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Just Toying with Them

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"Do you mind? I just achieved enlightenment today, I'd rather not do anything violent."

Vegeta: Freak! Are you not taking this seriously?!
Perfect Cell: Should I be? I'm sorry, I thought we were still warming up.

This is when a more powerful character, likely villainous, decides to give a weaker character a "chance" to beat them somehow (not necessarily in combat) by setting limitations on themselves or holding back. They could agree to play a game with arbitrary rules, or they could hold back in battle to keep it entertaining. One thing's for sure, though: They have no intention of actually leveling the playing field and playing fair. They just think they can beat the other character with their hands tied behind their back. If it turns out they can't, or they get bored, they'll stop trying and just use more force.

It's a hard situation for the weaker character, who is pretty much at the other's mercy, but it can be a lot better than if the stronger character was going at full strength. The stronger character may get so arrogant the weaker actually has a chance of beating them before they realize it. Even though they're prepared to cheat, the rules may turn against them anyway. If they're holding back in a fight while the other is trying seriously, they might end up not being so much stronger after all due to the difference in effort. Or they might be distracted while a third party foils their plans right behind their back.

If the stronger character plays weak and reveals they're applying this trope only some time into the confrontation, it's a case of some form of I Am Not Left-Handed. But they might just be clearly the more powerful one from the start (or somewhat ambiguously but not hiding it) with the weaker party having no chance but to play along anyway.

The stronger character's motivation is most likely their own amusement, as in It Amused Me or even For the Evulz, but it's not impossible for there to be some more rational end (eg., if the stronger character is a Trickster Mentor).

The role of the more powerful character is well suited for a powerful Reality Warper, as "He snapped his fingers and won" would be a boring plot, but such powers give endless opportunities for toying with others.

Super-Trope to Excuse Me While I Multitask, Combat Uninterruptus and I Need You Stronger. For obvious reasons, tends to be a David Versus Goliath situation. Other tropes that may come up include Heroic Second Wind and Near-Villain Victory. Compare Willfully Weak, Complexity Addiction, Evil Gloating, My Defense Need Not Protect Me Forever, and Cherry Tapping, which all resemble this in different ways. A No-Nonsense Nemesis will not be caught doing this. In a fight, Curb-Stomp Battle is likely what would happen if the stronger character didn't hold back... and it might anyway. A Mercy Lead will be a form of this trope if it's intended to make no difference.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • Standard practice for most villains (and some heroes) when their power significantly eclipses that of their opponent. This often leads to their undoing, but not always.
    • Goku as a kid enjoyed toying with his opponents, but unlike the examples above including his adult self, there was no real malice behind it. To him, fighting was one big game and it's no fun if he just curb stomps everyone. He even referred to it as playing. He also tends to toy around because his full strength can easily kill most people. He knows, however, when to become serious, especially if he is mad. This can be seen most in his fight with Ninja Murasaki. Goku could have easily beaten the guy in minutes, but played with him, actually playing hide-and-seek and racing. Murasaki is so weak compared to Goku that it doesn't matter anyway and was one-shotted once Goku got serious.
    • When mad, Goku will toy with his opponents to show them just how out-matched they are. During the final leg of the Frieza fight, Goku stalked, belittled, and played mind games with Frieza, knowing that he was too weak to challenge him anymore. He also toyed with Nappa, just as he done to his friends before killing them. It also served a secondary purpose of making Nappa mad and therefore predictable. He also toyed with Fat Buu, but that was because he didn't want to beat him, wanting Trunks and Goten to do it.
    • Vegeta toyed with Goku during their first battle and almost got away with it since he was much stronger. Then Goku used his Kaioken X3, beat Vegeta up, and he didn't want to play anymore.
    • Frieza pretty much lived this trope. After going through many fights against the heroes and reaching his final form, he reveals to Goku he's only been using a fraction of his total power (1% in the dub) and proceeds to start using one third. This is more than enough to beat Goku silly, and at one point he briefly decides to give Goku a fighting chance by not using his hands. Once Goku goes Super Saiyan, however, Frieza stops playing around and convinces Goku to allow him to fight at full power. Unfortunately for him, his chance at victory has already flown out the window.
      • Goku even points out to Frieza why he's going to end up losing: having done nothing but toy with weaker opponents for nearly his entire life, when he actually goes all-out to fight Super Saiyan Goku, he's got little-to-no practice fighting an equal or superior opponent, and has such terrible endurance (especially by this point) that after only a short time at full power, he starts getting rapidly weaker.
    • Vegeta toying with Semi-Perfect Cell. Wouldn't have been a problem had he not allowed Cell to reach his perfect form so he'd be more challenging, though. Once Cell became perfect, he returned the favor to Vegeta.
    • Perfect Cell vs. Trunks. Trunks uses the beefed up Ultra Super Saiyan form to lay a decent beatdown on Cell, only for Cell to reveal the Mighty Glacier weakness of the technique and dodge every subsequent attack.
    • Gohan toying with Perfect Cell, which cost his father his life. In this case, Gohan is utterly consumed by the rage that triggered his Super Saiyan 2 transformation. While he could kill Cell with ease and knows it, he wants the monster to suffer first and thus draws it out. Which gives Cell time to self-destruct, which would've destroyed the Earth if not for Goku's Heroic Sacrifice of teleporting both himself and Cell off-planet.
    • Gotenks not taking his fight with Super Buu seriously. This is an example of someone without a power advantage playing the trope. His inability to take the fight seriously and the fact that all of his attacks were designed more for flashiness than effectiveness meant that Gotenks was at a severe disadvantage even when (after transforming to Super Saiyan 3) he was able to match Super Buu in raw power.
    • Super Gotenks Buu toying with Gohan, which was one of the more foolproof cases and was only foiled by convenient timing.
    • Vegetto toying with Super Gohan Buu. This was actually part of his strategy rather than an act of arrogance, though. Vegetto was utterly dominating Buu and could've killed him at any time, but was deliberately giving Buu openings to absorb him so that he could free the other absorbed victims from the inside.
    • Beerus vs Goku. Beerus is still holding back massively. The entire fight with SSG Goku was just Beerus having some fun.
  • Fairy Tail: The first battle between Fairy Tail and Acnologia is this. After he casually beats down Makarov's Giant Form and nearly all of Fairy Tail's aces throwing everything they have at him successfully knocks him into the ocean, Gildarts (the strongest member of the guild bar none) quite frankly tells everyone that this is exactly what Acnologia's doing. He then drops the bombshell that Acnologia hasn't even shown off half the power he used against Gildarts himself (a battle that ended in almost an instant and tore way most of his side), and everyone barely has time to process this before Acnologia emerges from the water with no signs of damage and proceeds to fire off an island-destroying Breath Weapon they only survive thanks the usage of Fairy Sphere.
  • Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (though each of these relies on interpretation of things not made explicit):
    • Near the beginning, the Remnants of Sephiroth attack Cloud while he's motorcycling near what's left of Midgar. Loz and Yazoo on their own motorcycles together with a group of summoned monsters called Shadow Creepers give him more trouble than he can handle. The battle ends with Yazoo shooting Cloud right between the eyes but only hitting his goggles, possibly just to show he could have killed him right then, and Kadaj calling off the Shadow Creepers just when they're all about pounce on Cloud at the same time. It isn't until later in the movie that Cloud regains the strength to be a match for the Remnants. At this point they're toying with him.
    • Loz gets into a fight with Tifa in the church, which he seems to regard as good sport. She beats him up with relative ease and he seems to be defeated. Then he gets up again and, no longer wanting to play, takes her out with one move using Flash Step.
    • This is also a likely way of interpreting the final battle between Cloud and Sephiroth. Sephiroth, whose motivation at this point is largely payback for being defeated previously, drives Cloud to his highest limits without even so much as getting winded himself, and then tries to finish him off after some suitable gloating.
  • Hunter × Hunter: On the way to the 4th phase of the Hunter Exam, Netero challenges Gon and Killua to steal a basketball from him. It's soon apparent that he's Just Toying With Them. Gon turns this into a game of his own - he wants to see if he can force Netero to use his other arm to keep the ball away from him, eventually succeeding and considering it a personal victory. Killua doesn't take it nearly as well, and later kills two people for bumping into him to vent his frustration.0
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Death XIII fights like this, sadistically reveling in his opponents' helplessness in their dreams. Completely justified since he's the stand of the eleven-month-old Mannish Boy.
  • Ranma ˝: Ranma holds off Akane's attacks with one hand while reading a manga with the other.
  • Naruto:
    • Kakashi holds off Naruto's hits with one hand while reading a book. The reason why he was doing this is because he was being a Stealth Mentor to Team 7 and it was actually a Secret Test of Character. They were never supposed to get the bells off him directly: They were supposed to work as a team and try to.
    • The real Madara Uchiha did this with the five Kage, aka, what are supposed to be the five strongest shinobi in the world.
  • One Piece:
    • Mihawk does this to Zoro during their sword duel, opting to use his dagger instead, lamenting it's the smallest blade he has. Interestingly, he'd actually made his point by more or less, defeating him with it, but he admired Zoro's sheer Fighting Spirit so much, he decided he was worthy of the Kokutou Yoru, and quickly defeated him with it.
    • Later on, Crocodile does the same to Luffy, standing by idly for a couple of minutes while Luffy futilely tries to hurt him. Croc eventually does win (easily), but unfortunately for him Luffy survives and manages to defeat Croc during a later rematch.
    • Enel does the same thing with the Shandai Warrior Kamakiri. He gives Kamakiri five minutes to attack as much as he wants, but since Enel ate a lightning Logia fruit, none of his attacks have any effect on Enel whatsoever, and it actually hurts Kamakiri to attack him. Once the five minutes are up, Enel easily dispatches Kamakiri in one attack.
    • Miss Doublefinger could have easily scored a victory against the under-skilled Nami, but by toying with her, Nami got the opportunity to learn how to use her Clima Tact and then quickly turned the tide.
    • In the Enies Lobby Arc, the CP9 agents decide to play a game with the Straw Hat Pirates. Fukuro tells them that each of them holds a key, and one of these keys will unlock Robin's Seastone handcuffs. The only way to get the right key for certain is to defeat all of them and collect all five keys. The only reasons they're even giving them this sliver of hope is because they're giving buying time for Spandam to take Robin beyond their reach and that they don't believe these rookie pirates could even defeat one of them, never mind all of them. To everyone's shock, the Straw Hats manage to collect all five keys and give CP9 their first total loss.
    • Kaido is so Nigh-Invulnerable and a Blood Knight to boot that he very rarely takes his opponents seriously. Granted, when you can tank a free fall from 30K meters without any harm, you can afford to be reckless. His standard MO in battle is to just let his enemies attack him fruitlessly before responding.
  • YuYu Hakusho: Young Toguro, the antagonist of the second season (the Dark Tournament), feigned defeat the first time he met Yusuke in order for his employer to win a bet. However, he later went back gave Yusuke a demonstration of his real power by demolishing a building. He plays this trope by explicitly telling others what percent of his power he's using. The only exception is during his final fight with Yusuke when he revealed he'd only been using 85% of his power instead of 100%
  • In Bleach, Barragan Louisenbairn of the Espada did this with Suì-Fēng, Marechiyo Ōmaeda, and eventually, Hachigen Ushōda. He is a Time Master that can dilate time around himself so that an opponent's incoming attack slows down, allowing him to counter accordingly. Since he controls senescence, anything he touches ages to the point of decay. He demonstrates this by suddenly appearing next to Suì-Fēng (without her even noticing at first, to her shock) and taps her left shoulder, causing the shoulder's bones to become so brittle that they broke immediately. After he uses his Resurrección, he becomes a Walking Wasteland that gains the ability to release Respira, a fatal miasma that instantly rots anything it touches. Even in this transformed state, he still toys around with his opponents. Ultimately, he ends up getting killed (by Respira, to boot!), because he was so ridiculously arrogant. Fittingly enough, his zanpakutō is named "Arrogante".
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • In Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), the homunculus Envy is a complete sadist and one of the more skilled CQC combatants in the series. He tends to toy with his victims using his shapeshifting powers and Dance Battler moves before killing them, especially against Ed in order to humiliate him. Once he actually gets riled up during their final fight, Envy One Hit Kills Ed by impalement.
    • Interestingly enough in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, it is the exact opposite when he pushes Roy Mustang too far, by turning into Mustang's deceased best friend (who he brutally murdered) and bragging about it to Mustang's face. The end result in a long drawn out beat down during which Envy realized that it was a really dumb move to tick off someone whose nom de guerre is the "Flame Alchemist." The battle was so vicious that Mustang's own allies are the only reason why he Envy doesn't end up dying at Mustang's hands, is because they are terrified that if he does so he'll end up becoming the very thing they're fighting.
    • Similarly, the 2003 version of Pride spends his climactic battle with Mustang basically toying around, even letting the alchemist incinerate him once on purpose just to test the regenerative powers he's never needed to use before just to see if they were actually working. Only the convenient delivery of Pride's Achilles' Heel saves Mustang.
    • The 2003 version of Sloth, representing the Sin of Sloth, never goes all-out on anyone either until her final appearance. Mostly she uses her water-manipulating powers to trap opponents in blobs of water and letting them asphyxiate because it's the path of least effort.
  • Saitama from One-Punch Man does this with anyone who doesn't die immediately when fighting him (which so far has only been two characters) since all he's really looking for is to have a good fight. He's also doing this with all of the villains who do die immediately when fighting him, but Saitama is so much more powerful that even when holding back he can't help but kill them with one punch.
  • Played with in Durarara!!, while Izaya is weaker than Shizuo, during their final fight he lures Shizuo into a building under construction by having the machines used thrown down at Shizuo which does no damage in the slightest. As he makes it further in, Izaya sets a (presumably) gasoline-coated floor on fire, though once again, Shizuo is unharmed. However, Izaya reveals it was all just him messing around- in reality, the sprinkler system was rigged to spew carbon dioxide, so by the time Shizuo reached the top, he was barely conscious while Izaya threw in a match. Of course, due to Celty's interference, the explosion was nullified.
  • Maximilian Pegasus from Yu-Gi-Oh! will often give his opponents a Mercy Lead or otherwise make them think that their strategies are working, only to use his mind-reading powers to figure out their next moves and turn them to his own advantage. The only time he stops fooling around is when Yugi and his Superpowered Evil Side keep switching with each other, confusing Pegasus enough to genuinely gain the upper hand.

    Comic Books 
  • Superman:
    • Mr. Mxyzptlk can do basically anything at will, so he likes to toy with Superman, usually until Superman tricks him into saying his own name backwards so that he gets sent back into his own dimension. His powers are on such a level that it's quite a horrifying thought if he decided to become properly evil.
    • The Joker gains Mxy's powers in Emperor Joker, and he is defeated because he can't stop toying with Batman and just kill him.
    • In 2008 Supergirl story arc Way of the World, Kara runs into Clayface. She lets the mud monster hit her for a bit before disabusing him of any notion he's a match for her (Kara freezes him solid, flies him way, WAY up and lets him drop).
      Supergirl: I'm sorry, but you seem confused. Just 'cuz I let you land a few easy blows— that doesn't mean we're having a fair fight!
      Clayface: Wh— What are you... d-doing...?
      Supergirl: To call you "lame" and "ever so slightly beneath me" would be the understatement of the century. But it's been a bad few weeks. A shame you just happened to be the whipping boy I was looking for.
    • Two for the Death of One: After becoming an all-powerful sorceress, Syrene sends tongues of flames towards Satanis. Satanis channels them back to her, but Syrene dispels the fire easily and warns that she is merely testing him... for now.
      Syrene: But, my dear, I was merely testing you... playing with you... teasing you before I dispense with you altogether!
  • This is often used in issues of X-Men involving the Juggernaut. Juggy also did this in his fights against Spider-Man, but luckily for the wall-crawler, those are fewer and farther between.
  • The Infinity Gauntlet: After getting most of the universe's heroes pissed off at him, Thanos turns off the power of most of the gems to show that he can still kick their asses without omnipotence.
  • Lucky Luke: In Calamity Jane, the title character enters an arm wrestling contest with a very large man. She seems to be narrowly losing, but once she hears all the bets are in place, she beats him in an instant.

    Comic Strips 
  • Beetle Bailey is sometimes shown as such a better runner than Sarge that he can annoy him further by reading a newspaper while being chased by him.

    Fan Works 
  • Downplayed and Played for Laughs in Calvin & Hobbes: The Series — Calvin admits to knowing what Hobbes was saying all along in an I Can't Hear You sequence. Why he would do so is never explained.
  • Child of the Storm has Voldemort do this a lot in the sequel.
    • In chapter 2, while less powerful than Harry, he leverages his far greater skill and experience to use his friends as People Puppets (and make them deliver a "Reason You Suck" Speech solely to screw with Harry) and human shields, then pulls a dark "Freaky Friday" Flip on them all and banishing them across the camp, setting Death Eaters after them.
    • He spends his relatively short duel with Harry Dresden in the Bloody Hell arc doing this, mocking him, right up until the exact moment when Dresden manages to hurt him with a soulfire-infused lightning bolt. Cue Voldemort, injured and enraged, almost killing Dresden in the space of three seconds and only being prevented from following through by Wanda's timely arrival.
    • And again, in chapter 62, he uses his influence on Ron, derived through a blood sample acquired as 'Adam Black' to nudge him and Hermione into following Harry into the depths of the Forbidden Forest and into a haunted fortress. This is partly as a distraction while he raids the Department of Mysteries and partly, apparently, For the Evulz, since he actually considers sitting back with some popcorn to watch.
  • Fate of the Clans: During the first fight against Cú Chulainn Alter, Jeanne figures out he's merely playing around. Given how skilled Mikoto's seen him in a fight when he gets serious, he agrees with Jeanne.
    • During the second fight it turns out he's still playing around, though not as much as before.
  • Megami no Hanabira: Brother Chick of the Flock has been shown to do this to his opponents: Mai quickly realizes that the reason the fight lasted as long as it did at all is because he decided to torment the girls slowly rather than kill them outright. Of course, this bites Chick in the ass when it gives the girls enough time to formulate a plan to escape. He's called out on this later by one of his comrades: he calmly snaps his fellow lieutenant's finger back, then chokeslams him onto a table and tries to strangle him to death.
  • The Second Try: When the MP-EVAs show themselves to be tougher to bring down than expected, it dawns to Asuka that this is most likely the reason why she seemed to slaughter them so easily the first time around. Although Shinji considers it unlikely, this thought only serves to further fuel her Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Santa does this to All For One every Christmas Eve while coming down to hand the Villain a lump of coal, playfully matching All For One's Quirks with an assortment of candy and toys. No matter how hard he tries, All For One never manages to capture Santa, who would barely be scratched even if the former hadn't been crippled by his fight with All Might years earlier.
  • Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters: Calisto gives Jade the toughest fight she's had since becoming a shapeshifter. But despite that, she gets the impression that he's not even trying, and is deliberately holding back.
  • Darth Vader: Hero of Naboo: The duel between Sidious and Plagueis ultimately reaches a point where Sidious realizes to his horror that his master has been tricking him with illusions the entire time, and he was never even close to winning.
  • Pretty much all of Nui's fights in Natural Selection are just her playing around with her opponents both for her own amusement and to remind them just how beneath her they are. Unfortunately for her, she learns the consequences of this when Sanageyama takes advantage of both her lack of skill and the fact that she doesn't take anyone seriously, resulting in her losing an arm and being unable to reattach it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Polish film The Deluge, Andrzej Kmicic makes the mistake of challenging experienced Polish knight Colonel Michal Wolodyjowski to a sabre duel, but he still walks into the duel with Suicidal Overconfidence. Wolodyjowski spends the ensuing several minutes humiliating Kmicic in various ways, from firing a multi-layered insult his way, to spinning his sword mid-battle while Kmicic watches, to flinging Kmicic's sword off into the distance with a little flick. Kmicic is left to realize he's nothing more than a nuisance to Wolodyjowski and eventually just pleads with the colonel to Get It Over With to let him preserve some dignity.
  • The serial-killer truck driver in Duel displays this attitude towards his latest target Mann.
  • In Kill Bill O-Ren begins her duel against the Bride by holding her katana with only one hand, wielding her sheath in the other. During the fight she tries using the sheath to distract and harass the Bride, up until the Bride cuts it in half. At that point O-Ren regards the cut sheath with a sinister smile and discards it, slowly gripping her blade with two hands, and in short order she strikes a major blow against her opponent.
  • The Matrix: At the end, Neo has become The One after returning from the dead. Agent Smith furiously attacks him, but even his own Super Speed is no match for Neo now, who casually fights him off one-handed before going for a killing blow by destroying Smith's program.
  • Star Wars:

  • In the Jason Wood series, the Big Bad explicitly says he could kill Jason any time he likes, but that would be "unamusing".
  • The Princess Bride:
    • In the fight between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black, Inigo starts fighting with his off-hand just because he can't find a decent challenge anywhere any more. It quickly turns out that the Man in Black is good enough that Inigo has to switch to his right hand to regain the advantage. Then it turns out that the Man in Black was also fighting with his off-hand...
    • The fight between the Man in Black and Fezzik starts out this way, with the Man in Black finding himself in a Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh... situation while Fezzik basically stands there impassively. This is quickly lampshaded:
      The Man in Black: Look, are you just fiddling around with me or what?
      Fezzik: I just want you to feel you are doing well! I hate for people to die embarrassed.
  • Discworld:
    • Men at Arms posits that it's actually preferable to be at the mercy of an evil person because he/she will indulge in this trope, giving their victims more time to turn the tides. Good people finish off their enemies without a word.
    • The Fifth Elephant gives a creepy example with a traditional werewolf game: Some poor soul tries to make it from out in the woods to the safety of the town. If he wins, he'll get a bunch of money, otherwise he's dinner. According to the Ankh-Morpork copper and werewolf Angua, a group of werewolves can pretty much get you anytime they want, but in the traditional version a very strong, trained man has a chance of winning — indicating that part of the game is for the werewolves not to use their full powers. Angua's brother Wolfgang has a sadistic twist on it: he holds himself back 'til the last moment, then pounces the human just before he makes it to safety.
  • In the Novelization of Revenge of the Sith, Count Dooku does this against Anakin and Obi-Wan, thinking that two Jedi Knights are no match for a Sith Lord. That, and The Plan isn't to kill both of them — just Obi-Wan, and use his death to turn Anakin to The Dark Side. Things fall apart for him, however, when the two Jedi suddenly switch to the lightsaber styles they're most proficient in, and Dooku realizes just how badly he's underestimated them.
  • Mistborn: The Original Trilogy: As an immortal sadist with the most powerful magic on the planet, the Lord Ruler's fight against Vin mostly consists of him swatting her around effortlessly for his own amusement. This gives Vin an opportunity to spot his Achilles' Heel and inflict a Death by Depower.
  • Discussed inn Watchers of the Throne when Valerian is fighting a Primaris Space Marine for the first time. He notes that if he had the time, he would toy with his opponent more to figure out his capabilities, but as is, he has to settle for Curb-Stomp Battle.
  • Masquerade of the Red Death: Mafia capo Don Lazzari likes to pretend he's giving the child he's planning to suck dry a Mercy Lead. It's really this trope, as Lazzari always kicks in all his powers as a centuries-old vampire to make sure he catches the child before they can escape.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek:
    • Q towards Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Q was an omnipotent being who appeared periodically in TNG, starting with the first episode. He and the rest of his race (the Q Continuum) had decided the human race was dangerous and needed to be destroyed, but then some humans saved the lives of some other aliens, and the Q stopped observing and started interacting directly with humans, particularly Picard. Why didn't they just destroy the human race immediately when they decided people were too dangerous? Q doesn't stay in a very adversarial position towards Picard, but he isn't all that kind, either. In the finale he finally says that the entire season was their "trial" and that the Anomoly of the Week (which will retroactively prevent the evolution of life on Earth) is the judgement... but then he exploits his own reputation for doing this to drop hints on how to stop it disguised as taunts so the rest of the Continuum doesn't realize what he's doing.
    • Q also picks a fight with Capt. Sisko of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, provoking Sisko to punch him and knock him down. Again, Q seems to be pulling his punches, given what he can do. It rather takes Q by surprise that Sisko would actually dare to punch him.
    • The Q Continuum series of novels shows what Q-level beings can do to mortals when they aren't holding back so much. An entire empire was wiped out when the main antagonist 0 triggered a supernova out of pure spite. When the Ax-Crazy 0 appears on the Enterprise, he easily murders a young crewman who gets in his way, and nothing the rest of the crew tries can stop him. The crew is completely helpless against this Mad God.

  • In Horse Racing, the handicapping system means that owners want their horses to win by as small a margin as possible.
    • Or more probably that bookmakers don't want everyone to simply pile on bets on the "known best" horse.
  • In the old days of Japanese Mixed Martial Arts, advantaged fighters like Masakatsu Funaki and Kazushi Sakuraba often toyed with their opponents instead of finishing them right away, in order to build drama and entertain the audience.
  • It's believed that judoka Masahiko Kimura played with Hélio Gracie for most of their legendary duel to give a more interesting fight. Considering how easily he finished Gracie once he decided he had to put an end to the thing, it is more than probable.
  • Infuriated that opponent Ernie Terrell persisted in calling him by his former name "Cassius Clay," Muhammad Ali declared before their 1967 fight that a knockout was "too good" for Terrell. After dominating the fight for the first seven rounds, Ali started taunting Terrell in the eighth, shouting "What's my name?" over and over when it became obvious that Terrell was unable to do any damage. Ali boxed Terrell for the full distance, embarrassing Terrell instead of going for the finish.Note 
  • Association Football teams often do this when faced with a stubborn defence, passing it around and making the opposition run after them and tire themselves out. While this can become an example of performative sadism, it is often for the practical purpose of exhausting the opposition with minimum energy expenditure, allowing the dominant team to more easily pick their opponents off as concentration starts to slip and gaps open up. The classic modern example of this is the tiki-taka style pioneered by the Barcelona and Spain sides between 2008 and 2014.
    • Now, with the spread of the highly organised gegenpress (high-press, essentially closing down passing options and making players panic on the ball, popularised by Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund), it's less popular, though it is sometimes used in combination with the gegenpress - by Manchester City, managed by Pep Guardiola (who pioneered it at Barcelona), and Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool.
    • Sometimes, though, it really can get downright sadistic. For instance, Liverpool's 5-0 defeat of rivals Manchester United in 2021. After racing into a 5-0 lead without much real effort, they spent the last 40 minutes of the match playing keep-ball and making United chase them, losing what little dignity they had left.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Magic: The Gathering, a player in a casual tournament may ask the opponent whether they would prefer a chance to pull an interesting surprise or just a quick kill. Don't expect them to leave you more than one point of life though.

    Video Games 
  • Touhou Project:
    • Yukari Yakumo is so powerful that she could win any fight instantly by snapping her fingers and literally eradicating the opponent from reality. However, she never uses her full power because she wants the fight to not be too one-sided.
    • Main character Reimu Hakurei, meanwhile, has a power which literally equates to "become impossible to touch with any attack for as long as I want, while I can attack you freely". The only reason she is even capable of losing a fight is because she holds back; she declares you the victor if you manage to survive against her for thirty seconds while she's using it. Also, if anyone actually tried to kill her they might destroy Gensokyo, so the fact that she enforces a system of nonlethal duels is if anything a mercy.
    • Yuugi Hoshiguma carries a shallow dish filled with sake into battle, apparently having challenged herself to battle without spilling it. Her sake not even drop!
    • This is generally true in Touhou with the nonlethal spellcard system which allows the weak to have a fair chance of defeating the obscenely strong. This is the only way anyone can have any chance at defeating Yukari, Yuuka, Utsuho, Yuyuko, Mokou/Kaguya, or the rest of the Gensokyan Superpower Lottery winners. This also means that the difficulty of beating a character can vary wildly depending on how much they even feel like fighting — the aforementioned Yuyuko was the Final Boss of Perfect Cherry Blossom, where she was the Big Bad. She returns in a later game as a stage 1 boss, where she's fighting very halfheartedly instead of giving all she has to see her plan to fruition.
    • In Fairy Wars, Cirno fights Marisa as an EX boss. Marisa holds back quite a bit, taking the occasion to try out some untested spellcards and replacing her trademark Master Sparks with "Flashlight Sparks" that only drain motivation instead of dealing any damage. Cirno eventually "wins", but emerges from the battle much worse for the wear than Marisa, though the magician has to admit she was a surprisingly strong opponent.
  • Jedi Outcast: At the end of the second level, before Kyle Katarn has regained his Force powers, the evil Jedi Desann deliberately challenges him to defeat him without them. Mostly, he'll just stand there and deflect whatever attacks the player throws at him. It's all part of a Batman Gambit to make Kyle look to regain his powers.
  • Baldur's Gate II:
    • In a side quest, Firkraag, a powerful red dragon with a grudge against the Player Character's dead mentor Gorion, takes the guise of a human to lure the characters to his lands to perform what sounds like standard heroic mercenary work. Then he sets them to kill some paladins (through an illusion that makes each party see the other as monsters) to ruin their reputation. Once the party has fought its way down through his lair, he appears in his true form and explains that he just wanted to torture Gorion's spirit, and can't be bothered to kill the protagonist just then, unless they really insist on it, recommending that they just be on their way. He's powerful enough in a fight that this arrogance isn't entirely unwarranted.
    • In the main plot, Irenicus has the Player Character and their allies at his mercy after just stealing the souls of two of them. His pragmatic mind finds no more use for them, but when he gives them to Bodhi to dispose of, she decides to give them a Mercy Lead in a convenient nearby labyrinth full of challenges and enemies before hunting them down. Or that's what she says, anyway, as she eventually shows up from the front rather than behind and explains she had no intention of keeping any deal. Gameplay and Story Segregation steps in at this point, because in game terms Bodhi would have to be completely foolish to think she is in no risk trying to stop the party (which she just re-armed herself) with the help of the handful of vampires she has with her. It becomes a moot point anyway when the player character's Superpowered Evil Side makes its first appearance.
  • The'Galin from AdventureQuest is a plot-guided Hopeless Boss Fight for most players and a Superboss for high-end players. He is also the God of Uncreation and intentionally allows the player to futilely attack him as he toys back and inevitably defeats the player.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Ghirahim does this with Link in their first duel, and even does this in their second fight, but less held back. By the time they reach their third duel Ghirahim assumes his true form and stops holding back, but at this point Link has closed the gap.
  • It's sometimes thought that Sonic The Hedgehog does this with most of his enemies; for example, how else would a humongous truck be able to keep up with a hedgehog who can break the sound barrier?
  • Warcraft universe:
    • Originally, in the background story as recounted Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Aegwynn had fought and defeated "the Daemonlord Sargeras". Later, when Sargeras was shown as a more powerful God of Evil, a Retcon made it so that he had only sent an avatar and held back, pretending to be defeated so that he could possess Aegwynn and later his son Medivh, using the latter to attempt to destroy the world.
    • Happens quite a few times in World of Warcraft.
      • Most notably with the Lich King, who outright states he was just messing with you to see how strong you were. After he says this, he instantly kills the entire raid. Luckily, his good counterpart, Tirion, has the MacGuffin and uses it to save everyone.
      • The more powerful Titanic Watchers. You literally cannot kill most of them (Algalon is not killed, he just decides to leave after seeing how hard everyone fought, and send a message to the Titans that Azeroth IS worth saving) and they have powers like instantly sucking raiders into black holes.
  • The fight against Gades in Parcelyte is this in Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals. And even then he's a hell of a Wake-Up Call Boss.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monster Coliseum, if Marik destroys half of your monsters when you were winning, he'll claim he was only toying with you.
  • The final boss of Portal 2 says that there's no need for the neurotoxin, because the rest of the plan is so good. Aperture Science robots are not known for their honesty.
  • Devil May Cry: The third and fourth games have Dante's fights against Lady and Nero respectively. While Lady and Nero are trying their hardest to kill him, Dante is having fun and treating it like a game.
    Dante: What's the matter? Why the glare?
    Nero: You look as if you've just been playing me from the beginning...
  • Dragon Ball Fighter Z has this happen to Perfect Cell, who provides the page quote. The Big Bad, Android 21, faces off against him twice in the first story mode - the second time she casually mentions she hadn't even been at half power the first time they fought and wasn't even trying, before one-shotting him.
    Android 21: I'd actually like to try this time.
  • Paper Mario 64 begins with a Hopeless Boss Fight, in which you not only deal less and less damage with each successive blow, but the finishing blow deals damage equal to your full HP.
  • Blind Weaponmaster Hunter from Zeno Clash starts out his Boss Fight holding an arm behind his back, and is still a match for a hardened Blood Knight like Ghat. The fight becomes a Hopeless Boss Fight once Hunter stops playing around; only Kax Teh's timely intervention saves Ghat.
  • In Final Fantasy IX, Beatrix fights your party in a fairly normal, if somewhat challenging boss fight, before declaring "Ignorant fools! after either losing enough HP or a set period of time and uses Stock Break to reduce everyone's HP to 1. Subsequent battles play out the same way, except it being even more obvious that she's just toying with them until finally she has a Heel–Face Turn and starts fighting on your side.
  • In Bug Fables, the Dead Lander Omega peering from the background of the Giant's Lair seems more than big enough to simply crush the bug protagonists. Instead, it sics other, smaller Dead Landers on them just to see how they do.
  • In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's reveal trailer for Sephiroth, the eponymous villain is shown utterly curb-stomping the rest of the roster in a rather casual manner, as if he feels they're Not Worth Killing. He even teases Mario by almost skewering him on Masamune, only to reveal that he's just suspending him by his overall strap. It's only when Cloud shows up that Sephiroth starts taking the battle seriously, complete with going into his signature One-Winged Angel form.

    Web Animation 
  • This sometimes happens in DEATH BATTLE! when the combatants, in spite of being thematically similar enough to be pitted against each other, are actually a highly unequal match on closer analysis — and one of them has a personality that fits toying with the other.
    • If it's done well, you might not notice until the end. For example, Dante and Bayonetta initially seem to have a very balanced match with their similar abilities... but you'll see how uneven it was when it ends with both being Impaled with Extreme Prejudice, which is something Dante easily shrugged off in his very first scene in his games, but fatal to Bayonetta.
    • In Thanos vs. Darkseid, both combatants start by showing off their other abilities and refrain using their One-Hit Kill attacks until late in the battle, at which point it's revealed which one was the one who really could afford to toy with his opponent.
    • One of these fights doesn't even bother trying to hide it- that being Omni-Man vs. Homelander. Nolan spends the entire fight toying with and humiliating Homelander, only getting serious once Homelander threatens to kill Mark, at which point the Viltrumite spends the final 20 seconds of the 2-minute long fight making sure Homelander dies painfully (To wit, by ripping out Homelander's heart, then making good on the vow he made when he started the fight by literally feeding Homelander his ripped out heart, then making him 'swallow' by crushing his head).

  • Sluggy Freelance
    • In "The Stormbreaker Saga", the demon K'Z'K the Soul-Collector is in the process of conquering the medieval kingdoms of Mercia and Trent, but he's not in any hurry about it — at least until he finds out his old enemy Torg is also there and might be able to use The Book of E-Ville against him, at which point he sends an army to kill everyone.
    "Master K'Z'K, why not just destroy them all?"
    "Sure, my army could crush the Trents and the Mercians combined, but it's neater to watch the mortal fray around the edges. Such discontent causes more of them to grant me their souls so I can spend my time taking others!"
    • In "The Bug, the Witch, and the Robot", Riff realises that K'Z'K, possessing Gwynn, is just playing with him and the others two put up a show to someone when he uses a previously deadly spell at much lower power. He's right; K'Z'K is trying to break Gwynn, who is watching the events from inside her own mind, so that he can take over her fully.
    • In "Oceans Unmoving", Bun-bun remarks that the only reason he hasn't killed Calix yet for getting in his way is because he kind of likes him... especially when he can verbally "crush his soul", as he then proceeds to do while at the same time demonstrating he could physically kill him easily.
    • In "A Time For Hair Raising", the characters enter a spirit world and face two Jackass Genies, Zefolas and Fezeel. These two demons trade in souls and are virtually omnipotent in their own realm, but like to play a game of granting wishes to mortals in exchange for their souls rather than just taking them outright. They have no intention of ever losing the game, though, so they interpret the wishes however they like and ignore all that might cause them harm. Their only weakness is that they're still bound by any promise they do choose to make.
  • In The Last Days of Foxhound, there's one situation where Foxhound, (the Quirky Miniboss Squad from Metal Gear Solid) tries to save several members of Dead Cell, (the Quirky Miniboss Squad from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty) who have been captured. To start off, a pair of snipers start thinning out the guards in the compound they're attacking. One of them quickly takes out two out of three guards that are standing together, but keeps missing the last one by an inch, even when the guy runs inside. When the other sniper comments on this, the first sniper comments "I'm just fucking with him."
  • At one point in The Order of the Stick, among an evil adventuring party, Malack points out (rather angrily, given the circumstances) that Tarquin was doing this in order to test the skills of one of the enemies he was fighting. Tarquin apologizes and promises not to do it again.
  • Coumadin (a Magicant temple priest) does this to Julie's group when they first fight him in Our Little Adventure. He does tell them he's not out to kill them before fighting, and it turns out he just wanted to drop one or two of them so he could steal some of their stuff. He goes on to use the stolen gear as an offering to hire some help for the real battle.
  • In Chapter Three Cucumber Quest, Rosemaster uses an Amplifier Artifact to go One-Winged Angel. She could squash all the heroes with only a little difficulty and allows them to attack so she can No-Sell it. Then she singles out Almond — who is normally Hot-Blooded and acts the part of The Hero much more than her brother, the "actual" hero — and puts everyone else to sleep, proceeding to chase Almond and toss her around like a rag doll until the poor kid is in tears.
  • Tower of God
    • In "Hell Train: The Dallar Show", Khun and Rachel face in one of the Tower's endless tests, where the winner is the one who catches a fish. Khun does a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, as part of which he suggests that Rachel can try to catch the fish first since it's obvious he's going to win anyway. He's right, too, since the fish is not as harmless as it looks.
    • In "Hell Train: The Hidden Floor", the virtual younger version of Jahad never fights anyone seriously because he's so overwhelmingly powerful. Usually he doesn't even move. Even when an opponent promises to be entertainingly powerful, he only escalates his use of power to stay a few steps ahead of his opponent.
    • In "Battle Royale", White holds back while fighting Bam to draw out his full power to make his soul more delicious to eat, and to force him to do something that will break his Incorruptible Pure Pureness.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons
    • Solomon David, as befitting the Demiurge of Pride and the second-most powerful being in The Multiverse, does this during his climactic duel at the end of King of Swords. Since the rules of the ring is victory by submission or death or ring-out for Solomon and Victory by First Blood for the challenger, he applies just enough power to show off how badly he outmatches anyone fool enough to fight him at first, with the ones who impress him being 'allowed' to submit to him. White Chain ends up deconstructing the whole ordeal through Solomon's use of this trope specifically, pointing out that the entire process is a farce — Solomon isn't even fighting fair, he 'holds himself back' only in the sense that the whole match is a fixed-outcome charade that only serves to self-reinforce Solomon's own sense of superiority and ego. On the other hand, Solomon also seems to feel duty-bound not to lose on purpose even if he might want to.
    • In the first practice fight between Allison and Maya, Allison kicks Maya off of herself, and she lands with her head down. Maya remains in that position, effortlessly balancing on her head, for a while while parrying several attacks. (With her legs. Her hands are idle the whole time.) Of course, she has also not drawn her sword at that point.

    Web Original 
  • A textbook example occurs in Worm with the supervillain zone Slaughterhouse Nine, who intend to use the city of Brockton Bay as a testing area to recruit their ninth member after the demise of Hatchet Face. They set up an elaborate set of rules and take turns testing each candidate, and Jack Slash, the leader, even agrees to give the local villains a victory condition: if half or more of their candidates remain alive by the end of the tests, then the Slaughterhouse Nine leave the town, acknowledge their defeat, and do not return for a period of three years. After several rounds, the villains realize that this strategy actually plays to the Nine's advantage, because it forces people to defend against one member at a time against multiple possible targets and lets the Nine use their own infamy to prevent attacks and make it easy for them. The villains then turn the tables, attacking the Nine at every opportunity with lethal force, and by the end less than half of the Nine survive to leave the city, acknowledging their loss to Skitter.

    Western Animation 
  • From Avatar: The Last Airbender: Azula to Sokka during the eclipse/invasion.
    Sokka: Wait, I know you're a better fighter than this!
    Azula: Oh, I know, I'm just wasting your time until the eclipse is over. And it looks like my Firebending is back!
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: In "Darkseid Descending", Darkseid agrees to Batman's challenge to a fistfight without using his "godlike powers" because he finds the idea interesting. It doesn't make a whole lot of difference in terms of power levels, because he's still got physical abilities on par with Superman. Batman manages to keep him busy for a moment, in which time one of his allies pushes the "villain loses" button that sucks Darkseid and his army back away from Earth.
  • Gargoyles:
    • When Oberon returns and wants to wipe the Avalon clan off the island, Goliath challenges him to let them remain. Oberon's wife makes it more interesting (and to give them a fighting chance), and gets him to agree to fight with only "the strength of a child." He agrees, having been bored for some millenia. What he fails to say is that he'll have the strength of one of his children, meaning he's still leagues more powerful than four standard gargoyles.
    • Also, when the Arch Mage is powered up by the Phoenix Gate, Eye of Odin, and the Grimorum, he goes into the magic version of Electric Torture on Goliath, all while gloating about how he could kill Goliath with a word if he wanted to. When Goliath finally asks why the arch mage doesn't just do that, the reply is "Because I'm having too much fun."
  • In Gravity Falls episode "Dreamscaperers", Mabel and Soos enter Stan's mind to foil Bill Cipher's plan to recover the code to the Mystery Shack deed vault for Gideon Gleeful. When they succeed, Bill - seemingly enraged — quite literally Turns Red and unleashes his Reality Warper abilities against them. When Dipper's timely appearance reveals that anyone can be a Reality Warper in the mindscape, the gang appears to turn the tables on the dream demon, but as they try to banish him once and for all... surprise surprise, Cipher counters their attempt with nary a blink of his eye. Turns out Bill is way more powerful than expected, and he only lets the group live because they might prove to be "interesting".
  • In The Legend of Korra Big Bad Amon makes a show out of tying up bending members of a crime syndicate (and one of the heroes who got mixed up with them) and permanently removing their powers in front of a huge crowd of Equalist sympathizers. Amon actually lets the crime boss loose and offers him the chance to fight to protect himself. It's all the more impressive when Amon wins. Rather easily, in fact. His psychic bloodbending gives him a nigh unbeatable advantage.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Discord, an evilly mischievous Reality Warper who displays the power to easily destroy the main characters, challenges the ponies to play a game to regain the Elements of Harmony, the only thing capable of defeating him. During play, he approaches each of them and manipulates them into abandoning the Element each of them represents before magically hypnotizing them into a bizarro version of themselves — if his attempt fails, he simply brainwashes his victim with brute force, and even "wins" by brainwashing one character to break the rules. The result of this is that he can just hand them the Elements, so he can watch and laugh as they prove powerless, and breaks the heroines' hope entirely. Unsurprisingly, this arrogance leads to his undoing later.

      Ironically, Discord implicitly criticizes Big Good Celestia for sealing him in stone at one point. Her decisiveness in dealing with her enemies brings to mind Terry Pratchett's quote about how it's better to be at the mercy of an evil man, as he wants his enemies to know they have lost.
    • In "The Return of Harmony", besides Discord, we also see Rainbow Dash flying in circles around her much slower aerial pursuers.
    • In "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000", the Flim Flam brothers challenge the Apple family to a contest of who can make more cider in an hour, with the winner getting to run all the cider business in town. They're so confident in their magical-mechanical means of production, which is initially going three times faster than the Apples are doing, that they casually agree to let "honourary family members" help their competitors as well — which they soon see was a mistake when they actually fall behind in speed as a result. Since in this case they were letting their competitors get an extra advantage rather than just holding back themselves, they can't just take back the advantage easily, and in trying to do so, they end up compromising the manufacturing process. Ultimately, though they win by quantity, the sacrifice of quality renders their efforts null; the result can barely be called cider at all and is unsellable.
  • In Samurai Jack, the Guardian of the time passage in "Jack and the Traveling Creatures" boasts that Jack can't beat him because he's not The Chosen One not yet anyway. When Jack challenges him anyway, the Guardian humors him at first by drawing a sword to match Jack's. Throughout the "fight", Jack is struggling for his life while the Guardian is laughing and grinning and clearly enjoying himself. Until Jack deflects his own rockets back at him, ruining the Guardian's favorite suit in the process. The enraged Guardian stops holding back and viciously beats Jack unconscious with nothing but his bare hands. He is moments away from finishing off Jack when the time portal itself shows him a vision of Jack's Future Badass self. The Guardian spares Jack, believing that one day Jack will become strong enough to defeat him.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: "The Lawless" has Darth Sidious do this to Darth Maul and Savage Oppress. He begins the battle by telekinetically slamming them into a wall, and the only reason there's a fight at all after this is because Sidious releases them. He could have simply choked or crushed them right there, or at any other point, but chooses to fight them because he feels like it. Savage is killed shortly after Sidious separates him from Maul, and Maul only survives because Sidious needs him alive to lure out Mother Talzin.
  • In the fourth season finale of Teen Titans, the Titans try to stop Trigon the Terrible with a desperate plan; while Robin goes into the underworld to retrieve Raven, the remaining Titans will keep Trigon attention occupied with an all-out assault. However, near the end Trigon reveals that he's known about their scheme all along; he just considers watching them fight their Enemy Without to be a form of mild amusement. When they win their battle, Trigon unleashes hordes of fire monsters with a gesture, forcing their retreat.

    Real Life 
  • Cats do this with mice in real life, in order to teach their kittens how to hunt, and on their own because it's the safest way for the cat to kill without risking injury to themselves. By catching and releasing their prey over and over, they wear out their prey to the point where they're too tired to fight back. Cats who missed out on this teaching from their mothers may be toying with their prey because they're not actually sure what to do with it now they've got it.

Alternative Title(s): Toying With Their Enemy