I want to be strong, I really want to be trusted..."
Like I Just Want to Be Special, I Just Want to Have Friends and I Just Want to Be Normal, I Just Want To Be Badass describes one of those wishes that consumers of media like to have fulfilled by the works they consume. Typically, males are somewhat more prone to harbor this wish. A tentative explanation for this could be the fact that western popular culture's standards of masculinity and badassery have some similarities.
In order to fulfill this wish of their audience, the creator of a work will usually create a viewpoint character and, over the course of the story, make said character badass. This allows the audience to identify with the viewpoint character and as such experience badassery by proxy. Another way by which the author can fulfill this wish of the audience is to take a character that has already established his badassery and give said character a trait which the intended audience will identify with. Additionally, a writer can take a characterization with already-established badass credentials and remove non-badass elements from said characterization in order to highlight the badassery.
On the other hand, this trope can be used in conjunction with Be Yourself, as we see a hero try to emulate more macho role models and fail miserably at imitating their machismo. At that point, they give up in despair and focus on what they can do, convinced that they are nothing special even as they learn some new knowledge or skills no one around thinks is important. However, when they are called upon to do what they have to for others, they find that those things they've learned have made them a near invincible Badass Bookworm who saves the day while the macho characters look on in astonishment.
An Escapist Character targeted towards the male demographic will often be a product of this desire.
This trope is very prone to being deconstructed. A possible reason for this is that producers of media are usually not particularly badass and as such may regard this particular wish of the audience as immature or naive. This, of course, is merely a speculation. However, whole industries are built on playing this trope straight and allowing the audience to fulfill its badassery fantasies by proxy.
Arguably, video games in general have a strong element of this as their appeal. Many FPS games do at least in part avert or subvert this however. During some action games, there is a level where the game radically changes pace and becomes something different. For instance, an action game will toss in a stealth level where the player character is stripped of all their weapons. These levels are subversions of this trope and gain their impact from the sudden loss of power the player character has experienced. Survival Horror games often rely on averting this to generate fear in the player. Feeling powerful and competent is not conducive to feeling scared, frightened, alone and weak.
This trope applies in two circumstances. The first is that a character in the work is motivated by the trope (the in-universe version). The other is that the work engages with (fulfilling, parodying, or being to some extent motivated and/or changed by) its viewers Wanting To Be Badass (the meta-version). There is often considerable overlap between the two types; if this wish was not prevalent in viewers, said viewers would probably react differently to characters motivated by the wish. The later is so common-place that only examples of playing with or subverting this expectation should be listed.
Denying the fulfillment of this wish (i.e. averting or subverting the trope) can result in What Measure Is a Non-Badass? occurring.
See also; Wish Fulfillment, I Just Want to Have Friends, I Just Want to Be Beautiful, I Just Want to Be Special, I Just Want to Be Normal. Also heavily overlaps with I Want to Be a Real Man given that the concepts of badass and manly are frequently interconnected. Arguably the cause of the Power Fantasy.
Compare/Contrast the Distaff Counterpart.
Again, please remember that neither Wish Fulfillment nor the fulfillment of any specific wish (including this one) is a bad thing. If reality matched our fantasies, we would not need to create fiction.
Examples of a character with this trait, or of the work playing with this expectation of the audience:
- Isidro in Berserk is like this: even though he works a lot better as a Fragile Speedster with short blades and throwing rocks, he idolizes Guts (a Lightning Bruiser) and his BFS. This leads to problems, as he always insists on fighting like Guts instead of focusing on his true strengths like evasion, an accurate throw, and quick wits. Because his wish to be badass causes problems, there is at least a certain element of deconstruction at work here. Guts himself is possibly the most badass character in all of fiction, but it's a sure bet that no one who followed the series actually wants to be him.
- Most Humongous Mecha protagonists feel this way before becoming pilots, often crossing over with Ascended Fanboy. So much that Shinji Ikari was notable for not wanting to.
- Impmon from Digimon Tamers does NOT enjoy being a Harmless Villain. This eventually ends up being deconstructed, as the lengths he goes to to become badass drive him crazy with power, causing him to become a REAL villain and go on a murderous rampage. He's appropriately horrified when he snaps out of it.
- Kosuna of Desert Punk just wants to be the #1 Action Girl in the Great Kanto Desert, and becomes an apprentice handyman to Kanta to do so. She then spends the rest of the series learning that survival in the desert involves a lot of grunt work, trickery, and that doing your job right means using your gun as little as possible.
- Mahou Sensei Negima!: Negi Springfield definitely qualifies. Already a hard-working prodigal mage at the age of 10, his quest for power increases after many of his students become his mischievous followers, making him constantly worried for their safety. It doesn't help that he's surrounded by a lot of powerful people such as his more combat-trained pupils (Setsuna, Mana, Kaede, Ku Fei), his father's friends (Jack Rakan, Alberio Imma, Takamichi), and his former enemy (Evangeline), some of whom are game-breakingly powerful. Oh, and his father? An incredibly powerful war hero who is practically worshipped across the Magic World. That's a lot of hurdles to jump over. It's no surprise then that he would push himself to incredible extremes, even learning Evangeline's Dark Magic. He's definitely not your standard shounen hero.
- Mikado definitely qualifies because he wants to change something. It's what led him to create Dollars. Later on you actually see that he has been badass all along.
- Asago from Tokyo Crazy Paradise so very desperately wants to be a badass to match Ryuji, her husband-to-be, but she is always overshadowed by Tsukasa or runs into inhuman monsters. She gets tougher by the end of the series.
- The Lyrical Nanoha series has a few examples.
- Teana Lanster during Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers was a deconstruction of this. She was so desperate at being a badass as quickly as possible that her reckless actions placed both her and her teammates at risk. While she did eventually Take a Level in Badass, she didn't do so until she let go of this mindset and concentrated on refining the skills and talents she had at a more sensible pace.
- Einhart Stratos in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vivid is a straighter example. Driven by the Genetic Memory of her ancestor, she is in a constant quest to become strong enough to protect everyone she cares about. This drive of hers only became more intense when she met and trained with the old cast of Nanoha, as she realized just how far she still has to go before she could reach their level.
- Vivio is just like Einhart in that regard, although fighting is more of a hobby for her than a compulsive drive. She wants to be strong enough to one day be able to protect those that gave her the chance to have a normal life, especially her Nanoha-mama.
- Rinne from ViVid Strike! is another deconstruction. Due to her history with being bullied, she has an almost pathological need to be the strongest there is to keep anything else from being taken from her. This ends up alienating her from everyone around her and would ultimately cause her to drive away her childhood friend Fuka. And unlike most examples, she actually hates martial arts.
- "If one is born as a male, at least once in his life he will dream of becoming the strongest man alive. Grappler is the martial artist who aims to become the strongest in the world!"
- In Chrono Crusade, this was one of the major motivations of Joshua, an Ill Boy whose Blessed with Suck Healing Hands powers confined him to his bed. After being disappointed by a suggestion from Father Remington to go through Training from Hell to grow strong, Aion offered him a Deal with the Devil to gain immense power through a pair of demon horns. It worked, but also turned him insane and allowed Aion to kidnap him and use his powers for his plans. This kicks off the main plot of the series, when his sister makes her own Deal with the Devil to be able to rescue him.
- Several Pokémon have shown that this is their primary motivation. Often this is simply shown by them wishing to become their very powerful final form. Others have shown they just want to be better.
- Sword Warrior Yamatonokami Yasusada of Touken Ranbu - Hanamaru just wants to be stronger. However, it isn't this wish that's the problem, it's why - he wants to become stronger to protect his previous master, Okita Souji. The problem? Okita died centuries before Yamatonokami (Okita's sword) was turned human by his current master, the one he should be trying to protect. He is also probably the least manly, most Moe example on this page.
- In Cardfight!! Vanguard, the protagonist, Aichi Sendou wants to win the respect of his rival, Toshiki Kai by becoming good at the titular card game. It gets heavily deconstructed when he awakens the Psychic Powers known as Psyqualia, which make him strong but also make him Drunk on the Dark Side the more he uses them.
- Usopp of One Piece has this as his primary goal. He has stated his personal mission to be becoming "a brave warrior of the sea", and he has definitely worked to meet that goal ever since the Arlong Arc. By Water 7/Enies Lobby, and definitely by the time-skip, he has completely managed to Take a Level in Badass.
- Most characters in the story, like Luffy, strive to become the next Pirate King. Others have entirely different goals that fit this trope. Zoro, for example, wants to be replace Mihawk as the world's strongest swordsman.
- Saitama of One-Punch Man was originally a straight example. He is currently an aversion - he doesn't want to be this trope because he's the most badass in his series and it's boring. Genos is also this but a straight example all the way (including getting the aforementioned Saitama to be his teacher) for the sake of getting revenge on a rival cyborg.
- After the death of his mother, the titular protagonist of Ringing Bell decides he wants to be a wolf. The problem? He's a lamb. Chirin thought that being a sheep is boring and that sheep are just a bunch of cowards - he wanted to be tough and powerful like a wolf. In the end Chirin does become extremely strong however he lost everything in his quest to become powerful. He's not accepted by other sheep, he took revenge on his mentor, and he's not a wolf.
- In Kick-Ass, two characters become superheroes: the title character because he wants to help people... and in a straighter version of this trope, Big Daddy because he was frustrated with his marriage and thought his life was boring. He even creates a fake Back Story to enhance his new identity.
- This is the basic idea of Wanted, both the original comic and the movie adaptation. The protagonist is a loser guy who becomes a badass when he finds out he has a badass gene inherited from a father he never knew. The comic book (but not the movie) also attempts to deconstruct this trope by scolding the reader for identifying with the main character, who's essentially a violent sociopath. Perhaps not coincidentally, Wanted was written by Mark Millar, the same guy who also wrote Kick-Ass.
- Cyril, the bellringer mouse from the Redwall fic The Urthblood Saga has as his life's ambition to become a warrior someday, resenting his status as a lowly abbey novice and feeling as if his elders will always treat him like a child. While he becomes somewhat less enthusastic about the idea and more accepting of his place after his younger brother Cyrus just barely survives being wounded by a visiting soldier, he still has it as his ultimate goal.
- Demon King Daimao fanfic Keena & the Defendants of Constan Academy has this happen to usual Damsel in Distress Keena, who not only wants friends (due to the remaining characters being Put on a Bus), but also wants to find herself useful in combat. Turns out she actually is skilled in combat. Chapter 6 reveals that she actually has trained and learned to fight, but never got the opportunity to do so.
- Megami No Hanabira: Sara wants to be badass for someone other than herself: her girlfriend Kaede got hurt protecting her from a demon, and Sara wants to learn to protect herself so Kaede doesn't have to push herself too far for her.
- In Tangled, Flynn Rider modeled himself on a fictional character, an adventurer, The Charmer, and rich enough that he could do anything and go anywhere. Which explains Flynn's career as a thief.
- In How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup wants to be acknowledged and respected by his village, as well as his father and the girl he crushes on. He does achieve all of this, but not in the way he expected.
- Po Ping, the title character of Kung Fu Panda has spent most of his life wishing to be a legendary kung fu master like his idols, the Furious Five. That wish ends up being granted inadvertently and he's forced to grow into the role of being a badass, but ultimately succeeds.
- In Condorman, comic book writer Woodrow Wilkins insists on everything he writes being as realistic as possible. Therefore, he attempts to build and test all of the gadgets that his titular superhero will utilize. This dogged insistence on verisimilitude leads him to jump at the chance to go on a real spy mission, which leads him straight into a Defector from Commie Land plot and forces him to finally grow up a bit.
- The protagonist of Kung Fu Hustle has been trying to be one since he was bullied as a boy by older kids. In his mind, this means to join the baddest gang in China. He finally gets his wish, but only after a HeelFace Turn and a pummelling by the Beast "unblocks his chi", resulting in him becoming the greatest kung-fu master in history.
- A subplot in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed is Shaggy and Scooby tired of being The Load of the gang and trying to be real detectives,
- Deconstructed in Triad Election: Jet believes being feared by everyone is what will get him noticed in the Hong Kong underworld, many of which includes assassinations from Chairman Lok of the Wo Shing Wo. Unfortunately, it's the only thing he's good for; it's implied Jet has been in hiding for so long because of all the hits he's being doing for Lok, making it unlikely for him to climb the ladder and be a legitimate candidate for Chairman in the future (which Lok promises), let alone a promotion. Lampshaded by one of the "Uncles" of Wo Shing in the climax of the sequel, who's never heard of this lowly foot soldier.
- Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a villainous example. He models himself after Darth Vader, his grandfather, and considers himself his successor, but secretly feels inadequate due to his (relatively) weak Force powers and struggles with the "temptation" of returning to the light side. Eventually he kills Han Solo, his father, believing this will give him the clarity he needs and prove his resolve to both himself and his master, Supreme Leader Snoke. It doesn't.
- Paul in Duumvirate. His best friends are Transhuman badasses, and he desperately wants to keep up.
- Nevere Burvelle, the protagonist of The Soldier Son by Robin Hobb, is this. He's raised to be an Officer and a Gentleman, goes through Training from Hell... and in the end is thwarted by magic that makes him grossly obese. He grows into something quite non-traditional, but clearly not the badass he (and his dad) expected. Thus, Nevere is a subversion (or, if it's his Wanting To Be Badass that causes his being thwarted, he is a deconstruction) of the trope.
- Nevare never had much of a choice. As the second son, he was (by religious doctrine) always meant to be the soldier of the family. The ending of the first book, however, shows that he was well on his way to being badass and the potential was solidified even more throughout the rest of the series, thanks to his Trainer From Hell.
- An (in)famous episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where wimpy, nerdy Jonathan had an attack of this trope and used a spell to turn himself into a full-blown Marty Stu. Buffy being, well, about Buffy, obviously this couldn't last.
- After his infamous fall from grace in season 4 onwards, Spike has a interesting case of "I just want to be badass again". In the season 5 episode crush, he gets close to accomplishing this when Drusilla invites him to terrorise the globe with her again. This being Spike however, it doesn't last until even the end of the episode, and he ends up even more pathetic than before as a result.
- Joxer from Xena: Warrior Princess lives and breathes this trope. Aphrodite even grants his wish in one episode.
- In The Riches, little old lady Nina wants to run away from her pampered mundane suburban life to live a life of excitement and danger as a travelling con-artist.
- In Smallville, this is their interpretation of the Wonder Twins and Booster Gold.
- The Walking Dead: Andrea is this in Season 1 and the first part of Season 2. By the end of Season 2, however, she can actually hold her own against a surprising amount of walkers before hitting the ground exhausted. Unfortunately, this is dropped early on in Season 3 after she becomes the Governrs slu - erm, partner. She spends the rest of the season trying to prove herself as a powerful, diplomatic leader in Woodbury. She has moments, but overall, no one really takes her seriously, and her actions throughout the season - such as abandoning Michonne for a stranger and repeatedly defending the Governor despite knowing about his unstable tendencies - cause her to be labelled as The Scrappy by most fans. Eventually, all of her indecision and poor choice in loyalty culminate in her death.
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Mac brags about being a badass constantly as well as knowing karate which he doesn't. Mac also likes his Action Heroes muscular and tough-looking and not just for the obvious reasons, though that too. However he's too much of a Dirty Coward to fulfill this fantasy of his and live up to his claims.
- Kasumi of Samurai Gourmet deconstructs this. He's just trying to enjoy his retirement, and the obstacles to this are usually no more than social awkwardness. Still, when those obstacles arise, it cues the Indulgent Fantasy Segue where a Sengoku ronin shows him how a real samurai would handle the situation. This tends to inspire him toward action, but not always all the way, since real life is real life.
- Parodied in the song "Girl All The Bad Guys Want" by Bowling for Soup
- Johnny Cash song Folsom Prison Blues, where the protagonist has shot a man in Reno "just to watch him die".
- Also Don't Take Your Guns to Town by same artist, which song ends in tragedy.
- Deconstructed in Immortal Technique's song "Dance With the Devil."
- Deconstructed with Solid Snake in Metal Gear. Snake is badass all right, but at tremendous cost to his own life. He is cynical, bitter, jaded, has a massive case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is so level-headed that many would consider him inhumanly emotionless, is controlled and manipulated by his superiors, and exists as a puppet. Even his free will is brought into question, with Liquid alleging he is controlled by his genes. Unfortunately, this trope is so pervasive that many people who played Metal Gear Solid completely missed the point and saw Solid Snake as the ultimate action hero badass and desperately wanted to be him... which resulted in...
- ...Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2, an even more savage deconstruction of this trope than Solid Snake. As an audience proxy character whom the player is encouraged to identify with, he essentially serves as a living lecture to the audience against wanting to be badass by, at the start of his portion of the game, first failing miserably at being badass and then being harassed by his girlfriend because of his emotional distance (a common trait of badassery). Then, in the later portion of the game, it is revealed that he is exceptionally badass. Unfortunately the circumstances through which his badassery was generated were so excruciatingly traumatic that only a complete masochist would want to undergo them. Finally, when the audience gets their wish to be badass fulfilled, the game begins demolishing the fourth wall and reminding the players that they are playing a video game and hence are not really badass at all. During the game, several events and situations occur that directly copy (or are obviously analogous to) segments of the original Metal Gear Solid, further forcing the players to ask themselves whether or not they truly wish to be like Solid Snake (because being like Snake would not be nice, fun, heroic or awesome). If that weren't bleedingly obvious enough, the game's plot involves the entire game being a simulation of the events of the original game, designed to turn the player-character into Solid Snake!.
- Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy VII is a deconstruction of this trope as well (in addition to attacking the audience for having this wish in the first place). Cloud so wanted to be badass that he deluded himself into living in a fantasy world where he was an elite super-soldier, all to impress the ladies. The revelation of this delusion resulted in a cataclysmic nervous breakdown as well as having to save the world from an Omnicidal Maniac. Unlike with Raiden, the audience does eventually get its Wish Fulfillment.
- Cloud is at his most badass when hes not trying to be.
- Mocked in a frequently forwarded webcomic stereotyping the three major current gen console users:
- I Wanna Be the Guy.
- This is the reason Hammer from Xenogears eventually turns evil. In the end he's practically the only one on your team who isn't superpowered in some way, and this weighs heavily upon him.
- Deconstructed in both Mass Effect 1 and 2 by both Corporal Jenkins and Conrad Verner. In the case of Jenkins, he has a highly romanticized image of what it means to be a soldier, and when he actually goes on the first major mission in the game, he's gunned down and killed in minutes. In the case of Conrad Verner, he's more played for laughs and is a Take That! of the players.
- Carver from Dragon Age II. He suffers from a massive inferiority complex due to his twin sister having magic, and his older sibling either also being a Mage or just a better fighter than he is. Much of his interactions with the other party members revolve around him (rather unsuccessfully) trying to prove he can be more than just Hawke's kid brother. Depending on the player's choices, these issues can get either better or worse as the story progresses.
- In two of the game's Downloadable Content, he can serve as a Guest-Star Party Member, and is generally Older and Wiser. Carver may even say that he misses adventuring with Hawke, and be confidant enough to explicitly patronize his older brother/sister.
- The whole game deconstructs this audience desire (as well as the concept of the Big Bad). Yes, Hawke becomes insanely badass, to the point of being an in-universe Memetic Badass, but s/he is also partially responsible (inadvertently) for some of the most disastrous events in the plot, and may lose everything s/he has fought for and everyone s/he cares about.
- This is the defining trait of the Chaos Hero from Shin Megami Tensei I; having been bullied and abused all his life, he just wants to gain enough power to stand on his own and not have to rely on anyone, even if he has to sacrifice his humanity to get there. This is a core principle of the chaos alignment - survival of the strongest.
- The Kingdom Hearts series has Riku, who swung this way in his younger days. He just wanted to be strong enough to protect his friends. Ten years later, growing dreams of glory and adventure made him swing more towards I Just Want to Be Special.
- Deconstructed in Spec Ops: The Line. In a similar vein to the aforementioned Cloud Strife above, Capt. Martin Walker, the Player Character, is told by Col. John Konrad who is actually personification of his own guilt over actions he's undertaken because of this need that trying to feed this desire through fiction is pathetic and delusional. Many of the relevant lines of dialog are implicitly aimed at the player as much as at Martin.
- Fire Emblem:
- Ross, Amelia, and Ewan from Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones are three youngsters who join an army of badasses with zero fighting experience themselves. All three of them begin very weak physically, and express a desire to better themselves. It's a rather known fact among the fandom that if you choose to train them, they become blessed with Magikarp Power and end up as freaking powerhouses. In short, Ross, Amelia, and Ewan are three cases of "I Just Want to Be Badass" who more than get their wish.
- Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and its sequel Radiant Dawn has Reyson, one of the very beautiful and very frail princes of the heron tribe. In his support conversations with the protagonist Ike, Reyson reveals that he at times despised himself for his inability to fight after the human nation Begnion massacred the heron tribe and all but destroyed their home, Serenes Forest. He was jealous of his caretaker, the immensely powerful king of the Hawk laguz tribe, Tibarn, and tried to toughen himself up by force so that he'd be able to one day take revenge on humans...only to make himself sick in the process. He mostly came to terms with his status as a Non-Action Guy, seeing as he is able to help out through singing his magical galdrs, which do things like heal allies, cure them of harmful conditions, and grant them Extra Turns.
- In RWBY, Jaune Arc is angry that he's Plucky Comic Relief and wants to be a great warrior like his legendary war-hero great-great grandfather. He at first rejects Pyrrha Nikos' offer to train him because he thinks if he can't succeed on his own then it doesn't count, but eventually relents. The training starts to have results, but he's still leagues below everybody else.
- Ironically, even though he isn't a great fighter, he still demonstrates a lot of tactical prowess - in Episode 8, he does a fantastic job of directing Pyrrha, Ren and Nora in their battle against the Deathstalker, taking advantage of their skills and personal strengths to methodically take the scorpion monster apart. This is in contrast to our plucky heroines on Team RWBY, who rely on one of Ruby's Indy Ploys and a lot of Teeth-Clenched Teamwork. He's also a Nice Guy with a kind heart, who is willing to step up and protect not only his teammates but even horrible people who antagonise him. Jaune is a badass, it's just he undervalues himself due to his lack of physical prowess.
- Tedd in El Goonish Shive. Especially after he felt weak about something far worse than a school bully. His attempts look less badass and more adorable than he'd like to. But at the same time he tries to circumvent his powerless status and back from the foreshadowing dream we know he can accept becoming more like his apparently Evil Overlord counterpart in Alternate Universe, if he needs this to fight back.
- Agni in The Witch's Throne. Her physical abilities are not enough to help her friend Grom in battle, and she wishes she could become stronger to help him fight.
- In Thalia's Musings, Thalia speculates that this is her sister Calliope's reason for dating Ares, the Pantheon's resident Dumb Muscle. That, and Ares is hot.
- The Art Of Manliness recognizes and deconstructs this trope. It gives advice to men about what it means to be masculine/badass while deflating some of the more immature ideas some have about being manly.
- Tuffy Smurf of The Smurfs wants to be just like Hefty Smurf, and will prove himself to be like him constantly by doing some daring things that usually put the other Smurfs in danger.
- Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender is revealed to be this when, in a season three episode, he admits to feeling incredibly weak and unimportant alongside the others in the group.
- Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is motivated by this, most commonly demonstrated by her desire to join the Wonderbolts, an elite team of fliers. This is despite the fact that she's part of a group that is regularly called upon to save the world, and the filly Scootaloo wants to be just like her when she grows up.
- Pulverizer in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), he wanted to be a ninja like the turtles, but he stinks at it that he can't even do a descent move right and was too lazy to try training to improve his skills or physique. He managed to join the Foot Clan who use him as Cannon Fodder, and then he thought he could be like the turtles by dousing himself with mutagen, instead he became a horrible blob monster so in a way he got what he wanted.
- You, me and everyone else wants to become a badass too.
- Unless you truly are badass.
- Military recruiters have a tendency to use this to their advantage.
- Anyone who has ever dreamed of, let alone, tried, skydiving. Ever.
- This came up A LOT when commentators were trying to interpret George Zimmerman's motivations after he killed Trayvon Martin.
- Some people who take up sports have this trope in their mindset by proving to others how much of a badass they are through competition. This is especially prominent in sports like MMA or boxing, where one gets to prove their badass creds by defeating another in combat.