Long ago, I started watching Dragon Ball Z. Early on, one of my favorite movies was Krillin’s Destructo Disc. It’s a large disc of energy that can cut through anything. At least, that’s how it was presented. This thing was a nasty one-hit kill maneuver that I couldn’t wait to see used to win a fight . . . I’m still waiting. The damn thing has been dodged or had no effect on a powerful enemy. Best he did was cut off Frieza’s tail if I remember that correctly. Highly disappointing.
Anime is full of moves that are hyped up to be deathblows and never do. Heck, this is basically a running gag in ‘Inuyasha’ where ever big move that would kill the main villain failed. I’ve read stories that do this as well with the intention of playing a ‘gotcha’ with the audience. I can kind of get behind this idea for comedies or if there’s some lesson about not depending on a single thing. Yet, it gets old and makes one suspicious of any stories where learning a deathblow is part of the story.
It makes sense since these are moves that would end the adventure if they ever hit the main villain. Still, you would think they’d get used on supporting villains at least to show what they’re fully capable of. That’s not the case all the time. You see it used against an inanimate object like a mountain then it never works on an enemy. I wonder if these are created with the intention of it being used, but the author changes their mind at the final moment. It’s kept in the story because it’s cool, but then it doesn’t really have an impact on the story.
This leads to another issue, which is that the character who possesses the deathblow loses importance. If it’s the main protagonist, they can pull out of it by using another move or finding a different way to reach their goal. Supporting characters, like Krillin, end up getting defined by this big move that never works. They won’t lose all their popularity, but it becomes a stain on what they bring to the story. Having it work even once at an essential moment would go a long way even if it turns out the move is useless against really strong threats. Otherwise, readers might wonder why not only the deathblow exists, but the character as well.
Personally, I think every move, weapon, and item needs to be used in some fashion. It’s not easy and you may have a few designed to fail. For those that won’t work, I try not to hype them up that much. Once I see that they’re going to flop in an actual battle, I try to give them some kind of use outside of action or making it clear that they are more of a gamble. People are better with a failed deathblow if it’s not a sure thing even if it manages to hit. Not the smoothest method since you still have a character walking around with a useless move, but it can be easier to swallow when it fizzles out.
So, what do you think of this rather obscure subject?