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Elemental Ignorance

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"How foolish for a man with metal bones to face me."

Let's say you, the average fire mage get into a bit of a scuffle and find yourself in a duel to the death. Don't worry, it's not your fault really, but you don't really have a choice here. Now you, being a fire mage, know that you happen to be very well versed in the art of using fire, you may even say it's your lifeblood, your modus operandi so to speak. You know the intricacies of fire in and out. Your opposing duelist allows you to select between several locations to have the duel. You can choose the fiery volcano, the dry, arid, hot desert, or the bottom of the ocean. Which do you pick? The ocean, of course!


Wait... what? This trope is when, for whatever reason, the characters insist on using the most illogical matchup possible, like using the fire hose on the water mage, or the ice princess in the volcano field. Now, sometimes this may be justified if, say, the person, despite having a disadvantage, has some other good reason to fight them. This may include wanting revenge, having an intimate knowledge of the opponent, despite being weak to his element (say, two water mages fighting each other, despite them being resistant to each other's attacks), felt like some Cherry Tapping, or just because even though they're at a type disadvantage, they outclass the opponent in sheer strength and experience.

For it to be this trope, there should also be some better alternative; if the mage decides to use water spells on the ice elemental, despite having fire spells at his disposal, it's this trope. On the other hand, if the mage who only has water spells is forced into fighting the ice elemental, and has no other options or items that would be better to use, it's a poor matchup; however, since they were forced, it didn't require any ignorance or poor planning (except maybe bad life planning for finding himself in a situation with an ice elemental) and is therefore not this trope.


This also may provide an excuse for writers to allow the character to overcome adverse conditions and show growth when they win a very difficult battle from their sheer disadvantage, but often comes off as a cheapened experience, since more often than not the audience is left saying, "well, that's great! But why didn't they just pick the other guy?" Especially when their hard counter (or the fool they accidentally sent in) is someone with a definite theme any blind idiot could divine like Poor, Predictable Rock. If a team does this and during combat they realize their mistake, this may lead to an Opponent Switch.

Note that for Video Games, only list examples in the story, characters discussing or otherwise noting the trope, or notable exceptions, such as games where choosing to fight with the worst counter is secretly the best option. Otherwise every game with Elemental Rock–Paper–Scissors will be on here, since with any game with type matchups, the player can deliberately make bad choices.


See also Shooting Superman, Mutual Disadvantage.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In MÄR, the characters have a habit of making fairly poor matchups in general. For instance, having the plant user fight the plant user in the final round of the War Games (the others had their own grudge matches, and it worked out for revenge anyway). However, possibly the most blatant was Princess Snow fighting the 2nd and 3rd rounds in the desert and volcano fields respectively, and she loses the 3rd round partially because of the heat interfering with her powers. Later, Snow wanted to participate in the 4th round Ice Field but Alan wouldn't let her, which, given the boost she'd get from the Ice Field would more than compensate for any lingering fatigue from the previous matches, was a huge missed opportunity for them.
  • Pokémon: The Series
    • Ash has a habit of doing this, occasionally drifting into the need of a Deus ex Machina or plot powers to resolve the situation, despite the fact that, say, Pikachu is clearly not the Pokémon for a given situation. The first gym battle in Black and White even mentions this, saying that Pokémon isn't only about type matchups, but friendship and strategy and whatnot.
    • The early episode "School of Hard Knocks" has Misty subvert this trope, by defeating a schoolboy's Weepinbell (a Grass-type) with her Starmie (a Water-type) simply because her Pokémon is of a higher level, nullifying the type matchup. Giselle continues this lesson by choosing Graveler (a Rock/Ground-type which should be doubly weak to Water-type attacks) to beat Starmie.
    • When Ash first goes up against Brock, he's using Pikachu (Electric-type) vs. Geodude (Rock/Ground-type). This wouldn't count, since none of his other Pokémon at that point could bypass Geodude's Rock-type reduction, but he insists on Pikachu using Electric-type attacks (which deal no damage against Ground-types) instead of Normal-type attacks, which will at least do half damage. Amusingly, this ends up working after a bit of training by having Pikachu fry it with Thundershock. Onix, on the other hand, is still immune to it.
  • Inverted in Bastard!! (1988), where the protagonist fights a fire elemental with fire spells, who comments on the stupidity of it, and how he should try ice spells... and then he out-heats the elemental, forcing it to swear loyalty to him.
  • Subverted in the Saint Seiya Asgard saga: The local ice user actually trained in the volcano so he could "beat" it. And he's also a fire user as a result.
  • Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX: One of the Autoscorers, Phara, wields a "conceptual weapon" called Sword Breaker which destroys swords on contact. Naturally, the character sent to fight her is the Samurai-themed Tsubasa, who not only fights exclusively with swords but considers herself a sword to the point where Sword Breaker can injure her through her defences. After some initial turmoil, Tsubasa just starts continuously generating more swords while screaming things like "Do these look like swords to you? These are my wings, for flying towards my dreams!". She apparently believes in this so hard that eventually one of her attacks No Sells Sword Breaker and shatters it.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman and the Star Riders: Purrsia decides to get the water manipulator Dolphine off her tail by throwing her in the ocean. For some reason Dolphine proceeded to forget about her powers and needed to be rescued from her element by the other Star Riders so this poorly thought out plan worked quite well.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Beastmaster 2, the villain Arklon fights his opponent The Beastmaster in a zoo, and even creates an earthquake that lets out all the animals. Dar fights him one-on-one so none of the animals get hurt, which doesn't make his choice of location any less stupid.
  • Infamously, the live-action film of The Last Airbender has the Fire Nation capture a bunch of Earthbenders and imprison them in a quarry.
    • The Northern Water Tribe manages to fall into this despite fighting the Fire Nation on a field of snow and ice. They point out immediately before the battle that Firebenders need a source of fire to bend and state that they need to extinguish their own torches... and then leave torches lit all over the place, thereby evening the playing field.

  • The main character's older brother does this in A Hero Born, when the three brothers are competing in matches of their own choosing, by choosing the main character's strongest subject to challenge him in. It later turns out he was intentionally throwing the competition.
  • A significant part of the Apprentice Adept series by Piers Anthony revolves around "The Game", in which players compete in many different types of events that can include everything from wrestling to Go to harmonica playing to chick sexing. The protagonist of the first trilogy, Stile, is a very short man - under five feet tall - and has had many problems because of it. (His primary occupation is racehorse jockey, one of the few sports in which a smaller size tends to be an advantage.) At one point, he has to challenge "Hulk", who, of course, is on the opposite end of the physical spectrum: he's freakishly tall and very muscular instead of short and wiry. Feeling as though he has something to prove, during the part of The Game in which the two players mutually determine the choice of event, Stile, to the astonishment of the spectators, maneuvers the event selection into the category of unassisted physical prowess, a category in which he should be at a great disadvantage. However, Hulk, whose size has given him his own set of insecurities, also puts pride over practicality, and the two of them end up with an event where neither has an obvious advantage: running a marathon.note 
  • The Scholomance: Inverted regarding Incarnate Flames. Unknown to most, the usual spells to extinguish a fire won't work on them; they need to be overloaded with more fire until they burn themselves out.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of Sesame Street, Oscar the Grouch attempts to ruin everybody's day by spreading dirt around everywhere he goes. Where does he go first? A garden.

    Video Games 
  • Tales of Symphonia
    • Characters in a battle will remark if you're using an element poorly suited to the situation, like if you're hitting a Water-elemental monster with the Aqua Edge spell. Of course, despite repeatedly saying a particular attack is ineffective, a computer-controlled character will still keep using it unless you manually deactivate it from the menu. Star student Genis will even get a title if he does this enough times in a single battle.
    • In a non-combat variation of this, after forming the pact with Gnome, the Tethe'allan Summon Spirit of Earth, Lloyd thinks that said spirit's Sylvaranti counterpart is Efreet... the spirit of Fire. Raine has to explain that it's Sylph, the spirit of Wind.
  • The first time you meet Edge in Final Fantasy IV, he's gleefully using his fire magic... on a fire demon made of fire. And he's surprised when it doesn't work well.
  • In Pokémon games, you get to choose a grass, water, or fire starter. In the original series, a fire type would be at a disadvantage against early gym leaders, in particular Brock and Misty. A lot of first time players would pick the cool fire starter, only to learn about elemental advantages the hard way. That said, Charmander is still a better choice for Brock than Bulbasaur is, since Ember hits their defensive Dump Stat for effortless KOs while Bulbasaur has to grind to level 13 to outperform Charmander, making it this trope.
    • On the other hand, Fire Types had an advantage early on against the Bug and Grass types that appeared before the first gym, which in turn had a decent advantage over the first leader. So, Fire tended to be a bit more of a long term investment since Fire-types as a whole were pretty rare in the game while Grass and Water were fairly common.
    • In Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, the battle between the land Pokémon Groudon and the sea Pokémon Kyogre takes place in the middle of the sea. Lampshaded by this comic. For that matter, despite these two Pokémon supposedly being equal opposites, Kyogre has a tremendous type advantage over Groudon. This is mitigated in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire by their respective Abilities cancelling out each other's best attacks.
    • Inverted in Pokémon Red and Blue thanks to Artificial Stupidity. Ingame trainers always use a super-effective elemental attack, if possible. Lance's Dragonite, if your Pokémon is weak to Psychic (Poison or Fighting types), will use its only Psychic move—Agility, which increases its own speed without doing damage. This means you can beat the most powerful non-Legendary in the game with a Weedle by Poison Stinging it until it faints.
  • In Golden Sun, each Lighthouse represents an element. They empower people who use that element and those who elements are related; they also greatly weaken those whose element is the opposite. Earth and Fire compliment and Wind and Water compliment. During the fight against Saturos, a Fire Element user, at the Mercury Lighthouse (water), he doesn't realize this and gets weakened enough to be barely beaten by the party.
  • The most famous instance in City of Heroes had to have been the demons summoned by the higher level Circle of Thorns. They were large, somewhere between "well muscled" and "absolute brutes", had hair made of fire, and had a combination of fire abilities for both range and melee along with just straight strength attacks. What didn't they have? Any sort of RESISTANCE to fire, which was without serious Min-Maxing the highest DPS power sets in the game, and often came with fire resists buffs of their own. Meaning the easiest way to cut through the Legions of Hell (which was a very Fire and Brimstone Hell) was with torrents of flame...
  • A non-elemental example: in Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, Sain initially insists on using a lance against an axe-wielding opponent, despite axes being strong against lances. This is mostly to demonstrate the weapon triangle, and afterwards, you can get him a sword.
  • In World of Warcraft, originally this was in effect with monsters having innate resistances and some being completely immune, this in particular hurt fire mages and destruction warlocks since the entry level raids were in the fire-based Molten Core. Eventually Blizzard wised up to the fact that making entire specializations useless was a terrible idea and chose to enforce Competitive Balance by making elemental or elemental-aligned monsters take just as much damage as they do from any other element.

    Web Original 
  • Twitch Plays Pokémon: One of Lance's Pokémon would use a Psychic-type move against enemies weak to it (such as Poison)... except its only Psychic move is Agility, which only increases its own speed without doing damage (despite having other, highly damaging moves). This let a Venomoth earn the title "Dragonslayer" by defeating his Dragonite.

    Western Animation 
  • In Justice League, one of the not!Wonder Twins tries to drown Aquaman due to not thinking straight at the moment. This works about as well as you'd expect, allowing Arthur a great Deadpan Snarker line after he completely No Sells the attack.
    King of the Seas, remember?
  • In an episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, the heroes are trapped behind ice, but never think to use fire, despite elemental typing pretty much being their only means of problem-solving as it is.
  • In the 90s X-Men animated series, when Storm confronts Magneto for the first time in the series, she decides to use intense lightning bolts on him. Magneto points out that being the master of magnetism, lightning was the least effective of her many weapons to use against him. Partially justified since Magneto's powers are written such that if he isn't a Superpower Lottery winner, he's definitely a runner up, to the point where no energy attacks and few physical attacks would really have been effective.