troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Wrong Context Magic
Pinkie Pie: What's not to believe? You do magic, what's the difference?
Twilight Sparkle: Huge! For one thing, magic is something you study and practice. It only happens when you decide to do it. It's meant to make something specific that you want to happen happen. With you, ugh, it makes no sense at all!

In a World where Magic A Is Magic A there is one character, possibly a Cloudcuckoolander or Bunny-Ears Lawyer, who uses Magic B, Magic C or even Magic Q. This character tends to be the only one with this ability.

It's the exception to the rules that govern the setting and potential source for the Rule of Funny. Can also turn into an achievement in ignorance, depending on the situation. May also crop up when a story involves Alternate Universes or The Multiverse.

Sometimes it's met with skepticism by "normal" magic users. They will insist that the strange magic is fake or against the rules and so they will be left scratching their heads when the rulebreaking magic continuously works. In a setting involving The Masquerade, Arbitrary Skepticism will come up: "Why is Magic B any stranger than your Magic A?"

Compare Fantasy Kitchen Sink, Unequal Rites and Wild Magic, and in a different way, also Arbitrary Skepticism. Contrast Rule Magic. Related but contradictory to Magic A Is Magic A. Characters who do this without realizing they're breaking the rules are accomplishing Achievements in Ignorance. Characters who break the rules of magic/super science etc are going Beyond the Impossible. Can be related to Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond, if used correctly.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

  • Nasu Kinoko's works have a nasty habit of setting up incredibly complex and detailed rules about The Verse... then having a character with some really rare ability break those rules. Of course, only that character alone can ever do it (and probably not more than once).
    • Reality marbles are either a very good example of this trope or not, depending how you look at it. But ultimately the concept boils down to a detailed and structured set of rules for breaking a detailed and structured set of rules.
    • Needless to say, the rules in the Nasuverse are extremely complicated to the point of Mind Screw. The fact that more than a few rules actually contradict others really doesn't help.
    • Fate/stay night has a fairly simple set of rules for the Grail War. And then everyone starts cheating in some way. It's telling that, before the 5th Grail War, no Grail War has ever been properly concluded.
    • This is the very nature of True Magic in the series. The reason why it's so much more powerful than magecraft (and why only 5 people in the world are capable of wielding it) is because True Magic has no rules to follow. The only thing holding it back is how imaginative the user is.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima!:
    • Negi can break the rules by kissing hard enough. Then again, Negi can create souls for Robot Girls by kissing hard enough, so this is hardly surprising.
    • In the situation of Negi and Jack Rakan, whenever they break a seeming rule, it is brought to our attention, such as Chisame calling Rakan the man with infinite cheats, the one time he doesn't break a rule.
  • Ichijou, the Class Representative from Pani Poni Dash!, is weird even for a thoroughly Widget Series. She appears to have inexplicable (and unexplained) powers that ignore the laws of physics, reality, and sanity. For example, she once cut a conversation with Miyako short by rocketing into the stratosphere. When Miyako caught up with her again and mentioned it, she went "What are you talking about?"
  • Alkahestry, the Xingese version of alchemy, appears to be this at first in Fullmetal Alchemist. It can be triggered at a distance, runs off the flow of chi in the land, and isn't affected when Father shuts off the use of alchemy in Central. Subverted in that alkahestry is actually the pure, untainted form of alchemy brought to the East by Hohenheim, while Amestrian alchemy has been systematically corrupted by Father for his own benefit.
    • The various abilities of the Homunculi are debatably this. Especially Pride, no attempt at all is made to explain how his control over shadows works, which is probably for the best.
    • It is not particularly apparent since he is the protagonist, but Edward Elric's ability to do alchemy without the transmutation circle is also this, and the result of his contact with the Gate, which carried an extremely high price. Later on Roy Mustang gains this, at the cost of his eyesight, though he eventually gets it back after the end of the series.
  • Naruto has two examples of this. The Second and Third Tsuchikages possess the ability to combine three elements in what they refer to as a "Bloodline Expansion". This is the only known example of such an Expansion. It was also hinted that unlike regular Bloodline Limits this was an ability that needed to be learned rather than inherited.
    • Also, there are Kinkaku and Ginkaku. They were swallowed by the Nine-Tails and survived for a significant period of time by eating its chakra flesh. When they emerged, they could complete a partial transformation into a jinchuuriki's form without themselves possessing a beast. The only other time this was attempted, a person who ate the Eight-Tails's flesh died.
  • In Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou, magic is so strictly rule-based that it works far better when controlled by a computer rather than a human. And then there's Koyomi, who cannot use magic in general, except for her ability to transmute any spell into a washbasin. No one has any idea how she does this.
  • Blackbeard from One Piece has at least two or three distinct cases of this all on his own.
    • His Devil Fruit, the Dark-Dark Fruit, is different from most Logia-type Devil Fruit in that it specifically does not allow him to turn into a version of Made Of Air, allowing attacks to pass through him, like all other Logias do due to its nature being to absorb things. It also allows him to nullify Devil's Fruit powers, as well.
    • More importantly, however, is during the Paramount War when Blackbeard is able to possess multiple Devil Fruit powers at once, a feat known to kill everyone else who has ever attempted it, due to unknown traits unique to his body.
  • Saint Seiya Omega: In a world where everyone hones their Cosmo to be able to do devastating attacks, Haruto is a ninja who uses contemporary ninjutsu. There is a long and very personal history how he's able to do that.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid has Fabia Crozelg; a "True Witch" as opposed to the Magitek users throughout the series, her powers are a variant of Summon Magic using devils.

     Comic Books  

  • Runaways features the Staff of One, which can do practically anything (save bring someone back to life). However, its spells can only ever be used once, and attempting to cast the same spell twice would do something random. Despite this, Alex Wilder once got hold of the Staff and managed to cast the same spell repeatedly. (The suggestion is that he found two words or phrases that meant the same thing, which appears to be a workaround, as Nico has performed teleportation at least twice by changing the command phrase).
  • Some characters can get away with this like Loki (god of Mischief and possibly Chaos and Lies) because of a long history of doing those things and having other weaknesses (again with Loki: some mental issues, is/was physically weak compared to most Asgardians, and a tendency to defeat himself). Other characters however cannot and avert the trope massively (essentially becoming Plot Coupon characters):

    Fan Works 
  • Mary Sue fics tend to include the Mary Sue having some power that they think is pretty cool but doesn't jive with the magic from the original work. Alternately, they have some ability to bypass the rules the other characters have to follow with their magic.
  • Crossover fics between two universes with magical systems can result in this if not done carefully. A clever writer can come up with reasonable explanations and Hand Waves for the discrepancies, though.
  • Turnabout Storm: Phoenix's truth-detecting Magatama comes out as one of these in Equestria, being an amulet charged with a spirit channeler's spiritual energy, which is unlike the magic unicorns have access to. This has the side effect of working as a temporal and unintentional Upgrade Artifact when Twilight's magic interacts with it.
  • One of the central plot elements of Harry Potter And The Natural 20 is that the magic used by the main character (who is from an RPG Mechanics Verse running off D&D 3.5e rules), and Harry Potter verse magic are pretty much mutually incompatible.
  • The Infinite Loops takes this trope and makes deep passionate love to it. Loopers sometimes loop into loops that run under different rules then their home universe; usually, they'll retain any special ability they gained from that loop and head home with a still fully functional yet completely incompatible new super power to confound the natives with.

    Literature 

  • Equal Rites has Eskarina Smith, a girl who can do wizard magic in a world where "witch magic" and "wizard magic" are normally divided along gender lines. It's not actually impossible for any other magic users, but most others have tradition so engrained into them that it doesn't occur to them that women can do wizard magic and men can do witch magic. Esk proves to be really good at it. She can do things like teleport without a counterweight, simply because no one had told her that it's impossible.
  • In the Iron Druid Chronicles, iron interferes with and absorbs many types of magic including druid and faerie magic. The protagonist is a druid who found a way to use an iron amulet to infuse his aura with the properties of iron in such a way that it does not interfere with his own magic. It is a revolutionary innovation that allows him to fight and defeat gods.
  • Harry Potter:
    • House Elves have magic that works differently from wizard magic. Among other things, they can apparate into and out of areas blocked against wizard apparition and can cast powerful spells without wands or incantations. However, they also come with a major Restraining Bolt: They apparently cannot use their magic if it would counteract their master's orders. Due to societal prejudice, most wizards do not take house elf magic into account when planning, making them very useful allies to those who do take them into account.
    • Most of the most common magic in Harry Potter runs on pretty strict Magic A Is Magic A rules, but the magical protection that Harry's mother gives him against Voldemort (powered by the Power of Love and her Heroic Sacrifice) does not, as far as we can tell, require any wandwork or Words Of Power like typical spells. It provides Harry with near-total protection against Avada Kedavra (the Killing Curse), something previously thought impossible.
  • In Circle of Magic, at first all of the main characters run into this, using ambient magic, which is difficult to recognize compared to the normal form of magic. However, once they move to a school that specializes in ambient magic, this trope falls off. However, in Magic Steps, Sandriliene has to figure out a mage whose magic can only just be described as "ambient" — he somehow manipulates sheer nothingness as a magical weapon, and his magic is exceptional in many ways.
    • On top of that, Sandry possesses, in addition to her thread magic, power to control magic itself.
    • In Battle Magic, Rosethorn, Briar and Evvy go to Yanjing as the honoured guests of the Emperor. The Emperor and his mages only half-believe that ambient magic exists, know nothing about it and don't really take them seriously. When they turn against the Emperor, they start battling him in ways he and his armies have never seen.
  • In the first three Mistborn books, where the magic of Allomancy is normally powered by eating metal, Vin can occasionally use exceptionally large amounts of power without any metal at all. This is later explained as the god who powers Allomancy in the first place giving her power-ups in key battles as part of his Batman Gambit to destroy a rival god.
    • This trope is also discussed when Vin discovers that she can see through "copperclouds", magic stealthing bubbles that are supposed to be completely invulnerable to penetration by Seekers, who can detect whenever magic is cast nearby. Thankfully, it isn't a GameBreaker. The trope is subverted, however, in the third book when it's revealed that Hemalurgy was affecting her, boosting her power to a higher level (apparently copperclouds aren't an absolute block, only a relative block, and Vin had very strong magic) which even had the side effect of preventing her from using the god of allomancy's magic.
  • In Jane Lindskold's Breaking the Wall trilogy, Brenda Morris shows a distinct tendency to do things she shouldn't be able to, such as manifesting powers exclusive to the group's Zodiac Rat while her father, the current Rat, is still alive and holding that power. It also causes her to be a Spanner in the Works for her enemies because she doesn't work the way they expect. This is eventually explained by Sidhe heritage on her mother's side.
  • In Laura Joh Rowland's Shinju series, a series of detective novels set in Feudal Japan, there are minor elements of fantasy sprinkled in. In one book, the mythical Art of Kiai, the art of using one's voice as a weapon to kill instead of martial arms, is explored. In the beginning, Sano, the protagonist, assumes that only one who has mastered the martial arts to their highest degree is capable of such a feat. He later discovers, however, that it can also be used by someone whose rare physical disability(in this case what appears to be a form of Parkinson's) enables them to project their voice with the strength to kill.
  • In the Sword of Truth series, the protagonist Richard grew up in a land without magic, so he doesn't really understand the limits of what magic can do. A running theme through the books is that Richard proposes something, only to have his companions explain, "Magic doesn't work that way." (Usually, he tries it anyhow and it turns out that, for him at least, magic does work that way.)
  • In the Old Kingdom series, magic is normally region-locked to the eponymous nation, while south of the Wall (which is as much a magical as physical barrier) in Ancelstierre (a pretty blatant Fantasy Counterpart Culture early-20th century England) it rapidly becomes weaker the further south you go and is essentially useless in most of the country (modern technology, not-coincidentally, breaks down if taken into the Old Kingdom). Unfortunately, the Destroyer is such a powerful source of Free Magic by itself that when it is moved (still as a Sealed Evil in a Can) to Ancelstierre, the energy it gives off lets its minions use their powers at full strength while technology fails- in effect, bringing the conditions of the Old Kingdom into a place where by all rights they shouldn't exist.
  • In The Darksword Trilogy, there is Simkin, a mage who can draw mana without the aid of a second person, and work in all of the elements, something no other person in the setting can do. Near the end of the series, one character surmises that he may be the Anthropomorphic Personification of magic itself. This might explain why he was completely unprepared to deal with guns. And why he consequently came Back from the Dead.
  • In The Wheel of Time, the standard accepted form of magic is channeling the One Power, which is a genetic, sex-segregated geometric magic that can do just about anything and in sufficient strength makes a channeler a Person of Mass Destruction. But popping up in the series are people who can do strange things that are apparently not related to the One Power, such as dream walkers, wolfbrothers, Min's Aura Vision, and the ability to smell past deeds of violence. Most of these powers have at least a handful of people tied to them, but not so many that most people have heard of it. Because time in the setting is, per the title, cyclical, these are cases of The Magic Comes Back, though there is no remaining record of them having existed and gone away. Combined with the fact that our own world is a past era of the setting, and Rand's increased Reality Warper power in the ending of the final book, the suggestion is that the nature of magic changes in some significant way with the passing of every Age.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Kamen Rider Wizard, Kamen Rider Beast uses a more ancient form of magic than the other wizards. The main difference is that he can't generate his own mana and needs to consume Phantoms in order to get it, leading to some wacky misunderstandings as he thinks Wizard's magic works the same way and they're competing with each other over who gets to defeat Phantoms. By the end, though, the differences become plot-important: the White Wizard can't use Beast in his plans because of his incompatible magic, so he summarily ignores him and dismisses him as a threat. As a result, when the White Wizard tries to sacrifice all of Tokyo in a ritual, Beast is the only one free to stop him.

     Tabletop Games  

  • The Expanded Psionics Handbook in Dungeons & Dragons has no less than two sets of alternative rules for running a "Psionics are just different" game.
    • Dungeons & Dragons, thanks to dozens of source books, has many magic systems (including, but not limited to, Binders, Shadowcasters, True Naming, Invocations and some, but not all, of the Martial Adept classes) in addition to Psionics that are separate from the standard Vancian Magic that are meant to co-exist (though be much less prominent) in the "official" game worlds.
    • Epic spells are spells invented by the caster using a separate set of rules. Normally spell-casting characters pick a spell from the spell list or find one in a spell book.
    • Deities can cast epic spells automatically, unlike normal wizards for whom it is difficult.
      • Depending on the sourcebook. In some, they can't cast Epic spells at all because they don't have the levels to do so. They have Divine Salient Abilities, which can replicate a lot of the effects though.
  • Mages from Mage: The Ascension are like this among themselves: because every Tradition has its own paradigm (i.e., viewpoint of Reality and how it can be manipulated), it can be rather unusual when two mages see each other replicating the same effect (for example, breaking a table) using the same Spheres (in this example, Entropy) with completely different Foci. A more focused version happens within the Sons of Ether tradition; their organizational flaw is that their adherence to personal science means that an individual Etherite's paradigm may run on theories completely counter to another Etherite's paradigm, let alone that of any other awakened being. This can result in rivalries... sometimes, ones not confined to editorial sniping in publications.
    • This is also how mages in the know in Mage: The Awakening view the "magic" used by any other supernatural creature, ranging from the Disciplines of vampires to the Gifts of werewolves to the Contracts of changelings. They know that all true magic derives from the Supernal Realms, so they're trying real damn hard to figure out just how it got folded, spindled, and mutilated to end up like this.
      • And it's not just because the Mages are upset there are things about magic they don't know (although that is part of it); because these other types of supernal magic are so different from the pure form mages practice, they have fewer drawbacks and are less likely to rip a hole in the caster if something goes wrong. With everything out to kill them as it is, they need all the help they can get...

     Video Games  

  • In Kingdom Hearts II, Sora and company can kill The Undead from Pirates of the Caribbean. Normally it's impossible, but they decide it must be because they're from a different world and "their rules are different." (Granted, nobody had access to magic keyblades or fireballs in the movies.) During their second visit, they're likewise unaffected by a Heartless that re-curses Jack.
  • The Power of Words in Yggdra Union and Blaze Union, which only Nessiah can utilize. The plot never calls for it to be used, but suffice it to say that the Power of Words created Magic A, the Tactics Cards.
    • Blaze Union treats Nessiah's alleged ability of prophecy the same way, since seeing the future is supposed to be impossible using orthodox magic. With good reason—Nessiah seems to use the label of "prophet" to his advantage, so that he can plausibly discuss facts and theories that no person who doesn't have a thousand years of observing humans and a literal eye in another country could know.
  • Golden Sun: Dark Dawn pulls this on the series' classical-elements system with the introduction of Light and Dark Psynergy, opening up a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

    Webcomics 

  • The Order of the Stick does this with D&D rules (mostly). For an example, there's a strip where Durkon uses Control Weather to attack a group of treants warded against electrical attacks... by generating a thunderclap so loud that it breaks the treants in half without harming anything else. When an angel tells Thor that that's not how the spell works, Thor tells him to be quiet because it was awesome. A later incident had Durkon wonder why he couldn't run faster in his Thor's Might mode despite being 15-feet tall. Cue Tiger of the Southern Pantheon growling a warning against Odin and Thor. This and some of the background material suggests clerics can have greater effects in their home continent's domain at the behest of their god, which in turn cannot be done in another continent due to the rules by which the gods abide by.
  • Sinfest never uses the word "magic," but Squigley's shamanic powers are very different from the abilities demonstrated by angels and demons, and seem to come from a different source. (This may be related to the fact that Squigley is the only explicitly nonhuman character who can survive in the reality zone, although that might just be Continuity Creep from what was originally intended as a one-off joke.)
  • Kiel'ndia of Drowtales is the only character in the story who's aware she's in a comic, and additionally actually speaks to the readers. Later in the story it's revealed that the reason she can do this is because the seed she was "tainted" with (i.e. merged her soul with) is actually made of humans, specifically the readers of the comic itself, explaining her strange powers.

     Web Original  

  • Tales of MU runs on this where the laws of magic will change if they detect someone trying to figure them out. In-universe, science is a heavily discredited pseudo-, uh, science, much like people who believe in All-Natural Snake Oil in the real world. How, then, does the heavy use of Magitek work, in-universe? Carefully. Examining a complex spell too closely can break it. Since the local equivalent of television works in a way that no one believes should work, people are afraid to look too deeply into why for fear that it suddenly won't.
  • Elcenia follows the First Contact between two worlds with different magic systems, and the use of one world's magic in the other.

     Western Animation  

  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, according to Word of God, has three different kinds of magic: unicorns can cast various spells and usually have one iconic spell related to their special talent note , pegasi have powers such as cloud walking and tactile telekinesis that allows them to tow stuff while flying, and earth ponies have a more subtle variety that gives them enhanced strength, endurance, and a closer connection to the earth than the other two races. There are exceptions to this:
    • Pinkie Pie has her "Pinkie Sense"; odd jitters and twitches connected to some odd, unexplained power of premonition, with specific tics predicting specific events or situations. She also has the ability to be exactly where she needs to be to fill whatever joke she is currently enforcing. For example, in "Green Isn't Your Color" she is always hiding exactly where Twilight Sparkle is whenever Twilight is about to break a promise. She even bursts out of Twilight's mouth. This second ability is probably not "magic" per se, but simply a result of Pinkie Pie living under the laws of Toon Physics.
    • Fluttershy, a pegasus, has the ability to connect with animals in a way that is more reminiscent of an earth pony than a pegasus.note  She also has The Stare which is closer to Psychic Power than magic.
    • The former villain Discord has magic unlike anything else in the show. Justified because he's a Draconequus, a type of being never seen before or since, as well as the spirit of Chaos itself.
    • Zecora the zebra is able to put curses on the main characters, despite "curses" not existing in this universe (at least according to Twilight Sparkle). Subverted in that the "curses" are side-effects of the plants the characters are standing in and Zecora had nothing to do with. While most of Zecora's "magic" is based on her ample knowledge of flora and potions, she does, at one point, appear to refill an empty teacup with a wave of her hoof.
    • The Everfree Forest is a place where nature works by itself. Normally, the ponies themselves make adjustments to nature, e.g. pegasi changing the weather, Celestia raising the sun, Luna bringing night, etc. Naturally, the ponies of Ponyville are terrified of the place. This is made worse by all manner of monstrous mythical creatures such as manticores, cockatrices, Ursa Majors, and the odd dragon making their homes here. Oh, and Zecora, hence her initially chilly reception.
  • Noted and widely recognized in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra:
    • The Avatar is the reincarnated spirit of the Earth, and therefore has a bunch of abilities not available to normal people. He or she can learn all four Elemental Powers instead of just one, plus spiritually-related additional powers such as communicating with past lives or briefly adding these past incarnations' skills and strength to his/her own, or amplifying their bending to epic proportions. Spirits on the whole are in a different class than "mundane" bending of the elements, and Sokka usually lampshades them when they come up; he eventually just waves it all off with "That's Avatar stuff; it doesn't count."
    • There are also examples of people who break the known rules of bending. Some are explained as manipulating old rules in new ways, which any bender can do when taught how (Earthbenders can't bend metal, but Toph discovered they can bend earthen impurities in metal), but others still qualify as Wrong Context Magic:
      • Lightning bending can only be generated by a firebender who can clear his mind of emotion and distraction—something the internally conflicted Zuko finds himself unable to pull off. However in the end Azula seems to have no difficulties wielding it during a Villainous Breakdown.
      • Rather than normal firebending, Combustion Man can instead make things explode by looking at them.
      • Yakone and his sons Tarrlok and Noatak, aka Amon are capable of bloodbending without the presumed-necessary power boost of a full moon; this again is lampshaded by Sokka in a flashback, as he admits it breaks the known rules but notes that he's seen such rule-breaking before (citing Toph and Combustion Man), so they shouldn't dismiss it as impossible. The show suggests that it's simply a quirk of genetics that has made them powerful enough so that the full moon isn't necessary.
      • Amon, who claims to be chosen by the spirits, can rob others of their bending abilities (which only Avatar Aang knew how to do) and resist having his own blood bent by a waterbender. In each instance it's lampshaded that he should not be able to do these things. Subverted, as when explained it turns out to follow normal bending rules: as noted above he's an immensely powerful waterbender, and robbing others of bending stems from his bloodbending in an implied combination with waterbender medical abilities and/or known techniques that block chi flow and impair bending.
      • The "Irregular" benders from Korra Book 3, Change, fall into this category as well, demonstrating bending abilities that, by all the rules of "normal" bending, should be impossible. Zaheer, a normal human until Harmonic Convergence, is an accomplished airbender despite having his powers for all of two weeks; Ghazan is able to use his earthbending to increase the heat of minerals to the point of liquification, thus creating magma, something that only an Avatar has been able to accomplish; Ming-Hua is able to waterbend without arms- which are integral to the fluid motions of the bending style- accomplishing this feat through either facial movements or sheer thought alone; and P' Li is capable of using firebending to create explosions with her mind, ala Combustion Man from the previous series.
  • The Fairly OddParents has the Magic Muffin from The Movie "Abra-Catastrophe", which gives anyone who takes a bite a single wish that's exempt from "Da Rules" that normally constrain fairy magic.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Dathomir Nightsisters are Force users but they use it in a totally different way than all other characters, as Allyan Magic.


A Wizard Did ItMagic and Powers    

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
64359
29