Damsel Scrappy

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Do I have HOSTAGE stamped across my forehead?"

—Mary Jane, novelization of 3

The Damsel in Distress is an age-old classic plot device, which places a character in danger to add tension to the story. Sometimes one character (usually a Love Interest or a relative of another character) seems to have no discernible purpose besides serving as the Designated Victim. If the character is popular with the audience, this can be effective. Other times, well....let's just say that the audience starts wishing that the Big Damn Heroes would get stuck in traffic, just so they won't have to put up with her anymore.

Most of the time, this character's plight is due entirely to her own stupidity. She doesn't just pick up the Distress Ball, she runs it into her own endzone and gets tackled for a safety. And she keeps on doing it, again and again and again. This may be due to being The Ditz, or a severe case of crippling genre blindness.

Even if she's just unlucky, she may be disliked for other reasons. Perhaps the audience finds her too bland, or too bitchy. Perhaps her presence seems shoehorned into the main plot (perhaps to attract a Periphery Demographic or for blatant Fan Service), and the audience feels she steals time from the story they're actually interested in. This is especially true when her subplot has nothing to do with the main plot at all. Or else she seems like useless dead weight whose only purpose is to pad the plot by getting in trouble. And worst of all, the fans may just dislike her for getting in the way of their Fan-Preferred Couple.

The Chick of a Five-Man Band is in danger of turning into this, if the audience finds her obnoxious and useless enough. Faux Action Girl is what you get when you mix this with an Action Girl. Chickification is what happens if an actual Action Girl gets retooled or derailed into this. Child characters can fall prey to this just as easily, especially the Tagalong Kid or a hero's Oblivious Younger Sibling. Large risk of being Trapped by Mountain Lions.

See also Too Dumb to Live. Compare The Scrappy and The Load. Compare The President's Daughter and Badass Damsel. See also Reckless Sidekick, Sympathetic Sue. Deliberately Distressed Damsel can justify or subvert this trope.

Examples of Damsel Scrappy include:

Anime and Manga

  • Mokuba Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh!, who gets into trouble precisely seven times in the series - nine if you count manga-only stories. However, he's not all that hated by fans since he's a kid, which makes it a bit more understandable as to why why fully grown people are often managing to kidnap him, and often more amusement than annoyance is found at the fact that he's in trouble so often. And to his credit, in one memorable situation he actually manages to break himself out, finds Yugi and Kaiba with a helicopter, and takes them to where Yugi's friends were being held captive.
  • Meg from Burst Angel. Supposedly an Action Girl, but Jo must rescue her all the time.
  • Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi, despite being the series protagonist, has come in for some fan hate for the numerous times she pointlessly rushes headfirst into dangerous situations, in some cases even actively sabotaging her protectors or not telling them important information, then getting in trouble and needing them to come save her anyway.
  • Beauty from Bobobo-Bo Bo-bobo serves two purposes: perpetually reminding the viewer at the top of her lungs that the things the other characters are doing are bizarre, and being the Damsel in Distress when the plot calls for it.
  • One of the reasons why Akane Tendo from Ranma ½ is considered by some to be a Base Breaker is the fact that, sometimes, she comes off as one of these. It's not that she gets kidnapped a lot (in fact, Ranma Saotome himself is actually kidnapped more frequently than she is), but she does get into trouble frequently, often because of her own issues (temper tantrums, pride and blind distrust of Ranma/trust of her enemies, mainly), and usually ends up contributing nothing positive to the experience. The very earliest examples of this are the Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics and Martial Arts Figure Skating stories.
  • Kaede Sakura from Kämpfer. It's all just an act.
  • Black Butler: One of the reasons for Elizabeth's scrappy status.
  • Freaking Yukimura Chizuru from Hakuouki. It would be okay that she doesn't want to fight or use her weapon, if she could just use her brain. The first two times she had to be rescued were fine, but really, once you are accepted into the Shinsengumi... You should be able to do more than stand there and/or scream while someone attacks you. She isn't even a competent medic! Sigh.
  • Bleach:
    • Princess Lurichiyo. A bratty, spoiled rich kid who can't seem to stop getting kidnapped. After Ichigo and crew have the kidnapper cornered and it looks like the Filler arc is over, Amagai shows up, reveals he is a villain, and kidnaps her again. Made more irritating for some by the fact that the arc came up in the middle of the Hueco Mundo arc and after Ichigo's battle with Grimmjow.
    • During the Arrancar arc, Orihime also got this reputation among parts of the fandom. Rather unfairly considering how she had no choice on that, and often coming from rabid Ichigo/Rukia shippers.
  • Molly from the English dub of Sailor Moon. Her horrible accent, combined with how she gets attacked by the Monster of the Week in almost every episode of the first season, makes her much more annoying than her the original character.

Comic Books

  • This is a characteristic once strongly associated with Lois Lane. Ironically, it can be argued that Lois' role as a Damsel in Distress was far more important to the Superman plot than her role as a love interest, Depending on the Writer. In the 1940's, she did need to be rescued a lot (usually while pursuing a news story), but was fairly intelligent and could sometimes get herself out of scrapes by kicking ass and taking names. Once the 50's, 60's and early 70's came around though... Yeesh. She was an empty headed twerp who was constantly putting herself in danger for no reason, and whose sole goal in life was to trick Superman into marrying her. She took Too Dumb to Live to uncharted levels. In recent comics and other media she's a much more well rounded and developed character, who is extremely competent and able to take care of herself. She still needs to be rescued sometimes, and the trope may pop up occasionally, but for the most part she's a very independent, intrepid and intelligent reporter who just needs a little help against super powered aggressors from time to time.
    • The sixties-era book Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane seemed dedicated to making sure every single reader hated poor Lois. If you Google around, you'll find scans of multiple letters columns where readers asked for Superman to spank Lois (which would in fact occur, though in the context of Super Dickery). A few may have had other motives than scrappyhood, though.
    • Even when there's neither any Super Villain's ill will nor a big scoop one jump away from her window, she can be trusted to find something dangerous. Letters on the label are bigger than her eyes, so... they just don't fit in, right?
    • Starting late in The Seventies comics, Lois was written to be more assertive to avert this trope, and needed rescuing much less often, including in her solo stories in The Superman Family. This included Lois having mastered a Kryptonian form of martial arts named "klurkor."
    • Being associated with this trope is probably what spurred John Byrne, in his Post-Crisis retelling of Superman's origin, to make it very, very obvious that Lois was now a Badass Damsel bordering on Action Girl. This eventually led to an inversion immediately after her wedding to Clark when he was kidnapped after temporarily losing his powers. Lois took her Army brat background to extremes, becoming a G.I. Jane in order to come to the rescue.



  • Twilight:
    • Bella Swan pretty much epitomizes this trope, even commenting in her own narrative that "I guess my brain will never work right. At least I'm pretty." Add in the fact that she can't seem to get out of any scrape without the intervention of a male. And don't think we're kidding when we say any scrape; the poor girl is liable to grievously injure herself walking through a door if a fellow cast member isn't there to assist her (and by "assist" we generally mean "literally pick up and carry").
    • Alice Cullen just sums it up: "I have never seen anyone more prone to life-threatening idiocy."
  • This trope is Older Than Television: In the era of Pulp Magazine action stories, their teenage male readers would frequently complain about the very existence of female characters, because they were inevitably Flat Characters whose only role in the plot was to get into trouble, be on the receiving end of vague threats from the villain, and be rescued by the hero.
    • Clio Marsden starts out like this in E.E. "Doc" Smith's Triplanetary (the first of the Lensmennovels), but gets a lot better as the book goes on. In her case, the threats ("a research upon sex") are also anything but vague.
  • The entire Tribe Of Rushing Water in Warrior Cats. In only one of their four appearances did they not need to be saved from something by the clans, yet they are rude to the clans and tell them to go away. In Sign of the Moon, the cats come for a visit when the Tribe doesn't think they need help and the Tribe actually attacks them!
  • Millie in Castle Roogna. She repeatedly gets kidnapped or attacked, and never does anything to defend herself other than by kicking (not kicking the assailant, mind you, just kicking in the air) and screaming.
  • Nora Grey, the heroine of Hush, Hush, quite possibly gives Bella a run for the money. Over the course of three books, she repeatedly walks into dangerous situations without telling anyone else where she's going (so no hope of a rescue if a plan goes wrong), no weapons of any kind, and usually no actual planned course of action beyond "I'll break into that place and wing it". The author seemed to be trying to channel Nancy Drew, but failed to give Nora any competency. Really, Nora's stupidity could be summed up near the end of the first book when she willingly walks into an empty school and plays into the bad guy's hands, even though (A) she knows she's being lured into a trap, (B) her super-powered, invincible boyfriend is already rescuing the hostage being used as bait for Nora, and (C) the bad guy doesn't even know said boyfriend is on the case, meaning that if Nora had stayed put, the entire climax probably would never have happened. And then, when she's in the school, she gives up and says that she hopes her boyfriend will rescue her. Even though he has no idea she is inside because he told her to wait outside for him.

Live-Action TV

  • 24:
    • Kimberly Bauer, the former Trope Namer, has an annoying habit of getting Trapped by Mountain Lions, wandering around bra-less in wifebeaters around potential rapists, and doing everything in her power to anger men with guns. Kim is sometimes known as "Bathroom-Break Bauer", due to a nearly-unbroken string of kidnappings, confinements and hostage-takings, which make it possible to take a bathroom break whenever she's on screen without missing anything truly important. The writers have admitted in essence that she can't be killed off because Jack has already lost Teri, his wife and it would destroy him. She has since effectively left the show, thankfully.
    • Then in the final season, she managed to get out WITHOUT being kidnapped, and she sent Jack off to do his thing. The girl has definitely gone a long way.
  • Charlene Matlock, who almost every episode gets herself into some sort of trouble by trying to investigate/snoop around alone and either Ben or Tyler need to come to her rescue.
  • Ally McBeal in the show of the same name.
  • Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher) in Desperate Housewives. Hilariously, Hatcher also played Lois Lane in the '90s Superman drama Lois and Clark.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Tegan—though, as a woman of normal intelligence stuck on the TARDIS with three alien super-geniuses (The Doctor, Nyssa, and Adric/Turlough), she was Damsel Scrappy By Default. You want real a Damsel Scrappy in Doctor Who, try Vicki, Victoria Waterfield or Peri Brown.
    • Mel was the only companion during her tenure, and thus had the duty of getting captured. This would be fine if she were useful or likable. And then she was followed by Ace. Who killed Daleks with homemade explosives (stored in deodorant cans) and a super-charged baseball bat.
    • Rose was this way to some degree. Lampshaded in "The Doctor Dances" when the Doctor observed, "I've traveled with a lot of people, but you're setting new records for jeopardy friendly."
  • Lana Lang on Smallville, for quite a while now. And when they decided to fix it in later seasons they went too far in the opposite direction. The kid can't win, really.
  • Maya on Heroes.
  • Colonel Tigh's wife Ellen in the Battlestar Galactica remake. The woman was essentially a walking plot complication. They eventually had to put her down because of it.
  • Beverly Hills, 90210 updated this trope for the teen soap/drama in the form of rich girl Kelly Taylor. Just read her Wikipedia article. Then again, maybe they're right: being stalked, burned, brainwashed, raped, addicted to cocaine and shot does enable one to become a stronger person.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Cordelia was also bad about this when she first joined the main cast, but by Season 3, she'd gotten a lot better, and got even better when she moved to Angel.
    • The Buffy "Scrappy of the Week" parade. Like Cassie. The dying (and dying, and dying) girl who was being killed by destiny and wrote poetry about it. It was never explained why she was dying. Or how she knew, or why it was impossible to stop it. We just got to sit and watch her get saved, and then saved, and then saved..and then plop of a heart attack.
  • Stargate Atlantis':
    • Jennifer Keller', though she learned to fight in the final season and part of the Scrappy-ness has to be from her replacing Carson Beckett.
    • Fans are probably also willing to cut her more slack because her actress is associated with a well-liked former role. Or that may paradoxically lead some to dislike Keller because she's not Kaylee. Ah, human nature, you never fail to amuse with your delightful contradictions!
    • The dislike isn't just because she was useless when not in sickbay - it was because she was useless outside sickbay and the writers shoehorning her into as many episodes as possible and even having two characters fall in love with her so we'd realize we are supposed to love her too, as if they thought they could bludgeon the audience with her until they surrendered and decided they may as well like her. (The writers have admitted to doing this.) Didn't work.
  • Chloe, from Stargate Universe, who was - like Jennifer Keller on Atlantis - the Love Interest for two different guys. Unlike Keller, however, Chloe had virtually no useful purpose whatsoever.
  • In the Robin Hood on the BBC a number of viewers feel that the replacement for Marian, Kate, fits this. She's pushy, loud and generally useless, where in contrast the previous character in the love interest role was an Action Girl who at least had the dignity to be right when she was pushy, and was never louder than was needed. And yes, true to the trope, all of Kate's numerous kidnappings were due to her inability to keep up, defend herself, or know when to keep her mouth shut.
    • In her capacity as a "damsel" scrappy, she's been captured by guards more times in one season than any of the other outlaws have in three. The words: "Where's Kate?" could be a drinking game.

Newspaper Comics

  • Olive Oyl from Popeye. Much more so in the cartoons, especially the Famous/Paramount Studios ones.

Professional Wrestling

  • One of the most annoying was Sharmell Sullivan, 1991 Miss Black America and the wife (both on-screen and off) of former WCW great Booker T. Beginning in 2005, Sharmell accompanied Booker to all his matches dressed "beauty queen" style in a fashionable gown and tiara, and sometimes petticoats as well. Her only purpose when she and Booker were faces seemed to be getting menaced by her husband's heel opponents (including Kurt Angle, who notoriously threatened to rape her). While Sharmell was capable of giving some of the weaker villains a good slap across the face from time to time, for the most part she was reduced to shrieking "BOOK-ERRR!" until her husband could come in to save her. After the pair's Face Heel Turn (and especially after Booker became "King Booker"), Sharmell became more of a Faux Action Girl (with a bit of the Alpha Bitch thrown in). At the 2006 WrestleMania she even joined Booker in a handicap match against The Boogeyman - but the pair lost when Boogey grabbed Sharmell and shoved a handful of worms down her throat!
  • Vickie Guerrero as well, with a side order of Miles Gloriosus to boot. As General Manager of Friday Night SmackDown, Vickie would boss around all the fan favorites in her obnoxiously whiny voice and generally act like a bitch....until someone like The Undertaker would threaten her, and Vickie would turn into a cowardly Screaming Woman who was helpless until her love interest of the moment could come rushing to her rescue. She eventually did Take A Level In Badass and even wrestles occasionally, but at heart her character is still a man-hungry Mrs. Robinson Wannabe who pouts when she doesn't get her way and still screams all the time (particularly when her newest boyfriend, Dolph Ziggler, is losing a match).

Video Games

  • Rinoa from Final Fantasy VIII gets blamed for this, managing to get herself kidnapped four times through the course of the game, but only on the first instance did her own foolishness get her into the situation. The rest was unfortunate circumstance. The thing that grates most players is how accepting the rest of the cast becomes afterward—at one point, even choosing to save Rinoa despite the fact that saving her conflicts with Squall's (the player's) current task as leader. They get mad at you for even considering that the mission may be more important than saving her. It also doesn't help her out that the other two playable females, Quistis and Selphie, are highly-trained military professionals, while Rinoa is an untrained teenage girl (though ironically....)
  • Also, Rosa from Final Fantasy IV, who spends the whole first half of the game in distress, gets this reception from some, even though she makes up for it in the game's second half as the White Magician Girl.
    • Rosa potentially gets worse by the sequel, the After Years as she now only exists as a Damsel in Distress to give character developments to "Ceodore! Cecil! Kain!" and spends one climax getting dragged around forcefully by Dark Kain.
  • Princess Elise from |Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. Throughout the course of the game, she gets kidnapped by Dr. Eggman three times.
  • Princess Shine starts out as one of these in Super Robot Wars Original Generation, but becomes less so as we get to know her better. Then we find out she has special powers that allow her to use a super-advanced Humongous Mecha.
  • The Damsels in Spelunky are pretty much based on Willie Scott and manage to work this trope into game mechanics.
  • Rosie in Fossil Fighters seems to exist solely to get kidnapped a lot, and to have various other humorous problems befall her. It wouldn't seem quite so bad if she and the hero weren't getting Strangled by the Red String. You, however, can eventually choose to deny the red string and Toy Ship yourself with Action Girl alien Duna if you want.
  • Shirley Fennes from Tales of Legendia, along with being the series' plain Scrappy. Though to be fair, in the Character Quests following the main scenario, she became a party member and only got kidnapped once, by Jay, whom she actually ended up helping during this situation.
  • Colette Brunel from Tales of Symphonia. Despite that she does get better after a little while (and that technically, Mithos can kidnap ANYONE at the end, even Regal), some people dislike her for this.
  • Shana in Legend of Dragoon, however, most people preferred her over Miranda, who never got kidnapped or sick but still turned out to be more annoying.
  • Star Fox 64:
    • A player could be haunted for YEARS with Slippy Toad's ear-piercing refrains of "Fox! Help me!!" or "Fox! Get this guy off me!!" If it weren't for his unbelievable mechanical ability, the Star Fox team would have probably pushed him out an airlock after his first mission.
    • And Krystal is Slippy in anything but appearance...which probably is her saving grace.
    • Your other partners are never any actual help to you in Star Fox 64 and Star Fox: Assault. Except when you don't want them to.
  • Ninian from Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword often gets lumped into this category, even though she's only ever captured twice and the third time she goes with the Big Bad willingly to spare her friends' lives.
  • Similarly, Kairi from Kingdom Hearts is considered this by people even though she only has two moments of real distress, both of them in the second game (in the first, the twist is that her heart was inside of Sora all along and not in danger). Yet the fandom still holds her in scorn for this and many don't even understand the subversion from the first game, thinking she was "in a coma" and thus in distress even then. Of course, alot of this hate all stems from certain other feelings...
  • Shandra Jerro in Neverwinter Nights 2 starts out like one of these (first barn, then house burned, then kidnapped by Githyanki), but subverts it hard when she joins the party and Takes A Level In Badass. (Almost literally: she's a Fighter.) Her Dying Moment of Awesome is arguably an inversion of the trope: it's the party that has to be rescued by her.
  • Princess Peach in the Super Mario Bros. series still has this reputation, despite having taken many levels in badass since her initial appearance and becoming the heroine of her own game.
  • Ashley from Resident Evil 4

Web Comics

  • Celia from Order of the Stick was quickly flanderized into a model damsel scrappy after her second reappearance.
  • Denny Levens serves three basic purposes in Candi's life: provide her with a new last name, give her someone to constantly protect/rescue, and give her more issues to Wangst about when her effort to do so fails in the long run. Given he used to be a bootlegger, and he's now in a war where his enemies want his wife's head for a trophy, it'd make sense that he'd learn to wear a bulletproof vest or stock up on an assault rifle. Nope. He buys a wimpy pistol, that jams. And he immediately ends up being beaten half to death with a bookcase.
  • This Sluggy Freelance strip shows a Damsel Scrappy in action, in the context of a 24 parody.

Web Original

I'm starting to think that Bucky must have a tracer planted on him that allows Captain America to track down these hidden enclaves of enemy combatants. That's the only possible use I can think of for a sidekick who's only contribution to the war is to get captured every month...

Western Animation

  • Normal Price in Fireman Sam. Even on the rare occasions that someone else needs rescuing, he's usually the cause of the trouble.
  • Julie Yamamoto from Ben 10 Alien Force. As one fan put it, 'Julie had a good 30 minutes to actually do something other than 'I smile, accept Ben, and become a damsel in distress'.
  • Daphne Blake from Scooby Doo:
    • She is known to often fall into traps, be kidnapped by the villain, or anger the villain in some way. Her nickname in the original Scooby Doo, Where Are You? series was "Danger-prone Daphne". Daphne did become more competent well before the popular live-action movie took a swing at a Scrappy Rescue: In the 1980s Scooby Doo series when the group was reduced to just her, Shaggy, Scooby and Scrappy, she became the leader of the group. That also was true in the 13 Ghosts Of Scooby Doo series, where she was the Team Mom - Unfortunately, she quickly lost her accumulated good will with the horrendous character design and jumpsuit she had in that series.
    • The first live action film played with the concept and had Daphne pick up martial arts skills and become generally more useful after the gang broke up as a direct result of her being called out for being the Damsel in Distress. In an interview, the staff of that movie said that changing Daphne was necessary for the sake of proper method acting. The goal established from the start was for live actors to do the best interpretations they could of the cartoon characters, but they ran into a roadblock with Daphne because in the cartoon she essentially had no personality. The natural choice was for Sarah Michelle Gellar to channel her greatest known role.
    • In virtually all Scooby Doo series and films since then, Daphne has been portrayed as MacGyvering with her makeup kit and accessories; her martial-arts skills from the live action film carry over to the animated film Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword, where she arguably has a Crowning Moment of Awesome when she fights in the arena.
  • Static Shock:
    • Daisy.[context?]
    • The other girl's name is Frieda. Her role in the cartoon was downplayed after giving Virgil a guy best friend instead of letting her be the best friend. She was replaced by Richie Foley, who is basically her except male and blonde - according to Word of God, he's also gay. On the other hand, Richie also falls into this category in the sense that he's always getting kidnapped and his help is mostly ineffectual except for a few episodes. His ineffectualness begins in episode 1 when he tries to protect Frieda from Hotstreak and gets his shirt burned to a cinder, and he is first kidnapped in the episode "Sons of the Fathers" by Ebon. After that, he becomes a mind-slave twice and is kidnapped at least three more times. However, since he's a male, people love him, even if they're outside of the age group that he was created to appeal to. So he's more of a Damsel Bumblebee than Damsel Scrappy. That, and the fact that Richie gets super powers of his own later on, so he's actually able to help out more in combat and rescues Virgil a few times.
  • Pepper Potts in Iron Man: Armored Adventures has two purposes for her existence: help Tony out on occasion and get captured and rescued constantly even in situations she should be able to escape from on her own. Her behavior is consistently damsel-like despite her aspirations to be a kick-ass SHIELD agent - at one point she's in the middle of an abandoned warehouse where two different factions of Chinese assassins are fighting and she sits there waiting to be rescued instead of getting away from the fighting. Yeah, real SHIELD material.
  • Transformers Animated:
    • Sentinel Prime is an unusual male (not to mention giant alien robot) example. Most of his time onscreen involves him getting into some scrape or another and having the long-suffering Optimus get him out. It seems the only thing that keeps Optimus from abandoning him is a sense of guilt about their shared past and perhaps some level of fondness for his old Academy-mate.
    • Mix of all of the above, and the hope that Sentinel gets it through his thick head that his arrogance is a Bad Thing. But Status Quo Is God and he always rubber bands back to being a jackass by his next appearance. Even Jazz, who has long tolerated (or ignored) it as his second in command, finally gives up and more or less defects to Prime's crew.
  • Aquaman, on the Superfriends, sometimes falls into this role. He seems to exist only as someone to get captured by the Legion of Doom, so that the rest of the Justice League can rescue him.
  • Miko of Transformers Prime. No matter how many times she is told by her friends not to sneak off to see the titular robots fight and get caught in the crossfire, she sneaks off anyway, has to get rescued, and in some cases nearly kills her friends.
  • April O'Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (every version) subverts this; she tends to get captures a lot but that's why the fans love her so much. Regardless, later adaptations have given her some Action Girl traits, but she is still the victim more than anyone else.