"And so my king died, and my brothers died, barely a year ago. Long I pondered my king's cryptic talk of victory. Time has proven him wise, for from free Greek to free Greek, the word was spread that bold Leonidas and his three hundred, so far from home, laid down their lives. Not just for Sparta, but for all Greece and the promise this country holds!"At one point in one character's life, things really go downhill for them. Either they're humiliated in public, their reputation ruined, people they're close with die, and most of all they could never make those who make them suffer pay for their crimes, making the culprit a Karma Houdini. But wait... why is he happy? Why is he moving on with a smile in his face, as if nothing happened? Or as if it's for the best? He can enact revenge to the culprit, and hit them with the hammer of karma as payback for making him suffer, but why didn't he? This is the character who we'd like to call Victorious Loser. He may have lost on the outside, but in the inside, he certainly is victorious... In many ways, this can mean his personality and conviction remains untouched despite the outer humiliations that have been inflicted upon him, he can still live on the way he is, the way he originally wanted. Perhaps he realizes that the things on the outside doesn't matter much compared to what's inside, or perhaps there is a greater good to be achieved by accepting the humiliation in full brunt, or perhaps he fears that achieving that victory comes at the cost of his personality or mentality and he wants to preserve them all, or perhaps despite his death, his philosophies prevail. So... while he would accept the ridicule and all at first, he will be the one who had the last laugh, as usually those who ridicule him would end up miserable or unable to achieve their goal. In short, they want to avoid unnecessary Pyrrhic Victories as much as possible. Sometimes, they have the mindset of If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him. This may be the outcome of the Nerdy heroes who endured bullies from the Jerk Jock (or Alpha Bitch), and eventually came out on top. Honor Before Reason may be this, from the character's point of view. Contrast Pyrrhic Victory. Compare Silent Scapegoat. Contains Spoilers!
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Anime and Manga
- One Piece has a scene where Luffy and Zoro are jeered and humiliated for their desire to go to the island in the sky (and for their seemingly undeserved bounties) but the two refuse to fight back. Zoro later tells Nami that if they had fought back they'd have later regretted lowering themselves to their level. Of course when the pirates later attack their new friend...
- Mikagami Tokiya in Flame of Recca, in the second half of the manga, had two cases of defeat and humiliation, turning into a Distressed Dude. All this could've been rectified had he been more cruel, like the way he was in the past, but doing so would turn him into a Revenge-obsessed man that he has refused to embrace in the end of the first half. This is later shown when one of the Quirky Miniboss Squad commented that by letting go of vengeance and also his suicidal tendencies, he is way stronger, and in the end, he avoids the mistake of killing his own grandfather and evolved into a more mature person in general.
- Lelouch Lamperouge in Code Geass. After playing an evil persona for months and gets called out by everyone else, he lets himself get killed just so war will stop and opening a new road for possible peace. He may have been reviled as the most hated person in history and a loser in war, but at least his true goal is achieved.
- Averted by most of the 'good guys' in Hell Girl. In short, these characters have seen their life go so horrible that they turn to Hell Girl, seemingly victorious as their tormentor is quickly sent to Hell. But in turn, at the end of their life they too will go to Hell, thus submitting themselves into the defeat of equal torment.
- When Naruto had to fight Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy Jerk Ass Neji and was uncharacteristically depressed, feeling he didn't have a chance, Fan of Underdog Hinata managed to give him his confidence back by telling him that what inspired her most about him was his ability to laugh in the face of his worst failures and keep on going. Her biggest compliment for him was that, to her, he was "a proud loser".
- Made more notable by the fact that Hinata herself had just gotten out of the hospital after Neji almost beat her to death in the preliminary rounds.
- Both inverted and subverted in Liar Game at the end of the Contraband Game. After Yokoya has made a large profit and is prepared to walk away with it, Nao points out that she is this trope and Yokoya is an inversion - a Non-Victorious Winner - because his victory didn't come from domination as he had planned. Yokoya agrees with this analysis and thus stays in the game. The subversion is that Nao's true goal, to save everyone, was not met at all with Yokoya making such a large profit at the expense of his teammates, so she pretended that she was a Victorious Loser in order to get Yokoya to stay in the game so she could win the money back from him.
- Rurouni Kenshin gives us a rare villainous example in the Big Bad of the Kyoto Arc, Makoto Shishio. He fails to achieve his dream of conquering and remaking Japan into a Darwinist, fascist military dictatorship where the strong have the right to abuse the weak. But, as the narration reminds us, his ideals would survive him, and cause great misery and sorrow.
- Yugi Oh GX: Shou might've lost his duel against his brother in season two, but he proved he had a stronger grip on the respectful dueling concept than Ryou did in doing so. He proved that unlike his brother, he wasn't willing to abandon the respect concept just for the sake of victory.
- In the Hatoful Boyfriend manga there is a chapter where Anghel has to take a test, and realizes as he struggles with it that the teacher has fallen asleep. He then struggles with the temptation to cheat, represented as demonic and seraphic figures each talking to him. Ultimately he does not cheat and flunks the test, but says to himself that he did not submit to temptation, and that is enough.
- The ending of Terror in Resonance. Nine and Twelve lost their lives, but they manage to successfully detonate an EMP destroying most of Japan and with the help of Shibazaki, they manage to expose the world the Japanese government's involvement of the Athena Project and the horrible experimentation Nine and Twelve had to endure.
- Ming in Safe Havens had her documentary nominated for an Oscar. She ended up losing, but didn't particularly care as she never cared for external validation in the first place, she still loved experiencing the spectacle and glamour, and she already had a bigger prize-her son, the topic of her documentary (specifically her pregnancy and giving birth to him).
- Batman in The Dark Knight. The Joker has turned Harvey Dent AKA Two Face from hero to a madman, if this goes public, Gotham City would fall into despair. In order to prevent that, Batman takes the blame for Harvey's murderer and is considered a criminal. So although he physically lost to Joker (couldn't save Harvey, being considered a villain, and can't even kill Joker due to his No Kill Policy), Batman technically won, since he prevents Joker's idea of a mad lawless world, the thing that matters the most for him.
- Misawa the Ronin in After the Rain is the embodiment of this trope.
- Rocky loses by decision in both Rocky and Rocky Balboa in his saga, but his goal wasn't necessarily to win either fight; the first was to "go the distance" and prove to himself that he wasn't just another bum from the neighborhood, while his last fight was about going out strong and putting his old demons to rest.
- In the 1983 movie The Dead Zone, Johnny finally decides to kill Stillson. All is in place, he's got his gun, he's in the right position, but he misses. He gets fatally wounded, but until then, Stillson uses a baby as a human shield. As seen in his vision, this turns out to ruin Stillson's political career and drives him to suicide. Not as planned, but he's happy about it before he dies.
- Inverted in Seven Samurai for the samurai who may have won the battle and their reason for going to the village but don't gain anything for themselves. As Kambei points out the townspeople are prospering and planting while singing and nothing but cold graves or hunger and the road await the samurai. Saved from being a Downer Ending by Kambei's wise outlook and the amazing heroism of the seven.
- In Rush, Niki may have lost the 1976 Formula One world championship title to James, but he was alive to try again, and especially after his horrific accident at the Nurburgring that was more important to him. Besides, the real life Niki Lauda would go on to win two more titles so if anything it was more a setback than a loss.
- Cars has Lightning McQueen stop just before the finish line on the final lap in the tiebreaker race at the end of the film after Chick Hicks wrecked Strip Weathers. While Hicks wins the race due to Lightning's reaction, the former is booed upon receiving the Piston Cup and passed over as the Dinoco sponsor car. Lightning, on the other hand, pushes Strips across the finish line before he himself crosses and is offered the spot of Dinoco's sponsor, which he and Hicks were both aiming for.
- Strange's final gambit from Doctor Strange qualifies him as this. He can never hope to defeat Dormammu, the local Eldritch Abomination Dimension Lord of the Dark Dimension. So he forces Dormammu into a "Groundhog Day" Loop where Dormammu kills Strange over and over and over for all eternity. But that also means he's stuck with Strange.
Dormammu: You cannot do this for ever.
Strange: Actually, I can. This is how things are now! You and me. Trapped in this moment. Endlessly. (I can never win), but I can lose. Again. And again. And again. Forever. That makes you my prisoner.
- Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation was forced to take familial responsibility for the Romulan betrayal of the Klingons at his home colony. Defending his family honor and providing evidence that it was the Duras family would have thrust the Klingon Empire into a full blown civil war. The Durassholes wound up getting greedy and showed their hand by allying with the Romulans to take over the empire, creating the very civil war Worf tried to avoid... And then said civil war ended with the House of Duras permanently discredited and the new Chancellor owing the Federation a considerable favour.
- Picard tells a story of how he laughed when stabbed as a young cadet. This is is given more meaning when he is allowed to go back in time and try to stop the fight happening.
- In Episode 3 of Victorious, Tori takes several detentions and a humiliating punishment rather than tell the school principal that Jade faked the injury Tori was accused of causing, despite having proof. When Jade asked her why, Tori said it was because she didn't want to fight with Jade all through high school.
- Gomez Addams from The Addams Family is an attorney who takes gleeful pride in how many cases he's lost, mainly because winning against an Addams is almost always a horribly painful, if absolutely hilarious, Pyrrhic Victory. Oh sure, Gomez lost to you... but you'll wish he hadn't in the end.
- New York in Flavor of Love competed in two consecutive seasons; she spent both of them being hated by just about all the other girls yet both times making it to the final round. Both times, Flav chose her opponent over her. In the end, Flav didn't stay with any of the contestants while New York was laughing her ass to the bank with her own dating show!
- Speaking of I Love New York, Both Real and Chance competed and made it to the final three. Both ended up placing in third and second respectively. At the end New York didn't stay with the winner while both brothers received a dating show of their own.
- Lizzie McGuire when Kate broke the school founders bust, the principle will suspend the school party unless the one responsible steps forward, Lizzie decides to take the blame for it and is suspended from the party. But her friends told everyone that Kate really did it, and Lizzie took the blame for them, they instead moved the party to Lizzie's house, while Kate is all alone at school.
- Paksennarion embodies this trope toward the end of Oath of Gold; she accepts being tortured by evil priests because it's the only way to redeem the evil priests' misguided followers.
- In one of the Goosebumps books (How I Learned to Fly), Jack Johnson gains the ability to fly by reading a how-to book and creating a flying potion. He hopes to use this ability to finally beat his rival, Wilson, at something. Unfortunately, Wilson finds the book as well and challenges him to a race. Rather than use his flight to win, Jack pretends he lost the ability to fly. Wilson wins the race handily, but becomes a celebrity, and is closely followed by both the paparazzi and the government. Meanwhile, everyone else loses interest in Jack, so he's left alone and can fly unharassed at night, which is really all he wanted anyway. For bonus points, he gets the girl they both wanted, while his rival has to move out of town to dodge the paparazzi and can't even have that.
- In the short story The Smile of the Chipper by Isaac Asimov two "chippers" (quasi-hackers with the ability to subtly influence others' thoughts) are being considered for employment by the CEO of a company, who can only hire one. Over the course of the story, one of the chippers loses his (very attractive) fiancee, who ends up engaged to the other chipper. The CEO decides to hire the chipper who lost his fiancee, realizing that he wanted to lose her all along and the woman's perceived attractiveness had been a result of the chipper's influence.
- Tom Sawyer when he voluntarily takes the blame for a misdeed Becky Thatcher comitted and got the most savage flaying Mr. Dobbins had ever administered.
Tom stood a moment, to gather his dismembered faculties; and when he stepped forward to go to his punishment the surprise, the gratitude, the adoration that shone upon him out of poor Becky's eyes seemed pay enough for a hundred floggings.
- The True Story of Ah Q gives a negative portrayal of this trope. The title character, Ah Q, is famous for his "spiritual victories". In order to save face, he deludes himself into thinking he had achieved victory when in reality he had been soundly defeated or humiliated. In one example, Ah Q gets beaten and his silver stolen. He then slaps himself in the face and declares himself to be the victor, since he was the one who hit him.
- Lamia Loveless in Super Robot Wars Original Generation series, for refusing the ODE's attempt to absorb her, was shot down by the ODE as an irregular that must be deleted. She was unable to repel it, thus she was defeated by it. Of course, she later came back and managed to help defeat her other manipulator Duminuss, but it is clear that she never have a clear direct shot towards the ODE who shot her down. But considering the ODE is doomed as Duminuss' eternal pawn and was even discarded, while Lamia could live on with her conscience left unscarred, she technically won. She also won against Juergen, whose body was used by the ODE to do the kill, because compared to her, Juergen's defeat, in form of the loss of his family, caused him to drastically change the ODE and was killed in result.
- Thanks to a certain Drama CD, Axel Almer manages to run on this trope with awesome sauce. General audience knew that he lost his fight against Beowulf, but the Drama CD makes it clear that in a sense, Axel is the true victor, since he managed to wipe out Beowulf's death squadron singlehandedly, leaving him alone and putting him in a trap and in the same time, stalled enough time that his allies safely escape to the other side, and left Beowulf screaming in rage of defeat despite him kicking Axel's ass and be victorious in battle, since he let Axel succeed his true mission.
- Ramza Beoulve in Final Fantasy Tactics, in the end of his whole quest to save the world and his sister... either dies or survives but leaves the country in obscurity. (Depending on your view. We now speak about the latter.) In the process, he is also branded as a heretic and villain by the Corrupt Church, but he wouldn't even bother clearing his name because he got what he wanted: life with his sister in peace, which to him counts as a victory. This is a direct contrast to his best friend Delita Hyral, who after losing his sister, changed from an upstanding soldier into one hell of a Manipulative Bastard... who eventually ends up Lonely at the Top with his Pyrrhic Victory.
- Milla Vodello in Psychonauts. Despite the fact that the orphanage she once worked for burned down, and all of the children in it died, she's moved on and become a much more cheerful person. Aggressively cheerful. While some think that she's really a Stepford Smiler, because she keeps her bad memories tucked away, her dialogue indicates that she's come to terms with her past, and has had a good life since then.
- The end of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All has this. Phoenix happily accepts his first defeat because his client really did do the crime, for once. When Franziska — who comes from a family of lawyers who only care about winning cases regardless of the truth — berates him for losing his perfect status, Phoenix replied with "Perfection isn't everything."
- Subverted in Tekken. King's story in the fourth game revolves around him trying to avenge Armor King's death at the hands of Craig Marduk. He succeeded in beating Marduk within an inch of his life and hospitalizing him, but couldn't bring himself to kill Marduk, realizing that it would end up as an empty victory. So although he didn't personally avenge Armor King by killing Marduk, he somehow has felt quite victorious that he beat Marduk in fair combat, and didn't dwindle into a Revenge-driven bastard. This rolls back in the later games where eventually Marduk is Easily Forgiven and becomes one of his allies.
- Vaarsuvius from The Order of the Stick against Xykon. V doesn't accomplish the intended goal of destroying him for good, but does send Xykon's Soul Jar flying into the sewers, causes his right-hand-man to lose an eye, and rescues a prisoner who not only knows most of Xykon's spells, but is best friends with Xykon's secret weapon.
- Also a good learning opportunity for Vaarsuvius, because the elf finally accepts not being all powerful, but also that power can take on forms besides powerful spells, and to not discount his/her victories.
- The second one, surprisingly, was taught to him/her by Xykon himself.
- Also a good learning opportunity for Vaarsuvius, because the elf finally accepts not being all powerful, but also that power can take on forms besides powerful spells, and to not discount his/her victories.
- In Total Drama, one ending of the fourth season has Lightning beating Cameron. However, Cameron is happy because he isn't injured so much that he has to return to his bubble, and counts that as a personal victory.
- The Day the Music Died: Tommy and Ritchie Valens flip for a seat on the plane with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. Tommy lost the coin toss... and the plane crashed. Bit of a Downer Ending overall, anyway.
- Jacky Ickx took second place at the 1970 Formula One World Championship and has stated he's glad to only come second because the winner was Jochen Rindt, who died midway through the championship, and he wouldn't have felt right taking the title from a man no longer around to defend it.
- Despite the excitement he brought to the sport of professional boxing in the 90s, Naseem 'The Prince' Hamed left the sport humiliated after he lost his first career defining fight with Marco Antonio Barrera, or so the critics believed. According to Naseem, himself, he was already tired of boxing. He made more than enough money, unlike most top ranked prize fighters, and he was looking forward to being a father and a business man. There's even a documentary that goes into detail about the final days of Naseem's boxing career.
- The Doolittle Raid didn't achieve any of its strategic objectives and not all planes could be recovered. However it scared the crap out of the Japanese. This fear lead to Admiral Yamamoto being pressured to take Midway island quickly and secure Japan's defensive perimeter. This battle would end with all of Yamamoto's carrier's being destroyed and the Japanese war machine being stopped in its tracks.
- A case can be made about this regarding communism, which became Deader Than Disco at the end of the Cold War. It lost the war, and failed in many of its goals, but historians argued that its original goals and ideas succeeded by being co-opted by Liberal democracies:
"Admittedly, besides its moral failure, communism failed in its crusade to convert the whole world...But communism's impact was and still is enormous. In addition to provoking significant changes in capitalist economies, such as vastly increased military spending and the growth of a military-industrial complex, the USSR's existence changed Western social development in fundamental ways. Labor reform in the West in the past century came about under the threat of a radicalized international labor movement protected and supported by the USSR. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was in part meant to steal the thunder of radicals who looked to Moscow and therefore could not be ignored. Social goals that are commonplace today, including women's rights and racial integration, were planks of the Communist Party platform long before mainstream American parties took them seriously. It was Communists who first went to the American South and began organizing African-Americans and poor whites around issues of social justice. The more politically acceptable young people who followed them in The '60s are heroes today. On the international scene the Soviet Union provided support for Nelson Mandela and other reformers. Communism made life difficult for Western establishments, and it is doubtful that reforms would have come when they did if the USSR had not existed ...Twentieth-century communism was no passing illusion; its legacies are everywhere."— J. Arch Getty, The Future Did Not Work.
- The Finnish would traditionally be considered to have lost the Winter War and the Continuation war, as they lost territory. However they inflicted such staggering casualties on the Soviets to get that territory that no one has since seriously considered aggressive military action against Finland. Finland managed to become the only country attacked by the Soviets during the Hitler Stalin pact and the only country fighting on the side of Nazi Germany to still have basically the same form of government in 1946 that it did in 1938. And then Finland one-upped the whole thing by being directly next to the Soviet Union, having no official alliance with NATO and still outlasting any overt or covert attempts of the Soviets to make Finland their satellite.
- Ultimately The French Revolution did not win. Napoleon Bonaparte took over and rolled back many of the advances that had been made. And after Bonaparte was gone, the same Bourbon dynasty that had been deposed took over again. The most egalitarian constitution never got enacted and those in any way connected to the "reign of terror" have gotten a Historical Villain Upgrade in pretty much every single work of fiction ever. But the ideals espoused by the revolutionaries - even the most radical ones - ultimately carried the day. The divine right of Kings is Deader Than Disco and one person one vote is such an universally acknowledged principle that even dictatorships pretend to live by it. The French revolution was probably the most successful failure in the political history of humanity.
- John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was a disastrous failure and he himself ended up executed as a criminal, but the trial electrified opinions across the North and the world and Brown's defiant stance at the trial for his abolitionist activism became a potent symbol in the run up to The American Civil War where the song John Brown's Body became a popular marching tune, until Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn For the Republic" co-opted the tune with new lyrics. His actions, while still considered extreme today, are Vindicated by History:
As summer turned to fall and additional recruits did not arrive, [John] Brown decided to go with what he had. A sort of fatalism stole over him. He wrote a "Vindication of the Invasion" in the past tense as if it had already failed. When he finally moved, in mid-October, he did so without previous notice to the slaves he expected to join him, without rations, without having scouted any escape routes from Harper's Ferry, with no apparent idea of what to do after capturing the armory buildings. It was almost as if he knew that failure with its ensuing martyrdom would do more to achieve his ultimate goal than any "success" could have done. In any event, that was how matters turned out.— James McPherson, Battle Cry for Freedom.
- Barry Goldwater did not just lose the 1964 Presidential election, he got clobbered. But his 40% to 60% defeat in the national popular vote and electoral landslide loss showed two things: First the South could be won by a Republican (the only states Goldwater won were his home state Arizona and Southern states) and Second there was a conservative movement in the Republican party. It took decades, but ultimately the Republicans took over the South and Conservatives took over the Republican Party. Without Goldwater, none of this would have happened.
- In India, direct rebellions against The British Empire often met with failure but they nonetheless provoked major changes and upheavals, ultimately achieving its goal.
- The 1857 Mutiny was a complex Gambit Pileup of multiple factions who barely tolerated each other and many of the mutineers were originally loyal Private Military Contractors serving the EITC as they invaded and annexed the Punjab and Sindh, the rebellion nonetheless failed despite attracting support from local Indian rulers who were chafing under British rule and it ultimately resulted in the permanent end to any future military threat to the Crown. However, the scale of the Uprising, the quickness of how it spread and level of support it attracted, led to the end of the East India Company, with the British Crown directly taking over and establishing authority in India, forcing them to reverse many unpopular laws that led to the rebellion and ultimately investing in the creation and patronage of an Indian middle class to make themselves acceptable. The 1857 Mutiny failed to liberate India but it did succeed in toppling the government and transforming India.
- Subhash Chandra Bose is a highly controversial figure in Indian history, who was initially a popular leader of the Indian National Congress, and someone who wanted to put forth socialist policies to erode India's caste system and introduce gender equality, and he advocated building a national army to militarily liberate India, policies which made him unpopular with the liberal reformist Congress and the likes of Gandhi and Nehru who advocated "non-violent resistance". Frustrated at his inability, Bose turned to seeking foreign support from USSR initially, and then, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan by invoking Enemy Mine against the English during World War II, a policy that went nowhere until his death by plane crashnote . Bose's Azad Hind Fauz (Free India Army) was the first army of Indians, by Indians, with desegregated caste, religious and gender lines (which made him distinctly unlike his allies) and while it was a force too small to serve decisively, and was unpopular with the much larger contingent of Indians serving with Kipling's Finest, India's army formed after independence resembles Bose's army more than the English.
- This was actually how Mahatma Gandhi's protest strategies and tactics worked. The goal of the protest was not as important as the scale, symbolic meaning and visibility of the movement, and its capacity to provoke Disproportionate Retribution from the English to put it down. Winning wasn't important as much as glorious defeat, and Gandhi measured the success of protests by the jails it filled up, the press it generated and the way it embarrassed the English, rather than its direct efficacy.
- If the descriptions of the Mesoamerican ballgame that say the victors were sacrificed are accurate (descriptions vary and the actual practices may well have varied too), losing appears highly desirable from today's point of view. Sure you lose the game and miss out on a "great honor" but on the other hand you are still alive to tell the tale afterwards.