It's the little things that'll make you wanna cry.
Oh, you can search for peace of mind,
But the hand of Fate is blind,
It's the little things that'll really do you in."
He's The Hero. Being Punched Across the Room doesn't seem to hurt him in the slightest. Throw her through a wall and she'll jump back through that same hole and nail you in the gut. He's the Determinator, standing up while still on fire from that last bomb to the face. She has keen senses and lightning reflexes - just try landing a hit on her.
But then they get a soccer ball kicked into the back of the head... and it knocks them out.
The bane of the Part-Time Hero has nothing to do with the Big Bad and his Frickin' Laser Beams with dials that go Up to Eleven. It's the mundane hazards - the stray dodgeball, the unseen Banana Peel, and the abruptly-opening door - that bypass his defenses. He was able to handle Training from Hell, but God forbid he be forced to do push-ups in gym. All stamina, reflexes, and willpower suddenly disappear when the Part-Time Hero (and especially the Idiot Hero) is off-duty.
This is usually done to emphasize the fact that the characters are still human, make human mistakes, and have human problems without the need to make them too incompetent on the job. Slapstick varieties are commonly played for comic effect and ignore the characters' defenses because the scene wouldn't be as funny. Occasionally, though, injuries and sickness acquired in mundane situations are used to justify poor performance when the hero is abruptly put back on duty, or sometimes outright used to handicap the hero for a more challenging (or sometimes, just more humorous) fight. While handicapped fight scenes can be more creative and entertaining, one wonders why the Determinator was able to resist the Mad Scientist's mind control virus through force of sheer will but can't do the same for the common cold.
This trope may have some other legitimate reasoning behind it, however. Whether the character's powers require conscious effort or not, the human body is designed to only work at peak capacity when necessary. It's no stretch to assume that powers work along the lines of the adrenaline rush and fight-or-flight response, and that having them working at full capacity all the time would burn too much of the body's resources.
If done to a video game hero in a situation when they otherwise would be expected to defend themselves in battle, this is Cutscene Incompetence.
See Armor-Piercing Slap and Megaton Punch for specific mundangerous techniques and the sister trope Mundanger for enemies which are mundane. Contrast Mundane Utility, where the hero actively uses his powers to accomplish mundane ends. Contrast What Do You Mean, It's Phlebotinum?, in which the hero knows what they need, and a third party (instead of the audience) questions its value. Compare Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World, the social and mental counterpart to this trope. Also compare Life Will Kill You.
- Two examples in Dragon Ball Z:
- Played for drama with the heart virus that kills Goku in Future Trunks' timeline, leaving them without him to help fight against the androids later.
- Humorously when Krillin sees Goku napping in Super Sayain form (before Cell's Arena) and throws a rock at him, thinking he'll sense it and just catch it. Goku ends up getting a rock in the face and it hurts.
- Kind of a Justified Trope, in that the ki energy that the characters use to increase their speed, strength and endurance does require at least some form of conscious control; when he isn't powered up, Goku and the other Z Fighters are flesh and blood... or at least, closer to it than they are in combat. Plus, the training Goku and Gohan had been undergoing at that point was all about becoming so acclimated to the base Super Saiyan level that they could maintain it without conscious effort.
- Krillin himself is prone to this; He might be the butt monkey of the Z Fighters, but he is at least a thousand times as strong as a regular human (in fact, there's only one human in existence who's stronger than Krillin without having either cybernetic or magical enhancement), and yet is continually smacked and hit by Bulma, Chi Chi and many other regular humans.
- In the original Dragon Ball; to prove that he's the "real" Master Roshi, Chi-Chi throws her helmet-blade at him under the assumption that he'll deflect it. Instead it cuts through his staff and impales him in the forehead instead, and he berates Chi-Chi by saying that nobody could have moved fast enough to block it. This is in stark contrast to his depiction later on in the series, where characters begin to move faster than the human eye can see.
- Rurouni Kenshin — Kenshin might be Made of Iron, but in at least one Mood Whiplash moment blood is shown gushing out of his wounds after a relieved Kaoru hugs him a bit too hard.
- Kenshin exhibited this trope on purpose in an early episode. While eating at a restaurant, a drunken customer threw a ceramic bowl, hitting Kenshin in the back of the head. Sanosuke was watching and later lampshaded it: He knew Kenshin could have easily dodged that bowl... but if he had, it would have hit Kaoru in the face and injured her much more.
- Played for laughs in the supplementary manga of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's when Fate, mighty Super Soldier who we've seen get smashed through buildings, is knocked out cold in a dodgeball match by the Muggle Suzuka, the Shrinking Violet member of Those Two Guys. Promptly given a Lampshade Hanging by the spectators.note
- Mahou Sensei Negima!:
- Evangeline is an incredibly badass vampire who is generally considered one of the strongest beings alive. After getting stuck with a Power Limiter she's been known to trip over her own feet, giving herself a bloody nose. She blames it her lack of powers.
- There's also Sayo, who's a ghost and naturally cannot be injured by the vast majority of physical objects. She still manages to trip over her own feet, despite the fact that she doesn't have feet.
- In Full Metal Panic!, Sousuke's Kryptonite seems to be whatever Kaname has on hand at the time. He'll often be laid out by Kaname's halisen and he once got knocked out by a baseball base.
- In New Getter Robo Dr. Saotome (an old man who has no notable martial arts prowess to speak of) manages to blindside and smack Ryoma "Batshit" Nagare with a pair of geta. To put this in perspective, this is just after the aforementioned Ryoma finished off three Yakuza assassins at once, resisted an anime tranquilizer strong enough to kill most men, and effortlessly dropkicked Saotome's two bodyguards.
- One Piece:
- Zoro is very agile and perceptive during battle. Outside of battle, he'll get lost running in a straight line. Also, Zoro survives over the top injuries throughout the series and is the poster-child for Overdrawn at the Blood Bank, but his great rival, whom he was never able to defeat during their 1001 duels, dies from falling down the stairs (though they were both children at the time, and thus significantly more fragile).
- Post-time skip Sanji. While he has become an even more incredible martial artist and cook, he is now incredibly vulnerable to his old habit of womanizing, suffering from massive nosebleeds around attractive women. This comic weakness becomes serious as an extra powerful nosebleed threatens Sanji's life, requiring a blood transfusion. Naturally Sanji also has a rare blood type.
- Watatsuki no Yorihime of the Touhou series. Infamously powerful God-Mode Sue who easily defeated some of the best fighters of Gensokyo. Knocked out cold in the Inaba of the Moon & Inaba of the Earth spinoff when she accidentally fell into one of Tewi's Pit Trap pranks (though said series' canonicity is debatable).
- "Knocked out cold" might be a tad overstated given that she is sitting up or trying to climb out of the hole while groaning in the one panel which depicts the effects of the fall on her. http://www.mangahere.co/manga/inaba_of_the_moon_inaba_of_the_earth/c026/9.html She is dazed enough not to protest the girls declaring victory over her though (on panel anyway) which is something.
- In an episode of Slayers, Lina manages to bowl Zel over with a particularly energetic pat on the back, when it would normally take something along the lines of a dragon with a sledgehammer to achieve the same effect (there's an entry for Zel under Made of Iron for a reason, after all...
- A non-physical case in Soul Eater: Maka is The Hero, an Almighty Janitor and a complete Determinator, but one game of basketball early on in the series sends her to the brink of mental breakdown because she doesn't know how to play.
- In both Ranma ½ and InuYasha, the main characters are somewhere on the border between Made of Iron and Nigh Invulnerable. Neither series hesitates in the slightest to have comparatively mundane "attacks" (a stray soccerball to the back of the head, a punch from a ticked off ordinary schoolgirl, etc) seriously hurt them for comedy's sake.
- Haiyore! Nyarko-san:
- The title character may be Nyarlathotep the Crawling Chaos, a malign deity with 1,000 forms and the power to destroy cities, but all it takes to make her cower in fear is an ordinary fork wielded by the story's Ordinary High-School Student. Granted, it's implied that he's the special part (since his mother is a part-time godslayer), but those are still mundane dinner forks he's slinging around, and in one episode the only thing that kept him from weaponizing a disposable plastic fork was its melting due to nearby heat.
- A second season episode homages Mars Attacks (see below) by introducing some Monster of the Week aliens with the same weakness...except that here, it's pop music rather than country.
- Spider-Man: During an encounter against Black Widow, Spider-Man is weakened by regular pneumonia. He gets captured, although despite his relative weakness he manages to break the bonds holding him and escape. He then sleeps off the illness.
- Captain Mar-Vell: The original Captain Marvel, who survived a hundred brutal battles, died of cancer caused by accidental exposure to a chemical weapon while battling the villain Nitro.
- Fantastic Four: At the end of one story, The Thing kicks a rock as a result of his usual bad temper, and breaks a toe from his own super-strength. He confines himself to bed — it's not that a bad injury, but he is horribly embarrassed that him being childish hurt himself worse than many of his enemies, and vows to stay out of sight until he is healed again.
- One Batman story from the Seventies had Bruce Wayne desperately trying to fight crime while dealing with a high grade fever. Alfred practically had to restrain him in bed to keep him from going out, and when he did, it was clear it was heavily impeding his skills.
- Two decades later, Knightfall had a similar premise early on, with Batman becoming ill and sleep-deprived after the death of Superman. This took its toll when the newly-introduced character Bane broke the inmates of Arkham Asylum out to terrorize the city - although Batman was able to bring almost all of the inmates back before they caused too much damage, it left him exhausted to the point that when Bane himself came after him, he was almost completely incapable of fighting back.
- Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme is physically no more than a mature man in good shape. He is usually prepared for most attacks, but anything that can take down an ordinary person can also disable him, particularly if he doesn't see it coming. He also requires the free use of his hands and voice in order to cast spells, so he is vulnerable if Bound and Gagged.
- War of the Worlds, in all its forms, ends with the seemingly invincible Martians all killed by common Earth bacteria to which they had no immunity.
- This is parodied in Mars Attacks!, where the invaders are killed by country music. Most specifically, "Indian Love Call" by Slim Whitman... which is even more humiliating: they were fatally vulnerable to yodeling.
- In the Kate Daniels novel Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews, Kate and her allies are gearing up for a potential battle. The Beast Lord explains that the werewolf Alpha is absent because he broke a bone due to "LEGOS". At first Kate is confused, trying to remember a Greek monster or spell that might have disabled a werewolf, before the Beast Lord clarifies that the wolf tripped over his kid's toys and fell down the stairs.
- In Dragon Bones, Lord Fenwick, who fought in at least one war, and hunted criminals down in his spare time, successfully got a Klingon Promotion by killing his father, and was ever after paranoid about being killed by his own son himself, died in a completely mundane riding accident - he was thrown by his horse, and fell on a treestump.
- The Dresden Files:
- Harry Dresden may be one of the most powerful wizards on the planet in terms of sheer evocation, but he still carries a gun. In the short story "Day Off", he's confronted by a group of very-low-grade magical talents who want to throw down, and ready their wands and other magical paraphernalia to do so. Harry calmly draws his gun, which scares the crap out of them.
- In Changes, Harry finally gets himself crippled. Not by the vampire assassins, fairies, or demons, but by falling off a ladder and breaking his back on the patio. Granted, it was indirectly because of the vampires, but still. Then again at the end, when Harry is shot and killed by a sniper.
- Lampshaded by Stargate SG-1, in "Nemesis". Daniel can't participate in a mission because of an appendectomy, and says, "You know it's funny. I mean after everything we've been through these past few years. And, of all things, it's my appendix that lays me out."
- In one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy comes down with a virus. Not only does it put her in hospital, it also scares the hell out of her. It does help her take out a demon, however.
- There is also the death of Tara via gunshot - dangerous in its own right, but surprisingly mundane in the magical world of the Buffyverse. In fact it proves more dangerous; dying in a totally mundane way means magical resurrection doesn't work.
- An episode of CSI had a Marine survive several tours in Iraq only to break his neck falling off a ladder his first week home. Then to add insult to injury, one of the villains of the week cuts his head open at the funeral home and steals his brain. It Makes Sense in Context.
- Another episode of the series (the Three Shorts episode "Toe Tags") also had a Returning War Vet killed by something mundane: a random junkie that wandered onto the gas station that he had stopped at and stabbed him for no absolute reason (and more infuriating to the investigators, the junkie died in a car crash shortly afterwards and tests done to his cadaver showcased that he had been high on a pretty mild drug when he committed the murder).
- Frank Zappa: "The Dangerous Kitchen" from The Man From Utopia, where Zappa warns for the dangers of going to your kitchen at night and trying to find something to eat:
The can things with the sharp little edgesThat can cut your fingers when you're not lookingThe soft little things on the floor that you step onThey can all be dangerousSometimes the milk can hurt you(If you put it on your cerealBefore you smell the plastic container)And the stuff in the strainer has a mind of its own
- The rule in Vintage Dragon's first "Holiday Havok" match in Vendetta Pro Wrestling was that all the weapons were concealed by gift wrap and could not be used until unwrapped. This resulted in Billy Blade finding most of the "weapons" to be stock Christmas gifts, which he also found useless, his genuine effort to enhance his offense with candy canes which proved too brittle to inflict more than minor scratches on Dragon for example. Blade would be on the receiving end of more painful injuries as Vintage Dragon then demonstrated how even the least sturdy of objects could cause as much pain as a kendo stick or folding chair when used correctly.
- In Dungeons And Dragons marbles are mundane items that don't even cost a single gold piece, rolling on from The Complete Thief's Handbook. They are quite effective against anything with legs not noted for amazing agility. Instead of a saving throw (automatically going up as you level up), victims fall down, becoming vulnerable and losing time to get up, unless they made a Dexterity check (AD&D 2nd Edition) or a DC 15 balance check (D&D 3rd Edition; with balance being a skill most classes can't practically invest in) — and even if they make it they are "flatfooted" (as they are trying to balance) and can be hit by sneak attacks.
- On a similar vein is soap. At a mere 5sp/lb, is one of the most useful mundane items. It's flammable (there's about a million ways to use fire), slippery (and so can be used much like marbles in any place that's damp), and you can clean with it. Always buy at least 10 pounds.
- Any character with the "Combat Luck" ability from Hero System (5th and 6th editions) is prone to this. Combat Luck gives you increased defenses ... but only if you're aware of the attack and thus can try to avoid it. Blow your Perception Roll, and that club/knife/whatever is gonna hurt.
- Jackie Chan Adventures:
Uncle: Run down side of exploding building, nooo problem. Step on child's toy, break your bones. Bwahahahaha.
- Lampshaded by Uncle in one episode; Jackie was able to run down the side of a building while it was being demolished, but broke his leg in the next scene upon tripping over an action figure, and Uncle pokes fun at him for it.
- When Jade tries to demonstrate that Jackie really is a nearly super-human fighter at "Bring Your Parent to School Day", she chucks an apple at his arm in an attempt to evoke a reflex, only for the apple to smack him in the arm. Jackie jokingly teases her for having an over-active imagination and a good throwing arm.
- Played for laughs in an episode of Kim Possible, in which most of the main characters who appear in the episode are incapacitated by the common cold at some point.
- In the episode "Sports a Poppin" of Dexter's Laboratory has Dexter be completely incompetent in sports and, despite his best efforts, lets his father down who was trying to teach him to be good at sports. Then at the end of the episode, Dexter's dad give up and goes inside. Immediately after this a monster let loose by Dexter's sister Dee Dee comes out. Dexter proceeds to fight it, using skills that obviously should have made him be more capable at the sports than he was.
- Parodied in Futurama on the xenophobic robot planet showing a horror movie featuring a monstrous human in "It came from Planet Earth!"
Robot General: "Funny, isn't it? The human was impervious to our most powerful magnetic fields, yet in the end he succumbed to a harmless sharpened stick!"
- Spider-Man (1967): In one episode, Spider-Man catches a cold while the Lizard in on a rampage. It keeps interfering with his work, so he decides to go to a doctor — as Spider-Man, since a blood test from Peter Parker would come back with spider DNA.
- The epic battle between Merlin and Mad Madame Mim in The Sword in the Stone, in which each wizard transforms into increasingly violent and monstrous creatures, ends with Merlin winning, by transforming into a virus which lays Mim out for a while with the flu.
- One episode of Samurai Jack shows that Aku, the immortal embodiment of evil who can only be killed by Jack's sword, is also vulnerable to a common cold.
- Ben 10 has the titular hero meet an alien band of superheroes that are nigh invincible when they work together. Their leader is especially competent, but all that changes when he accepts Ben's offer of a pip of chocolate. He is reduced to a husk and can no longer stand much less talk or fight.
- Actually turns up in Code Lyoko a few times, notably when tripping and falling down a staircase apparently snaps Jeremie's ankle (at the very least, it's damaged so badly he can't stand on it let alone walk or run).
- A man who successfully climbed the forty highest mountains in the world died of injuries sustained.... when he fell off a chair in his living room whilst trying to replace a dud light bulb.
- Arguably, the death of Steve Irwin: A man who worked with and handled some of the deadliest animals known to man, but was killed by a stingray—an animal not known to be especially dangerous with fewer than ten deaths attributed to it.