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Water Is Air

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I was driving in downtown Atlantis
My barracuda was in the shop
So I was in a rented stingray
and it was overheating
Kip Addotta, "Wet Dream"

Living underwater sounds like it would be so cool, doesn't it? In fiction, it isn't really that big a deal, because life at the bottom of the ocean is conducted impossibly similarly to life on land. Whether your characters are mermaids, Fish People, or talking, sapient fish and other sea creatures, you'll find that their underwater lifestyles have a lot in common with humans' above-land lifestyle. Most Writers Are Human, after all, and they give the viewers or readers a portrayal they are familiar with.

Examples of this type of Creator Provincialism include:

  • Buildings designed by and for mermaids but built with features like stairs (even though they have no legs) and upper story windows (which would function the same as a patio door), and furnished with chairs or beds, even though buoyancy means you would float over them. Bonus points if characters like mermaids ignore this trope and swim in and out of upper story windows anyway.
  • Corals equal plants and grow everywhere. Despite resembling plants, corals are animals (marine invertebrates), and the types typically seen only grow in warm, shallow water.
  • Characters move in two dimensions, walking along the seafloor or swimming near it, despite even humans being capable of vertical movement in water. There's no such thing as swimming up. If they do, it'll be refered to as Flight.
  • Water is always crystal clear. Sand, silt and mud on the sea floor will stay on the seafloor rather than dispersing as clouds of the stuff at the tiniest disturbance.
  • The effects of water pressure and temperature are non-existent.
  • Sound being transmitted as clearly as through air. The direction of sounds will be easy to pinpoint. Between human ears not being adapted to hearing underwater and the higher speed of sound in water, a human would hear muddied sounds coming from every direction at once.
  • If it's daytime, there will be sunlight. This is acceptable for settings taking place in the photic zone but not when it's deeper.
  • Long hair still hangs down instead of drifting with your motion or water currents, and it won't get tangled around your head. Alternatively, long hair will act like it would underwater, but it will just sway around in artistically convenient ways, never tangling or getting in the way.
  • Characters can pour and drink cups of other liquids. This is possible if the liquid has a higher density than and is immiscible with water, but it never looks like it does in fiction.
  • If you really want to stretch it, things can burn. With fire. Yes, underwater. (This is possible with proper fuel, which usually isn't used in this case. This is usually Lampshaded.)
  • Or stretching it to extremes, there are rivers and lakes. Underwater. Which hardly-if-at-all resemble brine pools or the real phenomenon of underwater lakes and almost certainly were not designed with those in mind. Or even more extreme, characters can drown in them.note 
  • Characters (who can swim) are worried about falling into trenches and off cliffs. If a character somehow finds themselves off the edge of something, gravity magically increases and buoyancy is overridden, as if the character suddenly gained several times their weight.
  • Surface dwellers can all see perfectly clearly underwater and vice versa.
  • All forms of combat can be executed as if on dry land. Projectiles, blades and bludgeons inflict the expected amount of damage despite having to pass through a medium 784 times as dense as air.
  • Any metal, such as iron and steel, somehow doesn't rust quickly or even at all, especially when submerged in salt water.
  • Sinking objects descend at the same speed they would if they were falling through air. In extreme cases, this may even apply to objects lighter than water, like wood or ice.
  • If there are talking animals, creatures like whales, seals, and crocodiles can still talk underwater despite not being able to breathe it.note 
  • Electronic or paper devices work just as well as on land with no adverse effects.

The problems with viewers being able to understand the characters can sometimes be handwaved with Direct Line to the Author.

In addition, the setting for underwater fantasy is almost always "under the sea," not "under Lake Michigan" or "under the Amazon River" presumably because it sounds more romantic, even though salt water would introduce yet a few more challenges, such as 'things would rust at really fast rates' and 'having a salty taste constantly in your mouth would probably get annoying faster than permanently wrinkled skin and burning eyes'.

In short, replacing air with water requires far more changes to the human anatomy than simply replacing legs with a fishtail and far more research about the laws of physics and biology than most writers bother to do. Fortunately, as mentioned above, the concept is saved by the Rule of Cool and by Acceptable Breaks from Reality. Nobody is going to watch an ocean movie, only to strain their eyes and ears to see or hear anything taking place.

Compare Water Is Dry, Space Is an Ocean, Sand Is Water, and Walk, Don't Swim.

Contrast The Sky Is an Ocean.

Not to be confused with Super Not-Drowning Skills, when characters are given an unexplained ability to survive underwater for an infinite time.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch: Will someone please explain the existence of working hot tubs and fountains?
  • Digimon Tamers did this in "Shibumi Speaks". As long as they believe they won't drown/get wet/etc, it won't happen to them. Justified in that the Digital World functions under vastly different rules than the real one, with the water being mere data.
  • Doraemon: Nobita and the Castle of the Undersea Devil have the gang having an underwater barbeque using special coal from the 22nd Century. Which can produce smoke underwater.
  • Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea has this trope full-scale. Underwater is exactly like above water, except for fishes (who looks more like hovering than swimming) and the occasional swimming (which looks rather more like a long jump). There is no buoyancy, no water resistance, no distorted sounds, no light dampening and you can even cook and drink without a problem.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, LCL has the consistency (and, presumably, composition) of amniotic fluid, and characters breathe it while sitting in the Entry Plugs. Fair enough, but they also speak and yell without any sort of difficulty or distortion. Sweat, blood, and tears also behave as though LCL had air-like density and solvency. There have been attempts to explain away the unimpeded-speech issue, but the tears that fall freely on a character's lap remain inexplicable.
  • A very odd example in Saint Seiya. The Seven Pillars of Poseidon's Sanctuary are connected to, and hold up, the Seven Seas, so the temple itself —at the bottom of the ocean, mind— is a dry land above which the seas hang like a canopy. As a show of force, Seiya was once punched upwards so hard by Seahorse Baian that he crashed into the "ceiling" (namely, the bottom of the North Pacific Ocean,) was pushed up all the way to the surface by the strength of the blow, and then sank all the way back down, unimpeded, and fell right back into the Sanctuary. But despite the entire depth of the ocean hanging above the temple, sunlight is as abundant there as though they were fighting in an above-water plaza.
  • Marine Boy is all over the place with this trope. The Ocean Patrol craft certainly move in 3D, and require engines to do so. While underwater, the characters never walk, and the resident mermaid has, at times, to cope with not having legs, though we never really see her much away from the humans. On the other hand, the Non-Human Sidekick (a dolphin) never need to breathe (and it's doubtful that he could chew the "oxygen gum" that the eponymous hero used); the hero's uniform has no visor or goggles, yet he has no difficulties seeing or talking underwater — which is generally crystal-clear; and in the most outrageous use of this trope, his sole weapon is a folding boomerang, which he throw at everything from bad guys to sea monsters to full-sized submarines! Being an "electro-boomerang", it zaps them all (and frequently more than one in a single "flight"), often causing mechanical enemies to blow up.
  • Subverted in an episode of My Bride is a Mermaid when Sun decides to take Nagasumi underwater to look at a coral reef. However she's unaware of how sensitive humans are to water pressure, and it ends up taking a toll on Nagasumi when they get around 45 meters deep.
  • In an episode of Pokémon, they have a battle underwater. Misty scolds Ash for forgetting that you can treat underwater like the sky when Ash gets confused after their opponent takes advantage of the surroundings to attack in 3 dimensions.
    • Also happens in the third movie when the film's antagonist Molly challenges Misty. Since it takes place in a dreamworld created by the Unown, it's expected.
  • In the Fairy Tail seaside training episode, Natsu practices his Fire Dragon Roar by using it deep underwater.
  • Inverted in an episode of Doraemon where the gadget-of-the-week permitted the protagonists to treat air as water, for recreational purposes.
  • Umi Monogatari is a huge offender. Everyone can speak underwater, there's always at least some light no matter how deep they go, there's barely a bubble in sight, defeated characters fall down instead of floating up, people cry underwater, people drink tea underwater, and everyone's hair hangs down instead of flowing upwards.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: A downplayed example. In this franchise, water acts in the same way as normal water… unless you’re a stand user. Apparently, anybody who owns a stand appears to have the inherent ability to all underwater through both their physical bodies and their stands. They also appear to be able to stay underwater for longer periods of time even though drowning is still mentioned. This is especially shown in the anime. Combat underwater also operates differently when stands are used as the stands and the user are able to move as fast in the water as they do on air.

    Comic Books 
  • Aquaman: Arthur Curry's writers frequently fall victim to this, even though his post-2011 runs have tried to avert it, with narration talking about how your typical Atlantean thinks in three dimensions.
  • Sub-Mariner's writers usually have Namor to walk around like a ground-dweller, and few artists realize that Atlanteans don't walk, they swim.
  • Fish Police zig-zags the hell out of this trope, often lampshading it as well. A notable example is Inspector Gill asking, "If we're under water, how come the beer stays in the mug?"

    Comic Strips 

    Films — Animation 
  • Barbie Fairytopia: The first sequel, Mermaidia, takes place primarily underwater and zig-zags this. On one hand, the problem of land creatures spending extended time under the surface is resolved via a magical seaweed that lets you breathe underwater, people don't just swim along the sea floor unless they need to, and there's a plot point where Elina must magically trade her wings for a mermaid tail because her fairy body isn't strong enough to swim for long periods, in particular struggling to keep up with Nori. On the other hand, people can talk underwater just fine and things like water pressure and vision aren't an issue (though that could be handwaved by the magic seaweed) and it's too bright in deeper parts of the sea, among other things. No one's hair or loose clothing floats either, though that's likely due to the limitations of the animation (both technological and budgetary).
  • Finding Nemo was actually pretty good at averting this, except for the "too much sunlight" problem, which is largely thanks to the Rule of Perception.
    • One of the crew, on the bonus DVD or making of or commentaries or some such, mentions that they actually originally made the water "too realistic," and had to go back and make the effects more "cartoony".
    • One of the most brilliant moments in the movie is when Marlin is shouting after Nemo, who was fishnapped by the dentist. He yells for a while, then goes down, takes a "breath" of water, and goes up and yells after him some more.
    • The sequel, Finding Dory, doesn't do quite as good a job of averting this. In the post credits scene, we see Gill and the rest of the aquarium fish from the first movie, still in the bags that they escaped in at the end of that movie, despite the fact that Finding Dory takes place a full year after Finding Nemo. And if that's not enough, there's no way those small little bags would have supported those fish an entire year in oxygen alone.
  • Justice League: Throne of Atlantis:
    • Played straight when a US Navy submarine attacks Atlantis. Actually a False Flag Operation by Prince Orm to justify declaring war on the surface world. Kelp catches fire, Atlantians swim/run only in two dimensions, and dead bodies lie on the bottom the way they would on land.
    • Averted when the League is reviewing Cyborg's video of being attacked underwater. Green Lantern points out that the attackers' maneuvers indicate fighters familiar with three-dimensional combat.
  • The Little Mermaid has several examples. The first film and its TV adaptation, in particular, suffer the problems of architecture (although granted, there were some fauna that primarily walk on the Ocean Floor, so the inclusion of something like "stairs" is excusable), coral=plants, and burning fire (usually blasts from Triton's trident), although long hair moved slower and tended to float (but still never gets in the way aside from surfacing). On the other hand, the animators did attempt to replicate the physics of water as realistically as possible in the original film.
    • Ariel specifically mentions that she doesn't know what fire is in one of her songs.
    • In the prequel, Ariel sees something she wants to check out from her bedroom window... and instead of swimming out the window to check it out, she goes all the way downstairs through the castle to get outside.
    • Shortly after intruding on Ariel's grotto during "Part of Your World," Sebastian tells her, "I'll take you home and get you something warm to drink".
    • When Ariel shows Flounder the shipwreck at the beginning of the original movie, Flounder tries to weasel out of going in, saying it looks damp in there. It would look damp, seeing how it's underwater.
    • A debatable example would be when Price Eric throws the harpoon underwater, striking Ursula hard enough to draw blood, despite actually throwing it underwater, and being a considerable distance away from her in the first place.
    • In the sequel, Tip the penguin and Dash the walrus invoke this trope as they seemingly suffer no problems underwater, despite being air breathers. This goes down as far as them diving down with Melody to Atlantica, where the merpeople are confused at the sight of them, a merboy even asking "Was that a penguin?"
    • Ursula throws most of her potions into the cauldron still in the bottle, but when she does pour them out, they pour normally, rather than just dissipating into the surrounding liquid.
  • Shark Tale lampshades this when the race seahorse that Oscar bet on trips right before the finish line:
    Oscar: He trips underwater? Now who in the halibut trips underwater?
  • This trope is played with to the max in James and the Giant Peach, despite all hints that this would be averted or subverted. Finding themselves lost in the Arctic in a graveyard of ships, they come to a conclusion that a ship down below would have a compass to help them find their way again, however to Jump into the icey waters would be suicidenote . However, Centipede, Miss Spider, and James jump in. Despite having to swim down they walk, talk, seemingly have no problems breathing, seem completely unaffected by the pressure, and undoubtedly freezing water of the Arctic deep, and get into a fight with skeletal pirates. And when they come back, they suffer no ill effects of hypothermia or frostbite. Not even the common cold.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • Averted in Justice League. Atlanteans need pockets of air to talk, which Mera conjures to speak to Arthur/Aquaman.
    • Zack Snyder's Justice League elaborates further by having Atlanteans communicate with dolphin-like sounds when in water. Zack Snyder found the idea of talking underwater "stupid".
    • The makers of Aquaman didn't bother to maintain continuity with Justice League and had Atlanteans talk freely underwater. Besides, molten lava doesn't quickly solidify underwater, apparently.
  • Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks, during the animated sequence after the bed and its passengers crash in the Island of Naboombu's lagoon and sink to the bottom. Given the depth of the water, the fish could realistically swim above the bed, but they go around it instead.
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow includes a scene where airplanes fly underwater. The airplane's control surfaces allow it to function almost identically to how it would fly through the air.
  • In G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, while not obvious, the effects of particles in the underwater fight scene moved very much like they were in air, not accounting for the difference in density, especially in cold water. In fact, the speed at which it moved was comparable to that in air.
  • In The City of Lost Children one of the main characters, the Mad Scientist lost his mind (Identity Amnesia), and as a deep sea diver permanently lived on the bottom of the sea, collecting marine debris.
  • In The Magic Voyage of Sinbad the title character throws himself into the sea to appease Neptune. On MST3K they even ask "Why isn't it wet underwater?" and when a pigeon with a message reaches him in Neptune's kingdom they ask "How does that work?"

  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader addresses this briefly when Lucy sees mermaids through the preternaturally clear sea-water. Among other things, C. S. Lewis compares the deep water to dangerous mountains, and the shallows to sunny, habitable valleys. In addition, even though mermaids are usually depicted in media as being able to poke their heads above water and converse and breathe in air, Drinian explains that these merpeople cannot come up and examine the Dawn Treader or talk with them because... they cannot breathe air! When Lucy sees them, she expects them to be able to surface, because her coronation apparently featured singing mermaids that could breathe air. Drinian explains that those mermaids must have been a different sort.
  • An interesting aversion in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—when Harry goes to "blast" the Grindylows during the second task, a jet of hot water comes out of his wand.
  • James Blish's novella Surface Tension averts this trope very nicely. Blish's microscopic water-dwellers live in a "universe" with three "surfaces": the bottom, where the water ends; the "sky", the top of the water, which (as the title suggests) they cannot penetrate; and between these, the thermocline, the division between the sunwarmed upper layers and the cold deeps.
  • In The Chronicles of Amber, the water in the undersea city of Rebma works like this, but the trope is justified as it's explicitly a magical effect, and people are able to breathe the water within the city as well. In fact, if you fall off the underwater stairway leading to the city, you re-enter 'normal' deep sea conditions and are crushed to death.
    "Why are the waters in Rebma so different from the waters elsewhere?" I asked.
    "Because that is the way it is," replied Dierdre, which irritated me.
  • Averted in Hal Clement's books, since they are hard SF.
    • In "Ocean on Top", a colony of humans is established on the ocean floor, using geothermal power to provide light and a specially-made oxygen-carrying dive fluid in place of air. But since the dive fluid is denser than water, the humans have to wear weights if they want to stay on the bottom or even have neutral buoyancy (their bones were denser than the fluid and their lungs were filled with it, but the rest of their bodies were less dense and the net effect was a slight positive buoyancy). They sleep tied to the ceilings of their buildings.
    • Played with in Close to Critical. The planet Tenebra has atmospheric conditions close to the critical point of water. This leads to some truly bizarre effects like large blobs of water hovering in the air, and people lighting fires to drive water away at night.
  • In the children's fantasy novel Lundons Bridge And The Three Keys, common examples of this trope appear (some, such as humans and insects breathing underwater and having no problems with pressure, are handwaved as the result of magic) — and then there's the crisis that kicks things off. The world's oceans are gradually being overtaken by "The Decayed Sea", polluted waters that mutate plants into carnivorous monsters. Decayed Sea areas are the aquatic equivalent of "forbidden forests" in land-based fantasy works; one can enter (more often, be pulled into) and exit them, and the monsters cannot survive in the clean water beyond them. This shows a gross misunderstanding of how water and contaminants work, but correcting it would require a thorough rewrite of the plot.
  • Mostly averted in Redwall: since the main characters are all mammals, there are very few underwater sequences, and even those involve otters.
  • Averted in Animorphs, since most underwater sequences have the characters morphed as appropriate sea life. There is one book where they go underwater in a stolen space fighter, but Ax explains that most such ships are capable of limited underwater travel.

    Live-Action TV 
  • SeaQuest DSV takes place on a hyper-advanced submarine in the near future. They almost always treat water as air (they even have mini-subs that behave as jet fighters).

  • Land of the Lost (1943) is a major offender here- despite being at the bottom of the sea, the titular Land is basically treated like, well, land, especially where the lost objects are concerned- pens can write without their ink just dissipating in the water, musical instruments can play just fine, clocks that should be rusted to a stop by the saltwater can keep on ticking, and playing cards and stock certificates can exist without getting soggy. The three worst examples are perhaps the fans of Fan-Tasy Hall, who explicitly blow air; Umbrella Land, where it rains, and the gas lamps and candles in the Hall Of Lost Lamps, who can still burn.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Basic D&D supplement The Sea Peoples averts this trope, mentioning such issues as light levels, water clarity, and triton architects' channeling water currents through homes so that oxygen-depleted water is carried away efficiently. (The last chamber that such disposal-currents pass through is even designated as a latrine.)
    • Later editions of Dungeons & Dragons have pages of rules detailing precisely how life underwater is not like life on land (and spells to remove some of these differences).
    • In AD&D1E, this trope could be invoked by means of the Airy Water spell, which caused an area of water to be simultaneously treated as air for air-breathing creatures and as water for aquatic creatures.
  • In Exalted, a few bits of artifact equipment and the anima power of the Water Aspect Dragon-Blooded allow them to treat water according to this trope.

    Video Games 
  • Due to graphical limitations and game physics, the only difference between water and air in many 3D games is the water's surface. Because of this, there's a common glitch where you can enter the water in a way that ignores the transition between water and air, allowing your character to walk underwater as they would on land. What's more is if they can jump or fly high enough to breach the water's surface, they can swim through the air.
  • Star Fox Command doesn't even attempt to distinguish between normal and underwater levels. All ships are perfectly operable and there is always enough light. Oddly enough, water surfaces are considered solid obstacles in normal levels.
  • Star Fox 64 did a pretty good job at averting this in its only underwater level, Aquas. Fox operates a submarine, it's dark (although the script implies this is at least partially due to pollution caused by Andross' bioweapon) and the enemies are fitting for the setting. Why Andross would deploy a bioweapon down there is another matter...
  • X-COM supplement Terror of the Deep features humans fighting aliens in an underwater world. Unfortunately, the game system was directly adapted from the original with no changes, so the characters are able to do ridiculous things like throwing grenades underwater.
    • Smoke grenades, too, only in this game it's called a dye grenade. The hilarious thing is, THIS is the weapon they picked to modify to be more reactive to water. Instead of covering the battlescape in smoke, the dye grenade first creates a small initial puff of dye and dust that provides little to no cover.
    • There are also surface missions. The only difference is the type of aliens you encounter and the fact that your "flying" suits can't fly in air. All the alien (and reverse-engineered) sonic weapons still work exactly the same, despite the fact that their firepower should be vastly reduced in air.
  • Final Fantasy X: Blitzball is a cross between hockey and rugby (or soccer, rugby and diving, depending on where you live) played by two teams of 6 (five players plus a goalie) played entirely underwater in five minute rounds. It is stated that the characters have learned to hold their breath while doing incredibly strenuous activity for this amount of time to become players. The fact that the water itself is specifically designed to help improve breathing duration (apparently due to pyreflies saturating the water) also helps. There's also the fact that all of the players move exclusively in two dimensions, as though they were playing on land, despite the fact that the "playing field" is literally a large sphere of water. Although earlier cutscenes show the players making use of the entire volume of water, with Tidus making a spectacular leap outside the sphere at one point, the only time Blitzball gameplay makes use of the third dimension is during Tidus' Jecht Shot where he swims up to make the kick. They can even throw a ball underwater as if there was no water in the first place. Especially notable since Blitzballs are shown to be light enough to float on the surface of the water, and have the dynamics of soccer balls when handled in dry land.
  • Final Fantasy VI averts this trope slightly, as a diving helmet is needed to access the ocean path. Then again, only one is needed (or found), and no explanation is given of its functionality without other supporting equipment.
  • In Final Fantasy VII you can go underwater in a submarine. Fair enough, except that you can fight Emerald Weapon while standing on the bottom of the sea, with no lighting or pressure-related problems. The air isn't breathable without the Underwater Materia, but the characters apparently can hold their breath for twenty whole minutes. (Eat your heart out, Guybrush Threepwood!)
    • Cid Highwind will always fight with a lit cigarette in his mouth, even underwater.
  • While the previous game (and other levels in the same game) avert this, the ocean section in Alice: Madness Returns is something like this. Sea creatures can swim, but Alice walks and breathes as she would normally. Then again it is Wonderland.
  • Super Mario Bros. Mario can actually throw fireballs underwater, light fires underwater and in a Mario & Luigi game, Luigi could use electricity/thunder powers underwater. Not to mention the fact both Mario and Luigi, as well as pretty much any enemy in the 2D games could breathe underwater forever, or the underwater Chargin' Chucks (football players) who can whistle underwater. Or Wario's underwater working jet pack hat and flamethrower. Somewhat averted as movement underwater tends to be slower and more sluggish than normal.
  • Averted in Super Mario 64 in that Mario will drown if left underwater for too long, but the gauge which measures how long he has before drowning can be refilled if he collects coins underwater.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Averted in general throughout the series. Visibility is quite limited in water, and it gets worse as you get deeper. Light and Night Eye spells having very little effect while torches (and other light sources based on flame) are extinguished when entering water. Movement is also generally slower in water than on land (characters who can swim faster are typically capable of running fast as well), though spells like "Swift Swim" exist to speed it up. In games which allow combat underwater, you are generally slower and less effective when doing so, and you also typically cannot cast spells or used ranged attacks.
    • A few exceptions exist, such as the presence of a Water Breathing spell effect throughout much of the series. It will allow you to stay under water for the duration of the spell's effect (or indefinitely if it is enchanted onto an item). The Argonians, the series' Lizard Folk race with some traits of amphibians, have a natural Water Breathing racial power, and are known (in lore) to use this as an Exploited Immunity (launching guerilla attacks from underwater, dragging non-Argonian foes into water to drown them, setting up underwater camps which are difficult for non-Argonians to attack, etc.). This also makes one quest in Morrowind quite difficult to complete as an Argonian, as it requires you to because you have to drown yourself. note 
  • In Backyard Baseball, whenever the characters play in the Aquadome, which is entirely underwater, they play exactly the same as they do normally.
  • The Legacy of Kain series has a lot of fun with this: In Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Raziel can be initially burned to death by water, and in the spectral realm (the dimension inhabited by spirits, as opposed to the material realm) water has no heft nor lift and literally behaves exactly like air, which is an important puzzle element in some areas. It's averted in the material realm once Raziel learns how to swim/resistant to water. This even carries over to the sequels which is odd because all his other skills sort of disappeared.
  • Played straight in the Atari Lynx video game Turbo Sub. The player's aquatic jet maneuvers equally well under the ocean as it does over it; underwater enemies might look different, but their attacks and movement are the same as their airborne counterparts.
  • Averted in the first Mega Man X. The flamethrower weapon Fire Wave acquired from Flame Mammoth is completely useless underwater, barely distorting the water with the heat from X's Arm Cannon and causing a few harmless bubbles. Even the powered up version sends out a tiny wisp of flame that is extinguished the instant it leaves X's cannon.
    • Similarly, Burner Man's Wave Burner from Mega Man & Bass can't create flames underwater, but it will create a jet of hot water that can push enemies away.
    • Also averted in Mega Man X2, where if one uses Speed Burner underwater, only two pods come out (supposedly what carries the flame).
    • And in Mega Man X3, the Acid Burst dissolves in the water (only a few bubbles come out), making it useless.
  • Also averted (Though players wish it wasn't) in the Ruminoa City ruin of Megaman Legends 2. For the underwater parts Megaman needs a "rebreather" to let him breathe and hydro skates to move around because his jet skates don't work underwater. He moves very painfully slow with seriously impaired jumping, and his armor is too heavy to allow him to swim.
  • The Metroid series tends to downplay and justify this, at least for Samus. While she can enter bodies of water and move and fire just fine, she'll be realistically slowed down compared to if she was on dry land. She'll only be able to move at max speed with the Gravity Suit and similar items, which are explicitly designed to allow for full movement in watery environments and the like.
    • In Metroid Prime, Samus' Plasma Beam functions perfectly fine underwater. This sort of gets a Hand Wave because she's firing superheated plasma as opposed to ordinary fire, but it still doesn't explain how organic enemies can catch fire when completely submerged. Her flamethrower Charge Combo won't work underwater, though.
  • World of Warcraft: Vashj'ir. Full stop. While it avoids some of the more egregious aspects of this trope — for example, you can swim in 3D like in all other bodies of water, and the zone has a separate light source independent from the main world — the Creator Provincialism is right there. The "Sea Legs" spell gives you perfect sight and hearing underwater.
    • Sometimes you can glitch out on a flying mount and appear to be swimming in mid-air for quite some time. Thus making this trope Air Is Water Is Air and Your Head Asplode.
    • Fire spells still work in any place underwater.
  • Averted in Kingdom of Loathing. The Undersea area requires one to obtain SCUBA gear in the Final Dungeon and a Bathysphere for one's pet beastie. All tasks use up two Adventures, and weapon damage is nerfed due to water resistance.
  • Almost every Artix Entertainment game uses this trope. At first, it was said that Adventurers can hold their breath for a long time, but then in DragonFable, the answer is that a ship full of water-breathing potions exploded and dispersed the potions into the ocean. How exactly it affected every body of water is never explained.
  • In Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, the Atlantica level controls just the same as everywhere else, despite being underwater. Ariel and the other natives still swim, but Sora, Donald, and Goofy all walk everywhere and can breathe just fine. They lampshade it at the start of the level, then shrug and carry on.
    • In the original Kingdom Hearts, the controls for swimming are the same as flying in the Neverland level, Fire spells work underwater, and nobody's electrocuted by Lightning spells. But then again, they ARE magic...
  • In Alice: Madness Returns, the HMS Gryphon sinks to the bottom of the Deluded Depths, starting the game's underwater level. It makes no difference in gameplay. You could say that it's because it's all in Alice's mind, but then, she did have to swim in American McGee's Alice, and that was in her head, too.
  • Aquanox takes this to the point where submarines are used where Star Wars uses space fighters, and with the usual Old-School Dogfight combat.
  • The levels set underwater in They Bleed Pixels use identical physical constants, and nobody seems to have any trouble breathing or dealing with pressure. Of course, either these are barely-lucid dreams or both their setting and inhabitants (including you) are alien to our reality. And given the game's high difficulty level it's just as well the task of getting around stays with the familiar.
  • In Glider PRO, all watery environments are nothing but custom backgrounds; no special mechanics are involved. Logically, Super Drowning Skills ought to be involved, since gliders are made of paper and can ordinarily be destroyed by a single droplet of water.
  • In Hexen II the Paladin player character receives a boon from his deity that allows him to be able to move through water as quickly as air.
  • While Bayonetta can't use her Crow of Panther forms underwater, she can do everything else there, including walking, fighting, breathing and talking. This is particulary prominent in the sequel.
  • Sonic games mostly avert this with the all too infamous possibility of drowning. However, in Sonic Rush, though Sonic and Blaze can still drown, Blaze can use her fire attacks underwater, though this could simply be an effect of Blaze's flame that water cannot put it out.
  • Tales of Maj'Eyal has a few underwater dungeons. The only effects of being underwater are a slight bonus to fire resistance, a slight penalty to cold resist, and the need for an Oxygen Meter. Lightning spells and effects, projectiles, and fire effects (including being set on fire) work normally underwater.
  • Clam Man: Lampshaded when Clam Man sees water on the floor, with a Wet Floor sign, despite the game taking place underwater.

    Web Animation 
  • DSBT InsaniT: Lampshaded by Cody in the underwater game he and Lisa are playing in 'VRcade'.
    Cody: Oh... right... the games underwater, but at the same time its NOT... Its like we're on freaking SPONGEBOB or something!


    Western Animation 
  • SpongeBob SquarePants plays this trope arrow-straight, starting with the intro to every episode, in which SpongeBob takes a bath underwater. Within every episode, sea creatures walk on the ground...drink liquids out of cups...use heavily after falling from great heights. In fact, just about the only time this trope is averted are the nods to sea creatures not being able to breathe air (when SpongeBob dries out after going into Sandy's treehouse), or the reverse with Sandy needing a spacesuit to go out and about. Frequently the cartoon hangs a lampshade on this concept.
    • From very early on in the series, the characters go to Goo Lagoon for any beach-themed episodes, complete with lifeguards. The Goo itself is not very gooey but is heavier than water, and it's implied to be what the characters use as an equivalent elsewhere, such as when SpongeBob takes a bath or the Krusty Krab lavatories. Of course the show never points this out, allowing the characters to appear to use water underwater and keep the joke.
      • SpongeBob and Patrick nearly drown in the Goo Lagoon in "SpongeGuard on Duty". While it seems like this trope for an underwater creature to drown underwater, Goo Lagoon is a brine pool, and brine pools are saltier than seawater and contain no oxygen, so this is Truth in Television.
    • In "Bubble Buddy", a fish is buried up to his neck in the sand at high tide with only SpongeBob and Bubble Buddy to dig him out. When the time comes to dig him out, SpongeBob leaves it to Bubble Buddy, who of course doesn't... obviously. The fish ''drowns'' (presumably in Goo Lagoon's goo).
    • In "Life of Crime", SpongeBob and Patrick run away from Bikini Bottom and huddle around a campfire. Patrick points out "Hey, if we're underwater, how can there be a fire?" and the fire then immediately goes out. Then it starts up again later when Patrick stomps the tinder in rage!
    • In "Party Pooper Pants", Patchy the Pirate sends letters down to SpongeBob and Patrick inviting them to his party. The ink of course runs. SpongeBob and Patrick go on to mention that the person who sent the letters obviously had no understanding of the physical limitations of living underwater, and then proceed to dispose of the letters in a fire.
    • Hilariously lampshaded in "Pressure" where SpongeBob has to go on dry land for one minute, Mr. Krabs stops him first, takes a glass but doesn't fill it with water, saying that SpongeBob should make it last. SpongeBob just drinks out of the glass, because, well, he didn't need to fill it with water, cause it's all around them.
    • In "Nasty Patty", Mr. Krabs and SpongeBob think they've killed the health inspector: when they're disposing of the body, SpongeBob at first leaves the guy's head unburied because he thought that "he might need some air." Soon after, it rains underwater.
    • "Pranks a Lot" has an example of fire underwater and water underwater when SpongeBob and Patrick mess with Mr. Krabs by threatening to light a dollar bill on fire. Krabs stops them by dousing them and their match with a nearby bucket of water which not only extinguishes the match, it also washes off the duo's invisible paint.
    • In "Wet Painters", paint works underwater the way it would on land with SpongeBob and Patrick nervously trying to not get it on anything but the walls, worried they would not get it off if they did. While the paint doesn't wash off in the water; it does with saliva, which Mr. Krabs demonstrates.
    • To make a long story short, it's Zig-Zagged depending on what's funnier and more convenient (for example, all the vehicles use propellers because that's more interesting). The choice of making most of the main characters bottom-dwelling species (sponge, starfish, crab) was probably done to make the lack of swimming somewhat less noticeable, with the exception of all the walking fish.
  • In the Futurama episode "The Deep South", Zoidberg's house burns to the ground... underwater. Zoidberg wails, "How could this have happened?" and Hermes notes, "That's a very good question." Bender picks his still-lit cigar out of the ruins and puffs on it, and Hermes cries "That just raises further questions!".
    • Moreover, the Planet Express Ship somehow survives the crushing depth, despite the following conversation:
      Fry: How many atmospheres can the ship withstand?!
      Prof. Farnsworth: Well, it's a spaceship, so I would say anywhere between 0 and 1.note 
    • Bender tries to pour a bottle of booze he found in a sunken ship into his mouth, only to have it drift out and diffuse into the water.
      Bender: Arrr, the laws of science be a harsh mistress.
    • It overall seems to be playing with the trope. The fact that the city looks like one on land is because it's Atlanta after it sank (apparently the architecture didn't change in 1000 years) and they mix in actual problems (how to breathe, withstanding the pressure) with nonsense solutions (a suppository pill which lets them adapt to the pressure, breathing devices which don't explain how they can speak clearly or why water doesn't flow into their lungs). There's also the fact that the citizens of Atlanta "evolved" into mermaids, which was supposedly sped up by the caffeine from the Coca-Cola factory. How anyone survived long enough for this to happen is not addressed.
  • The Snorks featured this problem a lot. At least they were smart enough to substitute geothermal vents for fire as their main heat source.
  • An unusual variation happens in Stanley and Stella in: Breaking the Ice. It starts in a sphere with a sheet of ice segregating birds on top and fish below. It is easy to assume that the birds have air and the fish have water.note  However, when Stanley breaks the ice, it is revealed that fish swim and birds fly in the same substance. Stanley is able to maintain his position with minimal wing movement, meaning he is either in water (and can breathe) or he is in air and has Stationary Wings.
  • Justice League features this with Aquaman and the city of Atlantis. Atlantis had a death trap consisting of a room that filled with water... underwater in a city filled with water-breathing citizens. One would guess just shoving them out of an airlock was too much trouble. While Orm tries to handwave it by saying it's for executing intruding surface dwellers, that still doesn't explain why tossing them out the airlock with guards to make sure they drown isn't used instead.
  • Averted in Teen Titans. We don't get to see what Atlantis is like, but as for all the other aspects, they're either presented surprisingly realistically or just flat out not addressed. (The primary example of the former is Aqualad's hair; it just goes crazy while he's underwater.)
  • Averted in Young Justice. When Dolphin is brought to Atlantis by Kaldur, he first has to cast a spell on her so that she can understand Atlantean as well as speak underwater.
  • A particularly bad example is The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, episode "Bad Fortune in a Chinese Fortune Cookie". Not only do the mobsters hold a conversation underwater while rescuing Penelope, but it's implied that the Hooded Claw, still in his boat, heard Dum Dum's joke through the water. It was that kind of show.
  • Cosmo in The Fairly OddParents! uses fire to light candles in the goldfish bowl.
    Timmy: Hey, guys, what's new?
    Wanda: Uh, the laws of physics?
  • In The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 episode "The Ugly Mermaid", Mario and friends have to protect an underwater kingdom called Mertropolis when Bowser invades it. Confusingly, Mertropolis is in an airdome but is populated by human-legged fish who need to wear fishbowls on their heads in order to survive. As if that's not enough, Bowser tries to submit the Mertropolis citizens into submission by flooding the place with water, which somehow causes them to flee in terror.
    • In the famous episode "Mama Luigi", Luigi GASPS underwater.
  • Like its source material, the short-lived cartoon Fish Police would both follow and subvert this trope, mostly depending on which would better suit the Rule of Funny. As an example, in one episode one of the villain's henchmen was pushed out of a window from several stories up; when Inspector Gil found the henchman clinging to the window ledge by his fingers (fins?) calling for help, Gil reminded the henchman he was a fish and could just swim away. The henchman let go of the window ledge — only for gravity to promptly take over and cause the henchman to plummet to the ground, Wile E. Coyote-style. (Making this an inversion of Gravitational Cognizance, in that it's a case of a character falling because they're too dim to realize they shouldn't be.)
  • Sharky and George played the 2-D Space aspect perfectly straight. Fish swam a few inches above the ground, or stood on their tail fins. In at least one episode, a fish fell through a trap door that opened in the floor six inches below where it was swimming.
  • In the TV series' Animated Adaptation of Dumb And Dumber, one robot operates a blowtorch and fire is emitted from the blowtorch, even underwater!
  • Bubble Guppies has the same problems as SpongeBob above. They build a campfire, visit an airport, and at one point, view the moon from a telescope.
  • A mermaid learns the difference between water and air in the Adventures of the Gummi Bears episode "Water Way To Go": She tries to return Gusto's forgotten sketch pad to him, but, of course, it's waterlogged and ruined by the time she catches up to him — unfortunate, but an understandable mistake for someone who has no experience with paper and ink from a water-free environment.
  • Trolls: TrollsTopia: Mostly averted in that non-Techno Trolls need to wear breathing helmets when underwater in Techno Lagoon. But it's lampshaded in a flashback in "Daylight Ravings Time", where Synth questions how the pieces of the DJ mask that he just dropped could unleash a large fire at the lagoon.
    Synth: Fire?! Underwater?!
  • The Patrick Star Show: In "Bubble Bass Reviews", Bubble Bass brings up a clip of Patrick and Squidina resting by a campfire and complains about how unrealistic the scene is, since it shouldn't be possible to light a fire underwater.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television (sort of): behold the UNDERWATER LAKE! Cracked calls this the #5 most mindblowing thing found underwater. That's right, scientists found Goo Lagoon.
  • Behold Cenote Angelita; an UNDERWATER RIVER. With TREES beside it. Dead trees, but still...
  • Inverted for species of fish that are adapted to crawl on mud flats as well as the seabed, and can breathe air.
  • A rather literal version of this trope is how most air-breathing animals can breathe super-oxygenated fluid temporarily without major side effects. This is seen in The Abyss, apparently the scene where the fluid is being demonstrated on a rat was real (and PETA was quite pissed).
  • Some animals are often described as "flying" underwater, such as manta rays. Or penguins, which are birds whose wings have evolved into fins. Or, for that matter, any other bird that temporarily uses its wings as fins while diving.
  • Many microscopic organisms survive or live for a while in water or air, such as E. Coli, the bacterium found in poop which can cause stomach bugs, or norovirus, which can be deposited in air droplets via vomiting, which also causes stomach bugs.
  • Tardigrades can live under high amounts of radiation, survive in a vacuum of space longer than other lifeforms, and be frozen. They prefer to live in moss or on lakebeds, however they can live where it's fairly dry and airy.
  • Inverted for the fairyfly, which is so small that air becomes a water-like fluid it can swim in.


Video Example(s):


SpongeBob's Invitation

SpongeBob can't decipher Patchy's party invitations, quipping he has no idea about the physical limitations of living underwater, after which he and Patrick throw them into the fire.

How well does it match the trope?

4.82 (28 votes)

Example of:

Main / HypocriticalHumor

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