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The Call Has Bad Reception

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Some heroes aren’t born, they’re made. Though some calls don’t make it to the right person the first time. And then there are those times when The Chosen One is up to the challenge, and The Call goes out to the right person, but somehow… there’s a communication problem somewhere. The Precursors give the magic staff to the Chosen One to wish away evil and heal the sick, but the instructions get screwed up, and the One winds up using it as a bludgeoning tool to club criminals and a pestle to mix medicines. The magic book is given to the Chosen One to execute a myriad of magic spells, but the Chosen One isn't that good with magic, so they wind up using just the one spell in a number of innovative ways. The Chosen One may receive a tablet that he translates as requiring him to perform a certain action, but his translation is off, and the action he thinks the tablet requires them to perform is the action that he is being specifically requested not to do. These situations constitute this trope.

This trope is about situations where the Hero is pure, and the Call is for great justice, but for one reason or another, miscommunication occurs that causes the hero to perform less than admirably at his task. For this trope to apply:

  • There actually has to be a call to adventure involved. Someone imagining the call doesn't count.
  • The call has to have good intent, and cannot lie to the hero. There are some tropes that involve the hero being lied to in order to get the hero to do bad things. This is not one of them.
  • An Idiot Hero cannot be involved. The issue here is that the problem is the fault of the instruction giver, not the hero. If the hero is of the sort that, if he knew exactly what he had to do, he would still screw it up, then it doesn't count.
  • Half-truths, pretend-truths, and the like do not count. Even if the person sending the hero on the mission purposely tells the hero half the story with good intent, because the very act of telling him the whole story would immediately doom the hero to failure, then it doesn't count.

Not to be confused with Lost in Transmission, which is about part of a communication (e.g. a phone call) being lost/missed. Or with Cell Phones Are Useless, which is when your phone starts having bad reception the moment you need to get in touch with someone.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • This is the driving force of the plot of Giant Robo: The Day The Earth Stood Still. The succinct version of the saga is thus: young Emmanuel Von Volger walks in on his father unsuccessfully attempting to stop an experiment that winds up destroying a country. His father shuts himself into a room for days, until he stumbles out of his room, randomly babbling that Emmanuel should stop the scientists he worked with at all costs, and hands him the tool he needs to do it before dying. As Emmanuel delivers what he believes is the death stroke to the entire world, the truth is revealed via hologram: Dr. Volger wanted to stop the energy drive because the drive they created was faulty, and would have created an even greater catastrophe than the original explosion that set the whole story in motion. By this time Emmanuel has screwed up so badly that there's nothing left for him to do but kill himself.

    Comic Books 
  • In some versions of Green Lantern, the recipient of the ring gets it with little to no instruction, only to be told "you'll know what to do when it's time." Most notably DC: The New Frontier. Kyle Rayner's first days as a Green Lantern is a good example of this: Ganthet shows up after Hal Jordan goes nuts, gives Kyle the ring saying "You'll have to do," and disappears. Things are all fun and games until Major Force shows up...
  • This happens in Fray because of Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born. Melaka (the girl) got the strength but NOT the inherent slayer memories/psychic stuff, which went to her brother Harth. Which is even more awkward when he becomes a vampire.
  • In Gravyboy, a miscommunication causes the hero to receive mastery over gravy instead of gravity. He goes on to prove that Heart Is an Awesome Power.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), Tails believes he fulfilled The Prophecy of the Great Harmony when he united the Tails of the multiverse to become Titan Tails and defeat Master Mogul. Turns out that wasn't the case at all when he finally figures it out when Eggman's turncoat A.I. A.D.A.M. brings all of the Chaos Emeralds to Mobius.

    Fan Works 
  • This is as annoying as all hell to the four in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World when it turns out that instead of being “nice and straightforward” about what they want the four to do, as was the case in With Strings Attached, the Pyar gods usually just throw riddles and (crappy) poems and mysterious statements at them and expect them to figure out what's required. This leads to several moments where George, who has been meticulously writing down everything he comes across (graffiti, notes on bulletin boards, etc.), goes through his list of “Gods Chat” trying to find something applicable to a situation. The four do figure out the right path a couple of times—most importantly when they meet the Last Wizard.
  • A Champion in Earth-Bet: The Living Nebula spent decades creating mutants to try and prepare humanity for a far-off existential threat, but eventually it decided to address them directly and created the Energy Being Phantom as a herald. Unfortunately, Phantom could not hear its telepathic communication and is just as unaware of his purpose as everyone else, though he makes up for it by being a hero.
  • An in-universe example from The New Captain N. Max admits that Radd is, in fact, much more knowledgeable on games than he is, and this is what scares Max the most. However, Lana prefers Max, for reasons beside just gaming knowledge.
  • The Warcrafter: When the granting Agent and Shard powers interfere:
    • Taylor Triggering and trying to ping off Adrian's fake Shard causes the backlash to blow her own Shard up. Agent has to turn her into an Actor in order to save her life, though he does manage to fix the issue so it won't happen again.
    • The Agent that turned Rune into an Actor forgot to connect the fake Shard after disconnecting her current one, so the backlash made her forget her Shaman class abilities until the middle of a battle.

    Film - Animated 
  • 9: Happens with the soul talisman, rather than putting the necessary knowledge in their heads, or even writing it on a piece of paper, the inventor leaves cryptic clues on what needs to be done to stop the brain with 6, the talisman to stop the brain on the floor besides 9 when he awakes, the and the instructions on what to do in a locked box, which doesn't get found until the end of the movie.
  • The Transformers: The Movie. The Matrix is to be used by the Chosen One to light the Autobots' darkest hour. Problem is, no one knows who the chosen one is, and they just assume that it is whoever the leader of the Autobots happens to be at the time. They also don't know exactly when their darkest hour will be, which isn't helped by the fact that in this movie the Autobots day can be summed up in 3 words: things get worse. This results in Optimus Prime being killed, and Ultra Magnus getting killed while attempting to use the Matrix. Eventually it is revealed that Hot Rod is the one to open the Matrix, and their darkest hour is when Unicron tries to destroy Cybertron.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • In The Matrix, the call has excellent reception - until Neo drops the phone off of a building. This, combined with how dangerous the last instruction it gave him was, leads him to be captured by the Agents.
  • This is the basis of the plot of the Christopher Nolan film Memento. Having accepted The Call from himself to find his wife's killer, Leonard's anterograde amnesia and Notes To Self lead to all sorts of problems - some accidental due to his memory problems, but some deliberate due to his Memory Gambit.
  • In White Noise, Michael Keaton's character is able to make contact with his dead wife, who he thinks is telling him about future tragedies in order to stop them. This belief is strengthened by the fact that she says things like "go now" and "leave now" after hearing and seeing future tragedies. In this one, the Call has bad reception, as it turns out that the wife is saying to go away from her now, and to leave her where she is, as the husband's interference in the nether realm has allowed malevolent spirits to track him down and target him.
  • Knowing: the aliens send messages regarding future disasters to earth, supposedly in order to prepare them. However if the first recipient in the movie is any indication, nobody really understood the message in and of themselves, and the people who got it just went crazy. Although see the film's Wild Mass Guessing and YMMV pages, as there's some controversy about just how benevolent the aliens were.
  • Happens in The Order. Heath Ledger is a genuinely good priest who just wants to exorcise demons and get rid of the Sin Eater. Unfortunately, the ritual he thinks will kill the Sin Eater is actually the ritual to become one.
  • Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger 100 Years After: When the team is first assembled, they are given mismatched colors that don't suit them and they perform poorly. They uncover their true colors later and become much more capable.

  • Prior the Mistborn series, a prophesied hero went on a quest to destroy a great evil, but gave into temptation and became a living god instead. Except this was the RIGHT thing to do, because it drained Ruin's power for a millennium. When Vin is faced with the same choice, she refuses the power, which allows Ruin to take over the world. How could they have misinterpreted the prophecy so badly? Because Ruin edited all the history books.
  • Happens in Monster. Judy is The Chosen One destined to save the universe, but her reception with the universe is rather crappy, leading to the universe consistently screwing up her life.
  • The War Gods: Tomanak doesn't like to lead his champions by the hand, so he generally nudges them toward where he wants them. Also, in the beginning Bahzell has only a vague notion that he's supposed to be heading west, and turns east when he realizes he's getting The Call.
  • In the third book of Tamora Pierce's The Immortals quartet: the heroine, Daine, is given the power to temporarily raise the dead. The person giving it to her, however, forgets to tell Daine that she is getting this new power, or how to use it without half-killing herself. Daine is disturbed to find that skeletons start moving when she touches them. This isn't an exact example, as gaining the power of necromancy was not the first or even the most important Call to Adventure Daine receives.
    • However, the goddess in question who gave Daine the necromancy power says that she intended for her to raise human skeletons and send them "dancing in the streets" to scare people into believing that the Emperor's rule is cursed. Being A Nature Hero and currently on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, she decides to skip that part and goes straight to the dinosaur museum, using them to demolish the palace.
  • In The Grand Tour, the sequel to Sorcery and Cecelia, it is revealed that Kate, who had previously come across as the Distaff Counterpart to Badass Normal James, has just as much magical talent as her cousin Cecelia, but has no interest in developing it. In The Mislaid Magician, she uses this power to find her husband and children and to keep her hair up. To near-deadly effect.
  • The book of prophecy in Un Lun Dun is riddled with typos and misprints, to the point that the one uncorrupted sentence gets lost in the crowd.
  • In The Wheel of Time, the Guide noted that in the Age of Legends, many people had themselves tested for aptitude in the One Power, but failed and never took a second test, leaving their hidden potential untapped.
  • In Wizard's Bane by Rick Cook, hacker (in the sense of ace programmer) Wiz Zumwalt is called into a parallel universe where magic rules, but he knows no magic, to the intense disappointment of the apprentice of the wizard who summoned him. He discovers the underlying rules of magic, and learns how to program it, making him the greatest magician ever.
  • This is one of the big themes during the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Even though Harry knows what he needs to do in order to kill Voldemort, Harry has no earthly idea over how to go about achieving this. His only sources of information are very cryptic clues left by Dumbledore. This veers into a Deconstruction when Harry has a falling out with Ron, who's pissed because he expected Harry to actually have a gameplan.
  • In Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure, Apollo has a prophetic vision of Leif being involved in Zeus's resurrection and so tries to recruit him. (Leif refuses, reasoning that refusing to help Apollo is less risky than helping him and getting a bunch of other gods angry.) It turns out Leif is only involved because he's due to fall in love with Tracy, Zeus's daughter and key to returning Zeus to life.
  • Djinn Awakes: Gina Serna is a Spanish seventeen years old girl who is empowered with the power of the Djinn. Only problem is, Gina was never meant to wield the power...

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • Chrono Trigger: King Guardia XXI sits out the game's second act, having been struck in the back by an arrow while leading his men against Magus. The bedridden King puts all of his hope into "the Hero" to find the Masamune. While it's obvious that the Hero is Frog, the player must endure every NPC proclaiming Tata the kingdom's savior. He gets as far as the Denadoro Mountains before fleeing in terror. This whole farce is a nice inversion of the Holy Grail myth, with Tata being the would-be Galahad.
  • Tales of the Abyss: After completing the Absorbtion Gate, Lorelei warns Luke and Asch that Van survived and is trying to imprison it. The problem? Lorelei used the ancient Ispanian translation of Van's name, "The one who would seize glory". If it had just used his normal name, Luke and the party could have started to head out and foil his schemes a whole month earlier.

  • Zigzagged in Erfworld. Overlord Stanley buys a spell to summon the "perfect warlord", but is too cheap to pay for it to be cast professionally, so his in-house caster tries to do her best. They were expecting a Barbarian Hero type with all the knowledge of Erfworld. What they get is Parson Gotti, a fat Earthling war-gamer who thinks that he's having a stroke when he shows up in a universe populated by munchkins and running on turn-based strategy game mechanics. As it turns out though, he fulfills the core requirement of the spell perfectly — an ideal strategic mind—having studied wargames for most of his life. Part of the bad reception is due to Stanley adding last-minute specifications just before the spell is cast. He wants a "big guy" who "plans wars and kills his foes for fun". Well, Parson is definitely big (though not in the way Stanley had in mind), and as a wargamer ...
  • The Last Halloween: Doctor Fugue explains it pretty well: The Phagocyte is the man who keeps monsters in the shadow realm, preventing them from invading and wiping out humanity, but he's been killed, and monsters are murdering everyone. Fortunately, the Phagocyte has an heir, and Fugue knows the heir's mother, so he sends Mona (a ten-year-old girl) and company out into the middle of the invasion to go find him. It turns out Fugue was wrong about pretty much everything. The Phagocyte had more than one son, the one that Fugue knew wasn't the heir, and it wouldn't have mattered if he was, because the Phagocyte wasn't dead, just incapacitated. This mistaken caused the death of a major character, and the dismemberment of two more.

    Western Animation 
  • The Transformers: From the two-part "Return of Optimus Prime," the "Darkest Hour" in question was the release of the Hate Plague, which not only endangered the Autobots and Decepticons, but all sentient life in the cosmos. In that case, the Matrix was also used to light their Darkest Hour. It's just that the chosen one was dead at the time, and had to be revived before he could use the Matrix to save the day. And in fitting with the prophecy where "All are One," at the end the hostilities between the different factions were resolved (at least for the time being).
  • According to Word of God, in Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Team Normal Sokka apparently had water-bending potential just like his sister, but his skeptic nature meant that he never developed it. However, he makes up for this by being The Smart Guy and being really good with a boomerang, and a sword. And invasion strategy, though don't get him to try and explain a plan to an audience.