is called out on this point by Black Velvet, who undercuts his claim to the moral high ground by pointing out that while he won't directly kill his opponents, he often leaves them injured in situations where they might easily die before help arrives.
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day: The Terminator being under orders not to kill doesn't seem to stop him from emptying a minigun at a group of police officers, then blowing up their cars.
- Shinji from Battle Royale wants no part in the killing that's going on around him, and so fires multiple warning shots to scare someone off. Unfortunately, he noticeably lacks the Improbable Aiming Skills required to avoid shooting this person in the head by mistake, causing a minor Heroic B.S.O.D..
- Doc Savage has a strict policy of nonlethality, to the point that he won't normally carry a gun. When he does shoot people, he prefers tranquilizer pellets over bullets. His lieutenants (especially Monk and Ham) aren't so squeamish. The evil mastermind, however, typically dies in the end, thanks to his own infernal contraption, without any interference from Doc.
- Wizards in The Dresden Files are specifically prohibited from using magic to kill other humans for any reason. Nonmagical killing is technically not covered by this (which is why the Wardens can still use their swords to execute warlocks readily enough), nor does the protection extend to nonhumans, and it's not entirely clear how far collateral damage is really covered — a wizard using spells to fight off monsters can be quite destructive to the general environment in the process, and there's at least one case of Harry in particular burning down a house infested with vampires where he'll probably never know for certain whether or not all their human victims were in fact already really dead...
- Eliot on Leverage causes an incredible amount of havoc for a supposed "hero." As the team's "hitter"/"retrieval specialist" it is often his role to charge in and beat the crap out of crowds of people in defense of his teammates; since the Leverage crew are thieves and con artists working outside the law, often the people who Eliot is beating unconscious and generally tossing around like ragdolls are in fact innocent security guards and law enforcement officers just trying to do their jobs.
- Matt Murdock in Daredevil (2015), following the Tao of his comic counterpart, has a strong Thou Shalt Not Kill policy for his vigilante activities. It doesn't stop him from pulling moves like throwing people off buildings or lighting them on fire. Perhaps Justified by his super-senses giving him a better and more precise understanding of human anatomy and physics, but still.
- Champions characters with a Code Against Killing have this problem. Often, the solution for them is to pummel the HP out of their enemies and then trust The Medic to keep them alive.
- You can do this with no penalty as a Bare-Fisted Monk in Dungeons & Dragons, making all your damage subdual rather than lethal.
- Note: Not all enemies are susceptible to subdual damage. Depending on the D&D ruleset used, dealing more subdual damage than the target's HP may deal lethal damage.
- In the Star Wars RPG Edge of the Empire, stun damage is usually safe. However, depending on the results of your roll, it can still deal critical damage — which has a chance (albeit a slim one, unless they're already suffering from crits) to horribly maim or even outright kill the victim. The guidelines for GM adjudication point out that people get in fights in all kinds of hazardous places, and it's easy for a stun victim to fall on something sharp, stumble into a pit, etc.
- In Batman: The Animated Series, Batman has:
- Knocked over cars and brought down helicopters in motion with the drivers and passengers still inside.
- Punched people off of a moving train.
- Detonated ludicrous amounts of explosives and flammable fuels in close proximity to fleeing criminals.
- Suspended a man by his wrist from the Batwing while flying low over Gotham and dipping him into Gotham Bay.
- ...And this is just the first ten episodes!
- Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender fits this trope well, as he's the one person specifically committed to not killing, even if it's the Fire Lord. That said, he does cause his share of collateral damage. Aang has been known to:
- Use his wind powers to slam people into things (or vice versa)
- Merge with a spirit creature to become a Kaiju, then attack the people who ticked off the spirit enough to do the fusion. (Then again, that's probably mostly the spirit's doing.)
- Knock people out of boats into freezing oceans (sometimes actually destroying the boat)
- Throw people off great heights.
- Use avalanches as weapons against hundreds of soldiers.
- Terrify the cabbage vendor (poor poor cabbage vendor)
- Blow stuff up.
- Use his powers to cause random mayhem just for the hell of it.
- Samurai Jack has killed for the first time in season 5, however he had no problem
- Throwing two people from a moving train down a cliff without knowing if they would survive.
- Slashing some bounty hunters with his sword and throwing bombs at another one.
- Slicing robots in half, which actually, seemed to be organic beings.
- Destroying a car in the second episode without knowing if there was someone alive inside it.