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Superficial Solution

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Whenever trouble arises, there are many ways it can be addressed. If the people in charge are not running in circles or passing the blame, they will probably draft a solution to wrap it up as soon as possible.

Except, with some rethinking, the solution given is not a real solution, it's merely a deterrent or a cover for the real problem. The problem has not been truly solved at all, merely delayed.

This is the Superficial Solution, whenever a problem or issue is given a short term or partial answer instead of a complete one, which will eventually lead to the problem in question to resurface later on, or worse, create even more problems down the line.


The reasons for this trope's existence can vary within a story: Sometimes its due to the incompetence of the people in charge who can't think of a better solution, other times it's the irresponsibility of the leaders for not taking the matter at hand seriously; more sympathetically, it could be due to a lack of funds, as the permanent solution can be prohibitely expensive to acquire or execute; or, in the worst of cases, an inability of actually solving the issue completely. If The Hero and his True Companions are the ones to find about this, the reaction to it can differ depending on the story's position in the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism.

One that sits at the idealistic end of the scale can feature the heroes solving the problem once and for all while one in the cynical end will have them stand down. A work in the middle is also free to explore the ultimate cost of solving the problem, whether this is in terms of money, manpower or even the heroes morality.


If the villain is the one who tries to address the problem, expect him or her to be a Well-Intentioned Extremist or an Anti-Villain who disregards the collateral cost of fixing the issue or who acknowledges it but considers that the benefits outweight the costs. Expect that in a confrontation with the heroes the antagonist will point out to the heroes what needs to be done to fix the issue at hand.

Another scenario is that in which the heroes themselves are the ones that give a partial solution that frees them to seek a permanent one, either for time constrains or to avoid a panic.

If the problem is indeed given a permanent solution, it can serve as a natural way to change the Status Quo and have the cast deal with the aftermath.

Compare to Cutting Corners, which can be a reason for why this trope exists in a work, and Elephant in the Living Room, which is when nobody points the incomplete nature of a given solution.


This is a Super-Trope to:

  • Cardboard Prison: The villains will always be able to get out at some point.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The heroes of the previous generation were unable to permanently deal with the villain.
  • Small Steps Hero: Doing inmediate good even if that means allowing a greater evil to surface in the future.

Needless to say, this is Truth in Television.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • What quickstarts the plot of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's is the threat of the Book of Darkness, an artifact of ancient Belka that is incredibly dangerous and which will always come back into existence, leading the TSAB into to a recurrent struggle to contain it since that's the only thing they are allowed to by the law. Gil Graham's illegal plan to end the cycle once and for all involves awakening it in a non-administrated world and sealing away its master, Hayate Yagami, so that it cannot reincarnate itself again. Fortunately, the cast is able to put it away for good by sheer firepower and Reinforce's sacrifice.
  • It's revealed and confirmed in UQ Holder! that The Mage of the Beginning, Ialdabaoth cannot be permanently killed since she would Body Surf from her dying host to the body of the one who defeated her. Both Touta and Negi reached to the conclusion that only by using Time Stop magic and Anti-Magic could they finally defeat her once and for all.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: When Ami has to deal with toxic corruption that decays her environment, she slows down that decay to gain some time in order to create a permanent solution.
  • Discussed in Advice and Trust in regards to Kaworu's angel condition. Kaworu is aware that the call will always compel him to try to initiate Third Impact and ponders that the only way to be safe is to kill him, the other characters however refuse to do so and point out that they will be his anchors to keep him away from the call.
  • In response to Bakugou's bullying and Izuku's refusal to tolerate Bakugou's bullying nor Onodera Middle's discrimination of him, the principal decide to kick both out of Onodera in The Vigilante Boss and His Failed Retirement Plan. It did address Izuku's bullying problem as Izuku went to a better school, it didn't actually fix nor punish Bakugou's bullying behavior. Bakugou attempts to bully and become the Big Man on Campus ostracize him in his more strict school. Bakugou refused to change and ended lashing out even harder in his attempt to return to normalcy.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Chernobyl
    • Why Legasov decides to dump boron and sand on the reactor at first. He knows that this will just melt everything down into "lava", which could cause a lot of problems, but he thinks they have a month to fix that and right now the most important thing is dealing with the huge immediate problem of an exposed reactor belching radioactive smoke into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, it turns out that the window of time he expected to ameliorate the consequences is much shorter than he thought.
    • One of the Disaster Dominoes mentioned in the last episode was the use of Diesel-fueled back-up generators for Reactor 4 to act in case the energy that powered the pumps was cut and thus prevent a meltdown of the reactor. The problem relied on the fact that the back-up generators took approximately a minute before they could reach the velocity required to power the pumps again. This in turn made it imperative that the reactor passed the last safety test, which eventually lead to the disaster itself.

  • Redwall: In Taggerung, Tagg encounters a tribe of pygmy shrews who depend on massive shoals of tiny fish migrating through the area for food, and sacrifice one of their own to a giant eel they think is responsible for the fish swarms. Tagg solves the problem by killing the eel, which none of the shrews were able to do.
  • Discussed in The Andromeda Strain. When a character, who is trying to find a way to stop the titular virus that kills by blood clotting, considers how in the past previous plagues like cholera were stopped by addressing their symptoms.
  • World War Z. The US government's initial response to the zombie outbreak is limited to deployment of covert special teams to investigate the crisis, producing an educational video for law enforcement, and encouraging the distribution of a vaccine they knew was useless. After the event a politician justifies this as avoiding panic so everyone can get on with their jobs, never mind that nothing effective was being done in the face of a growing global crisis.

    Video Games 
  • In Ghost Trick, the justice minister scenario is solved by getting him some heart medicine to prevent a fatal heart attack. Before doing so however, you have to give him a glass of water to buy some time, otherwise you won't be able to deliver the medicine in time.
  • Final Fantasy X: The Kaiju Sin can only be put to sleep for a while (up to several years) instead of permanently killed, because while the Final Aeon (made from one of the summoner's closest friends) can defeat Sin, the summoner dies in the attempt and Sin reforms around that Aeon. While Spirans know this (which makes Fish out of Water Tidus realize he's been coming across as a colossally insensitive asshole talking about what he and Yuna will do once Sin's dead), they don't know that this was intended from the very beginning, leading to them finding a way to finally destroy Sin's core, the godlike figure their religion is based on.
  • In Fire Emblem Awakening, the Big Bad Grima can only be defeated with the power of the Exalted Falchion; however, this only seals him away for a thousand years, leaving him free to return later. Since the only one who can permanently defeat Grima is Grima himself, the superficial solution is the only possible solution for humanity. When this is brought up, Chrom brushes it off with a "another group of heroes will surely handle it in the future like we will now" rationalization. However, through the course of the story, you discover that you, the Avatar, are actually an incarnation of Grima yourself — and, because of this, a permanent solution is now possible for the first time. You get to choose which of the two solutions to take at the end of the game: the superficial one, or the permanent one at the cost of your own life.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama highlights the Crapsaccharine nature of 30th century Earth by having people employ temporary solutions to world-ending problems.
    • "A Big Piece of Garbage": Back in 2052, New New York dealt with its garbage problem by launching it all into space... and in the present, that giant ball of garbage is on a collision course with Earth, and will reduce New New York to a "stinky crater". After trying to blow up the garbage asteroid (à la Armageddon) fails, the people of New New York launch another ball of garbage into space, knocking the first one into the Sun. Leela expresses concern that this new garbage asteroid will return and menace Earth as well, but Prof. Farnsworth replies that it won't happen for hundreds of years, so it's not their problem.
      Fry: That's the 20th Century spirit!
    • 'Crimes of the Hot': Global warming is getting worse, and a faulty design in all robots has exacerbated the issue. For centuries, Earth has solved the problem by harvesting ice from Haley's Comet and dumping it into the ocean, but now the comet's run out of ice. President Nixon tries to fix the problem by arranging to kill all the robots in the world (which doesn't address any other sources of greenhouse gases, or how hot the Earth already is). The robots save themselves by venting all their emissions in unison to move the Earth further from the Sun, but that leaves everyone choking on toxic smoke and the planet will inevitably heat up faster because the emissions never stopped.

    Real Life 
  • A common criticism against democracy is that politicians in this system aim for what would keep themselves in office and as a result, go for the appearance of a solution rather than a true solution, which would be less visible, more expensive, and/or come to fruition long after they have left office and can no longer take credit for it. Those who acknowledge this flaw but still support democracy put as a rebuttal that leaders who are in positions more long-term and secure have less measures in check to prevent them from using power in self-serving ways.
  • A variation can be seen with the Tetrarchy of Diocletian. His reforms did give the Roman Empire a second lease of life; however, he did not address the issue of succession, which had been one of the causes of the "Crisis of the Third Century" in the first place. Not so later, the Tetrarchy would fall and the Empire would be reunified under Constantine the Great.
  • The Jin Dynasty fell into this trap once the reunification of China was done. The practice of appointing members of the Imperial Clan to executive offices was an attempt to counterweight the fact that their grip on power was feeble in the face of the aloof nobility, whom they could not make fall in line. Unfortunately, this allowed the princes of the Sima family to war on each other when a Succession Crisis happened and left the country ravaged and defenseless to the barbarian tribes of the north.
  • The practice of giving danegeld (bribes) to the Vikings during the early Middle Ages to make them go away only proved to make the raiders bolder, weaken the states that gave the coin in question and make the local lords more powerful as the ability of the monarch to deal with the Scandinavians was put into question. Rudyard Kipling's famous poem "Dane-Geld" addresses this problem:
    And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
    But we've proved it again and again,
    That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
    You never get rid of the Dane!
  • Some medical conditions or diseases such as cancer or organ deficiency can only be given partial treatments and not complete ones due to various circumstances such as the expense of the operations in question (such as chemotherapy) or the lack of strength of the individual's body to resist the treatment.
  • The Treaty of Versailles is one of the most infamous examples of this trope in the realm of diplomacy. Between angering the defeated Germany without properly ensuring it could not rise to power again, not giving Italy its promised dues and failing to address the expansion of Japan and the problem of colonization, the Entente sowed the seeds of conflict for the next decades of the century.
    Ferdinand Foch: This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.