The Frustration of Inconsistent Deathblows

Krillin from Dragon Ball

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?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
This entry was posted in Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Frustration of Inconsistent Deathblows

  1. I wonder if this is meant to build up the villain as being so big and bad that they even resist a death blow?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. L. Marie says:

    Interesting subject! I also watched Dragon Ball Z, but back in the day. Weirdly enough, I was thinking about an offshoot of this subject—namely, if I give a character an ability that can kill the main character, will I look bad if that ability fails to kill that character? How much should I bow to plot? Is this like the eagles not taking the ring in Lord of the Rings—a solution that seems obvious to the reader, but doesn’t make the story interesting if that route is taken?

    I agree that if a character has an ability that is a death blow ability and that ability is hyped but isn’t used, that is a frustration. But I wonder if the story would end quicker than the producers would want. There needs to be some explanation for why the ability if used doesn’t somehow work. I can’t help but think of the killing curse Voldemort used on Harry Potter. Rowling came up with an explanation for why the curse didn’t work on Harry.


    • I still think the eagles are a terrible solution. They’re too big to hide. Once they’re shot down, the Ring is back with Sauron.

      People accept deathblows not working on main heroes. Usually requires an explanation. I hate it when a hero has one and it fails once it’s finally used on the villain. Inuyasha was infamous for this one. He’d learn a new move and the bad guy would be immune by the time they meet.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        I agree that the eagles solution is definitely not the best solution.
        And yes, the deathblow issue is frustrating. It’s almost like a bait and switch. Knowing how long these series go (some being on as long as some soap operas) I wonder if the producers were just trying to drag the story out to build suspense for a time the ability would finally work. Like having Ash constantly lose the championship in Pokemon until they finally decided that his losing streak would come to an end.


      • I remember the reasoning behind the Ash thing. I kind of get it. The worry was that winning a championship would end his story for many viewers. So, he never got the big tournaments. He won Orange League, Battle Frontier, and the first Alolan League. Those are good, but they didn’t make him come off as a major player. Wonder if he’ll lose the next one too.


  3. C.E.Robinson says:

    Charles, not a fan of far out Anime fantasy, but you bring up excellent points about a death blow never happening and it’s a feature of the movie. We have to be careful in a fiction the same way. An important character’s failure to do something has to be reasonable and have an alternate plan. The Destructo Disc has one goal and it comes close but never destructs anything. Disappointing! 📚🎶 Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was frustrating. Krillin took out a mountain. Lopped off a main villain’s tail once. Every time he almost got a direct hit, the target got away. It was really a ‘close shave’ type of attack that should have been a deathblow. Guess they do explain it as having the flaw of being a straight shot with no ability to change direction.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to agree with you. I have read a number of stories where the big death blow never comes about. It is very disappointing.


  5. L. Marie says:

    Charles, did you see the Sun and Moon anime? That would answer your question.


  6. Obscure for sure. I hadn’t noticed it before, but can see use for it and frustration. Something like this would make a great mortifying moment for my Lizzie character. Carry the magical gadget to the bad guy, push the button, and WTF. The main character has to rise to the occasion and not rely upon gadgetry. I think it would irritate readers/viewers if it were more of a Kung Fu move or an onboard form of magic. I think it sells if played for a laugh, but only once.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s