Where in a show or game that features ludicrously powerful people, a certain character or group of characters are overshadowed by their superior fellows and end up looking like plain crap, even though they are still very competent in comparison to your average Innocent Bystander.
Similar to Badass Normal, except they rarely get a chance to actually be badass and they are not always considered "normal" in the first place. If the creator is cognizant of this, expect a few rounds of Training from Hell to remedy this Can't Catch Up. Occasionally, they'll get their own storyline among 'real' normals, just to show how objectively badass they actually are. Unfortunately, Hard Work Hardly Works, so you can expect them to remain overshadowed throughout the show...
Of course, this makes sense for human characters playing second fiddle to someone superhuman, or even a god. Unless...
See also Muggle Power, Tough Act to Follow, and In the End, You Are on Your Own. Can cause Always Second Best, Always Someone Better, Stuck in Their Shadow, Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist. Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond may result if they end up somewhere where their ability is actually potent. Videogame gameplay version of this would be Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness and Power Creep.
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- This can easily happen if a Munchkin (who knows the rules of the edition they're playing) min-maxes their character to hell and back. Especially if combined with a dungeonmaster who doesn't place enough upgrades for melee fighters in a campaign of Dungeons & Dragons.
- It can also happen easily if the players roll for their character stats, in fact this is one of the main arguments for the point buy system: every character has 8 in every stat at the start, distribute 27 points around up to a cap of 15 (though racial bonuses and the like can go through the cap) and there's your character. Every character will have different arrangements but will be on level pegging if you tally them up.
- Or, in 3rd edition and 3.5 if someone plays a caster class above level 6 or so, thanks to Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards. The higher the level, the greater the disparity. Even if the non-caster seems awesome on paper, he's still massively outclassed by the magic users.
- The Lunar Exalted: Blessed by the goddess of the moon with the power to shapeshift, which includes the ability to assume the forms of anything or anyone they've killed and eaten, including demons and gods. They are the only Exalt type to have successfully and permanently altered their own Exaltations. This is on top of their own innate magic to become masterful charmers and hypnotists, brilliant sorcerors and scientists, and/or nearly unparalleled warriors; they are the protectors of all Creation. They are also completely overshadowed by the Solar Exalted, who were empowered by the sun god with sheer overwhelming skill and might. On top of that, each Lunar is magically bound toward a single Solar.
- Dragon-Blood have it even worse. Even the Dragon-Blood book goes out of its way to point out that one Terrestrial in a mixed game is a bad idea; the Terrestrial Exalted are intended to work as a team, and outnumber the whole host of all Celestial Exalted nearly 30:1 for a reason.
- All over the place in Warhammer 40,000. The Imperial Guard are the most obvious example; they're the largest military force in human history, made up of trillions of intensely trained soldiers equipped with technology far more advanced than their modern equivalents, and yet the prevalence of Super Soldiers, Eldritch Abominations, and alien species superior in technology, physical prowess, psychic abilities, and/or numbers makes the Guard quite pathetic by comparison. They do have frequent wins, and their tanks are the nastiest things on the tabletop, but ultimately they aren't that impressive despite their power. They do still get a decent amount of respect for the standard-issue giant brass balls that they keep fighting regardless.
- Generally, Toughness 3 and an Armour Save of 5+ was supposed to be considered good, with 4+ being elite body armor and 3+ being the equivalent of a walking tank. However, with the popularity of Space Marines and variants, many of the other species that would have been considered "normal" have been demoted to "swarm" status. Doesn't help when GW seems to actively embrace this new image, releasing even more space marines while actively playing up the "swarms" part in other armies.
- A high-powered laser that can take off an unarmored man's limbs in a single shot, can be recharged just by throwing its magazine in a fire or keep it in sunlight and can be mass-produced with such ease that a man who barely knows how to build a hut out of mud and wood would not only be able to operate one, but also make one? The US army would be clamoring for such a piece of technology. To 40k however, it is the humble lasgun, otherwise known as "flashlights". This is because every other gun in the setting is either a rapid-firing, one-handed grenade launcher, fires mono-molecular edged ninja stars, flesh-eating worms, or just flat out rips you apart at an atomic level.
- In the current Meta many units are often seen as "uncompetitive". This does not mean they're bad or underpowered, in fact most of them do very well at what they do and are quite appropriate for their cost. However, there are many units that are more powerful than them, many of which share the same Force Organisation Slot, meaning you either choose between the balanced unit, or the overpowered one. It's not a hard choice.
- In the actual lore, Luther would have been the single greatest hero of all time on Caliban, if one of the primarchs, Lion El'Johnson, didn't happen to land on that particular planet. At this point, it is almost bordering on a tragic subversion, since, while Lion El'Johnson is physically powerful, tactically brilliant, and very quick to analyze any situation, he is an absolute moron with dealing with people. Luther isn't quite at Lion's level, but his charisma ends up making him more effective than Lion in most situations. Several major issues caused accidentally by Lion El'Johnson probably would not have occurred under Luther.
- What about the PDF? The Planetary Defence Forces? It's joked that their role is to be punching bags long enough for the Imperial Guard and Space Marines to arrive, but think that not all of them are backwater hired guns and mercs. The wealthier and more important worlds have huge and well-equipped PDFs with competent officers, competent men, and have the money and industrial base to equip their men with the finest weapons and armour the Imperium can provide. Forge worlds are even more impressive, with lasguns, tanks and artillery that are produced by the Adeptus Mechanicus and actually superior to what the Imperial Guard get, not to mention they may be upgraded with the order's own cybernetics technology and turned into the Skitarii. Basically, a Forge World PDF will be the size and technology equivalent of the US military, a Badass Army in their own right. Yet in come the Orks, Eldar or Tyranids, and the PDF get utterly crushed. The PDF lack the one thing that make the Imperial Guard competitive: quantity. Even the most badass PDF is not enough. Not even close to being enough.
- PDF tends to outnumber Guard by a large margin. It is hard to transport millions of soldiers between stars to defend nameless backwater planet. Guard is more effective because they are recruited from the best fighters of PDF, they have much better morale, actual combat experience, and complex electronic equipment.note However, the main problem of PDF is the plot. Xenos attacked and PDF kicked their asses just don't make up a good story. (Except in some of the Ciaphas Cain books, where they get A Day in the Limelight and provide the muscle for Cain's wins.)
- One of the outcomes of Power Creep whenever it is applied to any game. What was once dominant can be knocked down into obscurity because the newest additions invoke this trope. Case-in-point, the famed Blue-Eyes White Dragon from Yu-Gi-Oh!. Once known as a nigh-unbeatable powerhouse, the shift in power and pacing of the game has changed such that it is not unusual to see a Deck field out 2 or more monsters of its strength in a single turn with beneficial effects to boot. It took some explicit support (involving cards that would also be on par with the game's own Power Creep, mind you) to bring Blue-Eyes back up to speed.
- The Lion in Winter: Prince John has the misfortune of being born into an entire family of Magnificent Bastards, and ends up looking rather thick by comparison (and resenting it a lot).
- Aaron Burr is a highly intelligent scholar and a skilled lawyer, but even he can't keep up with a genius like Hamilton. His complicated feelings about watching Hamilton's rise are one of the main driving forces of the story.
- While he doesn't appear, John Adams is periodically referenced as this in comparison to the other Founding Fathers. King George III in particular comments on how he seems almost comically unworthy to succeed George Washington.
- Discussed in Daughter for Dessert between the protagonist and Lainie in the flashbacks. The protagonist tells Lainie about his dream of opening a diner, and Lainie asks him if he’d like to open a restaurant instead. He replies that he doesn’t see himself as a good enough cook to run his own restaurant. And it is well established that he can cook.
- Double Homework:
- Tamara is a strong skier in her own right, but her abilities are eclipsed by those of her brother, the protagonist of the story.
- Double subverted with Rachel. The protagonist saw her talent while the two were dating before, and suggested that she try for the Olympics like he was doing. He was initially better, but after the first avalanche, he falls off the wagon with his training while Rachel sticks to her regimen, and she edges him out at the Olympic qualifier by a split second. In Rachel’s epilogue, however, Rachel wins the bronze medal, not gold. Not only that, the protagonist notes that if he were in the same competition in tip-top shape, he would have won gold in all likelihood.
- In Majikoi! Love Me Seriously! this happens to pretty much all the male leads. Gakuto in particular is shown to be able to hold off 70 people attacking him at once with a broken leg but is hopelessly outclassed against almost all the characters. It also happens to some of the female characters, like Fushikawa or, tragically, Kazuko Kawakami.
- Majikoi is incredibly bad about this, to the point where nearly every character save for a select few is completely overshadowed by the main female lead Momoyo by a wide margin. To put this into perspective, all of the women on the main team are stronger than the men, but all of them save for one are significantly weaker than Momoyo.
- Yamato manages to avoid this, however, by being The Chessmaster and a Magnificent Bastard.
- The whole of Melody can be seen as a deconstruction for the music industry. The protagonist, Tim, Liam, Dash, and Jade are all good musicians, but none of them have achieved superstardom due to the fiercely competitive nature of the business. Short of the Perfect Ending, this becomes Melody’s fate as well. She achieves a measure of success, but not enough to become a household name.
- Poor Hoshikawa Maki from Tokimeki Memorial 4. She is the dedicated lead heroine, taking up the torch from previous main lead heroines from the game series and overall fulfills all the necessary criteria to be one. But she is easily overlooked or deemed not as memorable as Satsuki Yuu, the deuteragonist who is an Expy of old-time fan-favorite Fujisaki Shiori as well as Okura Miyako, the game's Ensemble Dark Horse due to her not just being a secret character to date, but also her route consisting of her personality doing a 180 and being the first Yandere in the game series.
- DEATH BATTLE! has matches like these frequently. Nearly every single combatant is a badass in their own right, and some can even fight on equal footing with their opponent. Other matches on the other hand, end up with the losers getting destroyed by their opponents who are simply better than them in every single way that matters.
- One of the most notable is Hercule Satan VS Dan Hibiki where as it turns out, Hercule won because of this trope; Both Hercule and Dan are pathetic excuses of fighters in their own worlds, Hercule is only that way due to being a normal man in a multiverse of planet busters at minimum, otherwise being, by normal standards, an excellent fighter with at least one legitimate win to his name thanks to his skills. Dan on the other hand is pathetic even when in a world full of fighters much closer to him in power, frequently gets his pink clad ass kicked (usually because of his own overconfidence) and his only confirmed victory was handed to him out of pity by Sagat.
- Jaune Arc is fairly physically strong, but he's still the weakest fighter of the heroes and has no formal training, so he Fights Like a Normal in a World of Badass where everyone fights according to Rule of Cool anime physics. Jaune makes up for it by being The Strategist.
- Team CRDL, memes aside, are not pushovers, but they do have the bad luck to have both their fights be against exceptionally strong opponents (Pyrrha and Penny), meaning that they get stomped fairly easily.
- Meta-version. Cracked made an article about works which become Genre Killers, not because they are bad, but because they are that good that they become the "definitive" movie.
- At the Super Hero School Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe, there are mutants who just don't have the best powers.
- Aquerna possesses the spirit of the squirrel. She can do a 25-foot standing broad jump. She's far stronger and quicker than any normal human her size. She has super-senses. She can talk to and command squirrels. And she's regarded as one of the biggest losers on campus.
- For that matter, Phase is a good example. Phase has pounded Matterhorn, fought an interdimensional demon to a standstill, one-punched Fantastico, and still thinks of himself as being in the bottom half of his team. He's probably right, given who's on his team.
- Gadgeteers often find themselves falling into this. They don't tend to have flashy powers - though their mechanical advantage, so to speak, can be utterly devastating. They don't usually have the Exemplar package, or magic, or super strength, or the like... so it's easy to underestimate them. One does so at one's own peril.
- False Swipe Gaming: Some Pokémon didn't see play in higher tiers because others fulfilled the same role, but better.
- Dragonite wasn't used in Gen 3 OU because Salamence had the exact same typing, was faster, and had higher offensive stats, making Salamence the better option.
- Thundurus completely outclassed Zapdos offensively in Gen 5 because the former had higher Special Attack, Speed, and Nasty Plot to boost its Special Attack even further, resulting in Zapdos dropping to the UU tier for the first and only time.
- The Deoxys video mentions that its Normal form was always overshadowed by its Attack form, so the Normal form saw extremely little usage.
- Honest Trailers all but says this in regard to the 2015 summer blockbusters that were not Mad Max: Fury Road:
Narrator: Age of Ultron (while showing the Hulkbuster)
Immortan Joe: Mediocre!
Narrator: Jurassic World (while showing the dinosaurs)
Immortan Joe: Mediocre!
Narrator: Terminator Genisys (while showing the T-800 make its un-smile)
- Epic Rap Battles of History:
- According to Winston Churchill, if Mount Rushmore was a band, Theodore Roosevelt would play bass.
- Wayne Gretzky points out to Tony Hawk that the two of them have collectively set 184 world records... of which Gretzky set 183.
- Guy Fawkes disses Che Guevara for being "Castro, but less so".
- Donald Trump calls Joe Biden "Barack's shadow".
- Zeus accuses Thor of being this, due to Thor not being the Top God of his pantheon.
- Discussed in Idols of Anime, with regards to Fancy Lala: Viga theorizes that part of the reason for Fancy Lala's poor ratings and early cancellation was that Cardcaptor Sakura was airing at the same time (and in fact premiered just two days after Fancy Lala), and was a much better Magical Girl show.
- In Noob:
- Heimdäl is leader of Justice, the top guild of the game up to Season 3/The third novel/Comic 7, can be assumed to be the best mage, is a good strategist and may possibly be in the top five. However, Fantöm, Amaras, and Spectre, the three that outrank him, are the poster boys for UltimateGamer386 and get to do most of the impressive stuff in the story, thus greatly limiting Heimdäl's opportunities to shine in comparison.
- Mist, who was top player before Spectre and actually the first to even earn the title, is stated to have gotten overshadowed by him in terms of reputation in one of the novels.