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Useless Protagonist

A Useless Protagonist is exactly that, a Point of View character who can only watch as the Badass supporting characters bust their asses saving both him/her and the world. They may become more Bad Ass later on, but they always start as something of a pansy.

This may seem similar to First-Person Peripheral Narrator, but it's not quite the same. The First-Person Peripheral Narrator isn't the most key player, but can still be useful, often as the Sidekick. A character falling under this trope might really be the center of attention but is simply incapable of doing anything useful.

Think of it this way: Arthur is The Chosen One, but he is utterly powerless on his own and isn't even a Badass Normal, so he sits around doing nothing. Fortunately, he has Bob and Charlie to protect him, with Bob being the most important heroic force both in combat and in planning, and Charlie acting as his sidekick and, though not being as awesome as Bob, still being very useful. Think of Bob and Charlie as Batman and Robin, and Arthur as some poor schmuck in the story they have to save because he is the living descendant of Jesus, and poses a threat to the Catholic Church simply by existing.

If Charlie is the narrator, then he is the First-Person Peripheral Narrator, because, even though he's incredibly useful, this obviously isn't his story. If Arthur is the narrator, then he is this trope, because he doesn't do anything useful at all. He is not the First-Person Peripheral Narrator, however, because he is The Chosen One and the focus of the plot and action and this is ostensibly his story, even if Bob and Charlie do all the work.

Note that this is not a one-time uselessness due to strange effects, or a long-term effect on someone who requires protection. It's a healthy character with no good excuse for cowering behind their constant savior.

Another thing to think about is that this is not a place for "weak" protagonists. "Useless" entails someone who is completely ineffective in all story-important aspects. Some protagonists that lack physical strength are useful by being brilliant in some other fashion, a la the Chessmaster.

Contrast Pinball Protagonist where a character does have useful skills, but is incapable of acting on her own initiative because stronger characters have set the plot on rails. Not related to a Spotlight-Stealing Squad taking focus from the lead.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Nearly every male lead-type character in Harem Anime and Exotic Girlfriend shows will tend towards this trope, often being an incredibly bland character completely overshadowed by the girls to the point of not even appearing on the promo images and trailers for the show.
  • Sakai Yuuji of Shakugan no Shana. The Reiji Maigo is the only reason he even gets to remain in the world, and he tends to hide behind his semi-protective flaming swordswoman when push comes to shove. Except in the last two arcs of the second season. And VERY MUCH not so for the third season.
  • Hiro Hiyorimi of Princess Resurrection - much more so in the anime version, where he's generally completely incapacitated while Hime and the others take down the Monster of the Week.
  • Yukiteru of Mirai Nikki frequently slipped into this, often sitting back and letting Yuno or someone else (like Akise) solve his problems for him for entire arcs at a time. He got better once he was broken and subsequently Took a Level in Badass.
  • Defied in Fate/stay night, where Shirou constantly tries to be important to combat even though Saber is clearly far stronger. He eventually succeeds, and in one timeline becomes Archer.
  • The main character in the anime adaption of Agatha Christie's works is somewhat of a Mary Sue, who rarely has any important roles beyond finding Red Herring clues. She does get A Day in the Limelight when she substitutes a one-shot character who plays a crucial role in the novel that arc was based on.
  • Minato of Sekirei starts out this way, but later on begins to be a bit of a planner. It can't really be helped considering he is the heart in a series of super powered Action Girls. He also winds up taking notes from Seo and accompanies his Sekirei in their missions as support.
    • Plus, as an Ashkabi, if he dies, so do all 6 of his Sekirei.
  • Madoka Kaname from Puella Magi Madoka Magica until very late in the series, despite being the main character mostly seems to around to be tortured and for other characters to rescue. As in, the very last episode. In the previous timelines, however, she kicks massive amounts of ass. Note that she's being kept in this role by Homura Akemi, who has very good reasons.
  • Yuri from Alien Nine. She really only cries and has nightmares during the whole series.
  • Italy from Axis Powers Hetalia. So much. Germany acts as his baby sitter.
    • Lampshaded. The title Hetalia comes from the Japanese words for 'useless' and 'Italy'.
  • Played with in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Shinji isn't a Useless Protagonist but Shinji himself and a number of other characters view him as this. It's a major part of the crippling inferiority complex Shinji has.
  • Remove Misuzu from AIR and all it would do is remove her arc.
  • In defiance of the Harem Anime convention mentioned above, Issei Hyoudou quickly realizes how useless he is compared to the rest of Rias' team and how his Sacred Gear is more valuable than he is, resulting in a minor breakdown and some early Character Development. Over time, he eventually becomes The Champion to Rias, and a much more competent individual with a personal stake in the plot.

    Comic Books 
  • A possible example would be DC Comics' Major Bummer - he's the protagonist but he doesn't really do anything.

    Fan Works 

    Film 
  • Puma Man: While the title character does fight a number of villains, he's aided by his Hypercompetent Sidekick, Vadinho the Aztec priest, a Badass Normal who tells him what to do and holds his own without any of Puma Man's super powers. This aspect of the film, and the film itself, was highlighted by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode.
  • Also from the realm of MST3K; Mark English, the protagonist of Devil Doll. After spending the entire movie investigating the proceedings, the situation resolves itself without his help.
  • Jason from The Forbidden Kingdom. He's the protagonist of a Kung Fu film—starring alongside Jackie Chan and Jet Li—yet even after his Training from Hell, he's only capable of beating enemy mooks. That's what happens when you're the stand-in for the priest in a retelling of Journey to the West...
  • The MST3K-subject Agent for H.A.R.M.'s protagonist Adam Chance's main contributions to the narrative are killing Mooks, getting tricked, and failing to save the day.
  • Buscapé in City of God. Though he meets and talks to several of the characters (and get in danger more than once) he doesn't interfere in any ways with the conflicts of the gangs, or even in the plot. He is meant to be nothing more than a witness of violence, and a narrator. His character is completely neutral: he doesn't act violent, but doesn't do anything against Ze Pequeno either.
  • James Bond in The Man with the Golden Gun. Other than killing Scaramanga, Bond doesn't actually accomplish much throughout the film.
  • Theseus from Immortals pretty much fails at doing anything even remotely successful throughout the film. He fails to protect his hometown or his mother and he is the reason the Epirus Bow falls into the hands of the Big Bad. The one successful thing he does is kill King Hyperion, but this is after the guy has pretty much accomplished everything he set out to do (like releasing The Titans).

    Literature 
  • Sheriff Bell in No Country for Old Men. In both the book and film, he serves more as the role of narrator than a protagonist.
  • Winston Smith of 1984 is a brutally Justified version of this trope. All he gets to do as the hero of the piece is keep a diary and have an affair before being arrested, tortured, and brainwashed, but the Totalitarian state he lives in considers these very serious offences.
  • Wilbur from Charlotte's Web. His job is get his life saved by Charlotte.note 
  • Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory does nothing to earn his happy ending except not be as awful as the other four kids. Adaptations of the book recognize this and try to flesh out his character and give him more to do.
  • There may very well be no more useless a protagonist than George Dower of K.W. Jeter's Infernal Devices. His very existence is what kicks the plot in motion, as his father, a Legacy Character that George himself barely knew, was apparently a mad genius who devised all manner of clockwork wonders, many of which are highly sought after by numerous parties. His father now dead, George has inherited his watch shop, despite being no good at mending watches, and because of this, he becomes the target of, among others, the crazed remnants of Cromwell's "Godly Army", a strange race of fish-like creatures, a prostitution ring, a pair of thieves, a mysterious dark-skinned man, an elderly mad scientist who literally wants to destroy the world, and multiple lascivious women. All while doing absolutely nothing except what he can to preserve his life. Rarely does he show any pluck, and at no point does he morph into a noble hero. He never does anything to help anyone else, except very reluctantly, and usually because he hopes it will help to save him, as well. He is, from beginning to end, The Millstone.
  • Xuanzang from Journey to the West. While he's technically the main character, most of the legwork is done by his escorts, as Xuanzang himself is completely incapable of combat. Not surprisingly, most adaptations focus on Sun Wukong the Monkey King rather than the relatively dull Xuanzang.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Revolution: Charlie Matheson is supposed to be the hero of the story, but for a while, she didn't really do much except to get Miles Matheson back into the game of fighting. In fact, Miles has had to save her several times. Justified Trope, because she is only a twenty-something-year-old who has never really been combat-trained. She did receive combat training in the episode "The Song Remains the Same", and she led a mutiny to help a scientist and his family escape from the Monroe Republic and the Georgia Federation in the episode "The Love Boat". It remains to be seen if and when she'll turn this into a Subverted Trope.
  • The main character, Todd, from Todd and the Book of Pure Evil is this in season 1. He joins the gang solely to try and bang Jenny, and spends the season getting stoned, being a jerkass, and contributing absolutely nothing while his friends save the day. He gets a lot better in season 2.

    Western Animation 
  • In Jonny Quest, evil foreign governments, multi-national corporations, and billionaire supervillains send henchmen in droves to steal from Benton Quest... there's not much that protagonist Jonny, a young child, can actually do about any of this. He's pretty worthless in most episodes, sometimes making things worse; but one way or another, it's either Benton Quest or Race Bannon who saves the day. Later adaptations would avert this trope, however.

Useless NotesThis Index Is UselessUseless Security Camera
Useless BoyfriendCharacters as DeviceVain Sorceress
Screwed by the NetworkImageSource/Web ComicsPlatinum Grit

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