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It's Personal

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"In all my years of conquest... violence... slaughter... it was never personal. But I'll tell you now, what I'm about to do to your stubborn, annoying little planet — I'm going to enjoy it. Very, very much."
Thanos, Avengers: Endgame

Protagonists and antagonists are always fighting each other. It is generally accepted that there could be a few deaths, injuries, psychological trauma, and physical destruction over the course of their struggles in a story. However, sometimes motives can run deeper than simply the other person having opposing goals, and "struggles" can hit far closer to home and heart than is comfortable.

Family members (or even entire races, countries, and cultures) may have been decimated, either as part of a character's backstory or during the story itself. Homes may have been burned down, and lifelong dreams may have been crushed. However you put it, though, somebody's embarrassed, saddened, angry, or let down, and they believe somebody (most times they know who they want to exact retribution from, by the way) has to pay for it.

In short, this is where a character (or characters) has a very close, emotional investment in the story's conflict.

The Targeted to Hurt the Hero and Friendly Target tropes are invariably a setup for this. War Comes Home takes this idea and applies it an entire warring regime, especially if the hero's hometown is attacked by said conflict.

Usually eventually leads to "Not So Different" Remark. For a more specific form of this, see You Killed My Father. Often enough, This Means War!. If this is the impetus for the hero going on the journey to begin with, it's because The Call Knows Where You Live. When done to their home or base, the hero will usually take a moment to Watch Troy Burn. If the one for whom It's Personal finally gets to stare down the one who made it personal, expect an And This Is for... beatdown.

The Disposable Woman is a character who exists only to make It's Personal happen. When it gets personal, characters insist they must work alone.

One common variant is to order/trick allies aside to set up a one-on-one duel without interference. This can be risky, but the avenger wouldn't risk anyone else getting hurt—or someone stealing his precious right to do that particular kill himself!

If a character has this as his primary motivation rather than as part of another quest, then he's Not in This for Your Revolution.

Has nothing to do with "It" Is Dehumanizing.

It's Personal with the Dragon is a specific subtrope. Compare Berserk Button, when whatever personal thing committed elicits a sudden reaction from the person wronged or offended. Contrast when it's Nothing Personal, or at least the character(s) claim it's not.

The invocation of this trope in Real Life on the internet is almost the moment when any given Flame War or bout of Ship-to-Ship Combat becomes Serious Business, leading to behaviors such as cyberbullying and real-life harassment, because belief/feeling that an issue is a personal affront to someone or their "in-group" is often "justification" for engaging in such behavior.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Films — Animation 
  • The Bad Guys (2022):
    • When Governor Diane Foxington derides the gang on a live broadcast, Mr. Wolf plans to extract revenge by stealing the Good Samaritan Award, the Golden Dolphin, during its ceremony the next day. Both second-in-command Mr. Snake and (unwittingly) Diane warn Mr. Wolf making things personal is a bad idea, but Mr. Wolf proceeds anyway. Naturally, the gang is caught.
    • In the follow-up short Maraschino Ruby, the police chief tries to invoke this by insulting the gang in a newspaper interview regarding the ruby. Mr. Wolf, who has matured since the events of the film, sees right through it.
  • In Epic (2013), Mandrake really gives his all in defeating the Leafmen after one of them kills his son.
  • In Kung Fu Panda 2, Po slowly discovers that the Big Bad he's trying to stop happens to be responsible for massacring most of his species. Subverted in that he spends most of the movie trying to get answers about this, but ultimately lets it go and attains inner peace. In addition, every villain in the series, including the aforementioned one, has some kind of personal stake in their motives.
  • In Penguins of Madagascar, this is Dave's motive for revenge against cute animals, as he feels their cuteness stole his fans from the various zoos and parks where he performed in.
  • Scooby-Doo in Where’s My Mummy?: Fred considers it personal when the curse of Cleopatra (presumably) turns Velma to stone.
  • Averted in Tarzan when Tarzan fights with Sabor. He does not yet know that Sabor had killed his birth parents or Kerchek and Kala's son, so the fight between them has more meaning than he realizes.
  • In Toy Story 2, Woody fights Stinky Pete after seeing him punch Buzz Lightyear.

  • Episode four of Mystery Show has Starlee solving a mystery for herself (and her friend Miranda).


    Tabletop Games 
  • This happens frequently in Battletech, usually as the prelude to a Roaring Rampage of Revenge:
    • When Anton Marik tried to hold Jaime Wolf's family (including his brother, and Natasha Kerensky's lover) hostage to induce the mercenary leader to integrate his regiments into Anton's collapsing forces, then killed said family, the entirety of the Dragoons went apeshit. They all stopped what they were doing and switched sides on the spot. Kerensky took it one further. She and her independent company went to Anton's capital and directly assaulted his fortress — even going through a friggin' forest fire that Anton had deliberately set to halt them. She then stomped on the fortress with her Warhammer until the roof caved in.
    • The Dragoons again: When Jaime Wolf was killed during the assault on Outreach at the beginning of The Jihad, The Dragoons instituted "Code Feral", which was a protocol where the other mercenary units were given one, and only one, opportunity to stand down or be wiped out along with the units responsible for Wolf's death.
    • Grayson Carlyle killed Harmandar Singh, the man who killed his father, in a duel at the end of Decision at Thunder Rift.
  • In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, every shapechanger hates vampires to one level or another. However for the Silent Strider tribe of werewolves, their history includes an ancient ungodly powerful vampire who placed a curse on them, banishing them from their homeland of Egypt. Since that time, they've nurtured a burning hatred of all things bloodsucking.

  • In the musical 1776, Lewis Morris of New York always abstained (courteously!) because the New York legislature never gave him instructions about what to do or how to vote or even whether the colony was pro or anti independence. Then toward the end, as they're ratifying and signing the Declaration of Independence, Morris finds out from George Washington that the British army had destroyed his home, his wife and most of his children fled to Connecticut, and his oldest sons were now in the Continental Army fighting the British.
    Morris: To hell with New York! I'll sign [the Declaration of Independence] anyway!
  • Rock of Ages: The villainous Moral Guardian wants rock-and-roll music banned because she was dumped by a rockstar years ago.
  • In Wicked, Boq, or the Tin Man, states outright in "March of the Witch Hunters" that he's part of the group hunting the Wicked Witch (Elphaba) because he has a score to settle.
    Tin Man: And this is more than just a service to the Wizard. I have a personal score to settle with El... with The Witch! It's due to her I'm made of tin / Her spell made this occur / So for once I'm glad I'm heartless / I'll be heartless killing her!

    Visual Novels 
  • Spirit Hunter: NG:
    • While she was already dedicated to saving Ami, Kaoru holds a personal grudge against the Urashima Woman for cancelling her concert, and then killing one of her fans.
    • Ban's reasoning for investigating spirits turn out to be much more personal than for the money - his son was killed by one, and in hunting down the killer he realized his desire to expose all the dark secrets that spirits possess.
    • The reason Ooe's so rash during the Killer Peach case is that her family were killed in the fire covered up by Killer Peach's victims.
  • In Virtue's Last Reward, while Akane engineered the events of the game to ostensibly save humanity from Radical-6, she's also out for revenge against Brother.
    • The same goes for the prequel, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. The reason for the murders during the game is because Akane wanted to manipulate the man responsible for killing her in another timeline into murdering his accomplices. Wow, Akane Kurashiki can be really vindictive...

    Web Animation 
  • DEATH BATTLE!: In Ghost Rider vs Lobo, Johnny had come for the Main Man on business. It's only once he had been crushed into a building, eaten alive, then dogpiled on by several Lobo clones that he allowed Zarathos loose who took it very personally.
  • RWBY:
    • Adam Taurus is psychotically obsessed with hunting down Blake for abandoning him during the Black Trailer. This vendetta eventually costs him everything he has, and he goes to his grave blaming Blake for his own flaws and mistakes.
    • Cinder at first sees Ruby and her team as nothing more than more of Ozpin's chess-pieces, but after she's badly maimed by Ruby, her mental stability takes a long-term hit. Killing Ruby becomes one of Cinder's top priorities, causing her to take excessive risks and jeopardise the villains' plans.
    • For most of Volume 4-5, Jaune has a very personal enmity with Cinder that goes above and beyond any of the other heroes' hatred of her, because Cinder murdered Pyrrha and this left Jaune devastated.
    • Hazel is normally composed, but sees red whenever he knowingly comes face-to-face with Ozpin. This is because he holds Ozpin accountable for the death of his sister on a Beacon training mission after having failed to prevent her entry to the school in the first place. After being broken by Salem's Complete Immortality, Hazel came to view Ozpin as a child-murderer for sending an endless stream of adolescents to fight against a supposedly invincible villain.
    • In the Origins Episode for Ozpin and Salem, the God of Darkness makes it clear that he will take people using his gifts against him very personally. When Salem leads humanity in rebellion against the gods, The God of Darkness captures all the magic cast at him in one hand, declaring "my own gift to them used against me". This triggers him into wiping out the human race, leaving Salem alone in her immortality on an empty planet. He makes it clear to her that this was because she thought she couldn't be punished any more than the gods had already done. When she still tries issuing orders to them as they depart, he chastises her for making demands of her creators and smashes the moon as he departs to emphasise his point.
    • Tyrian has attracted lots of grudges among the heroes over the course of his murderous career. Although Qrow has a score to settle for having been poisoned by him, things become very personal in Volume 7 when Tyrian frames him for murder. By killing Clover with Qrow's blade, Tyrian kills a close friend and frames him.
    • Once Ironwood learns that Arthur Watts, whom he knew from the latter's days as one of Ironwood's elite scientists, faked his death and has joined Salem, he personally seeks out Watts himself to confront him. Watts in turn reveals that he has a grudge against Ironwood for elevating Pietro and his project over Watts' own and then being disgraced by him.
    • The Ace Ops initially spent most of Volume 7 on amicable or outright friendly terms with Team RWBY and JNR whilst they're defending Atlas and Mantle together. After the extent of Team RWBY's secret-keeping has been revealed and RWBY have turned on Ironwood, it's pretty clear that some of the Ace Ops, particularly Elm, are taking all this to heart as a betrayal when they subsequently come to blows with the team.

  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja:
    • It comes admixed with a Badass Boast.
      Doc: Rayner, you killed my mentor, and you kidnapped my sidekick. I met Death himself last night, and he's going to follow me all the way to your house. You made it personal.
    • Played with later when the Doc is facing down Rayner and tries to remember the cool thing he said about meeting Death earlier, but can't get the phrasing right, so he just gets down to kicking his ass instead.
  • In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures, Kria points out that Dan's rivalry with Dark Pegasus is not that personal, but that his hatred for Regina definitely is.
  • In The Dreamland Chronicles, Nicodemus to Alex, for the scar.
  • Homestuck:
    • Even though the trope isn't played straight by any means, it's said in these pages we get one from Doc Scratch after Spades Slick breaks Vriska's God Tier clock, leaving it stuck on 'Just':
      Doc Scratch: Slick, I can tolerate many things from a guest. Curt manners. Egregious womanizing. Murdering the help. Casual arson. Even atrocious candy bowl etiquette. But it is the desecration of a priceless timepiece where I must draw the line. I'm afraid I must now insist that you take your beating quite personally.
    • Later actually played straight when John has a rematch with Bec Noir in the dream bubbles, ostensibly because he's just remembered, through the dream bubble's projection, the scene of the murders of Dad, Mom, and Rose, as well as his own second death.
  • I Don't Want This Kind of Hero: In the 'pet shop' arc, everyone is pissed off at one of the criminals, but Sasa is the only one who has seen from Guineung how deeply scarred the victims can be and this is why he secretly murders the criminal in question. More generally, the fight against Knife is also very personal for him: Songha used to be his teammate, and Knife is responsible for the deaths of his first team.
  • In Looking for Group we learn that if you failed to kill the target personally, the next best thing is to resurrect him so you can kill him personally one second later. Bonus Kick the Dog points if you claim intention to do it over and over!
  • Subverted in The Order of the Stick. Roy pursues Xykon due to an oath of revenge, but not for his sake. His father swore the oath after his mentor was killed by Xykon, but was too lazy to pursue it and handed it to Roy who tries to fulfill it out of duty — but after he dies and spends some time in heaven with his father Roy begins to actively hate his father. He keeps pursuing Xykon, though, because he feels that saving the world is a lot more important than spitefully trying to anger his father.
  • Pranger's Bangers during the "Resident Mad Scientist" arc in Schlock Mercenary. Kevyn describes them as having "a grudge and a contract"...which overlap. The problem is eventually solved with a spot of Time Travel (incidental to solving a completely different problem).
  • Subverted in Sluggy Freelance. Torg is all set to kill Lord Horribus for killing Alt-Zoe. But, at the last second, he decides saving the world is more important, and settles for knocking Horribus down a steep hill instead. And it's revealed he wasn't exactly trying to "make him pay" — he wanted to make up for failing to keep her safe as he had promised.
  • Trevor (2020): While she was fairly blasé about suspecting Dr. Maddison being the cause of Trevor’s sudden death, once she realizes he is the one who set the stage for Trevor’s escape & murderous rampage, Enid wants to leave the safe room, and almost certainly get killed by Trevor, to hunt down and kill Dr. Maddison.

    Web Original 
  • Fetus and Acrylic's motivations for taking down Mega-Corp in Next Breed of Thief. The former's parents were killed and harvested for biological materials; the latter was basically a guinea pig for cyborg enhancements.

    Web Videos 
  • Crossed Lines: Killian Hargrave, the guy who runs the Masonry Bridge scrapyard, really wants to see Ember scrapped. The reason? His family was on the train she crashed.
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Doctor Horrible's rivalry with Captain Hammer is more or less a fact of life for the both of them, with the Doctor trying to take down Hammer with nonlethal means, and getting thoroughly pounded on every time by the Captain. When Hammer announces to Horrible that he's going to sleep with Penny "just because you want her," it gets personal. The normally pacifistic Doctor upgrades his Stun Ray to a Death Ray, and makes his intentions quite clear with his next song:
    It's a brand new day, and the sun is high
    All the birds are singing that you're gonna die!
  • Noob:
    • The webseries version has Gaea, usually a Dirty Coward, temporarily refuses Ivy and Couette's help in fighting Master Zen in Season 3 finale, because the latter broke into her appartment in real life and framed her the previous Wham Episode events.
    • The novel version has Coalition defector Töne Förk want to kill the Coalition Tyrant Takes the Helm Lorth Kordigän because the latter's men killed his parents.
  • The Nostalgia Critic openly admits that, while the show Doug is "pretty lame", the reason he openly and unabashedly hates it is because it came out when he, having the same first name, was in school and he took flak for it from other students. Of course, it's largely Played for Laughs.
  • Played for Laughs in Vision of Escaflowne Abridged. It takes Hitomi getting kidnapped for Van to say this....
    Allen: Wait, this is crossing the line? Going over to Zaibach, invading Fanelia and Freid, killing your mentor, kidnapping and drugging you. All that stuff was cool, but this is eternal vengeance territory?
    Van: Is there a problem with that?
    Allen: Just making sure I understand you.

    Real Life 
  • Happens a lot in siege warfare. Sieges can get really brutal, especially if they drag on for long periods of time, and a lot of it has to do with the knowledge that all your friends who were injured or killed aren't the fault of some generic foe, but of this specific unit.


Video Example(s):


Expecting A Happy Ending?

After Bugs' trick is revealed, Elmer becomes enraged and unleashes the full power of his magic helmet on Bugs with intent to kill. He succeeds, but comes to regret it.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (23 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheBadGuyWins

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