Follow TV Tropes


Only Flesh Is Safe

Go To

This trope describes a weapon, superpower or some kind of phenomenon that explicitly damages/affects inanimate objects but has absolutely no effect on living organic matter. It of course does not stop the user from indirectly hurting someone by say, dropping a building on their foe, taking out the floor beneath their feet or blowing up the power source of their powered armor. For instance.

Can be considered a Super-Trope of The Nudifier but includes all the less prurient examples. Contrast with Neutron Bomb (which destroys organic matter only), As Lethal as It Needs to Be and Could Have Been Messy (both of which are extradiegetically brought on by poor editing and age restrictions respectively.) Opposite Trope to Biomanipulation.

Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) weapons, which fry mechanical circuitry, are of course a major example of this trope.

From a Doylist point of view, it's often a means of avoiding having a Story-Breaker Power or squick.


    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

  • Catian weaponry in Cat Planet Cuties focuses specifically on destroying material matter. In the 2nd episode, anti-matter hammers are used to destroy a battalion of tanks, and the clothes of the pilots inside. Later on in the series, anti-matter bullets are used to defuse a hostage situation by shooting the gun pointed at someone's head.
  • Allen's sword from D.Gray-Man is capable of cutting akuma to pieces with ease, but is not meant to harm humans. Unfortunately for Allen, him being the vessel of the 14th Noah means he reacts in pain to being impaled on it with an akuma after he recalled his sword.
  • Dog Days: Within the world of Flonyard, there are areas where people cannot be injured and are instead temporarily turned into fluffy little balls or receive Clothing Damage. Kingdoms mainly use these to engage in Harmless War for Fun and Profit.
  • Fairy Tail: This is a common restriction on magic.
    • Urtear's Arc of Time magic can age, move, or restore objects, but it doesn't work on anything living.
    • Midnight is incapable of reflecting human bodies, although he can target their clothes.
  • Played for Laughs in Inazma Delivery. Bytheway's Disintegrator Ray wipes non-living matter out of existence but doesn't harm living flesh ... nor underwear ... at least not on regular power levels. When charged to max, not even underwear is safe.
  • Mid-Childan combat magic in Lyrical Nanoha is like this: you'd think that an energy beam that can pierce through layers upon layers of heavy spaceship armor would vaporize bare flesh instantly, but no, it merely knocks the target unconscious with not so much as a burn. Most cuts and bruises the characters sustain in combat actually come from secondary sources, like being slammed into a wall or caught under falling debris.
  • One Piece
    • The Fuwa Fuwa No Mi power is a bit of a mixed-case: it is a levitation power that can only affect the user himself — and inanimate objects. All other organic matter and lifeforms are immune to direct use.
    • Gladius' Pop Pop Fruit power is to make any non-organic object inflate and then pop, potentially spreading harmful shrapnels. Played with that it can be used on Living Toys as they're made of non-organic matter.
  • Ranma : Ryouga's Breaking Point attack can shatter rigid material like rocks with a Fingerpoke Of Doom, but does nothing to people. The real benefit of training the technique was to build endurance by subjecting himself to the shrapnel created by pulverizing rocks in such a way.

     Comic Books  
  • DC Universe
    • Firestorm's matter-altering power has no effect on living organisms.
  • Marvel Universe
    • X-Men villain Avalanche originally had the power to create seismic effects that shattered buildings but did nothing to living organic matter. At some point, he lost that particular weakness.
    • In his first appearance, the Molecule Man from the Fantastic Four comics was incapable of affecting organic matter.
    • Iron Man villain the Melter started off with a melting ray which could melt iron. As Iron Man upgraded his armours, the ray seemed pretty weak in comparison, so it was upgraded to be able to melt anything, provided it's inorganic.
    • Gambit can charge up anything with energy so that it explodes, unless it's organic. Hence why he usually uses cards as a weapon.

     Fan Works 

  • Equestria Girls: Friendship Souls: Nocturn's Yakkai Koto (Burden) can make any non-animal object it strikes, from plants, pieces of paper, clothing, even water, to be as heavy and stiff as steel.

     Films — Live-Action 

  • The time travel technology in Terminator destroys inorganic matter, which prevents the traveler from bringing any future tech and is also why they happen to be Naked on Arrival. There is some leeway in covering inorganic matter with living organic tissue, which is how the titular Terminators get around this rule (a robotic endoskeleton, wrapped in an outer layer of living flesh).
    • Various spinoffs in the overall Terminator franchise have played around with this, from comics to books, and most notably in the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show. In some instances, the human resistance sends people back in time who have future plasma-weapons surgically implanted in them for later retrieval. A better tactic in later installments was to simply send humans back in time with knowledge of how to build futuristic weapons from contemporary components (either by swallowing a microfilm briefly, or just sending back a trained engineer who memorized how to do it).
      • A little bit of the latter was seen even in the original 1984 movie: resistance member Kyle Reese couldn't bring any plasma weapons with him from the future, but he's an experienced guerrilla soldier who already knows how to make pipe-bombs from household chemicals in the right combinations.
    • The T-1000 stretches this the furthest because it's an entirely inorganic, liquid metal construct, but because it can perfectly mimic flesh and it can bypass this limitation.
  • The Fly (1958): Inverted: The teleportation device only worked on non-living things — until the protagonist made a breakthrough.
    • The 1986 remake with Jeff Goldblum had him phrase it as that the teleporter (at first) could only safely transport "inanimate objects". When he tried to dematerialize and then rematerialize live test animals, they literally turned inside out. He subsequently attempted a simpler test, just teleporting a cooked steak - dead flesh - but even that came out the other end tasting awful. The reason for this was pretty simple, though: transmitting a pound of chemically simple objects like iron or water is easy, but a biological organism is drastically more complex than that. He later fixed this by refining the teleporter computer's programming.
  • The Matrix: As it is set during a Robot War, EMP generators are one of the few effective large-scale weapons that the human resistance has against the Machines. A complication is that Neo is still jacked in to the Matrix via remote broadcast, and simply pulling the plug will lead to fatal shock, so they have to wait until Neo gets to an exit point and unplugs on his own before they can use the EMP on the robot Sentinels bursting into the ship.
  • Avengers: Infinity War: Ebony Maw's telekinesis only works on inanimate objects and on himself.


  • Steelheart
    • Tensors can pulverize most matter, but can't affect flesh (at one point a skilled user punches some Enforcement mooks while disintegrating holes in their body armor for his fist to go through).
    • Steelheart's metal-transmutation power also can't affect living beings, and many other Epic powers are the same.
  • Worm: This trope is called the Manton Effect, and it's very common for capes. It's theorized to be a psychological block that prevents some capes from using offensive powers directly on living targets, and later revealed to be the shards keeping their host parahumans from accidentally harming themselves with their powers. Also, it encourages innovative uses of powers by said hosts. The few capes that have surpassed the Manton Effect (like the Some Kind of Force Field — wielding Narwhal) are extremely dangerous opponents.

     Tabletop Games  

  • World-Weathering Incandescence from Exalted is a charm that lets the infernal burn and destroy inanimate non-magical objects (like walls and floors and ceilings) with a single fiery blow.
  • Matter powers from Mage: The Awakening, which only directly affect non-living matter. Of course, vampires count as non-living matter...
  • Champions
    • It's possible to give attacks that normally affect living creatures (such as Energy Blast and Ranged Killing Attack) a disadvantage such as "Doesn't affect living creatures". This allows the character to use the attack freely without worrying about accidentally harming the innocent or violating a Code vs. Killing. It's particularly useful when applied to area effect attacks.
    • In The Great Super Villain Contest, the villain Annihilator has a 6d6 Ranged Killing Attack Explosion that only affects inorganic objects.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Any spell in that lists its target as "object" will not affect creatures. A few do make an exception for constructs.
    • Leprechauns from 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons had "polymorph non-living" as one of their most annoying talents.
  • Paranoia:
    • One type of gas shell available for the cone rifle is Corrosion Gas. It destroys all metal in the area of effect (such as armor and the bodies of robots). It has no effect on living creatures.
    • A Gauss Gun sends out a powerful electromagnetic charge that has a devastating effect on electronics (including robots and computers). It doesn't affect organic beings.
  • GURPS: Spells from the College of Making and Breaking will only affect inanimate objects.
  • RuneQuest: the spell Animate (Substance) is restricted to inanimate matter with the caveat that it works on organics if they are already dead.
  • Forgotten Realms: Portals with the Nonliving-Only modifier will only transport inanimate matter.
  • Shadowrun: In Shadowrun Street Grimoire 5th Edition, the Decoy spell is a variant of the Chaos spell that only influences non-living sensor devices.

     Video Games  

  • In SSI's Galactic Adventures, one of the weapons was a Heat Ray Gun that could destroy solid objects (like walls) but had no effect on opponents.
  • The Repair/Destruct power from Memoria can only affect non-living objects.
  • Depending on the patch, the Ultralisk and Reaper in Starcraft II have an attack that does a lot of damage, but can only hit buildings.
  • In the Star Wars videogame Knights of the Old Republic:
    • Ion Weapons damage machines but not living targets (might work on shields too.)
    • The Disable Droid light-side Force power does the same but has much higher damage and Area of Effect. Both are VERY useful when playing as a Light Side character.
  • In Red Alert 3, the Japanese basic Anti-Vehicle infantry weapon is not completely harmless to humans, but does very little damage to them (as is the case for most Anti-Armor weapons for balance reasons). According to the fluff they're explicitly calibrated to do so, for safety reasons.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The Adept-level Alteration spell Telekinesis cannot be used on living targets. It can be used to throw objects at them.
  • The Telekinesis power from various Ultima videogames does not affect living things.

     Western Animation  

  • The "Argon Matrix Laser" from Spider-Man: The Animated Series was explicitly incapable of harming organic matter but it could damage clothing and even severed two of Doctor Octopus' cybernetic limbs.
  • Futurama: Parodied in "Fear of a Bot Planet" with this line from a robot in a Show Within a Show: "Incredible. The human was impervious to our most powerful magnetic field, yet he was destroyed by a harmless pointed stick."
  • Played with by Rose's Sword in Steven Universe: It's a weapon specifically designed to never damage a Gem's stone, which is their closest equivalent of human flesh, being the only part of them that can suffer permanent damage. It'll cut through a gem's constructed hard-light body with ease and, though not commented on, we're left to assume it would slice through human flesh just fine—it once cut an insect-like alien, though not lethally. It should be noted this isn't simply a case of being not sharp or hard enough to do the job, but is physically incapable of shattering a Gem. It was able to poof Pink Diamond, who, being a Diamond, was Nigh-Invulnerable and capable of tanking attacks that would outright shatter other Gems.