A weapon or type of weapon, once common, that is now only used by one or a few people. Qualification for such weapons is extensive, and often tied to other skills that "aren't magic". They are often granted by a master or passed down through the generations.
There are times when this is a Justified Trope:
- Awesome, but Impractical: It's impressive enough for some people to use even though a different weapon is actually more effective.
- The weapon requires a specialized skillset and training but there exist alternatives that are roughly equivalent and require much less time and effort to be good at.
- A Master-Apprentice Chain has been broken and so the knowledge is lost.
- The weapons are picky about who wields them, and these days there are few people who measure up.
- Cowboy Bebop has Vicious sporting a Katana in the future. He doesn't say why.
- Inverted in The Five Star Stories. Personal combat has come back into fashion once more not because ideas of honor or elegant but because people realized what a waste it was to nuke things from orbit. The goal of most warfare in the series is to conquer territory while doing as little damage to said territory as possible. (After all, who wants to rule over a radioactive crater?) The trope is also deconstructed here, as the dominance of showy, impractical weapons like Laser Blades and ridiculously elaborate, sword-fighting Humongous Mecha are seen as a sign that war has become some kind of sick game to the rulers of the galaxy.
- Belkan-style Devices in the second season of Lyrical Nanoha are optimized for close combat in a variety of forms and they are used by knights. They have honor codes and fealty oaths and other stuff. Their weapons get more common in the third season, but the majority of mages still wield staff-type ranged weapons.
- The Caster Gun from Outlaw Star qualifies. It was formerly used by mages in many places across space. By the main story, It's not unique but very old, and very rare. It's just barely common enough for its ammunition to be available, albeit in extremely limited supply, in various knick-nack shops and from specialty merchants.
- Thoroughly deconstructed (as with anything else about classical heroes) in Fate/Zero. Mages have obsession with 'the elegance of the ancient age', and this is exactly why Kiritsugu uses guns against them to great effect. Screw duels of honor by spirits of champions, I have guns!
- Dane Whitman - Marvel's Black Knight who was an ex-Avenger, ex-Defender, ex-Ultraforce, ex-Excalibur and current MI13 member is a highly skilled scientist and engineer and has made high-tech weapons before. But because he's a descendant of a knight of the round table, he prefers using magical swords and armor as a link to his ancestry (not to mention his magical items are better than what he can manufacture with mundane tech).
- Okoye in Black Panther plays with this trope. She reacts to seeing a gun by saying "Guns. So primitive", and then proceeds to kick ass with a Vibranium spear. Yes, the spear form is older than the gun but the material it is made from makes it more capable than another one.
- In The Last Samurai, the samurai rebel because the Emperor wants to modernize and Westernize Japan. The rebels fight the Imperial army with old-fashioned bows, spears and swords and do surprisingly well before getting cut down in a hail of machinegun fire. However, the real rebels upon which the film is based used modern weapons, and died in a last-ditch charge when their ammo ran out.
- The Operative in Serenity uses a Chinese-style sword as an apparent throwback to the warrior traditions of old. He lectures one man about how a dishonored Romans would fall on their sword... while forcing the man to do so. Somewhat subverted in that he's not above using guns (notably taking a pistol off of a dead Alliance officer when shit gets real), he's just a ridiculously-skilled killer who seems to favor his long blade as more of a personal style choice that anything else.
- The film adaptation of Starship Troopers features a scene where the soldiers are learning how to use knives. One recruit questions the wisdom of stabbing weapons in a push-button war and it's painfully explained to him.
- Star Wars: The lightsaber, the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Obi-wan Kenobi's description provides the Trope Namer. Essentially swords for a futuristic setting, they help paint the Jedi as a futuristic version of the Knight Errant or samurai. The weapons seem to have a number of clear advantages over blasters, being able to cut through anything and deflect blaster fire. Obi-Wan is the only person to call them "more civilized," however. In Revenge of the Sith, he's forced to use a blaster carbine and sniffs, "So uncivilized!"
- In The Hobbit, the trio of elven weapons found in a troll cave are these; Glamdring, Orcrist, and Sting. Elven, Elegant... and lethally sharp.
- In the opening fight of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Gamora uses a big grenade-launcher-like gun instead of her usual swords, much to Quill's disappointment who thought every member of the group typically had a Weapon of Choice, guns being his. The trope is subverted in-universe for him (as well as lampshaded and deconstructed by Gamora). Double subverted in the end of the fight : None of their weapons is able to pierce through the monster's skin, but it has a weak spot. However, when Gamora aims for it, her weapon is out of ammunition, so she resorts to her sword instead.
- The Lenses of the Lensman series.
- In addition, despite being the Trope Namer for Lensman Arms Race, with infantry combat using ever-escalating variations of lasers, heavy machine guns and power armour, the best hand-to-hand weapon is repeatedly cited throughout the series as being an axe. They are shown several times as being able to take out shielded and armoured foes almost effortlessly when all ranged weapons available have failed to have any effect at all.
- The Claws used by some Mantids in Shadows of the Apt.
It was an ancient tool of his people and a laughable anachronism, save that Stenwold had witnessed what he could do with it.
- Robert A. Heinlein — who was a competitive fencer in his Naval Academy days — goes to some length to point out how a sword is great in several of his books. Never jams, never runs out of ammo, and so on and it was a nice thing to have in some rough parts of town. It is long, sharp, intimidating and precise enough to do exactly as much damage as the wielder wishes. For instance by using the flat or a slash cut to the ribcage with a downward inclination (because the bones overlap in that direction and prevent entering the vitals the way they would in an upward blow) someone can make an assailant uncomfortable without killing. One story involves Lazarus Long talk about learning how to best use a bayonet in the twenty-fifth century.
- Hiro Protagonist, the hero protagonist of Snow Crash, carries a katana for various reasons, not least because it makes him look like a badass. In one job he was equipped with a particularly powerful pocket-sized handgun that looked like a fashion accessory and so was inadequate for intimidation. Carrying a sword, on the other hand, gets you a little more respect.
- Justified in Dune; swords, knives, and such have made a comeback in Herbert's universe, not because they're more civilized, but because they don't cause small nuclear explosions when they hit shields, like lasguns do, while also being able to move slow enough to pass through shields (unlike all but some very specialized and rare projectile weapons).
- Averted in a Spider Robinson short story. Street gangs carry swords because they look cool, and a critic dies because he refuses to accept a world with both swords and laser pistols. He walks into a sword while getting mugged.
- Bored of the Rings parodies this. At the battle of Minas Troney, Goodgulf is said to carry "an ancient and trustworthy weapon, called by the elves a Browning semi-automatic."
- The Klingons in Star Trek love to fight with their swords, (called bat'leth), even though energy guns, such as phasers or disruptors, are very common in the Trek universe, and the Klingons themselves know perfectly well how to build and use the latter ones. They obviously consider it to be more honorable to defeat your enemy in close combat. In addition to the bat'leth they also have the mek'leth (paired fighting daggers used not unlike sais) and the d'k'tagh (a ceremonial dagger with spring-loaded secondary blades built into the guard). No other Star Trek race, except maybe the Vulcans with their ceremonial weaponry, devotes as much loving attention to edged weapons as the Klingons. When they're fighting anyone but each other, Reality Ensues and they mostly just get shot while charging.
- The denn'bok (referred to as a Minbari pike but more like a quarterstaffnote ) used by the Rangers in Babylon 5.
- An extremely cynical variant shows up in Season 3 of The Wire, when former gang member Dennis "Cutty" Wise rejoins "the game" after spending over a decade in prison. During his first hit mission, he reminisces fondly about using revolvers in his younger days, only to find that high-capacity pistols have since become the norm among gangs. As Baltimore's gang warfare has become more violent, criminals have come to value sheer firepower over reliable, well-made weapons.
Cutty: The game done changed.
Slim Charles: The game's the same. Just got more fierce.
- The world of Exalted is a Magitek Fantasy Kitchen Sink, with flamethrowers, beam cannons, and Wave Motion Guns all available in somewhere in the setting. However, even at the technological heights of the First Age, the traditional weapon of the titular Exalted is the daiklave, a BFS that is so massive that it needs to be enchanted just so the wielder can use it without difficulty.
- Aslan: they prefer to fight duels with claws. As humans have no claws, a human fighting Aslan fashion would wear an Ayloi, or artificial claw. Ayloi could count as this.
- Another example with Aslan is their taste for ornate decoration for weapons of all kinds including more modern ones.
- Imperial Marines in Traveller have a serious cutlass-fetish.
- Semi-averted because shooting guns inside a ship does bad things to delicate electronics, so melee is used in order to have a usable ship after boarding.
- More because cutlasses aren't really intended for war; they are intended for sport and for dueling. Swordplay is an activity that provides good exercise and is suited for the limited space of a starship.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Eldar Phoenix Lords wear armor and wield weapons forged probably more than 20,000 years ago, all of which are at least as good as their modern counterparts. It should be noted that Eldar armor is psychically bonded to the wearer's spirit stone, and can presumably deform or expand (to an extent) to accommodate to new wearer.
- A lot of the Imperium works like this as well: Artificer Armor and Master Crafted Weapons tend to be centuries, if not millennia, old. The reason they're still in use isn't just because of sentimentality; it's because they still work better than a lot of newer things, and in fact repairs and modifications may make them worse. This also plays into the fact that, prior to the formation of the Imperium, humanity lost vast swathes of technological knowledge during the Age of Strife, afterwards leaving the newly-formed Imperium to scramble to secure whatever was left over. It's rather a Big Thing whenever a new Standard Template Construct is discovered. That, and the Imperium of Mankind (or at least, the Inquistion) frown rather heavily on innovation or invention — it's like "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" taken Up to Eleven. As a result, Imperial technology has spent about 10-15 thousand years stagnating while races less afraid of designing better wargear (like the Tau or the Tyranids) are slowly overtaking. It's not universal, though - the rulebooks make it explicitly clear that bipedal combat platforms and Hellguns are actually better now than they used to be, and a lot of old designs aren't made anymore not because nobody remembers how, but because the Imperium is logistically strapped.
- Final Fantasy VIII features the gunblade, a weapon which combines elements of sword and gun to create an Impossibly Cool Sword that is also so difficult to use that only the most dedicated soldiers are able to master it. And the more advanced the model, the more elegant it becomes.
- It's so difficult to use, in fact, that only three people in the game use them: Squall, Seifer, and Laguna (who only uses it as an awkward sword). Seifer uses it because it matches his fantasy, and there's some in-universe speculation that Squall uses it because it's difficult to master, reflecting his stubborn nature.
- Kingdom Hearts: The Keyblade Wielders were once common enough to form a Knighthood. By the time the first game rolls around, there are only a few left. Inverted as the series goes on. The number of keyblade wielders (and potential keyblade wielders) grows to the point where the only relevant main characters (including villains) that cannot currently or ever have previously used a keyblade are Donald and Goofy, Maleficent and Pete.
- Inverted by the Howling Voice Guild of the Suikoden series, who are the only people in the world to wield guns. As Cathari explains in Suikoden V, they're louder than bows, so worse for stealth, less accurate, and less reliable (Though not in actual combat, where one shot from Cathari can do more damage than most fighters can pull of in three, she also has a high hit rate). In a civilized age, they're the only ones using these uncivilized weapons. The only thing that makes them useful is as an intimidation tactic.
- Parodied meta-wise in Halo:
- Luke Smith said that the Spartan Laser is not an overpowered weapon, but an elegant weapon from a more civilized age. Said "Elegant Weapon" is a Goddamn Laser Cannon that kills nearly everything that goes into the path of the laser. And that thing costs more than four fully-armed warthogs and is worth only five shots per battery! (Not that it isn't fun to use.)
- In what is possibly the most subtle reference in video game canon, the achievement An Elegant Weapon... in Halo: Reach is presumably a reference to how the DMR has fallen out of style in favor of the Battle Rifle, while at the same time referring to Obi-Wan commenting on how the lightsaber has fallen out of use in favor of the blaster in A New Hope.
- The Lord of the Rings Online extends the reforged weapons from earlier ages (as seen referenced above from the books) to players with Legendary Items.
- The various beam katanas from No More Heroes are quite common, but the people who actually know how to skilfully use them, like Travis and Henry, aren't the ones who are getting their heads cut off.
- In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, the kingdom of Dernholm is in terminal decline due to their refusal to embrace technology. In the last war, their much-celebrated Dragon Knights were slaughtered en masse by rifle-wielding infantry. In the good ending, The true king returns and usher in an era of prosperity by uniting the new ways with the old.
- Sudeki references this with Buki's weapons, handheld claws. Despite being a traditional Shadani weapon, they're falling out of use as they require a lot of training to use,and many recruits prefer easier-to-handle human weapons like swords and spears.
- Invoked in Star Wars: Republic Commando when the player finds a lightsaber.
Boss: A weapon for a more civilized time, eh? Well guess what - times have changed...
- In the Fallout series, the Brotherhood of Steel are individually highly trained warriors who use powered armor, energy weapons and combat robots, which are all from a more civilized age. They are fewer in number compared to the raiders, mutants and NCR Army, but one Brotherhood Paladin is the equal of three to five (or for even less developed foes, ten or more) of the aforementioned. However, their inability to quickly replace lost soldiers was a major reason why they lost the Brotherhood-NCR conflict. A similar statement can be said for the forces of the Enclave.
- Not too civilized though, with the world racked by resource wars. The European states invade the Middle East as a response to crippling oil prices, when the oil runs dry both regions collapse. Meanwhile China invades Alaska for America's oil, and the United States retaliates by invading mainland China, eventually culminating in a two hour nuclear exchange that puts an end to the war and everyone involved.
- In The Elder Scrolls series, katanas are an Akaviri weapon brought to Tamriel during the 1st Era Akaviri invasion. That invasion was halted by future Emperor Reman Cyrodiil I, who adopted the defeated Akaviri into his own legions. He took on the Akaviri Dragonguard as his own Praetorian Guard and they became the basis for the Blades, who would serve as a combination Ancient Order of Protectors and Secret Police for future emperors. The most iconic piece of Blades equipment, as seen prominently in Oblivion, is the Akaviri Katana. However, following the 200 year Time Skip during which the Blades were forcibly dissolved and outlawed as a term of White-Gold Concordat with the Thalmor-led Aldmeri Dominion, Akaviri Katanas (now knows simply as "Blades Swords") are incredibly rare in Skyrim. Only three standard katanas can be found in the game (two owned by NPCs) prior to opening Sky Haven Temple, where a fourth enchanted version can be found and more will be equipped to new Blades who you recruit.
- Errant Story Features "Durus Flamma" weapons, that look a lot like lightsabers and are used by the elves exclusively for duels. And a dual bladed one, that is completely impractical, (even in-universe) but the one person who uses them anyway is just that badass.
- Parodied in XKCD #297.
- Sluggy Freelance:
Gwynn: Torg, are you stupid or something [...] running into a gunfight with a sword?
Torg: A sword is an elegant weapon. Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster. CHEEEARGE!
[Torg runs into battle; cue hail of gunfire]
Torg: [running away] Clumsy and random's got my name all over it!
- Double Subverted when the sword does prove decisive, in that battle and in others down the road. It saves the characters more than once, in situations where other weapons would obviously fail (soul-trading demons in the spirit world, for example).
- Schlock Mercenary: The Very Reverend Lieutenant Theo Fobius is an accomplished fencer since his seminary days. He even makes it work for him. Well, sometimes.
- Today, there are many groups worldwide committed to the reconstruction and safeguarding of old European weapon martial arts, particularly with the light, two-handed longsword. These martial arts prove to be highly efficient and holistic, often including unarmed combat and use of other weapons as part of the complete martial art.
- Swords, particularly some varieties thereof (the Rapier and the Jian, for instance) have often been the mark of noblemen, military officers and others in high social standing, presumably owing to the fact that being allowed to openly go about armed was a privilege of belonging to those classes and swords were conveniently easy to carry while still leaving both hands free. (Sometimes the expense of a good sword over another weapon using less metal is also cited, but depending on the historical era some swords, especially mass-produced ones and/or war surplus or salvage from earlier conflicts, could actually be had for fairly cheap.) Ironically, one of their functions was to hack at any Dirty Coward who tried to break formation and run away.
- During World War I, Europe was fairly surprised at the effectiveness of automatic weapons and artillery. Infantry and cavalry blocks very quickly gave way to trench warfare, tanks, and moving through cover.
- On the other hand, long abandoned weapons like the grenade and the mace made a comeback, as they were more practical than a long rifle with a bayonet when storming a trench. And while the mace was abandoned again when the submachinegun proved effective in 'cleaning' trenches and other environments where it would be useful, the grenade stayed. Subverted when shotguns, which are a centuries-old-idea, were used for this purpose; German command considered their use on humans a war crime.
- It takes years of training to become a good longbowman, but only a few weeks to learn to how use a gun effectively. Also, longbows could not pierce heavy armor. Therefore, as guns became more effective (and more able to pierce heavy armor) there were fewer and fewer reasons to use longbows in war. Nevertheless, the English held onto their traditional longbows and bills for nearly a century after the rest of Europe had switched to pike and shot. They were not necessarily wrong to do so. In 1513, the Scots (armed with pikes and muskets) invaded England and were utterly trounced at the battle of Flodden Field (at least partly due to the effectiveness of the longbow against lightly-armored Scottish troops). The main reason longbows weren't replaced by crossbows in earlier times, which had the same advantage as firearms in that they took far less time to learn to use and didn't require massive physical strength to shoot a heavy projectile, was that longbows could still be fired much faster than crossbows.
- Crossbows disappeared from the battlefield before the longbow did because their only advantages were things that a gun could do better, but they remained popular for hunting into the 19th century and even today, since they can be quite accurate and don't produce noise or smoke that would scare away the game.
- The reason this had been played straight in Japan for for so long wasn't because Katanas Are Just Better, but because most noblemen and warriors were trained in melee weapons and archery. Nobunaga comes along with a unit of trained musketeers and the strategic skill to use them effectively and then suddenly he's unified Japan (mostly).
- The Satsuma Rebellion: A small group of more elite samurai faced down against the larger Imperial army using modern weapons of both Japanese and European origin, using European tactics. The more "elegant" and "civilized" samurai were eliminated to a man. The Boshin Wars, despite popular depiction, were not the same case. Both sides used modern weapons, infantry tactics and foreign aid.
- Blades have long been used and still have a place on modern battlefields, because firearms have limited ammunition and (mainly nowadays) because rifles may not be practically aimed and fired in close quarters. Over-reliance on the ability to simply shoot the enemy can lead to a soldier's death. A knife doesn't jam or run out of ammo. In extremely close combat, as can happen when clearing apartment complexes in Urban Warfare, an operative may score vastly more kills with their knife than they do with their bullets. For militia that are made of people who live in metropolitan areas, melee combat is a heavily emphasized skill.
- Famous saying by some 19th-century Russian general: "A bullet sometimes misses; a bayonet never does." A similar saying is from Generalissimus Alexander Suvorov, who lived in the late XVIII - early XIX century: "Bullet is foolish, bayonet is bold".
- There were a few decisive bayonet charges in the Iraq war when ammo ran low, the most famous being the Battle of Danny Boy. The chargers had body armor and the insurgents did not, thus, a rout.
- Bayonets, however, are NOT a major part of melee combat anymore. While they once were considered vital in warfare, as long ago as World War 1 it was recognized that bayonets are actually terrible weapons - guns are not very good spears, and there are far too many ways to get inside the weapon's reach. This is why combat knives grew in popularity - bayonets were unwieldy, but a knife is very handy for a wide variety of tasks AND can also be used to stab or cut people. Modern bayonets are more or less knives that can be (but which usually aren't) attached to rifles. The military has been de-emphasizing them in recent years due to their lack of real value - the primary purpose of bayonets nowadays is poking dead bodies and threatening prisoners, not actual combat, and the US Army removed bayonet training from its basic training curriculum.
- Not so with the USMC, who not only still use bayonets, but still insist on using a larger and more durable bayonet than the M9 issued to the Army.
- The above entry may be somewhat countered by the fact that bayonet charges are insanely effective against people who cannot deal with crazed soldiers willing to get up close and personal in order to have the primal satisfaction of stabbing their victims to death in the most painful manner possible. The Battle of Danny Boy ended after British troops ran out of ammo and decided that bayonets were to be the killing blow to Iraqi insurgents. The insurgents, taught to believe that all westerners were cowards, fled when they realized that the British were obviously not running away but hellbent on getting revenge for casualties and a wrecked radio (and perhaps some spilled tea).
- Archery fell out of military use due to the long training time needed. However, hunters commonly abandon guns in favor of bows, for both sentimental and practical reasons (bows/arrows are quieter and lighter than guns and make cleaner kills). This is often an Enforced Trope. Gun season for deer is often only a week or two (with half that time dedicated to black powder arms), while bow season is open for the entire winter.
- Archery fell out of military use because bows' battlefield function (indirect fire) is accomplished better by cannon. What was supplanted by firearms was the crossbow. Archery was never mainstream in most of Europe. An exception is horse archers, which did see bows replaced by firearms on the steppes.
- "Fighting Jack" Churchill of the British Army, who not only carried a bow and arrows and sword with him into combat during World War II but has a confirmed German kill with the bow. You can't fit this trope any better than by telling a general, as Churchill did:
- Most fly-fishermen have a discreet snobbishness about their way of angling as compared to spin-rod and bait fishing. In particular, it is the fly rod itselfthinner, lighter and longer than its counterparts, giving it greater sensitivity to the angler's whims, with a reel whose basic design still looks very 19th-centurythat symbolizes this.
- Compared to ubiquitous pump-action shotguns and military surplus semiautomatic rifles, the venerable break-action rifles, shotguns and combination guns with multiple caliber barrels are seen as old-fashioned, anachronisms. They are among the most expensive hunting guns in production and in many cases they are tailored to user's request, beautifully carved and engraved. With a wise choice of calibers the same combination gun may hunt from pheasant to Cape Buffalo.
- The Chinese government, harried by Turkestani terrorists, brought back the crossbow for their law enforcement, since the bolts can kill the terrorists with a reduced chance of detonating any explosives.
- Black powder weapons, especially in the United States, are still used for hunting. These weapons can be modern rifles made out of state-of-the-art materials or reproductions of famous muskets such as the Kentucky rifle. One reason for their use is that it is considered a more traditional way of hunting, another being that the low velocities of rifles and their long reload times make hunting with them a Self-Imposed Challenge. Another is that the ATF does not consider them to fit the definition of a firearm, meaning they have the same legal status as a pellet gun, and can be purchased directly or shipped to a home address with no need for NICS paperwork.