In shows that involve fighting, the sharper the weapon, the less likely its user will hit a character with it.
It's far more common to see a character hit by a blunt weapon than with an edged or pointy one. This is most likely because swords, spears, axes, arrows, and chainsaws cause bleeding and leave visible scars. The only externally visible damage done by maces, warhammers, and quarterstaves is bruising, lumps, or the occasional cartoonish black eye. In either case, even if blunt weapons do as much damage as the sharp ones would, they will do it more cleanly.
In reality, of course, blunt instruments can splinter bone, smash cartilage, dislodge eyeballs and reduce internal organs to pulp - sometimes even through armor. They're weapons, after all. It's merely that sharpness invokes our childhood safety intuitions about what will easily break skin and cause blood loss. It's more intuitively plausible that a character hit very hard by something blunt might emerge with only a bruised rib and be capable of re-entering the fight. Much of this comes down to the Rule of Perception; an attack that causes mostly internal injury is more likely to pass by the audience.
Characters with Improbable Aiming Skills and Ludicrous Mêlée Accuracy can use their abilities to pull off unlikely feats of skill like a Knife Outline or Blasting It Out of Their Hands. But they can never use those tricks to harm enemies.
This rule has the secondary benefit of drawing out battles, especially duels. A powerful, sharp, lethal weapon can end a battle with one stroke — and if that happens, then the fight scene is over. If the attacks are more comedic or show less damage, then combatants can land dozens of hits without the audience wondering "Why hasn't he fallen down yet?" In a battle between a sharp blade and a blunt weapon, if the blade is going to win, then expect a long series of blocks and dodging before any strikes land (this is often the highly stereotyped Flynning).
This rule doesn't apply when the fighters being hit are robots, skeletons, non-humanoid aliens, or any of the other categories found under What Measure Is a Non-Human?. Compare As Lethal as It Needs to Be, Could Have Been Messy, Family-Friendly Firearms, Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality, and Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight. Annoying Arrows have a different problem - they hit pretty often, but they still don't do anything.
- Rurouni Kenshin loves this one. Kenshin, who uses a sword with a blunt curved side, and Sano, who uses his fists, reliably land far more significant blows than sword-wielding foes.
- Taken to an extreme in Dragon Ball Z. Krillin's Destructo Disc attack can, unlike pretty much every other attack used against stronger opponents, cut through anything... but missed damn near every single time it was used. And even on the rare occasion when it did hit, it still managed to suck for him:
- First, he managed to barely nick Nappa's face. Nappa responded by beating him senseless.
- Later, he managed to cut off the tip of Frieza's tail... but A) Frieza had him so far outclassed that it took a swarm of discs to land a single lucky hit, and B) once again, all this really did was annoy his opponent. Krillin was blown to smithereens for his insolence shortly afterwards.
- Finally, a brief anime-only scene has him getting a full-on hit with it on the new Perfect Cell. In the neck, no less! Cell doesn't even notice.
- And as if all that weren't humiliating enough, several other characters copy his attack after seeing it, and when they use it, it actually hits something. Vegeta, for example, uses it to cut off Gohan's tail, Goku uses it to cut Buu in half... Not that this did anything... hell, even Frieza manages to incorporate a homing function! Although, the only thing he manages to hit with it is himself, so maybe the attack really is cursed...
- Similarly, this is possibly the reason why Future Trunks doesn't bother reforging his sword after it's chipped. Toriyama must've had an easier time drawing hand-to-hand combat.
- Let's examine Lyrical Nanoha. Energy attacks and bullets meant to deal Magical Damage? Effective as demonstrated by Nanoha, and to a lesser extent Teana, who both have some of the best "befriending" count in the series. Blunt weapons? Not quite as effective, but at least they hit often as shown by Vita and Subaru, and sometimes by Fate and Signum when they use unarmed attacks or the flat of their blades. Sharp weapons? The only time they're shown fully hitting someone who wasn't Undead or Mecha-Mooks was when Signum killed Zest. All the other times, they hit cloth, Deflector Shields, or weapons. An attempt to avoid this may be why Signum didn't get into as many battles as the other Captains and Vice-Captains in the third season. As she's shown to not be averse to killing, her missing a lot would have made her look incompetent.
- Lupin III: How much Goemon uses his sword on people versus objects depends on the tone of the work. The the manga had him and any other blade-wielder cutting down pretty much everyone they fight. Some of the anime follow suits, while some never allow more than Defeat by Modesty. Goemon's famous catchphrase is "Once again I have cut a worthless object.", which depending on the context can be a Lampshade Hanging or a subversion (i.e. implying this his opponents' bodies are "worthless objects")
- In the OVA of Tales of Symphonia, Kratos never actually slashes Sheena with his sword, even though he gets more than one opportunity to do so. Instead, he just jabs her body with the hilt. Considering he was hired to guard who she was trying to kill, you'd think it would be something that Kratos would take seriously, and he wouldn't be screwing around.
- Sonic X played with this rather obscurely during an episode that saw Chris slashed across the chest by Black Narcissus. The dub changed this to knocking him unconscious and removed the short instance of blood, but without explaining precisely how something that sharp did not cut into him.
- Inverted in Claymore where clean amputations by bladed weapons are shown to heal with relative ease, and broken or crushed limbs are quite severe. Swords seem to hit most of the time.
- Karas: Used straight when Otoha is Karas, as the only living objects his sword gets used on are the semi-mechanical mikura demons. Then averted when human!Otoha goes up against a bunch of gun-toting mooks and slaughters them with extreme prejudice.
- World War Hulk: The Hulk has a shadowforged sword (an alien equivalent to adamantium). He never actually cuts anyone with it, and indeed misses intentionally.
- Wolverine's claws are, canonically, some of the sharpest non-magical things in all of existence. Whether he actually cuts PEOPLE with them seems to depend on whether or not it's relevant to the plot anymore, as he's lampshaded the fact that he's "mellowed" since joining the X-Men. Probably so he can appear in a wider variety of situations.
- Despite fighting the Legion of Super-Heroes, a team so populous that you can hardly throw a rock without hitting a teenage super-hero, Fatal Five's member Persuader finds it nearly impossible to hit one of them with his "Axe that can cut through anything".
- A Hollow in Equestria: Ulquiorra is deadly accurate with his sword when he determines that an opponent is worth the effort of actually drawing it.
- Averted in The 13th Warrior. Helfdane takes a substantial blow to his chest from a warhammer. Though the armor plate he wears shows no damage, the wound eventually proves fatal (or would have).
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. Nunchucks, all the time. Bo, smack 'em up. Improvised weapons, lots of it. Sais, not so much, and Leonardo doesn't even get to draw his pair of katanas the ENTIRE SECOND MOVIE.
- Though not an animated show, Jack of All Trades used this trope quite extensively, to the point where nearly every sword fight (and there were a lot of them) was ended not with a stab wound, but with a punch to the face.
- Inverted in Stargate SG-1 where the Jaffa use a projectile staff energy weapon which has very low accuracy. They also have a gun-like hand-held weapon that stuns, kills, then vaporizes and is permitted to be accurate only because of those reasons. Jack O'Neill justifies this to a group of Jaffa in the fifth season.
O'Neill: [holding a Jaffa staff] This is a weapon of terror. It is meant to intimidate the enemy. [holding a P90] This is a weapon of war. It is meant to kill your enemy.
- Power Rangers only had sharp objects come into play when the Rangers were fully morphed. Rather than slicing, weapons sent up a shower of sparks and sometimes burnt patches appeared on the Ranger's outfits. Still, even this unrealistic level of violence was enough to get the show Bowdlerized.
- Xena: Warrior Princess has lots of sharp edges being brandished and used in fights, often with deadly intent, yet Mooks die a-plenty without any actual blood being shed. Xena's chakram also knocks people down without lopping off any arms and legs. And is that dirty great sword at her back just for show?
- A rare case of this happening with an inhuman cast: BIONICLE in its early years was generally pretty shy about showing Toa using their equipment to actually hit their enemies. Slashing their way through solid objects was okay, as was using their tools to channel their elemental powers, but not actually striking a living opponent. In its case, the worry was not about drawing blood, but about them being seen as "weapons" at all; Lego was very insistent that the characters used "Toa Tools" and that the tools not be used against other living beings. Later years saw this restriction fall by the wayside.
- Very apparent in Avatar: The Last Airbender. In the first two series, Sokka hits quite a few mooks with his club and boomerang. After he gets a sword in series three, the only thing he cuts is some ropes, lots of things made out of metal, and a melon. This trope also appears in regard to Mai and Ty Lee - Mai uses knives, and specialises in not hitting the actual person, although this is intentional on her part. Ty Lee, on the other hand, fights unarmed and is very good at knocking out and paralysing her opponents. Also, Zuko's broadswords have never touched human skin, but he doesn't have a problem with slamming people against walls or lifting them with one hand by their necks.
- In W.I.T.C.H., despite numerous mooks, redshirts, and important secondary characters being armed with swords and axes, no sharp weapons ever make contact with skin. Maces and quarterstaves are another matter.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Michaelangelo and Donatello wield nunchaku and a bo staff respectively, and so hit baddies left, right, and centre. Leonardo and Raphael are armed with dual ninjatos and a pair of sais, with the result that Leo just cuts inanimate objects, and Raph does...not much at all. Ironically, since staves and nunchaku are much easier to obtain, this led to much more violence among children imitating Mike and Don. This eventually resulted in Mike trading in his nunchakus for a grappling hook.
- Ironically, use of the pommel as a blunt weapon is within correct use of sai, something which TMNT does not address often if at all. Not to mention that sai aren't actually sharp in the first place.
- The 2003 TMNT cartoon almost averted Leonardo's "cuts only inanimate stuff" by beheading the Shredder. Then we find out his real head is a little further south. No, not like that, the armor is actually empty, controlled by a tiny alien in the chestpiece.
- The epitome of this comes into play in an early episode when Leonardo is directly behind the leader of the Purple Dragons, who is busy fighting Raph. He could stab the guy and kill him easily, but instead, he leaps up 20 feet to cut down the stage lighting to knock him out.
- The 2012 reboot dilutes the issue by having the Kraang (a race of tiny aliens inside robotic bodies) as the major villains. This allows Leonardo and Raphael to use their edged weapons without causing much of a fuss from the Moral Guardians. However, they still become notably less accurate when facing human opponents.
- In Beware the Batman. This goes for the League of Assassins, who brandish sharp swords, but never seem to actually kill anyone with them.
- In any animated X-Men adaptation (X-Men: The Animated Series, X-Men: Evolution, Wolverine and the X-Men (2009) — excepting the movies and Hulk Vs., which averts this and Bloodless Carnage to a notable degree), Wolverine's fighting style seems to consist entirely of cutting enemy guns in half and then body tackling people. And doors. The man really hates doors. And walls. And ceilings. And support columns. Really, just architecture in general.
- Quite amusingly, The Legend of Zelda (1989) cartoon features Link using a magic sword exclusively as a projectile weapon (as if he had full hearts, it shoots out energy). He never swings it at anything, though he may have cut a vine or rope with it once.
- Averted wholesale in Generator Rex. Rex's sword/buzzsaw isn't just for show (the first time Van Kleiss shows up, he cleaves him in two with it!), and neither are Six's dual blades. One episode, in fact, has Dr. Holiday hack her way through the Amazonian jungle and hack the head off a nearby snake in cavalier fashion.
- In Batman Beyond, the assassin Curare owned a scimitar, sharpened by lasers to an edge no thicker than a molecule, and she damn sure knew how to use it, cutting everything from park benches, steel poles, and reinforced doors down! However, not a single person felt the steel of her blade.
- Thundarr the Barbarian's Sunsword is an interesting case. It cut through robots with ease, cut rock monsters into pebbles, and generally rendered any non-biological opponent or obstacle into manageable chunks. Faced with living opponents, he either wouldn't use the sword, would use the sword but miss by a lot, or used it, hit, and then shouted in dismay, "Demon dogs! It is immune to my Sunsword!"
- Samurai Jack:
- He only uses his sword to its full potential against robots and Aku, who seems to be made of pure evil and therefore has no blood. Whenever he fights a living being (not often) he somehow finds a way to not actually cut them, if he even uses his sword at all.
- Justified in Jack and the Traveling Creatures when Jack is facing The Guardian, who seems to be deliberately aiming for Jack's sword with his own, takes long and telegraphed windups when actually aiming for Jack's body, and not leading his shots when firing with a gun so Jack can outrun them. He's just toying with Jack, simultaneously enjoying the fight and urging Jack to give up and leave before things get serious, and it isn't until Jack wrecks his suit that he starts fighting for real. Once he starts taking the fight seriously, it's made pretty clear he could have ended Jack any moment he liked.
- Zig-zagged in Thunder Cats 2011. Bloodless Carnage is in full effect, but you see Lion-O (and, at times, Mumm-Ra or his generals) slashing through scores of enemies with his/their bladed weapons. Of course, said weapons are glowing with energy at the time, so you COULD say they're knock-out blows, but considering that the series started with the kingdom of Thundera getting destroyed and Never Say "Die" being averted whenever appropriate (including Lion-O falling off a cliff, drowning, ACTUALLY BEING DEAD but earning his way back to life) it's just as likely that the expected is happening.
- In Skysurfer Strike Force Sliced Ice and Skysurfer One both have swords. Ice's is metal alloy and can cast freezing attacks, but is rarely seen being used as a real sword. Sky's is a hilt that can project a flameblade, and literally can not hurt the bad guys; at one point, it goes right through Replicon without hurting him, although it cuts the jet he is in right in half. Replicon's guns (as big as he wants them) never seem to hit anything ever. Even when it's his head that's the gun.
- Norman in Mighty Max carries a very large sword that never seemed to hit anything with a working biology. It gets lampshaded pretty heavily in the episode "Day of the Cyclops". He loses the sword early on and spends most of the episode complaining about it. In the final battle, sword returned, he raises it up against the oncoming adversary and... throws him in a pit of fire. To quote Max "Wait a minute, after all that complaining about not having your sword, you didn't even use it? Why do you even bother with it, Normie?" His reason for carrying it? "I like it."
- A variation or inversion of this happens in Justice League Unlimited where Hawkgirl has a blunt mace that seems to be able to...cut things like gun turrets in two along a fine line the way a magical sword or supermans laser vision would have but if she hits humanoids it seems to just knock them out cold.
- Aquaman has a harpoon that he never skewers anyone on despite it being obviously pointy and often used in battle.