During a fight, a person can have a lot on their mind. They're trying to defeat their opponent, while avoiding injury themselves. They may be trying to protect Innocent Bystanders, or avoid unnecessary collateral damage. Perhaps they're laboring under self-imposed restrictions or they're just holding back for fun. For whatever reason, they're not giving things their all.
Until the gloves come off.note
When a character is pushed hard enough, they can reach the point where defeating the enemy in front of them is their one and only goal. Everything else, even their own survival, becomes secondary. The reason for this varies. Perhaps their enemy has sent them into an Unstoppable Rage. Maybe they've realized that they won't be able to defeat their opponent unless they focus on winning to the exclusion of all else, or they've reached the Godzilla Threshold and now they have nothing to lose by going all out. Whatever the cause, the character will cast off anything holding them back, heedless of what it may cost them later.
This is when the character uses their Cover-Blowing Superpower, removes their Power Limiter, or unleashes their Superpowered Evil Side. They may cast off beliefs that were holding them back, or resort to underhanded tactics or repugnant acts they would have shunned before. You can expect to see the Deadly Upgrade and Dangerous Forbidden Technique make appearances. However they accomplish it, part of the gloves coming off involves the character suddenly becoming much more effective in combat.
However, there will be consequences, regardless of who actually wins the fight. They may make a Heroic Sacrifice to take their enemy with them, undergo a Heroic BSoD when they realize My God, What Have I Done?, or suffer from a Heroic RRoD from overstressing their bodies. They may have acted Just Like Their Enemy, or they may become He Who Fights Monsters and be left wondering Was It Really Worth It?. Other heroes, who did not realize the stakes or still thought that they could prevail with the usual way of doing things, may ask "What the Hell, Hero?". On the other hand, the trauma may be just what they need to Earn Their Happy Ending, so it's not always a bad thing.
May be preceded by a "No More Holding Back" Speech. If their enemy can't match their new-found power, it will often result in a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. If the enemy can match their strength and determination, the fight will probably continue to the point of Combat Breakdown. When the gloves come off, it's usually during a Wham Episode. Not to be confused with literally taking one's gloves off see The Coats Are Off or Battle Strip for removing clothing before a fight.
- In Bleach, the process by which captain-level shinigami have their Power Limiters removed is the subject of a brief arc. Several more straightforward examples of this trope:
- Played literally when Ishida, going against a warning from his grandfather, removes his Sanrei Glove. This has exactly the effect he was told: he becomes powerful enough to one shot a captain's Bankai but loses his quincy powers (until the next arc, anyway).
- Ichigo does this twice.
- First after the Hueco Mundo arc when he unwillingly Turns Red after being "killed" and turns into an extremely powerful hollow until he's snapped out of it.
- In his fight with Aizen, Ichigo convinces his zanpakuto to let him use a Dangerous Forbidden Technique that will permanently remove his powers.
- Kyoraku's fight against Starrk. Awkward and dangerous zanpakuto, won't fight unless he has to and goes to some lengths to avoid a 'serious' fight. When pushed, he's a fairly ruthless Combat Pragmatist who doesn't let a silly notion like 'honour' get in the way of protecting his subordinates and friends. After Ukitake was hit and Starrk tried to kill Love and Rose, his already underhand tactics got more so. Starrk's original tactics and reaction to the death of Barragan and Harribel also falls under this, perhaps more so because it's backed up by his internal monologue, whereas we only have Kyoraku's rather dubious word for it.
- Dragon Ball Z:
- Whenever someone, particularly Goku or Piccolo, removes any weighted training clothing they're wearing. This removes the restraints on their power and indicates they're planning on taking the fight seriously.
- Later in the series, Super Saiyan, or really, any kind of transformations, can be seen as this, as it increases the transformer's power and removes their restraints.
- Vegeta reaches this point during the Buu saga, allowing himself to be controlled by Babidi for the power boost that that entails.
- In Bungou Stray Dogs, Nakahara Chuuya take off his gloves when he uses his ability's ture form.
- Kira and Athrun take the gloves off during the Wham Episode of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. Until then, they'd been holding back due to being each other's Forgotten Childhood Friend and Kira's Reluctant Warrior tendencies. But when they manage to each kill a friend of the other in self-defense, they throw themselves into genuine battle to the death for the first time.
- In Soul Eater, you can tell Mifune is getting serious when he spits out the toothpick he's constantly chewing on.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, this happens twice. First, when Norris Packard fights the eponymous 08th Team in order to buy time for a hospital ship to escape, knowing he'll be left behind. Second, when Shiro makes an exception to his Technical Pacifism for Ginias in the Apsalus. With permission from Ginias' sister, no less.
- Vash the Stampede reaches this point near the end of Trigun, when he kills Legato Bluesummers in order to save Millie and Meyrl. Oddly for this trope, the act itself is rather understated, rather than being an epic fight scene.
- Fairy Tail: Averted (albeit just barely) during the Grand Magic Games, when Lucy received a brutal beatdown from Minerva that strayed just on the side of the line that kept it from breaking the rules. Erza managed to defuse the situation, but the entire situation was within a hairsbreadth of degenerating into a showdown between Sabertooth and Fairy Tail that completely threw the competition rules out the window, and likely would have drawn in all the friends Fairy Tail had in the other competing teams as well. Which was at least half of them.
- Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS: The series Wham Episode, episode 17, uses this twice.
- Subaru arrives on scene to discover that three enemy combat cyborgs have already defeated her older sister Ginga and are in the process of stuffing her into a box in order to bring her back to their Mad Scientist boss. Subaru loses it and launches into an immediate and furious attack, making excellent use of the Inherent Skill she has because she's also a combat cyborg in order to even the odds. This does as much damage to her as it does to them, but gets two of the three to run for it while the third stays behind to hold Subaru off. Subaru takes the straggler out in short order, only to be thwarted when another combat cyborg (with the ability to phase through solid objects) shows up to bail her out. So Subaru, in the span of about 90 seconds, forces four combat cyborgs to retreat rather than fight her... then collapses into a sobbing wreck because she's seriously wounded and she couldn't stop them from taking Ginga with them when they escaped.
- Later in the episode, Dragon Summoner Caro and Dragon Knight Erio arrive at Riot Force 6 headquarters in response to a distress call, but find the building in flames and the attackers already leaving. Erio rushes to stop them but is blindsided by other enemies in the area and swiftly defeated. The main enemies depart, leaving behind their Mecha-Mooks and an automated announcement that the HQ building will be destroyed momentarily. Caro, at this point the only defender still standing, responds by summoning her dragon. Not her usual dragon, Friedrich (who alternates between Shoulder Sized and riding size), but Voltaire, the Kaiju sized guardian of her homeworld, who can only be summoned in dire need and is difficult to control at the best of times. Voltaire annihilates the remaining enemy forces in a single attack.
- Carol Danvers, then Ms. Marvel, in The Kang War
- During the final part of Knightfall, Harvey Bullock notes that Batman "took off the kid gloves" during the final confrontation with Bane when he sees his new costume, not realizing the man under the mask isn't the usual Batman. When AzBats decides to spare Bane, Bullock changes his mind and decided that they're still on.
- Batman's fight with The Joker during The Dark Knight Returns has quite a bit of this going on. Once they are close enough to go one-on-one, Batman's opening gambit is to throw a batarang directly into his opponent's eye.
The Joker: ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!
- Ultimate Marvel
- Ultimatum: Magneto has flooded New York and sent the Brotherhood to wreak havok among the survivors, causing loads of deaths. He also killed Charles Xavier personally. The heroes are more than willing to KILL him for this. Wolverine made it clear at the start of issue #5. In the end, he begs for mercy, but finds none.
- All-New Ultimates: Diamondback told Bombshell to stop acting all tough, that it won't bring Poey back. She asked, who's acting?
- In You Obey, when the interrogator loses patience and starts using the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique.
- In the sequel to Child of the Storm, during the Forever Red arc, Harry has firmly kept the gloves on, even through days of physical and psychic torture by the Red Room, because he's afraid of the consequences. While the power he can tap into isn't inherently evil, it is incredibly volatile, and combined with what he's going through, could well result in a Superpowered Evil Side. Then, his escape plan goes horribly wrong, his body becomes the vessel for the Red Son, the superpowered successor to the Winter Soldier, and once he gets his body back, he gets months of horrifying memories with it, he... well, he snaps, and unleashes the Dark Phoenix.
- The RWBY fic Massages shows this with Jaune. After many students get the wrong impression that Jaune is sleeping with a majority of the female students (he's not: he just gives really good massages), Cardin starts tormenting Jaune with the various ways he's going to get back at him. When he finally lists of Pyrrha... Jaune goes primal.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness:
- Whenever Dark removes his headphones and MP3 player, it's a sign that he's about to get serious.
- In Act III chapters 41 and 42, the gang (minus Tsukune) is doing relatively well against Kuyou at first, but only because, as Moka points out, Kuyou hasn't even really been trying. Sure enough, Kuyou goes One-Winged Angel soon after Moka says this and makes short work of everyone... until Tsukune reenters the fray and annihilates him.
- In the Pony POV Series Dark World arc, it's revealed that Traitor Dash (the corrupted Rainbow Dash) had a multitude of abilities she developed but never used, including a Super Mode called Ender Dash. She did this so that if she ever took Discord's Deal with the Devil to kill Twilight in exchange for him restoring everything to how it was before his reign, she'd have enough surprises to do so. When Twilight frees herself and leads a rebellion against Discord, she finally does just that. After her HeelFace Turn, she's a bit more lenient about using it.
- Fantasy of Utter Ridiculousness:
- After the fight with her has been going on for a while, Suika breaks out one of her higher-tier attacks, 'One-Oni Wrecking Machine', in part to finish her fight with Megas quickly but mostly because she hated the idea of going cold turkey in regards to her alcohol.
- Partway through their fight, Coop is able to nail Yuuka with the high-speed Nitrous and slam her into a plateau a kilometer away from where they started. This moment is what convinces Yuuka to stop taking it easy on Megas and break out her old attack patterns from Lotus Land Story, silently vowing to rip the mech apart.
- Atonement: Neither Tether nor Armsmaster are trying not to kill people during the fight at Dragon's base. Most of Saint's mooks are dead or dying by the time the fight ends.
- The Last War World War 3: Quoted verbatim by the West German Chancellor when he demands from the President of the United States to send every available B-1 and B-52 to stop a serious and deep penetration by the aforementioned 1st Unified Corps on West German soil. The gloves DO come off.
- Hellsister Trilogy: During "The Apokolips Agenda", Darkseid raises an army of super-villains in order to keep the heroes busy as he obtains the key to enslave the universe. Supergirl spends one week travelling between dimensions, battling villain after villain and surviving fights to the death, gets almost lobotomized when Darkseid speaks the Anti-Life Equation, and she finally comes face to face with Darkseid when he has just blasted into unconsciousness her lover, family and friends. Kara goes completely medieval on him without any restraint whatsoever, including her Thou Shalt Not Kill code (although she unfortunately doesn't win).
Supergirl: "I've been through hell and a half in this last week. I've fought Blackstarr, Eclipso, the Zoners, Kralik, the Golem, and I'm probably leaving some out. I almost got zombified because of you. Now you've hurt the man I love, and my cousin, and my friends. I didn't want to do this. I didn't want to do any of it. I hate fighting. But I promise you, Darkseid, if you don't restore them and surrender, you're never getting up from this floor in one piece. I swear it!"
- A good way to set Luke Skywalker into this mode is to threaten Leia. Vader made that mistake in Return of the Jedi and so did C'Baoth in The Last Command in the EU.
- In their final fight in Godzilla vs. Kong, Godzilla loses his temper after taking a few hits and finally goes all-out on Kong, decisively defeating and nearly killing him in short order
- The Dresden Files:
Harry: (kicks in a door) FUCK SUBTLE.
- There are a rare few moments where Harry Dresden just completely cuts loose on his opponents, usually using a spell called pyrofuego note . The first time happens in Grave Peril, and the second happens in Small Favor. Then there's the book Changes. And by the book, we mean all of it. Best played up in one moment where he encounters vampires and remembers the phrase from The Lord of the Rings about wizards being subtle and quick to anger...
Bad things kept happening to me. It was high fucking time I started happening to them.
- In Cold Days whenever Harry taps into the mantle of the Winter Knight it becomes this.
- In the Wraith Squadron arc of the X-Wing Series, the protagonists are caught in a Death Trap that involves dropping them into an industrial incinerator. They manage to escape the incinerator, but are still wounded and desperate, caught in the center of an enemy stronghold that's been specifically designed to lure them in and kill them. Despite the original mission being reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, the squad leader issues new orders: get the hell out of there, and kill everything that tries to stop them. He also notes that his team, while appearing calm, collected, and professional, are so pissed off that they wouldn't have accepted any other order.
- This happens a good deal with Gary Karkofsky a.k.a Merciless: The Supervillain without Mercy in The Supervillainy Saga. Basically, the majority of the time he's a Ascended Fanboy that jokes around with 80s and 90s pop culture references. Then sometimes someone does something that really ticks him off and he starts dropping bodies.
- Supergirl: Superman refers to J'onn J'onnz as being even more powerful than him. There's no evidence of this til Red Kryptonite turns Supergirl evil. When he has to take her down, he does it in less than a minute.
- Wonder Woman: In "The Boy Who Knew Her Secret", Wonder Woman and The Shapeshifter are in their climactic battle. They go back and forth, throwing each other across the barn they're fighting in and breaking lots of wooden fencing. Then Wonder Woman has had enough and The Gloves Come Off. She flips him, visibly saunters towards him while taking a punctuated breath, and delivers two backhand shots across his face. Finally, she kicks him into the glowing pyramid and that's all she wrote.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, the Mage Warden has lived for most of their life in the Circle Tower, keeping their magic limited under the restrictions of the Templars. After becoming a Grey Warden however, they are finally permitted to cut loose and demonstrate how truly powerful they actually are, as the Wardens allow any advantage to be used against the Darkspawn horde.
- Borderlands 2:
- When you meet Mordecai (one of the Player Characters from the first game) he sends you off on a quest to recover Bloodwing (his pet Hawk-like creature, which served as his action skill in the previous game) while he covers you with a rifle which deals slag damage (increasing the damage you deal to enemies but not doing much to them). Jack reveals that he's slagged her, then proceeds to blow her head off with an Explosive Leash when you subdue her. This angers him so much that he switches to an explosive rifle and completely annihilates a group of enemies you meet on the way out of the area.
- Jack quotes this trope when the player picks up the power core dropped by Wilhelm.
Handsome Jack: The kiddie gloves are coming off, tighten up the big boy pants 'cause things are gonna get really, really bad for you Vault Hunters.
- Sonic and the Secret Rings:
- In Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Raiden spends a lot of time and effort holding back the killer tendencies he gained during his time as the Child Soldier "Jack the Ripper". When pushed too far by Sam and Monsoon's tauntings, he decides to cave in, re-awakening "Jack" to give himself the edge needed to fight Monsoon.
- Near the end of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's story mode World of Light, Master Hand helps out the heroes by wiping out most of Galeem and Dharkon's remaining puppet fighters on his own. This implies the big glove's been holding back his full power in previous Smash entries.
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019): After his first mission, Garrick will rant to Captain Price that the terrorist attack could have been avoided, but his team was stopped by procedure and bureaucracy. Captain Price recruits Garrick largely by promising that if he joins Price's team, the gloves will come off. Later however, even Garrick is disturbed by threatening the Butcher's wife and child to get him to cooperate and questions Price how far they're willing to go. Price replies that Garrick wanted the gloves off, and now that they're off, they get blood on their hands.
- In Mass Effect 2, asari Spectre, Tela Vasir provides a villainous example. At first, she's simply trying to escape from Shepard and Liara, to ensure they don't get some vital data on the Shadow Broker, a powerful Knowledge Broker who she gets valuable intelligence from, only fighting back by setting the Broker's men on them. After taking a load of abuse throughout the chase, it becomes clear to her that she won't be getting away without killing the two of them. At this point, she starts hitting back, hard.
- Near the end of the Death Battle episode Superman vs. Goku II, after learning that Goku means to keep fighting no matter what and not wanting the Earth to be destroyed again, Superman finally unleashes his full power. He walks through Goku's fully-powered Kamehameha and effortlessly ends the fight in two moves.
- In The Order of the Stick, Vaarsuvius reaches this point when unleashing a Superpowered Evil Side by making a literal Deal with the Devil(s). As expected for this trope, the results are not exactly what anyone hoped for, and leads to some solid Character Development for all involved parties.
- Xykon gives us a villainous example as a result of the above. While he survives the attack with relative ease, in the process he loses his phylactery, which prompts him to stop screwing around and get back to work. Sort of an odd example in that the cost causes the boost in effectiveness, rather than being a result of it.
- In Spinnerette, Marilyn Seong aka "Mecha-Maid", orders her AI helper to unload all the less-lethal armament on her Powered Armor and load it for bear... or more accurately, load it for Colonel Glass. She might even intend to take him down with her in a blaze of thermite.
- Girl Genius: Almost every Spark who's a major character, especially Agatha. Enraged by the death of an unlucky potential love interest, she commandeers a pipe organ battle-clank to attack the Baron's forces with.
- Gil decides to keep Commander Vole around because of his regular attempts to capture/kill him gives him someone to demonstrate his gloves-off ability with.
- Zola, when she stops playing the Damsel Scrappy to get serious about taking the Heterodyne inheritance. She goes through several magnitudes of this up to the chapter titled 'Zola Goes Up to Eleven' — Movit #11, that is.
- In El Goonish Shive, during the battle at the ASMA dojo, Grace decides to go after the summoner even though she doesn't want to hurt anyone reasoning that if she harms him enough to at least knock him out all his summons will be dismissed and no more will be summoned.
- World War II: France, Britain, and Germany initially agree in 1939, at the behest of United States President Franklin Roosevelt, to avoid bombing campaigns on civilian targets. After the German bombing of Rotterdam, the Allies rescind this restriction and launch retaliatory raids on German cities and towns.
- Twilight Sparkle in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is largely pacifistic and tends to lean in favor of sealing away foes or swaying them to the side of good. When sufficiently pushed, particularly when her friends or family are threatened, the gloves will come off pretty quick and she'll start blasting Projectile Spells to blast her foe into submission. "Princess Cadance" (actually Queen Chrysalis) was on the receiving end of one of these in A Canterlot Wedding (it's unclear if Twilight was going for killing blows or not), as was Lord Tirek and Starlight Glimmer. As King Sombra learned in the Season 9 premiere, she has absolutely zero qualms with outright killing a foe if that's what it's going to take.
- Star Wars Rebels: During Kanan and Ezra's final battle with the Grand Inquisitor, he knocks Ezra off of a high level, making Kanan believe he's dead. Initially devastated, Kanan calms down and grabs Ezra's lightsaber and begins to dual-wield while fighting the Inquisitor. He's focused enough on the fight now that he's able to best his opponent.
- In the world of police and military, escalation of force is this. It's a concept that demands such groups use only the lowest level of force possible in neutralizing a threat. If simply demanding a suspect or enemy surrender is all it takes to accomplish this, there's no need to use physical force period, if all it takes to subdue a combative criminal is a stun gun there's no need to use a sidearm, etc. When these lower levels of force fail or if the criminal or enemy acts in a way where there's no time to apply this conceptnote , then the gloves come off and the police or military use higher levels of force. It's also a large driving point of why many cops are wearing body cams nowadays: having how a cop acted be on camera goes a long way to proving that their use of force was authorized, or that it wasn't. Note that this is only the most condensed explanation possible; there are entire books of how this concept works, thousands of laws that explain or restrict it, and no end of ifs ands or buts that affect it or change how it works.