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Pent-Up Power Peril

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Frostbite: Lesson One: Stop shivering.
Danny: I c-c-can't.
Frostbite: This is because the cold is contained within you, and ever since you acquired your ghost abilities, you have only been letting it out in small amounts. But now you must learn to let it out all at once.
Danny Phantom, "Urban Jungle"

It's awesome to have superpowers or natural magical abilities because you can do all sorts of cool things no Muggle can do. You've got the power inside you. The trouble is that it's always trying to get out. If you don't use your magic, it builds up inside you, until it has no place to go but out. Being too full of magic may cause it to slip out. Or, the usual power outlet is blocked and the powers cause internal pressure and back up creating all sorts of problems such as Superpower Meltdown, Explosive Overclocking, or just plain old Wacky Antics.

If the character uses Emotional Powers they might "vent" their bottled up powers with an Angst Nuke.

Compare Phlebotinum Overdose, when the magic is forced in from the outside instead of self-generating from the inside. If you're thinking of non-magical digestive-related buildup, see Gasshole, Balloon Belly, Potty Emergency and Potty Failure.

Compare and contrast:

  • Conditional Powers: You have to do (or to not do) something (usually regularly) to access your powers. Here, you have to use your powers regularly or something bad may happen.
  • Heroic RRoD and Overheating: When your particular power/weapon has a limit on how much they're used and, when you reach the limit, you need to cool down first. Working beyond that limit often results in a disadvantageous situation. Here, it is encouraged to use your powers regularly, and not using it for a period of time causes peril.
  • Overclocking Attack: Forcing your foe to overwork themselves, weakening/incapacitating them in the process.

Subtrope of Phlebotinum Overload.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In an early episode of Bleach, Ichigo goes up against a Menos Grande. He realizes that if he keeps his constantly overflowing spiritual pressure contained for a few moments, he'll be able to release a burst of energy all at once. He does force the Menos Grande to retreat using this method, but the energy released is too much for him, and Uryu has to absorb some of his power and fire his spirit energy bow until the excess energy dissipates.
  • Hina from Hinamatsuri loses control of her telekinesis if she doesn't use it for long periods of time.
  • Karin is a semi-mundane example. She's a reverse vampire, which means that she injects people with extra blood rather than drink it. If she doesn't do so at least once a month, she can suffer potentially fatal nosebleeds.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi: An unintentional case near the beginning of the Magical World arc. Negi is mortally wounded in a battle with Fate, and Konoka uses a very powerful healing spell to save his life. However, as it turns out, she used too powerful a healing spell, and the excess magical energy stayed within Negi, causing fever and other flu-like symptoms, which baffle his students. Kotarou fortunately recognizes the symptoms and cures it by having Negi use up the extra energy in a fight.
  • Musshuru from One Piece 9th movie has the power of Shroom-Shroom Fruit, making him able to shoot poisonous spores. Said spores build up in his body if he doesn't release it, and he has to release it in large amounts every 10 years.
  • Promare: Burnish are pyrokinetic mutants who need to set things on fire or their flames release themselves in uncontrollable bursts. Supressing their urges also threatens their already fragile mental stability. On the other hand, releasing too much of their energy at once causes them to turn into ashes.
  • In Street Fighter II V, this is how Ryu first performed the Hadōken. He had such a buildup of ki that he had to get rid of it, so he did it by focusing it into a blast and firing it off.

    Comic Books 
  • In Cloak and Dagger, this is Dagger's problem: if she doesn't let the ever-increasing light energy inside her out regularly, it'll overclock her body and exhaust her to death. Fortunately Cloak is also always hungry for energy, so she can throw out all that energy to him.
  • In Finder, Jaeger has a Healing Factor that is so powerful that he develops dangerous auto-immune conditions if he doesn't periodically Self-Harm, or provoke other people into hurting him.
  • In Lucifer, the Basanos, a malevolent living tarot deck, provokes the title character into smiting them. What Lucifer doesn't know is that their co-conspirator, the Shinto underworld queen Izanami, has woven feathers into his wings designed to trap his power within his body when he prepares to use it. As a result, within seconds of powering up, he bursts into flames.
  • X-Men:
    • Villain Omega Red's body produces "Death Spores" that are toxic and will kill him if he doesn't regularly release them. Too bad he's a psycho who doesn't care about killing the people around him.
    • Sometime X-Men (usually X-Factor) member Strong Guy has the ability to absorb kinetic energy to enhance his strength. However, he must release it in 90 seconds or the power will distort his body. Sadly, this has happened to him, leading to his more iconic top-heavy look, leading to him actually having a heart attack at one point.
    • A young mutant introduced in Hickman's run is named Curse. True to her name, her power is to make things happen to people just by saying it. The drawback is she has to both use it and use it to harm, otherwise it backfires on her.

    Fan Works 
  • Cheshire (Miraculous Ladybug): As the Black Cat Holder, Marinette has Catastrophe, her own version of the Miraculous Cure. The catch is that must release it soon after she purifies an Akuma with Cataclysm, or she will suffer great pain and exhaustion.
  • In the Mass Effect/Starcraft crossover Cycles Upon Cycles, Shepard has this problem with his Psychic Powers since they were originally Amon's, and a human body is not the best host for even a small fraction of a Xel'Naga's power. It doesn't trouble him for the first part of the fic, but by chapter 26, he has to make sure that he vents excess energy into the void every day, or he'll die.
  • Spellbound (Lilafly): Adrien and Felix are half Cat Sidhe, and it's normal for them to spend time in each form, but their father doesn't like any reminders of magic ever since his wife disappeared. The longer Adrien and Felix are forbidden to transform into cats, though, the more jittery and edgy they become, making them very susceptible to the temptations of the Land of Faerie.
  • The "Revenge and Retribution" chapter of Urusei Yatsura: The Senior Year written by Fred Herriot and Ted Hsu has Ryōga Hibiki releasing his Shishi Hōkōdan chi blast into the air after enough rage at the Sagussan Ranma-chan doing painful humiliation to him by exposing he was P-chan to Akane, then letting him be blasted by plasma blasts while everyone laughed at him on Ranma Saotome's asking. Negako Moroboshi neutralizes the blast, and warns him about using it like that if an aircraft flew overhead (with the resulting deaths of innocents being a major guilt factor for him later). When the power builds in him, that guilt factor keeps him from being able to release the chi inside him, and he goes into Super-Power Meltdown. A spirit named "Karmalibra" possesses him to keep him from being an Angst Nuke, though. She later gets him to face Ranma-chan on the Dreamscape, and he shows Ranma that suffering he'd gone through was him dying while she and her friends just laughed, and that Nerima would have gone up in a nuke-level explosion had he died without Karmalibra stepping in. The final fight sequence, though, has Karmalibra driven out of his body while taking all the chi power she'd absorbed from him. When she dies, the light from the energy of her Super-Power Meltdown dispels the dark evening for a brief moment.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Man of Tai Chi: Tai Chi student Tiger has a great deal of chi, and when venting it (via powerful or dangerous attacks) he feels better.
  • In The Suicide Squad, Polka-Dot Man's powers cause bulbous, multi-coloured tumours to slowly cover his body over time. He needs to expel the built-up energy at least twice a day, otherwise the tumours would eat him alive.

  • In Ascendance of a Bookworm, this is the how The Devouring kills its hosts. Someone afflicted with this illness (like Myne) generates more Mana than he or she can release on his or her own. Once said mana overloads, it literally eats its host's own soul from within (hence the foreboding name) as shown in the first where the original Myne dies just as Urano's soul unwittingly takes over the body before it becomes a corpse. The severe symptoms include constant fevers, lethargy, hypersensitivity to harsh weather, and an ominously yellow aura with glowing rainbow irises in times of stress and despair. In fact, children with this illness are not expected to live beyond seven years old. Another sufferer, Freida, explains to Myne that it is possible to control the overloads so that they don't become lethal. However, this is largely unsustainable since the magical items needed to siphon the excess mana are only available to people who are not part of the Supernatural Elite under two possible means: prohibitively expensive and each works only once before breaking into little more than crumbs and powder or essentially becoming a noble's slave to pay one that will last a lifetime.
  • When Sonea's powers are first awakened in The Black Magician Trilogy, she tries to hide from the Magicians' Guild and seeks out the protection of those who hope to make use of an independent mage. However, lacking the necessary training, her magic builds up until she starts losing control of it, destroying the things around her whenever she gets emotional and coming close to overloading and killing herself. When the Guild finally finds her, the first thing they do is walk her through safely dumping the excess power, with unfortunate effects on her environment, before she can start learning to control it properly.
  • Bruce Coville's Book of... Magic II: In Transitions, if you don't use your power, it gets twisted up inside you and you get sick. This happened to one woman who refused to use her power of cursing people, resulting in her dying of cancer.
  • In the Chalion series, sorcerers need to vent the chaos from their demons. Just basic existence requires distributing a bit of chaos, typically dealt with by killing vermin of various sorts, which can be problematic if staying in one place too long. (Bedbugs in a given building are a finite resource.) Doing significant magic — especially 'uphill' magic that decreases chaos, such as healing — may require more significant amounts of chaos to be shed.
  • Ciaphas Cain once encountered a hydroelectric dam that, owing the the ork invasion, had been running for days with no one drawing the power it produced, and now had dangerously overloaded capacitor banks on the verge of explosive failure. This comes in handy later when the pursuing ork army catches up to him.
  • When Darth Bane had his orbalisk armor, the orbalisks composing it fed on rage and dark side energy and would sometimes induce destructive temper tantrums if they weren't getting enough. Even for a Sith Lord, this is a major problem, since some of his projects required days at a time of delicate concentration that he has to be calm for.
  • In The Grisha Trilogy, Alina was constantly sickly growing up due to subconsciously suppressing her powers. Once she starts using them regularly, her health improves greatly.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows reveals that Dumbledore's younger sister Ariana suffered from this. She was bullied by Muggles as a child for having magic, and held it in as much as she could in an attempt to be normal. Holding it in meant that she often exploded with magic. This gets demonstrated in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, where it's stated (and demonstrated) that a child who tries to deny their magic and trap it within them will turn it into a destructive dark creature called an Obscurus, which usually kills its hosts before they turn ten.
  • The Heir Chronicles, book 2 protagonist Seph starts out as an extremely powerful wizard with no training whatsoever, causing him to suffer from this trope.
  • Mages and psychics in the Heralds of Valdemar series are required to have at least enough training to know how to shield and not use their powers, or they break out uncontrollably, especially in a moment of Traumatic Superpower Awakening after which they may lash out and accidentally cause unintended harm.
  • In the Magic or Madness series, people who have magic need to use at least small amounts every so often. If they don't, they'll go insane (which happens to the protagonist's mother), but if they do, they'll die young.
  • In Majestrum, the backstory includes a millennia-old magical superweapon originally built by the Big Bad. When it was first activated, the resulting blast not only destroyed the Moon, but also killed the mages who'd originally been involved in building it. For untold centuries afterwards, the weapon remained, continually charging up. From time to time, someone would have to discharge it — at the cost of their life.
  • Subverted in Matilda, where Matilda's telekinesis was the result of her brain having nothing to work on. When she's placed at a higher grade level, her powers disappear (she keeps them in the movie).
  • In Pact, Rose Thorburn gains power by siphoning it from the Incarnation of Conquest, who she and her allies bested in battle and bound. She has to spend it quickly, or it becomes The Corruption, twisting her mentality towards Conquest's.
  • This turns out to be the reason why witches in Release That Witch have been suffering agony and even death when their powers awaken and each year thereafter. If they use their powers regularly, it's not a problem.
  • This happens to every member of the La Zelle family in Nina Kiriki Hoffman's A Fistful of Sky. Once their powers awaken (usually in adolescence) they have to use them regularly and release the magical energy building up inside them or they become severely ill and may eventually die. This is especially difficult for the main character who developed her powers much later than expected and turned out to have darker magic-the power to cast curses.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Sabrina the Teenage Witch, this is what happens if a witch doesn't use her magic. It starts slipping out at random until when it gets to be too much, which is when a witch totally loses their magic.
  • In Bewitched episode "Okay, Who's the Wise Witch?" Darrin's preventing Sam from using her powers backfired when it turned that her not using them caused the house to seal itself up from suppressed magic. At the end of the episode she decided that she need to do magic periodically in order to release the pressure.

  • BIONICLE: The Kardas Dragon constantly generates a concussive force inside of himself and then releases it. If he does not release the energy, it would be forced out as an explosion that would kill the Dragon. This wasn't a weakness as long as he was a guardian of the Kanohi Ignika, however, as dying would have just meant returning in an even stronger form.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is a major problem for ork wyrdboyz in Warhammer 40,000: their magic is wild and semi-controllable, and gets stronger the more orks are around, frequently resulting in the weirdboy's head exploding (hence their other name, 'eadbangerz). They are given copper sticks which alleviate the effects somewhat, but for the most part relieve the buildup via psychic manifestations of their gods' Giant Foot of Stomping, psychic vomit, and other orky spells.

    Video Games 
  • In the Trespasser DLC of Dragon Age: Inquisition, the Inquisitor's Mark of the player character, which is actually part of an ancient elven artifact that was once used to erect the Veil that sunders physical reality from the Fade, the magical reality and home of spirits, starts going out of control: In the normal course of the game, the Mark only powers up slowly through specific actions, but in Trespasser it begins to power up automatically at an increasingly fast rate. Eventually, it starts harming the player character if it is not discharged once it has fully powered up, eventually requiring the Mark to be triggered every few minutes just to stay alive.
  • If a Warlock in Dungeons of Dredmor lets their "Arcane Capacitor" skill go on for too long, eventually it explodes like a nuclear bomb, killing them and everything nearby.
  • God of War (2018): Played With. This turns out to be the reason behind Atreus's lifelong sickness: Kratos's misguided efforts to keep his godhood a secret is basically causing his true nature to eat away at him from the inside. It reaches a head when, in a moment of extreme rage, Atreus activates Spartan Rage and the backlash nearly kills him. Once the truth comes out, Atreus's illness never appears again, even if he's not actively using any divine powers.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Queen Oren of the Zora relies on a special gem—the Smooth Stone—as a kind of Power Limiter. Once it's stolen, she begins to bloat to a gigantic size, growing bigger and bigger as her power overflows from her body. Link has to recover the stone before Oren's power completely consumes her (and, presumably, the other Zora).
  • In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Samus is infected by The Corruption and her body self-generates Phazon energy. Once the Galactic Federation finds out, they redesign her suit to capture it as an energy source. Normally it is stable, but when activated for too long it will self-generate to the point of overload and she has to vent all of it out, or her suit will time out and vent it for her. If the Phazon builds up too much Samus is "corrupted" and becomes a copy of Dark Samus.
  • It's stated that Electric-type Pokémon have to discharge every so often. Electrically burnt objects are often left behind.

    Visual Novels 
  • One of the heroines in SHUFFLE! resents her inhuman nature to the point she refuses to use the magic that comes with it and the magic buildup takes a heavy toll on her health. Out of desperation for his lover, the protagonist literally cuts his wrists in front of her, thus forcing her to spend her magic on healing him.

  • In the El Goonish Shive arc "Sister II", a major plot point is the fact that Elliot and Ellen "awaken", a process after which their magical powers will be more powerful and developed. One side effect of this is that during the process, magic must be routinely utilized, otherwise it will build up and be used involuntarily.
  • Oglaf: Used for sex and for laughs twice.
    • In "Habeas Corpus" the unnamed protagonist that is Cursed with Awesome is informed that unless he comes within the hour, his balls will explode.
    • In "Inffirmary", the unnamed apprentice is diagnosed with "sssexual inexperiencce", and the doctors say that it might kill him.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: Roger is a downplayed example. His race has to let out their bitchiness often, otherwise it turns into bile and poisons them.
  • Danny Phantom discovers he has a similar problem when he develops his freeze ray. If he doesn't use it, he freezes over and so does everything he comes in contact with.
  • The Fairly OddParents!:
    • If a fairy is unable to use their powers to grant wishes for children, they will suffer from Magical Backup, a condition where magic builds up inside them until they swell up like a balloon and burst, becoming a pile of confetti. Oddly, they can grant wishes to fix this even after the explosion.
    • Another episode showed the April Fool has a specific condition where if the audience laughs before he finishes a joke and lets the funny out, he gets comedy backup. However, instead of suffering a confetti-based fate, it only banishes him back to Fairy World.
  • Max Steel (2013): Max's body generates TURBO energy constantly. If Steel isn't around to absorb it, it leaks out of him and becomes a serious and potentially fatal hazard.
  • South Park: One of Kenny's many deaths was by Spontaneous Human Combustion. It is discovered that the reason for him combusting was he had a new girlfriend so he was holding in his farts. The methane gas built up inside him and he exploded.
  • Red Star of Teen Titans builds up large amounts of radiation as a side-effect of his empowering and has to live isolated in a compound while releasing and containing the buildup in barrels. Problems arise when he realizes that his radiation containers have leaked, creating a Nuclear Mutant.