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Archaic Weapon for an Advanced Age

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"I mean, Jedi — as I've always said before — well, they've chosen a sword in a time of, you know, laser guns, so they'd better be damn good with it."
Nick Gillard, stunt coordinator for the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Attack of the Clones DVD featurette

There's a certain amount of cultural and symbolic weight to most historical weapons, accurate or not. They invoke a feeling of the Good Old Ways, and may be seen as more honorable, elegant, interesting, or simply cool. They're also traditional in many settings, especially for those that have roots in Medieval European Fantasy, such as Role-Playing Games.

However, even in settings where these weapons should be obsolete and out of place, they often show up and are shown to be just as effective, if not more so, than weapons that are modern to the setting.

This occurs with extreme frequency in Eastern RPGs, probably due to the genre's origins in Dungeons & Dragons. Even in Steampunk and Urban Fantasy settings, you will find swords, axes, spears, katanas, and all other manner of (seemingly, at least) anachronistic weaponry. It also appears in settings with Schizo Tech. It's even possible the character uses this because s/he Doesn't Like Guns or thinks Firearms Are Cowardly. Sometimes it will be justified with a Retro Upgrade (said weapon has become useful again because something's changed), Guns Are Useless, and/or by making it an Enhanced Archaic Weapon.

It's also Truth in Television to an extent. While it's true that the modern battlefield is dominated by guns, hand-to-hand and melee weapon combat training will likely always be a part of military curricula: guns can be cumbersome in close combat and melee weapons are much quieter for stealthy raids or taking out sentries, so the humble dagger and its modern derivatives will never go out of style. As well, officer's dress or parade uniforms may include a sword. It's also true that swords, spears, bows and arrows, etc. coexisted with guns on the battlefield for centuries before the gun was developed enough to became the dominant weapon it is now. And even when they were completely overshadowed by guns, it took even longer (as in, the second half of the 20th century) before all major powers stopped issuing swords to officers (except for the ceremonial swords used for special occasions).

They are often employed by heroes because Heroes Prefer Swords. Often a result of using the old technology in ways that were Not the Intended Use. Some science fiction authors who blend sci-fi and fantasy may have a mix of ray-guns and archaic weapons.

Super-Trope to The Straight and Arrow Path. Compare Break Out the Museum Piece, Older Is Better, Rock Beats Laser, and some forms of Improperly Placed Firearms. See also Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Age.

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Gintama, aliens have conquered samurai-age Japan and brought over many of their technological advancement. Most of the main cast sticks with katanas.
  • Justified with the Gunmen in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. In the second half of the story Gunmen were being decommissioned in favor of the Grapearls. When the Anti-Spirals attacked however, the Gunmen fared far better, because while the Grapearls were the more advanced and were based in Gurren Lagann's specs, they were unable to use Spiral Energy, while the Gunmen had been designed specifically to fight that particular enemy. It was particularly demonstrated when a Mugann attacked Kamina City for the first time. The machine destroyed several Grapearls, while they were unable to harm it in the slightest, but when Simon and Gurren Lagann arrived, they managed to destroy it with some difficulty.
  • In Sword Art Online, there is a game (Gun Gale Online) where guns are the primary weapon. There is a sword called the Kagemitsu available, but it is largely regarded as an Awesome, but Impractical Joke Weapon given the fact people have to get up close and personal to hit a target that's probably shooting dozens of bullets straight at them. Kirito, being The Hero and a Master Swordsman, picks it and manages to slice bullets in half thanks to all of his prior experience. Afterwards, the Kagemitsu explodes in popularity as other players try (with limited success) to replicate his feats.
  • A Certain Magical Index: Justified considering the usage of history as artifacts. We have Curtana, Durandal, and Hrunting. Whether Saint Peter's Cross counts as a weapon In-Universe is up for debate.
  • Lupin III: Goemon has an obsession with the past, and believes that the Katana is the ultimate weapon. Guns are a poor argument because he can slice the bullets out of the air, making them fall to the ground.
  • Black Lagoon is a series where nearly everyone is either a gunslinger or a noncombatant. Even so, two characters use edged weapons to lethal effect.
    • Shenhua, a Chinese assassin in the employ of the Kan Yi Fan Triad, favors a pair of kukris with the handles tied together with a length of rope. In her first appearance, she beheads a pair of Abu Sayyaf mooks from a moving car by by throwing one of them like a boomerang.
    • Ginji Matsuzaki of the Washimine-gumi yakuza carries a shirasaya, or a katana, in a simple wooden scabbard. He's incredibly lethal with it, including the ability to slice bullets out of midair, and in the final chapter of that story arc proves an (almost) even match for Revy. At a critical moment, Genji loses focus for a split second and Revy doesn't. She blocks a sword thrust, with her leg thus trapping the blade for long enough to get one of her pistols under his chin and shoot him through the throat. Her own explanation for winning is chilling - Genji wanted to live, she didn't care whether she lived or died and that meant she kept focus.
  • In K, justified because of their powers - they put their auras onto their swords, and even without swords, color users can take out guns easily.
  • Downplayed in Toriko, since the show focuses on other tropes, but in spite of the fact that it's an overall modern setting with plenty of high tech guns and explosives, there are still plenty of secondary characters employing archaic melee weapons, such as the countless extras in the Ice Hell arc with a Weapons Kitchen Sink, Zongeh (carries an axe), Aimaru (Horse Archer) and Match (Iaijutsu Practitioner). Justified with Chefs, who often employ kitchen knives in combat.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS: In an era where battle traps are rendered useless due to how often cards come with effects that either negate said traps or outright destroy them preemptively, it comes as a shock to everyone that Revolver's ace in the hole is the one and only Mirror Forcenote , a card that came out twenty years earlier. He later adds Magic Cylinder to his arsenal. Revolver just really loves these types of traps now adding in Imperial Order and Mind Crush to deal with Link Spells or at the very least, oppressive spells in general.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Bronze Age, the alien Hawkman fought crime with actual ancient weapons from the museum where he worked. For some reason. It looked awesome, though.
    • This was Hawkman's gimmick since the Golden Age; Hawkman is often referred to as "The man who fights the Evils of the Present with the Weapons of the Past."
    • During the last leg of his run on Swamp Thing, Alan Moore established that all Thanagarian infantry prefer fighting like this, so their many enemies would forget just how advanced Thanagar's technology actually was.
    • Hawkworld attempts to explain the alien Hawkman's reason by revealing that Thanagarians originally used their own weapons that are archaic in design before adapting to more advanced weaponry provided by one of many planets they've conquered. Katar Hol is the only Thanagarian who prefers his people's own weaponry, which makes him stand out.
  • Grimjack has the titular character mention that in the pan-dimensional city of Cynosure "some places magic works, other places a gun will work but a sword is good everywhere".
  • The space civilization in Snarfquest has starships, fully artificially-intelligent robots, and hand-held laser weapons — and they're terrified of Snarf's bad old 20th-century pistol. Justified because lasers just cause burns that can be treated, but an old-fashioned chemical propellant pistol can kill in a single shot.
  • Despite Marvel's universe being populated with a number of extremely advanced alien empires, swords are still a weapon of choice, something explained by the Corsair to his son, Cyclops - most space suits can resist blaster fire easily enough, but are susceptible to being stabbed.
  • Both Marvel and DC have heroes who fight primarily with bows.
  • Star Trek: Early Voyages: In "Cloak and Dagger, Part Two", when the Enterprise is boarded by Commander Tagok's followers, Moves-With-Burning-Grace uses a traditional Masai battle lance to fight them instead of a phaser.

    Fan Works 
  • X-COM: Resurrection takes a The Musketeer approach to this, arming most of X-COM's warriors with swords and axes in addition to advanced weaponry. They seem to have replaced pistols with them.
  • Bait and Switch (STO):
    "Doesn’t matter if you’re a Dakhuri warlord trying to keep his territory from being overrun by Bajora, an American general battling the Russians in World War II, or a Starfleet officer trying to block the Klingons’ ethnic cleansing in the Hromi Cluster, there’s one single constant: If you want it back in anything resembling the state it started, you need boots on the ground. You can bomb it, you can strafe it, you can cover it with poison, you can turn it into glass, but you don’t own it unless your army’s on it and the other guy’s isn’t."
  • In The Mysterious Case of Neelix's Lungs, Alina t'Aimne replicates a Romulan honor blade (similar to a cavalry saber according to the author's notes) when the Vetar is boarded by the Kazon-Nistrim, and uses it to great effect while defending the bridge. In the next chapter, she explains to the other crew members that the Romulan Military Academy mostly teaches classical swordplay to build aggression.
    "You’re not actually expected to kill with the sword in the field but there’s this old Rihan saying: ‘Aihnir ih'sanhaein khhya emael; rhadai ih'sanhaein khhya dvaer.’ Loose translation, ‘There are no dangerous weapons, only dangerous people.’"
  • In The Dilgar War, Earthforce repurposes nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War 150 years earlier as weapons against the Dilgar.
  • The War of the Masters:
    • The Klingons favor their traditional swords when fighting the Borg, who can adapt their shields to counter disruptor fire but can do nothing about ordinary physical weapons.
    • The Moabites still use firearms a lot, partly due to preferring Boring, but Practical tech and doctrine. In one case an Orion pirate's transporter disables captives' energy weapons in transport, but one character carries a concealed revolver for self-defense and is able to mount a jailbreak.

      The Moabites also like firearms with Abnormal Ammo: radioactive "Black Omega" rounds for fighting Undine (who are little-affected by phasers or disruptors and can shapeshift to get rid of ordinary injuries), lye-filled bullets to fight Fek'Ihri, who have highly acidic blood.
  • With This Ring both deconstructs and reconstructs this:
    • The protagonist is unimpressed by Green Lanterns like Hal Jordan using giant boxing glove constructs. It actually does make some sense for Green Lanterns, though, since they need to be able to focus on every part of the construct, so simple can be best. Paul still considers it to be a sign of a rookie (or, in Alan Scott's case, damaged equipment).
    • Orange Lanterns don't have the same complexity limitations, so long as they really want the result, so Paul is much less understanding of Lantern Ragnar creating a construct sword.
      Paul: Use a gun you prat!
    • Green Arrow explains to Paul that a bow is easier to purchase, carry, conceal, and explain away than a gun. Paul still thinks that Artemis could do better, and demonstrates it by challenging her to break his shields while he stands there and No Sells her entire arsenal; she's unable to make any impression. He eventually does settle for upgrading her capabilities in other ways, though.
    • Melee weapons do make some sense for Nth metal, which has a variety of exotic effects but is quite hard to obtain. The Nth metal cutlasses that Paul loots from some of his enemies are just the ticket for piercing certain types of high-technology force fields.
    • Melee weapons are also easier to enchant than bullets, and enchanting a plasma or particle beam is not really possible. Paul makes extensive use of "mage slayer" ammunition himself but frequently finds that enchanted knives, swords, spears or claws are able to easily penetrate his construct-armour.

  • Justified and enforced in Alita: Battle Angel; firearms of any sort are forbidden in Iron City by its corrupt rulers, so everybody who isn't in their pocket has to make due with stuff like swords or hammers despite the setting being a futuristic Earth That Was where advanced cybernetics are commonplace. The only person we ever see use a projectile weapon is a minor criminal with a bounty on his head.
  • The high-tech setting of Elysium has a couple of weapons that have survived in 2154.
    • Max gets his hands on a Kalashnikov modified to fire explosive bullets.
    • Kruger scavenged a katana at some point and runs Julio through during a skirmish.
  • Most of the immortals of The Old Guard use bladed weapons from their past as well as modern firearms.
    • Andy uses a labrys, a double-headed axe from at least the time of Ancient Greece (and possibly earlier). She uses what looks to be an 18th-century cavalry saber at one point as well.
    • Joe, being an 11th-century Muslim warrior, uses a scimitar.
    • Nicky, being an 11th-century Crusader, uses a European longsword.
  • Star Wars has always had the lightsaber as the primary weapon of the Jedi and Sith in an era where Slow Lasers normally rule the day, and they get away with it because the wielder has limited precognition and the blade reflects blaster fire and goes through nearly anything without slowing down. However, almost nobody else uses them, and for good reason, as it really does require superhuman reflexes to even just avoid cutting oneself into pieces, never mind blocking blaster fire (a trick that requires Jedi to start blocking before the shot is actually fired). Melee weapons are more commonly vibroweapons and may even be alloyed with cortosis to fight lightsaber-wielding Force users. And while it is possible for normal people to use lightsabers (in the old Star Wars Legends continuity, one person even managed to deflect a blaster bolt), it's still more advantageous to be force-sensitive.
  • Serenity has a lot of this, with the Operative's katana, Inara's bow, and the Reavers' various bladed handweapons. The Operative is just that good and also uses period-appropriate weaponry, the RPG explains that Inara's bow has been updated with modern technology to where its arrows strike with nearly the force of a bullet, and the Reavers plain don't care.
  • Starship Troopers has Ace complain about having to train to use a combat knife, citing the Never Bring A Knife To A Gunfight trope: what good is a knife going to do you against a guy with an H-bomb? Drill Sergeant Nasty Zim promptly skewers the guy's hand with a thrown knife. In very sharp contrast with the detailed lecture on the concept of controlled force that he gave in the book (see below).
    Zim: (to the other recruits) The enemy cannot push a button, if you disable his hand.
  • Underworld: both vampire "Death Dealers", who are in a centuries-old feud with Lycans (werewolves), and Lycans use modern weapons (machine guns, pistols) and medieval bladed weapons. Justified in-universe because they are centuries old and are thus more familiar with older weapons, and by normal bullets only slowing both vampires and werewolves down.
  • Wonder Woman (2017): Wonder Woman fights with a sword, shield, and lasso against WWI Germans using contemporary weapons and tanks. She's shown using her shield to protect herself from machine gun fire and even deflect mortar shells. Justified in that she is using magical weaponry and not an ordinary sword, shield, or lasso.
  • Werewolf by Night (2022): Despite the largely modern setting, the hunters seem to favour bladed and blunt weaponry like axes, swords and crossbows. The only gun in the premises seems to be a blunderbuss. Even the Bloodstone guards only wield electric staves.

  • In Robot Commando, your dinosaur rancher protagonist lives on a planet where giant mechs are commonplace and these are equipped with high tech weapons. Yet when outside of a mech, the only weapons you can use are swords, with the first one being your father's sword that you pick up at a ranch for dinosaurs (which aren't even affected by it).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Space 1889 European officers have access to machine guns and rapid-firing artillery, but still carry swords as part of their uniform.
  • In the MechWarrior RPG, swords are described as still being a preferred weapon aboard starships because combat will invariably be close quarters and the blade won't rupture the ship's hull as opposed to firearms. In the base BattleTech game, some BattleMechs carry hatchets, or (more rarely) swords alongside their lightning guns and railguns. Hatchets are basically lumps of endosteel or ferro-fibrous armor that is gripped by the mech (or built into its arm). Hatchets have the advantage of dealing tremendous damage for relatively little weight, generate no heat, and have no ammo. Swords deal less damage but are more accurate due to them being better balanced. Other more advanced weapons exist for both infantry and battlemechs, such as Vibroblades. In the Solaris Arena gladiatorial arenas, more oddball weapons such as flails, maces, and pile drivers are used in battlemech and Powered Armor combat, though more for their wow-factor than for their actual effectiveness.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Imperium is prone to using mixed technology levels since the common technology is an odd blending of industrial and space age technology, and holding access to some highly advanced technology that isn't widely dispersed. Some of this is because it's a surviving artifact from humanity's first, mind-bendingly advanced space empire and nobody knows how it works or how to replicate the piece; or how to make the technology in question is a jealously guarded secret. A typical squad of Imperial soldiers will be armed with weapons that are cheap and weak, but easy to make and maintain, such as laser rifles or sometimes even assault rifles, but the sergeant will be also be armed with a sword that isn't just for ceremonial purposes. It's not uncommon to see conventional tanks on the ground with dueling starships in orbit. Of course, the old-school weapons are almost invariably updated with current technology, such as chainswords or power swords. These are indeed much better at killing, and sometimes necessary for killing things that won't flinch at conventional weapons.
    • This is even worse with the Orks, whose technology is either stolen and retrofitted pieces from other races, or more commonly bits of scrap welded together into a roughly functional form, whether it be gun or bludgeoning weapon or vehicle or starship. The most common weapon they use is the humble choppa, which is a huge axe to which a normal human would struggle to carry with both hands, but the average Ork boy can hold it with ease in one hand.
  • The Imperial Marines of Traveller have a thing for cutlasses, as they don't ricochet in cramped spaceship corridors and hit sensitive equipment like bullets. Though they're mostly ceremonial.
  • Fading Suns also has melee weapons frequently used in boarding actions because they don't ricochet, and spaceships are Lost Technology and thus extremely valuable so the attackers generally don't want to wreck anything. And there aren't too many manufacturers of guns or higher-tech weapons left in operation.
  • Common in The World of Darkness games such as Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Hand weapons can be much more effective than firearms in the hands of supernatural creatures, to say nothing of their natural claws and fangs.
    • In Vampire, both vampires and vampire hunters have a strong motivation towards archaic weapons: Heavy trauma is practically the only way to take down undead aside from their vulnerabilities, so bullets that can only open bleeding wounds or puncture organs in a creature without blood circulation or an anatomy that works by anything more than magic are less effective than bladed weapons that can open up large wounds or lop off limbs. Plus, crossbows can be used to shoot wooden stakes.
    • In Werewolf, on the other claw side, the preference is limited to the titular creatures due to their 10-feet-warforms usually possessing enough strength to flip cars. Additionally, their magical items are usually of a low-tech basis since any high-tech items automatically have an affinity to the Weaver, a cosmic entity most werewolves are not willing to deal with. Plus, their traditional ceremonial weapons are silver daggers/swords. Werewolf hunters, on the other hand side, usually go for guns, preferably of a high calibre and with silver ammo.
    • The preference is also sometimes motivated by the sheer number of magical things which can interfere with clockwork and gunpowder in the setting. With a tension weapon like a bow, or a simple lever like a club or blade, you'll at least know your weapon has been sabotaged by a mage spell or werewolf gift before you rely on it to fire in a dangerous situation. Many even prefer bare fists when they don't have claws, simply because hexing someone's actual body is very difficult.
  • Melee weapons are common in the cyberpunk-verse of Shadowrun, ranging from period-proper combat knives to katanas, battle axes and swords. Certain tradition-fond megas, like Aztechnology and Renraku, make a point of equipping their Elite Mooks with melee weapons to reinforce their image.
  • A massive variety of melee weapons appear in Rifts, including Vibroweapons ranging from standard knives and axes to esoteric weapons like scythes and kusari-gamas (strangely they do not vibrate, despite the name). Interestingly enough, it is noted in the game books that the setting's Humongous Mecha typically do not use equally humongous swords, preferring instead modern weapons.
    • Most Giant Robots, instead of using a handheld weapon, mount a Blade Below the Shoulder in a retractable housing. German mechs are starting to carry vibro-axes, electrified maces, kinetic hammers, and plasma whips into battle, however; along with shields that can mount missile launchers.

  • In Terra, set in the 24th century, Catella Myrha dual wields a pair of scimitars against people armed with assault rifles. It helps that her armor contains a deflector shield generator that No Sells small arms fire. Melee attacks can penetrate it but she's good enough that this usually isn't an issue. Operative word being "usually". Agrippa Varus, who himself prefers a combat knife to a gun, disarms and immobilizes her with almost contemptuous ease.
  • Terminal Lance: "Pirate Sword."
    Grunt: Wait, you really brought your NCO Sword on deployment?
    NCO: I spent $600 on this stupid thing. I'm not going home 'till I stab a motherfucker.

    Western Animation 
  • Dragons: The Nine Realms: While exploring the Fire Realm, Jun finds Hiccup's millenia-old shield and starts using it quite effectively. Downplayed as there are no fire arms in this show.
    • Buzzsaw's henchmen Ford and Winston also start using crossbows in Season 7. Again, downplayed as there are barely any modern weapons in this show.
  • The police in Futurama use lightsaber-like batons with laser blades that can be turned on and off, but (judging from the sound they make) they simply act as simple blunt police batons to beat someone into submission with.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: Although a spacefaring civilization, the Gelrakians haven't developed any Ray Guns and still rely on crystal spears when attacking enemies. Crystal battle blades and crystal-embedded clubs are traditional for a Trial by Combat.


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Alternative Title(s): Modern Age Old Weapon, Potent Antique Weapon


Sci-Fi swords

JP mentions how swords can appear in sci-fi settings.

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