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Willfully Weak
NJ: Who are you, where did you come from, and how powerful are you?
Aerynn: I don't know!
NJ: Don't know WHAT?
Aerynn: How powerful I am! I don't know!
NJ: How can you NOT KNOW SOMETHING LIKE THAT??
Aerynn: Because there are a lot of things I'm afraid to try!

A Power Limiter in which a character is intentionally suppressing their true strength, be it by magic, technology, willpower, or just by not powering up. Can be for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they want to give their opponent a fair shot at winning. Maybe they don't know their own strength, or letting loose would simply uncork their Power Incontinence. Maybe they just want to be normal. Maybe they are afraid of the collateral damage. Maybe they want to try this Weak, but Skilled thing so they learn to fight tactically rather than steamroll others with brute force. Or maybe it's just to keep their power from overtaking the plot.

Whatever the case, they have decided to be Willfully Weak. To be clear, this is NOT faking it, or merely going easy on their opponents. The character actually is as weak as they appear... but only because they choose to be. They could stop suppressing their powers at any moment and suddenly be an unstoppable powerhouse. Of course, given the possible consequences of them using what they normally keep under wraps, it's not always a "choice" made lightly.

Obviously, what is considered weak varies greatly from story to story. In some stories, they'll be almost the Muggle. In others, they'll actually be quite powerful, but far behind the other supers. In still others, they'll actually not be weak or normal at all, and be one of the more competent fighters, but nowhere near what they'd be capable of without this self-imposed limitation.

This trope, for obvious reasons, often applies to gods in human form.

May be caused by Normopathy. May lead to a "World of Cardboard" Speech or to the discovery that I Am Not Left-Handed when the crossing of the Godzilla Threshold means it's time to get dangerous and show their true power. Rarely (if ever) leads to Always Need What You Gave Up, because when they choose to limit their powers for mundane reasons, they can just make an exception, and in cases where their reasons are more dire, well, losing the fight is better than blowing up Main Street. Despite similarities, not likely to overlap with Just Toying with Them, as characters doing that don't care too much about playing fair and maintaining their self-imposed limitations. In video games, compare Cherry Tapping.

This can overlap with Fights Like a Normal for a character that usually suppresses all fantastic powers and fights as a Badass Normal.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Sebastian the demonic butler from Black Butler does this; although he's extremely skilled, fast and strong anyway, it's only when Ciel gives him a direct order to do something that he starts showing all of his inhuman capability.
  • Kumagawa from Medaka Box as he allowed himself to be beaten up by Medaka's Successors then proceeded to pin them down in one move.
    • Also against Kugurugi Mogura. He could have finished her in one move, which he did, but wanted to give time for Emukae to confess to Zenkichi.
  • Washu from Tenchi Muyo!. She's actually one of the Choushin (a goddess, basically) in human form.
    • And as she demonstrates in the second OAV, "weak" is a very relative term. Even with her powers restricted, she's much stronger than Ryoko, who, prior to Washu's appearance, was arguably the single most powerful cast member other than Tenchi himself.
    • Then again, Ryoko only had one out of three jewels; Tenchi didn't let her have the others, even when giving them to her would have been a good idea, making her a partial example.
    • Later on GXP shows that Tenchi starts doing this himself since he, like his grandfather, prefers living simply without the responsibility of running the galaxy.
  • Dragon Ball Z's Goku in the tournament with Uub, a human who (due to being the reincarnation of the most powerful alien Goku ever fought) has serious potential to become a good fighter again. Normally, when powered up, Goku has the power to destroy entire Planets with the flick of a wrist, but in this case remains at a more merciful Power Level to allow Uub an actual chance. The battle is fairly fierce, because, while Uub is really just slightly above Badass Normal status at this point, the powered-down Goku is too.
    • This is further implied with Vegeta's statement that when Goku is finished training Uub, he'll fight him again, and "need an entire planet as the arena".
    • Another DBZ example: Frieza limits his power because his body can't take it. Unfortunately, when he does go all-out against Goku, it's too late, since his stamina didn't last throughout their fight.
    • Yet another DBZ example: When Goku fights Vegeta the second time, in order to have a more even fight and to avoid burning out his remaining time, he decides not to use Super Saiyan 3, instead restricting himself to Super Saiyan 2. Vegeta finds out about Goku's self-imposed limit later on. Needless to say, he is less than happy about it.
    • Gohan is depicted as having the potential to become, quite literally, the most powerful warrior in the entire universe if he wished (and he actually does so a couple of times), but is a pacifist by nature, only fighting when someone needs his protection. Typically, his true strength only reveals itself through Unstoppable Rage.
    • In Dragon Ball, Goku's fighting in a tournament and reveals suddenly that he's wearing extremely heavy clothes, as part of his training. And is suddenly a lot faster once he gets rid of the extra weight. The same thing happens again several times, all the way up to Goku's fight with Frieza, at which point everybody is so strong that weighted clothes are no longer enough of a Power Limiter to bother mentioning.
      • Weighted clothes show up in one of the games, (Buu's Fury), taken to hilarious levels. By the end, you can wear one kiloton armbands and boots!
      • Lampshaded in The Abridged Series, during the battle between Piccolo and Freeza:
      Piccolo: Don't think you have the upperhand yet. I'm still wearing weighted armour!
      Freeza: Weighted armour? How quaint. And how much does it weigh?
      Piccolo: Same as it always does: one hundred kilo-
      Freeza grins
      Piccolo: ...Oh.
      Freeza: That's just cute!
  • The title character of Naruto could kill himself - and many others - if he ever uses his full power.
    • Rock Lee wears weights on his legs to reduce his speed. He takes them off during the fight with Gaara. Unlike Naruto, Lee is not host to an apocalyptic demon, but he has learned techniques that, if abused, could kill him. His sensei forbids him from using even the most basic of these techniques (which they share) except in a dire emergency.
      • When Lee takes off the weights for the first time, several characters scoff at the idea that it'll make a difference against Gaara. Until the weights hit the ground and produce substantial craters, implying that Lee must have been wearing a few tons of weights. Which really ought to have resulted in massively powerful kicks while he was wearing them. To be fair, the problem wasn't that he wasn't kicking hard enough. He simply wasn't fast enough to get around Gaara's sand barrier with the weights on.
  • The title character of Flame of Recca as well as his older brother Kurei and any other Flame Master must wear seals on their arms to protect their already fire resistant selves from the power of their flames going out of control and burning them to death.
  • Bleach
    • Ikkaku is hiding bankai, so he tries not to use it when he fights even when his opponents require bankai to be defeated. He actually throws a fight and is defeated by Poww precisely because he refused to activate bankai. Poww could tell Ikkaku was hiding power even though Ikkaku refused to admit it. In the end, Ikkaku had to be rescued by Captain Komamura and received a stern lecture from Iba about his behaviour.
    • Yumichika goes one step further than Ikkaku: he's hiding his entire power. He fakes his shikai release to hide the fact he possesses a kidou-type zanpakutou from his kidou-hating division. As a result, he fights physically, on willpower alone, even when his opponents have released their full power and are thrashing him due to the imbalance of power. When he does decide to release his abilities and actually use them, he's so powerful that he one-shots his opponents.
    • Ichigo gets a moment of this fighting a Privaron. He's reluctant to release his now-controllable Superpowered Evil Side as he knows that it will leave him weaker for later fights, and also knows that he's going to hit problems if he's releasing it this early on. He's eventually forced to release it, turning a near-defeat into a Curb-Stomp Battle. Normally though, Ichigo fights at full strength.
    • Hitsugaya's zanpakutou's most powerful and most basic ability can be used in either shikai or bankai. However, he traditionally avoids using it in bankai even when he needs to because his inexpert control over it and wide area of effect would drag in too many bystanders/allies. Against Harribel, he only decides to use it when his bankai is half-gone, allowing him better control than he would have had when his bankai was at full power.
    • Kenpachi's childhood left him so afraid of boring fights that he subconsciously limits himself to ensure victory is a struggle. As a child, he was so powerful that fighting was meaningless until he almost defeated Yachiru. The fear of almost losing his first Worthy Opponent caused him to limit himself. Yachiru is eventually revealed to be Captain Unohana when she subjects him to Training from Hell to break him out of this willfully weak attitude she takes responsibility for causing.
  • Rider, from Fate/stay night, has an ability called Monstrous Strength, which would allow her to increase her STR parameter by a whole rank for a period of time — which is no small advantage. She never uses it, however, because using it long enough would revert Medusa into the monstrous Gorgon.
    • Likewise, she always had herself blindfolded, which prevents her ability Mystic Eyes to run amok (if not blindfold, a pair of glasses). What does it do? Petrify anything that comes contact to her eyes, since she is Medusa.
    • She has another case of holding back and make herself look like a weak Servant: she just dislikes using full power when her master is Shinji. On the other hand, when her Master is the real one (Sakura), it's a different story: Still no Monstrous Strength, but removing blindfold becomes a viable option.
  • Aki Izayoi/Akiza Izinski in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds wears a hair curler which supposedly keeps her psychic powers in check, although whether or not this is a Magic Feather has yet to be seen.
    • Easy enough to not notice, but in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! Yugi's duel with Rebecca Hawkins was one of the few duels where he didn't transform into Yami Yugi. The idea was that Rebecca wasn't a villain trying some sort of underhanded tactic, but merely an opponent who accused Yugi's grandpa of stealing from her Grandpa.
    • This was also part of the backstory behind the monster card Gearfried the Iron Knight, as told by Joey. He was once a mighty swordsman whose power was so great that he could level entire cities simply by swinging his sword. In order to protect those around him, he donned a suit of iron armor that would limit his power.
    • In a season two episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Shou Marufuji/Syrus Truesdale removes Power Bond (a spell card that doubles a Machine-type Fusion monster's attack power, then cuts the user's life points by that monster's original attack) from his deck to prove he can still win without it. He does.
  • Belldandy and her sisters in Ah! My Goddess.
    • Lind fights almost solely using a massive axe. Without the axe she is significantly stronger, even without removing her Power Limiters.
    • All goddesses and demons have to limit their powers when acting on Earth, to avoid causing collateral damage (demons care about this too, because they don't want to kill off their potential clients). Hild, the leader of the demons, is so powerful that she has to wear at least twenty Power Limiters to safely travel to Earth.
  • Negi in Mahou Sensei Negima! at one point decided that he would seal his magic and fulfill his duties as a teacher without relying on magic. He chose a bad time for it.
  • Sailor Saturn in Sailor Moon. If she uses her most powerful, canonically nameless attack, she will die. And destroy the world.
  • Hagi from Blood+ does this and refuses to utilize his true Chiropteran form because he didn't want to freak out Saya.
  • The lethal fighting styles of the Saotome school in Ranma ˝, Yamasenken and Umisenken, were sealed on their practitioners' honor at the end of their story arc. They could let Ranma become completely undetectable (by sight or Battle Aura), toss Razor Wind to demolish enormous bronze statues, rip out opponents' hearts, strangle them, or pierce their backs — but he won't use even the basic "invisibility" skill, not even against powerful foes when nobody would have blamed him.
    • Let's not forget that Genma came up with these techniques in the first place. Yes, the same man who actually fell for the Nekoken, alias "Cat Fu", aka "the poster child for the difference between real Training from Hell and torture". Of course, he already lives up to this trope by virtue of the fact he's at least on the same level of skill as Ranma, if not higher (the guy did train Ranma to be where he was at the start of the series, after all), yet he refuses to fight anyone.
  • Saint Seiya:
    • Gold Saint Virgo Shaka deliberately keeps his eyes closed when he battles his foes — his constant meditation means that he devotes only a fraction of his attention to the outside world. People who know him, even fellow Gold Saints, are very afraid of him opening his eyes, because that means he has stopped meditating and is now fully focused on the enemy.
    • Another Saint Seiya example would be Bronze Saint Andromeda Shun; he literally refuses to wound others or take a life, even when the circumstances call for it, and gets called out on it several times by his foes. There is a theory that he actually mastered the seventh sense (though the fact is never openly stated, it is still highly believable) way before anyone else but always refused to use this tremendous power because of the havoc it could wreak. The first to actually see this is his master to whom Shun said he wanted to show his true power, and his Silver Cloth (remember, Shun is supposed to be a mere Bronze Saint) gets blown to ashes by an imperfect blow ; the second one to see it is Pisces Aphrodite once he ripped Shun's Cloth and chains off his body, forcing him into unleashing the Nebula Stream and Storm. Cue the Oh Crap look on his face when he realizes he sort of just removed Shun's wards.
      • His advanced mastery of Cosmo is further supported by the fact that (especially in the manga), at the drop of a hat, he could muster the willpower to land a hit on the Gemini Gold Saint even dimensions, once it was established breaking Gemini's spell would help save Hyoga who was sent in Another Dimension. He then repeats the feat when giving Hyoga, currently a Human Popsicle freshly released from an ice coffin, Intimate Healing, with a Cosmo burning probably strong enough to rival with Aquarius Camus in the first place to revert the freezing. Willfully Weak most of the time, and mostly when it comes to fighting, all right.
    • Most of the Gold Saints when faced at the Twelve Temples may be an example for reasons different for all Saints: Aries Mu either didn't fight them (manga) or gave them a couple slaps merely to prove they needed to have their cloths repaired; Taurus Aldebaran had doubts on the Pope, and never pressed his advantage when fighting Seiya before conceding the battle; Gemini Saga limited himself to illusions and dimensional tricks to hide the fact he was actually the Pope before being forced to stand down by his other personality; Cancer Death Mask didn't take Shiryuu seriously for a single moment until the latter actually accessed to the strength granted by his Seventh Sense, thus failing to block or dodge the decisive blow; Leo Aiolia had got brainwashed, and decided to torture Seiya to death instead of killing him fast; Virgo Shaka, as explained above, ALWAYS meditates, and it takes Ikki's continuously surviving his attacks to get him to open his eyes and get serious; Scorpio Milo didn't want to kill the Bronze Saints, and held back to try and force them to surrender; Capricorn Shura actually did NOT hold back, failing to stop Seiya, Hyouga and Shun only because Shiryuu thwarted his strategy to line them where he needed them to kill all four with a single strike, and then curbstomped Shiryuu, who had to resort to Heroic Sacrifice to kill him; Aquarius Camus was interested only in testing Hyouga's power, and, after letting Seiya and Shun pass, never pressed his initial advantage (and was quite happy to find that Hyouga had managed to become even more powerful than himself); Pisces Aphrodite, in the end, was just too confident in his roses, resulting in him letting Seiya go in a path filled with poisonous roses (to be fair, only Marin's arrival saved Seiya from death), and trying to simply disarm Shun so he'd stop attacking and die due being poisoned at the start of the battle instead of killing him outright, with the results illustrated above.
  • Katanagatari has a two examples:
    • The first is a particularly crazy example (warning: spoils an awesome twist). Despite being physically weak and ill, Nanami starts the series able to easily defeat her brother, who defeated the official Greatest Swordsman in Japan. Turns out, she can also copy any skill she sees, including super-strength, spontaneous claw growth, and walking on water. Then it turns out that she has inhuman resilience and can't die no matter how sick or poisoned she becomes. Then it turns out she's acquired one of the Deviant Blades, which cures her weakness and low energy. And then it turns out she uses others' skills so she can be weaker, as her instinctive combat skills are utterly perfect!
    • The other is Shichika himself. He's given orders by Togame to protect the swords, Togame, himself, and himselfnote , which proves to make some of the fights more difficult. In the last episode, he is under no such restrictions, and shows exactly how powerful he is by destroying all twelve swords. How much the restriction to protect himself mattered is evident during his duel with Emonzaemon.
  • Fai the main character, not the real one from Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle had a tattoo on his back that limited his magical power, well he thought that's what it did. Once Yuuko took this away as his price, Fai resolved to never use his magic again because he was too powerful without the limiter.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, the last episode focusing on Kurama in the series had him deal with this consideration while balancing his three personas. Ultimately, he refuses to transform into Yoko Kurama, a form which would have allowed him to easily win against his opponent and be successful in the tournament, because he would rather be happy than powerful.
    • Raizen is dying when we meet him, simply because he hasn't eaten any human flesh in hundreds, if not thousands of years because of the promise he made to his lover. He's still the strongest character in the series when we meet him, so it's an interesting case.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Rei Ayanami. Ordinary High-School Student, right? In episode 24, it is revealed that she's just as powerful as the final Angel, if not more. She was just hiding it out of orders.
  • It's heavily implied in Star Driver that Takuto employs the bare minimum of his abilities to win fights against the Glittering Crux. His fight against Benio in episode 13 demonstrates exactly why he does it: once your opponent knows your best moves, they're going to make damn sure they have a counter for it by the next fight.
  • Rurouni Kenshin is this throughout the series. Several opponents try to get him to revert to being the Battousai and unleash his full power, but he is very resistant to this. The closest we see to his pull power is in the fight with Shishio.
    • Seijuro Hiko's cloak is heavily weighted to restrict his movements, and brightly colored to alert others to his approach, so that his opponents will have something resembling a fighting chance, since even with it on he is capable of defeating a 30' giant, who had also removed his own heavy armor.
  • Alucard from Hellsing. His powers are limited by magic to his current need. When he faces an enemy that is too powerful for his current level, he unlocks additional levels and increases his power. Given that he's a Blood Knight, he's particularly gleeful when he finds powerful foes who allow him to unlock his full, terrifying potential.
  • In Trinity Blood, Abel Nightroad rarely uses his Crusnik power at more than 40%, which is usually sufficient. 80% power is reserved for people who really need their ass kicked. As for 100%... well, there's a reason why he's the brother called Abel.
  • In Baccano!, the omniscient, reality-warping Eldritch Abomination known as Ronnie prefers to not tap too much into his godlike powers if he can help it, and even ignores his own omniscience. This is largely (if not entirely) to keep himself from going entirely insane with boredom.
  • In Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, it's revealed that Chrome chooses to rely on Mukuro rather than use the whole extent of her powers, which is the main cause of her Faux Action Girl status. It's when she realizes she'd rather be his equal and protect him that she stops being this.
  • Priscilla from Claymore is the strongest thing in the series seen so far. She deliberately lowers herself to her opponents' level to make fights as fun as possible. When she grows tired of that, she'll immediately dispatch her "playmates" by using a bit more of her real strength.
  • Seen in flashback Log Horizon when two of the characters are remembering their first adventures in the game. The player who helped them get started set his level low (taking all his stats down in the progress) in order to maintain game balance while tutoring them.
  • Mobile Fighter G Gundam has an All There in the Manual example with, of all people, Master Asia. As powerful and unstoppable as he is during the series, he's holding back by using the Master Gundam: he has another Gundam, the King of Hearts, which far surpasses both Master Gundam and God Gundam. He never uses it, even though with it he'd probably truly be invincible. This fits with one of his philosophies: he believes that relying on a powerful weapon will weaken a fighter's abilities, so by using the weaker Master Gundam he keeps his skills sharp.

    Comic Books 
  • Superman is always doing this because he's so powerful, the rest of the world may as well be made of cardboard, and the slightest lapse in control on his part could kill someone. When the modern Kara Zor-El (Supergirl) arrived on Earth, it was thought she was actually more powerful than Superman. Superman had been holding back so long it seemed that even he forgets what he can do when he lets go. She caused a lot of property damage in the early issues. (It seems she does still have the edge in flight speed, whereas he has an edge in strength and toughness.)
  • Mr. Mxyzptlk has way more power than he can safely use—modifying the universe too much would damage its structural underpinnings. Very, very bad things happened in a storyline where he accidentally gave 99% of his power to the Joker.
  • Spider-Man usually pulls his punches to avoid seriously injuring the people he fights. It's subverted in Spider-Man vs. Wolverine when he accidentally kills an assassin...who happens to be Wolverine's ex-girlfriend.
  • Same with Captain Britain, who learned about all this while teaming with Spider-Man. Half-canine criminals don't deserve a max-power punch in the snout (Doggy-girl survived, her bills paid by the Cap).
  • The Sentry is an example of this as well. The more power he uses, the more insane he gets. When he is finally allowed to cut loose on the Hulk in World War Hulk, he loses control and becomes a bigger threat to the world then 'the worldbreaker'.
  • Thor, the Norse god of thunder, has to intentionally hold himself back when fighting due to him not wanting to kill his enemies, make his friends feel weak in comparison or harm a lot of innocent bystanders and cause huge collateral damage.
  • Jaime Reyes, aka Blue Beetle, regularly has to talk his suit down from using its more lethal abilities. It's implied that the suit's abilities go as far as deicide.
  • The Silver Surfer could end a fight with even some of the strongest supers Marvel has to offer in seconds. But he is usually not in the mood for fighting, considering it to be the habit of madmen. But heaven help you when you do piss him off!
  • In My Little Pony Micro Series Issue #2 Rainbow Dash spends much of the comic holding herself back after her initial encounter with the Gremlins for fear of hurting her wings again.
  • Cyclops, Depending on the Writer, does this with his energy beams. Normally, they are strong enough to punch through metal, but through disciplined training and special glasses, he can set them to a sort of stun effect. Given that he hasn't yet learned how to stop constantly projecting them through his eyes, this helps people to feel safer around him.
    • His brother Havok works in a similar fashion, using his powers to simulate concussive force by controlling the power of his beams and the distance they travel very carefully. When he gets serious, he can break the Hulk's bones with direct blasts, absorb enough power from stars to survive in space, and beat the tar out of Vulcan, who normally has complete control over all forms of energy. Overlaps partly with Power Limiter, as Havok absorbs far more energy out in space than he does on Earth, but he still holds back the vast majority of his power, even on Earth.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • Though far from weak, Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter outright admits to limiting the power he could reach, in the first chapter of the first book:
    Dumbledore: "You flatter me. Voldemort had powers that I will never have."
    McGonagall: "Only because you're too... well... noble to use them."
    • It turns out this is not limited to magical power, but political power as well (he turns down being Minister for Magic five times in his life), and why he does it is revealed in the final book.
  • At the end of Michael Crichton's Sphere the surviving characters (some of them, anyway) will themselves into simply forgetting their Physical God status, thus losing it, on the off chance they go mad with power.
  • At the start of The Hollows Rachel is doing this, by doing only white earth magic spells. White spells are less powerful than black spells, and the line is clearer with earth magic than ley line magic. However, circumstances keep forcing her to use black magic and demon curses.
  • In Warbreaker Vasher suppresses his Returned Breath so that he can pass as normal. He can, of course, unleash it whenever he wants. He's pretty badass even without it, though.
  • Because he hates so much that he has it, the only time in the Knight and Rogue Series that Michael uses magic is when he's in a life or death situation and activates it without thinking.
  • In Max Frei's Labyrinths of Echo Sir Kofa Yokh is introduced as Master Listener, whose job is to mingle in all sorts of public places to gather and process information. Being a jovial somewhat rotund Master of Disguise by means of Humanshifting obviously helps with that. But before Kofa Yokh became the Master Listener, he was the general of the city police during the War of the Orders and is likely the most powerful Plain Magic user in Echo.
  • In the Dresdenverse anyone who bears the Winter Knight's mantle must restrain themselves this way or risk falling victim to The Corruption. (We've seen at least one Knight who gave into temptation to use it at full power, and the results were not pretty.) It takes a lot of Heroic Willpower to even resist the mantle's conscious urges, and even then, the Knight gradually grows accustomed to the strength and speed it gives him, forgetting the limitations of normal people and becoming increasingly cruel. The protagonist is clearly established as a Determinator, and even he acknowledges that he won't be able to stave its urges off eventually. In Cold Days he submits to the mantle's energy to win an especially difficult fight, and his ensuing actions are both unnervingly sadistic and very powerful.
  • In The Zombie Knight, Harper holds back on using a powerful transformation until it is the only way to win. Justified because the state makes him unable to control himself beyond "try not to kill my friends unless I can't find anyone else", and there was a decent chance that it could have killed his reaper.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Doyle hardly ever used his demon form because of his discomfort with it.
  • In the episode "Hide and Q" of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Riker is given Q-powers by Q. Picard, distrustful of Q's motives, makes Riker promise not to use his new powers, no matter how much he might be tempted to. Riker even allows disaster victims to die rather than use his new powers, even though it upsets him deeply.
    • In the Star Trek universe, ships like the Enterprise, even the one from the original series, have devastating weapons including photon torpedoes that have warhead yields in the high megaton range. They also carry enough of them to glass an entire planet if their captains ever gave the order. However, Starfleet captains, exemplified by Picard, are trained not to resort to using such weapons unless diplomacy has failed, there is absolutely no other choice, and their ship and crew are in real mortal danger.
    • In another episode, a young woman is discovered to be the daughter of two renegade Q, who were killed by a tornado (and Q pretty much admits they were assassinated by their fellow Q) before they could reveal the truth to her. At first, she ends up abusing her newfound powers, as well as using them to help others, but then Q give her an ultimatum: she can either stay with the humans but is forbidden from using her powers or leave with him to join the Q Continuum. She quickly realizes that she can't let others come to harm as long as she has the power to help them and leaves with Q.
    • Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath did this to Spock in their TOS fan fiction novels, The Price of the Phoenix, The Fate of the Phoenix and The Prometheus Design. According to them, canon Spock on the show was way suppressing his actual abilities so as to live among the Puny Earthlings; under normal conditions, Vulcans are so physically and mentally powerful as to be almost godlike. They use this to explain the Intrepid having an all-Vulcan crew in "The Immunity Syndrome". In Prometheus Design the legendary Vulcan Admiral Savaj gives Spock a "World of Cardboard" Speech advising him to unleash his inner Badass. Spock does so, takes command, and tells the crew he will have "instant, unqualified, unargued obedience" as it would be on a Vulcan ship; at one point he literally leaps a tall wall in a single bound. Physical strength is Marshak's Author Appeal.

    Video Games 
  • Possible the title character of Sonic the Hedgehog. In many games he seems to just move fast enough to get through a situation and show off, but we can judge by other games and various cutscenes that he is much faster than he lets on.
  • Joshua from The World Ends with You. He's not a very good fighter at first, but then you find out that all along, he's been able to shoot beams of angels out of his phone... he just chose not to. Because he doesn't like working up a sweat. He's actually the Composer, the most powerful person below the divine plane, and apart from just being The Load instead of pulling his own weight, he's limiting his power by a lot more for plot-related reasons.
    • The player (as in, the one holding the DS) can also do this, intentionally lower one's level in exchange for a higher drop rate.
  • Touhou uses this on a series-wide level with the spellcard rules. A formal system of dueling and battling that everyone in Gensoukyou must abide by, it deliberately levels the playing field, giving the weaker fighters a better chance of success and preventing the more powerful ones from simply pressing the "I win" button, as well as ensuring all fights end in a Non-Lethal K.O..
    • According to Word of God, Alice Margatroid always holds back in her fights because she doesn't know what she would do if she ever lost while at full power. A big clue to this is that she's always carrying a grimoire, which is always bound up; she fights with her dolls instead. The last time she opened the thing, she was an Ex-Boss (assuming PC-98 Alice is indeed the same character as Alice Margatroid). Since then, it's always been seen closed, and she's a 3rd-to-4th-stage boss instead.
    • Eirin Yagokoro is said to be far stronger than Kaguya Houraisan, but holds back her power out of respect, not wanting to shame Kaguya by having a subordinate more powerful than her. This became much more significant after ZUN stated in Symposium of Post-Mysticism that Eirin is one of the stupendously powerful gods of the moon.
    • Hong Meiling's win quote against Sakuya in Hisoutensoku has her bluntly stating that she was always going easy all the time, and that she will only fight seriously if it is an official duel she is involved in.
    • Both Suika Ibuki and Yuugi Hoshiguma intentionally only use a small amount of their immense strength when battling. This is both because they're Boisterous Bruisers that are far more interested in fighting a Worthy Opponent than in actually winning, and also because they are powerful enough to tear apart mountains with their bare hands.
    • Yukari Yakumo is explicitly stated to be the most powerful denizen of Gensoukyou with enough power to "easily" destroy Gensoukyou, yet manages to put up challenging yet doable fights in the games. The fact that she's generally too lazy to go all-out is probably a factor too.
    • Tenshi Hinanawi, a celestial, was defeated by almost every character in Scarlet Weather Rhapsody in their respective scenarios, but in those scenarios, she was holding back her real power in her battles on purpose, because due to being a celestial, she wasn't supposed to fight with people from the lower world, like the people and Youkai in Gensokyo, and even then, she was just bored, so she let them win. Cue Tenshi's scenario, where she wasn't holding back her real power, and she proved it by defeating each opponent she faced, including Reimu.
    • In Ten Desires, Yuyuko Saigyouji, the final boss in Perfect Cherry Blossom is the first boss in this game, and she isn't trying to fight seriously. This time her purpose was helping the heroines, even if she gives a little spellcard practice before giving hints to follow the clues behind the incident.
    • Before the spellcard system in the Windows games, Rikako Asakura from PC-98 exclusive Phantasmagoria of Dim. Dream was this. According to the victory quotes of other characters, she's magically talented and could probably wipe the floor with whoever she wanted... but she'd rather do science than magic, and shuns magic entirely. This gets her branded a heretic, and confuses the hell out of the scientists who came to Gensokyo to study magic.
  • Regal from Tales of Symphonia keeps his hands bound throughout almost the entire game, choosing to fight instead with his feet. It is revealed in a flashback that without his shackles he's an extremely powerful martial artist, but handicaps himself, because he used his skill to euthanize his lover.
  • Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. The one reason why you, the reincarnation of the Big Bad who always gets his ass kicked by the Belmonts, are able to bring Julius Belmont to his knees is because he sensed Soma's soul as well as Dracula's. Imagine how fast you'd die if a badass like Julius WASN'T holding back.
  • Valvatorez from Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten was once an infamous tyrant, but decided to abstain from drinking blood (He uses sardines as a replacement) as part of a promise he intends to fulfill, even though it would weaken him. As a result, he ended up falling from his position of power, and got stuck with a low class job as a Prinny instructor, but it doesn't seem to bother him one bit.
    • Then we meet DLC Tyrant Valvatorez. The difference is... noticeable.
  • Machoke wears a belt to weaken its power. Depending on which Pokedex entry you believe, either it needs the belt so that it can control its movements, or it would be unstoppable without it.
  • Slayer from Guilty Gear XX is an ancient, possibly thousands of years old vampire and the former head of a major guild of assassins. His Instant Kill move involves him landing a single punch at his full strength, which has sufficient force to knock his opponent into a neighboring galaxy. Despite this, he has no particular desire to kill anyone, and intentionally avoids using his full power because doing so would take all the fun out of fighting. If beaten, he simply lies on the ground, smoking his pipe and looking vaguely amused.
  • From Guilty Gear's Spiritual Successor, BlazBlue, there is Rachel Alucard, a bored vampire who treats every match as a Self-Imposed Challenge. Only her throw move involves actually touching her opponent; a weak-looking but damaging backhand slap. All her attacks, special movement and even guarding are handled by her familiars Nago and Gii, a cat and a bat.
    • As Unlimited Rachel, the gloves come off, although even then she does nothing that would risk making her sweat.
    • Ragna does this as well, and it is only once he uses the Azure Grimoire that the time loop is broken.
    • Terumi is an example in his Hazama guise, since he is simply using the Ouroboros Nox Nyctores and some butterfly knives rather than his true abilities.
  • Oro from Street Fighter III is stronger than the rest of the cast, possibly combined. He keeps one of his arms in a sling in order to even the odds. Series Badass/Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy Akuma/Gouki challenged him once with neither holding back their power, and they were equally strong.
    • On that note, so too is Akuma, both in and out of gameplay. Out of game, he never uses the full extent of his power because he seeks a challenger worthy of his skill so he wants to match mettle with the best without destroying them at the full depth of the Satsui no Hadou. In-game, his vitality and stun are typically lower than any of his opponents for reasons of balance (to see when he is NOT balanced like this, his original playable appearance in Super Street Fighter II Turbo is such).
    • Seth, much like the Rugal example below, plays nice in the first round but will turn up the heat once he's been smacked around. Teleport Spam and priority abuse coupled with nasty damage makes him an SNK Boss through and through.
    • Ostensibly, Cody is this. However, given how he fights, it makes one wonder...
      • In Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Oni (Akuma fully taken over by the Satsui no Hadou, reaching a new level of power in the process) insinuates in a win quote that Cody would be a match for him if only he took off the handcuffs (the same ones that Cody wears by choice and is shown to be able to easily slip out of in his taunt) and fought seriously. Conversely, Cody's win quote against Oni has him remarking that he knew Oni was no big deal.
  • In The King of Fighters '94, Rugal doesn't use any special moves in your first fight with him. Win that fight, and he shows amusement before dusting himself off and fighting you again... with all special moves on. In the process, he sets the precedent for the SNK Boss lineage after him.
    • Krizalid in '99 is a similar case, to the point that he could be considered his saga's answer to Rugal. The worst he can throw at you in the first round is a 2-hit fireball and a divekick. After that, however, he removes his overcoat, "Dear Falling Angel" starts revving up, and Krizalid unleashes the full extent of his power with zeal. Word of God actually apologized for how unforgiving the battle could be, stating they went a little overboard.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy Arthur from Tears to Tiara provokes Genki Girl Morgan into dislocating his arm by groping her in order to even the odds in an upcoming duel with an opponent who can barely stand.
  • Ike's father in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, General Gawain cut the tendons in his right arm, and refuses to fight with a sword because he went berserk and killed his wife when he touched Lahrain's Medallion.
  • Mega Man, in all of his incarnations. All of them are said to be the pinnacle of artificial life and combat designs for their respective universes. Through use of their signature ability could easily become nigh unstoppable. Fortunately, they all share a Martial Pacifist philosophy, and deliberately drop all but the most minor upgrades they gain after defeating a major threat to ensure that they are never corrupted by power.
  • Interestingly enough, Luigi. It's been confirmed that he's more powerful than Mario, but lacks the confidence and control to realize his full potential. It is also seen in-series with his jumping ability, which is usually shown as just higher than Mario's, but he can jump MUCH higher if the situation calls for it.
  • Unlike most other games in the series, in Metroid: Other M, Samus doesn't lose her arsenal at the beginning of the game. Instead, she just deactivates nearly all of her weapons and abilities at the request of her former commander, and (for the most part) reactivates them only when he "authorizes" her to do so. This despite the fact that she's now an independent agent and no longer under his command.
  • Surprisingly, Elizabeth in Persona 4 Arena is this though to be fair, she's trying to find ways to save the protagonist of Persona 3 by participating in the tournament.
  • Rico in Duel Savior Destiny only fights at her full strength the first time she fights someone so she can gauge how strong they are. After that, she doesn't try at all so that she can conserve her strength. So far, she has beaten everyone the first time she fought them and then lost all the subsequent fights, leading others to think she's much weaker than she is. When Taiga actually does beat her, she's quite stunned.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny has Yuri Eberwein, a.k.a., the Unbreakable Darkness, who is training to control her infinite powers as, even with a Power Limiter on, she could still accidentally alter the landscape, as at least one crater she unintentionally made in Eltria shows.
  • Many Super Robot Wars, especially those that are part of a continuing storyline, use this. It's not impossible to see [1] Amuro Ray downgrade from the Nu/Hi-Nu Gundam to a Re-GZ or even the original Gundam or Kouji Kabuto get knocked down from Mazinkaiser to the original Mazinger-Z. Two early examples has the aforementioned Mazinger-Z go from having Jet Scrander at the end of one game, to going without it in the next and the Getter Robo Team downgrading from Getter Robo G to the Prototype Getter Robo, which isn't even a Super Prototype - just a normal prototype unit!
  • In City of Heroes, for game balance purposes, players could intentionally lower their effective level to that of the rest of the party, either by joining a mission with a lower level range, or simply by joining a party in general. While they could still use powers up to five levels above their temporary strength, many of their augumentations (gear) would potentially be disabled, putting them on a more or less equal footing with the rest of the team.

    Visual Novels 
  • Arcueid from Tsukihime is quite possibly the most powerful being in the world. She has insane strength, speed, and power. She can cause anything possible within the rules of the world to happen with a mere thought. However, she has to devote most of her power to suppressing her Vampire bloodlust. If she was to ever to release herself and use her powers to the fullest, she'd become an insanely powerful monster that kills everything in sight.

    Web Comics 
  • In El Goonish Shive, Mr. Raven is half immortal and very powerful — but not allowed to interfere with mortal events. Mostly. Unless you're stupid enough to press his Berserk Button.
    • Grace! She's an atrociously powerful alien hybrid, and a kindhearted pacifist. She has to study martial arts with Sensei Greg so she can fight non-lethally.
  • Aerynn from Electric Wonderland practices a brand of magic that no one else in Cyberspace can do, and often feels too scared to use it to its full potential. Considering how much she doesn't mind doing (transforming her teammates, teleporting enemies, using Hammerspace to sneak her boss past security, the list goes on and on), one can only imagine what powers she doesn't want to use.

    Web Original 
  • Tennyo, in the Whateley Universe, is doing this now. Over Christmas, when she went all out to save her family, she ripped a hole in space-time which kept getting bigger, and she shredded an auditorium with her Reality Warper abilities, and she made a huge area radioactive too. Oops. So she's deliberately toning it down now.

    Western Animation 
  • Justice League Unlimited has The Flash's secondary ability, which you almost never see: he can vibrate at an incredibly fast rate, creating an unstable resonance. When he ends up swapping bodies with Luthor Luthor uses this ability without restraint in order to blow up huge areas of the Tower.
    • The Flash can also accelerate up to light speed if the situation is dire enough and he literally transforms into the thunderbolt that is his superhero symbol. Unfortunately going this fast will pull him into the speed force, so he vows that he can never do it again after the first time.

    Real Life 
  • Germany may be an example of this considering its population could support a much larger army, and it could have nukes in a week if it wanted to.
    • Japan is a similar situation. Both are essentially due to the aftermath of World War II, a combination of limitations on their military enforced by other nations and the aversion their populace has to a more martial lean after the devastation the war wrought on them.
      • Japan even protested the US putting nuclear-powered vessels in their harbors, as the very word "nuclear" gives them shudders. They are the only country to have ever been on the recieving end of a nuclear attack, after all.
  • Myke Tyson, of all people, could have been this as a child. The book "Momentos Trágicos del deporte" (tragic moments in sports) describes him letting people push him around and going home crying for being bullied. That kept going on until the day somebody thought it was a good idea to mess with his pigeons and made him burst into a fighting machine.
  • Some hunters prefer to use bows because it's the "old-fashioned way", varying from super-modern bows with crazy sights and razor arrows, to old fashion wood and string with feather-fletched arrows.
  • Chinese renminbi. The government enforces that the exchange rate of renminbi is lower than its real value. The purpose is to make Chinese goods very cheap when exported, and to immunize the renminbi against the Western's casino capitalism. So far it has been Super Effective.
    • It's also so they can make sure the money in the hands of their populace (from what little wage they make) is practically worthless and has no buying power.
  • Some martial arts, like Tai Chi, has this. Tai Chi practitioners generally limit themselves to slow, graceful movements that look more like dance than art. This has the advantage of helping to improve form, enhance mastery and even help condition the body as very slow movements are harder to to do than fast or regular movements (for reference, try taking 2 minutes to sit down and stand up instead of 2 seconds). When its time to get serious though, Tai Chi masters are a wonder to behold.


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