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Sad Battle Music

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"This music makes me feel as though I am doing something noble, and horribly wrong."
A Youtube commenter, on OFF's "Minuit A Fond La Caisse"

Generally, whenever works of fiction decide they want to employ some good ol' pathos during The Siege to get tears flowing, such as showing beloved characters die as their losing side of a battle gets steamrolled by the enemy, or a One-Man Army making their last stand before finally giving in, sometimes they won't just rely to having characters dying in people's arms or resorting to Pietà Plagiarisms, ignoring the carnage around them just because Talking Is a Free Action.

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Instead, they might eschew those tropes in favor of letting the tragedy unfold as Red Shirts and beloved characters meet their maker during a Last Stand, and what better way to underscore the drama by playing the exact opposite of Hot-Blooded battle music? To better reflect the feelings of hopelessness experienced by the losing side, the futility of a conflict, the broken psyche of a character in the middle of a mental breakdown amidst the chaos, or even the horrors of war itself, melancholy one-woman wails and the like are used to broadly communicate those to the audience; dramatic slow motion and muted sounds are pretty much expected to appear in live-action works.

Other works — particularly, but not limited to, video games and anime — apply this trope rather differently. Sad battle music isn't just limited to grand war sequences, but also can also be heard during smaller-scale conflicts, usually duels between two characters. In this case, the normal pace of the fight is kept intact, likely to emphasize the brutality that may ensue along with the somber mood of the conflict. note  Battles that involve Tragic Villains, Anti-Villains, Fallen Heroes, Heroic Antagonists, and Tragic Monsters begging for a Mercy Kill are common situations where somber music can be fitting. If it's a no-holds-barred battle between allies, one of which has turned traitor, gone insane, brainwashed or infected yet still conscious, etc., sad battle music is also very likely be heard, as if to emphasize how tragic and conflicting it feels to watch the good guys cut each other down mercilessly due to circumstance, emotional turmoil, or conflicting goals — especially if the fight is futile or unnecessary to carry out in the first place, or if you're the one doing it — as well as express how personal it is for both combatants. If the opponent in question is a mentor, a close friend, family, or a loved one, you better brace yourself for a Tear Jerker, because this trope is guaranteed to happen.

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Subtrope of Simple Score of Sadness. Compare: Playing the Heart Strings, where sound effects are muted for music; One-Woman Wail, where you hear a wailing singing voice; Lonely Piano Piece, where one character or very few characters realize that they're on their own; Ethereal Choir, where a distant choir harmonizes with the scene. All of these can overlap with this trope when they accompany the right kind of scene.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Fan Works 
  • Kingdom Hearts: The Antipode: An original composition, titled Fractured Mirror, was made for the Final Battle of the second installment. A Lord of the Castle-inspired number that is in equal parts climactic and emotional; it perfectly encapsulates the conflict between Riku and Riku Replica.
  • The Undertale Web Comic/multimedia project Inverted Fate has several examples:
    • Regret, Asgore's battle theme is both tense and melancholy, reflecting the fact that he is secretly trying to goad Frisk into taking his soul so they can return to the surface without killing Toriel.
    • Wavering Spirit, Alphys's fight theme, while not as somber as the other examples, does have a somewhat melancholy feel, reflecting Alphys's going against her own beliefs and trying to kill the human, as the Captain of the Royal Guard is expected to do.
    • Confrontation! The Killer Robot’s Final Stand!, the theme that plays during the first part of Mettaton's CORE battle, plays as Undyne forces Mettaton to turn against Frisk and try to kill them on live TV, just as his audience expects. The sad choirs and the tense notes make it clear the pain Mettaton feels in attacking his friend, both physically and verbally.
    • Ultimatum + Everything Is (Not) Fine is eventually revealed to be this, as it plays as Papyrus and Sans confront an emotionally distraught Frisk in Part 48 to calm them down and help them get back on the right track.
    • Fallen Crown, Toriel’s boss theme, reflects perfectly the poor queen’s inner turmoil. Word of God stated that the song represents Toriel’s very complex emotional state.

    Film 
  • Billion Dollar Brain; as General Midwinter's army plunges through the frozen Gulf of Finland to suffer a horrific mass death by drowning and hypothermia (caused when the Soviet Airforce dropped an "icebreaker" bomb on the ice), the background music being played is a down-tempo version of "Midwinter's Theme".
  • In Braveheart, during the Battle of Falkirk, sad music begins to play as the Scottish nobles William Wallace trusted to help them flee the field instead, and the King of England, Edward Longshanks, orders his archers to fire on the infantry fighting in the front. The music becomes more tragic and dramatic as Wallace attempts to chase after Longshanks, and finds out that yet another Scottish noble he trusted betrayed him, causing him to suffer a Heroic BSoD after witnessing this Despair Event Horizon.
  • Cars 3: The music at the Los Angeles 500 starts off majestic and bright as Lightning manages to beat the other next-gens, but at lap 461 after Storm suddenly overtakes him, the music becomes worrisome and intense as Lightning falls back and pushes himself to the max as he struggles to catch up. The music gets more and more intense, eventually deteriorating into a Scare Chord as he loses control and is about to crash.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 has the track "Courtyard Apocalypse", accompanied by watching the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix fight to the bitter end. It even becomes more sad when you see Fenrir Greyback, a werewolf who has developed a taste for human flesh when not in his wolf form, feeding on the body of Lavender Brown.
  • The slow woodwind solo during the combat at Agincourt in Kenneth Branagh's film of Henry V. Some of the combat sequences are also done in slow motion.
  • The final battle of The Last Samurai starts off with a powerful, pounding score, but it turns into this as everything slows down and the awesome sword-fighting becomes pure butchery, in addition to several notable characters being killed. It doesn't quite recover.
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • There are two uses of this trope in The Fellowship of the Ring. The first is when they escape the mines of Moria right after Gandalf falls. The second is when Boromir is slain fighting the orcs.
    • In The Two Towers, there is one during part of the battle of Helm's Deep, when Haldir dies.
    • In the movie of The Return of the King, Pippin sings a song for Denethor. It's a sad melody. At the same time, Faramir and his battalion charge Osgiliath, and it doesn't go well.
  • Barber's Adagio for Strings famously plays over the final scene to Platoon.
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith:
    • "Anakin's Betrayal" plays during the march on the Jedi Temple and the montage of Clone Troopers killing their Jedi generals, courtesy of Order 66.
    • Word of God says that "Battle of the Heroes," which plays during the climactic fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan, is meant to be this when compared to "Duel of the Fates" from the rest of the prequel trilogy.
  • Rogue One has "Your Father Would Be Proud" during the climactic battle, when the Death Star fires on Scarif, killing the entire Rogue One team, while Darth Vader's destroyer disables the Rebel flagship.
  • Several battles in We Were Soldiers are set to a slow Scottish dirge, Sgt. Mackenzie.

    Live Action TV 
  • "Slayer's Elegy", which plays over the fight between the Master('s minions) and the white hats in "The Wish" as we watch Alternate Universe versions of all our favorite characters die helplessly, often at each other's hands.
  • Game of Thrones uses ''The Night King'' during the Battle of Winterfell, when it appears that the Night King and the White Walkers are about to win.
  • The uptempo version of The Lonely Man that plays in the opening of The Incredible Hulk (1977). Though not used in a battle per se, it did display quite a bit of the destruction that David Banner caused in his Incredible Hulk state.
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Siege of AR-558" plays a sad piece during a climactic battle between Starfleet and the Jem'Hadar. Given the episode's theme, it's very fitting.
    • The episode "Valiant" also has sad music playing while the titular starship is being blasted to hell by a Dominion battleship, which makes for interesting Mood Whiplash as the preceding music was more upbeat while the Valiant launched what seemed like a successful attack against the battleship in question. Notably, both episodes were scored by Paul Baillargeon, who has a talent for this sort of thing.
  • Kamen Rider Gaim: Notice that during Kouta's first battle with an Inves the music is dark and grim rather than fast-passed and upbeat as the first fights in the previous Rider shows where. It gives you the sense that the fight should not be happening. Episode 14 shows us why.

    Web Comics 
  • In Homestuck, John and Rose's duel with Bec Noir over the corpses of their dead parents is set to At The Price Of Oblivion, which is a track about as bleak as it sounds. Not that it lasts for very long, though — the music abruptly cuts out when John is killed. It gets better if you listen to the full version of the song in the album... where it ends in the flash, the full version goes into what is possibly one of the most epic action songs in history.

    Web Animation 
  • In Red vs. Blue Season 10, in the climactic episodes, York and Carolina, who have been the subject of some serious Ship Tease over the course of the season, come to blows when York wants to stop Carolina from madly chasing after Tex. They fight in a Zero-G environment, and the music, "Ballet Breakup", is appropriately somber.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The music that plays during the Agni Kai between Zuko and Azula during Sozin's Comet. Fittingly, the music is called "The Last Agni Kai".
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog: The episode "Human Habitrail" featured Sad Chase Scene Music, where a wacky, inconsequential boat chase between Courage and Doc Gerbil was set to a haunting female opera solo. It really must be seen to be believed.
  • The theme to Gargoyles seems to scream this...or roar this, whatever.
  • Steven Universe:
    • "Defective" plays during the fight between Pearl and Amethyst.
    • There's also the second half of "The Breaking Point" that plays during Steven's fight against Bismuth that ends with him "killing" his new ally turned foe.
  • The Super Mario World cartoon features a dramatic background track specific to that cartoon, which leans toward this territory. It's first heard when the Paragoombas attack in "Fire Sale."

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Paragoomba Attack

This was the first instance of the somber tune that plays in the Super Mario World cartoon.

How well does it match the trope?

2.56 (16 votes)

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