Element Number Five

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"The four elements, like man alone, are weak. But together they form the strong fifth element: boron."
Brother Silence, master of Metaphorgotten, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising

The four classical Elemental Powers of Earth, Fire, Water, Air, (though Air is often referred to as Wind) and usually appear simultaneously inside the same setting. It is tacitly acknowledged these are the four forces of nature, and so naturally, there is some form of magical ability associated with each of them. Sometimes mages are restricted to only one school.

But wait- what's all this talk about a mysterious fifth element? That's right, boys and girls, turns out there's actually another element on top of these that is so incredibly bad-ass, it defies the normal classification system. Magic of this element is about as strong as the other four put together. Where a wind mage has control of, in general, wind, this element controls pretty much everything. It will have very few restrictions, but it will also be quite difficult to use. If the normal magic system is defined in term of Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors, Element Number Five will usually exist outside of it. Sometimes it will actually be the source of all the other elements in the first place, making it more of a Zero-th element.

Another common variation is for this to be some kind of mental, spiritual, or energy-related Foil to the physical elements; The Power of Love, Mind Control, and Light'Em Up are all common choices. The above rules may still apply (especially if the hero or the villain are the ones using it), but non-omniscient powers are equally likely to be balanced as not. The Inverse Law of Complexity to Power often favors Element Number Five since it doesn't always fit the same system as the rest.

Is most commonly used as a distinguishing feature from fantasy work to fantasy work. In order to combat the relative commonality of this fifth element its nature will often vary, to the point that this trope can often turn into Our Fifth Element Is Different.

In spite of the name, this trope can also be another number- the Chinese elemental system, for example, normally contains five elements (Earth, Fire, Water, Metal, and Wood), so in works based on that mythology this will be Element Number Six. This trope occurs naturally in the Greek, Tibetan, Babylonian and Japanese elemental systems, where Aether, Space, Sky and Void fulfill the narrative role of this trope - note that these four are essentially the same thing.

Not to be confused with Boron, the fifth element in the Real Life periodic table, The Fifth Element, which uses this trope as its eponymous Plot Device, or The Fifth Elephant, which has nothing to do with any of this but is rather a cheap pun.

See Infinity+1 Element for the gameplay ramifications of this trope occurring in Video Games.

Examples of Element Number Five include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Zero no Tsukaima features Void, an element about which the general population knows nothing but that is nonetheless incredibly powerful. Void users are very rare, and only appear once every several centuries. The easiest way to identify one is apparently they always summon a human as their familiar
  • The Rokumon (Six Gates) franchise already has six elements as part of its premise, with the fifth and sixth being light/holy and dark/curse. The anime Mon Colle Knights introduces a seventh. This element is called Time, but seems to work more like existence itself. It has no specific form, and exists in everything. Messing with it causes the physical universe to start falling apart very quickly.
  • In Naruto, there are five regular elements who have a cyclical Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors dynamic (Fire, Wind, Lightning, Earth, Water) and advanced elements (which are combinations of the other five and behave the same in the RPS cycle). The other type of chakra is Yin and/or Yang release, which is/are responsible for everything that's not elemental.
  • Astral Shamanistic magic, to go along with the classic fire, water, earth, and wind shamanistic magic in Slayers. Astral magic is unique insofar as it can damage a person's "astral body" (something of a spiritual form) instead of their physical body. There are various elements used in the series' line of Black Magic and Holy Magic as well.
  • The second movie of Cardcaptor Sakura had "The Nothing", an extremely powerful card created by Clow which is as strong as the other fifty-two put together, and which functions by destroying localized fabrics of reality. Sakura defeats it in the end by turning it into "The Hope".

Film[edit | hide]

  • The Fifth Element uses this trope as a central plot point, as the title implies. However, it's not until the very end that this is explained, and it's never explained why this futuristic society places such emphasis on classical elements when, you know, things like spaceships sort of operate on the assumption that all that stuff is superstition.
    • The society doesn't, at least no more so than our own (the characters were familiar with the idea in general terms—ie, they can recognize that the traditional elements are fire, earth, water and wind without being told). It's the ancient protector aliens and sect of monk-guardians they inspired who believe in the "superstition" because those metaphysical concepts are used to trigger a Big Bad slaying machine.
  • Parodied in The Gamers, as seen in the page quote.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Sovereign Stone trilogy uses Void as its fifth element.
  • In the Discworld, the fifth element is Surprise.
    • Also referenced in the title of one of the novels, The Fifth Elephant.
  • The Dresden Files is an interesting example - magic flows from the mind, so no single elemental system totally encapsulates it. We've seen wizards use fire, water, ice, electricity, wind, earth, and even particle beams, but none of these are more mystical than the others, and every mage uses his or her own different system. However, Angels and Fallen Angels possess Soulfire and Hellfire respectively (and can grant it to others), which are shown to be solidly this trope, even when actual numbering is impossible.

Mythology and Religion[edit | hide]

  • Void was the traditional fifth element in Japanese mythology.
  • Greek Mythology is the basis of the Four Elements, with the often forgotten fifth element "Aether" or Quintessence, often translated as "spirit". There is really nothing much about this element in that it is the only element outside the sphere of Earth and is the "stuff" that planets float in.
    • This is why the traditional magic circle has a pentagram, one spike for each element (at least, this is the Wiccan reason, satanists insist that the pentagram is the emblem of the human will reordering the universe to its liking).

Tabletop Gaming[edit | hide]

  • Mage: The Ascension featured Quintessence as "the power source behind all spellcasting, the stuff of magic itself."
  • One of the more interesting ideas of this was featured in a Shadowrun novel, where an Indian magical theorist worked out a different Element Number Five than the usual Chinese translation. Specifically, he found that while Fire, Earth, and Water matched up to their standard concepts, the literal translations for Wood and Metal were "Wood that burns" and "Metal that gleams" respectively. "Wood that burns" would be perhaps one of the only ways to visualize Air (as smoke), so perhaps it also wasn't the Metal ancient Chinese mages were referring to... but the gleam. Then he summons a Light elemental which he designates as a "Farohad," it incinerates him, and escapes, then begins making hit-and-run attacks on the Matrix (the futuristic, VR-based internet) to destroy all traces of itself. Unfortunately, since the scientist's project was called "The Lucifer Project," this ends up creating lots of collateral damage to places like churches, seminaries, and an unfortunate woman named Lucille Ferraro.
    • With the advent of the fourth edition, Shadowrun has a definitive fifth element. When conjuring, magicians can summon up spirits of Earth, Fire, Air, Water, and/or Man.
  • In Promethean: The Created, Frankensteins are Fire, Tammuz are Earth, Galateids are Air, and Osirans are Water. Ulgans, the fifth Lineage? Ectoplasm. (They're deeply connected to the spirit world.) Later, we get a Sixth Element - Radiation. Poor, miserable Zeka...
  • The Tau in Warhammer 40,000 have a Fantastic Caste System thematically based on the elements: The Fire caste are warriors, Water are politicians and bureaucrats, Air are the Space Navy, and Earth are manual labourers and artisans. The rare and mysterious ruling caste are "Ethereals".
  • Classic Advanced Dungeons & Dragons started with the four elemental planes of water, air, fire, and earth. And added the two energy planes, positive and negative. And the para-elemental planes, where the elemental planes touch: smoke, ice, magma, and ooze. And, also, the quasi-elemental planes, where the elemental planes touch the energy planes: lightning, minerals, radiance, and steam on the positive side; vacuum, dust, ash, and salt on the negative side.
  • The now-defunct trading card game Anachronism merged traditional western elements with eastern ones, since both were covered by the game. Fire, water, wind, and earth were represented, as were wood, metal, and aether. For whatever reason, a single Norseman was all seven.

Toys[edit | hide]

  • Bionicle started with six elements: Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Stone, and Ice. Then Light was introduced as the Seventh Ranger. And then Iron, Sonics, Psionics, Lightning, Gravity, Plant Life, etc were introduced, although these elements rarely have much impact on the main story and never appear as sets.
    • Lightning, Gravity, Sonics, Plasma and Magnetism were originally used as villain powers in one of the toy lines before the powers were later "upgraded" into official Elements in the world. The sixth villain had Vacuum, a variation of the standard Air element. These villains were unique, powered-up versions of the previous season's Bohrok swarms, which had used the standard six elements as their theme... with the exception of the green ones, which had Acid rather than Air, and were decidedly non-elemental in nature.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Kingdom of Loathing has five elements to begin with (similar to the Chinese element system, which uses earth, water, metal, wood, and fire), but adds a sixth element, cute, in an arc that blatantly parodies The Fifth Element.
    • For reference, the five elements are Hot, Cold, Spooky, Stench, and Sleaze.
    • There's also slime, shadow and bad spelling, but those only show up in the Slime Tube, the Naughty Sorceress's Tower and the Orc Chasm, respectively. You can't equip items that are resistant to these elements, nor can you wield them yourself. These don't really count as elements because their weaknesses are usually specific items. Slime deals a status effect which can be removed with a chamoix, shadow is vulnerable to healing items and bad spelling is vulnerable to dictionaries.
  • Five classic elements are powered by six colored moons in Skies of Arcadia (although on a technical level, there are six, as both water and wind elements are drawn from the Blue Moon; the other five have one element). The sixth element, drawn from the Silver Moon, is life and death - spells that either kill opponents instantly or resurrect your allies (or cure status ailments). Fina, as a member of the civilization that once lied under the Silver Moon's orbit, learns this magic the fastest.
  • The four elements of magic spells in the Shin Megami Tensei games are Fire, Ice, Wind/Force, and Electric, with "Almighty" as the fifth, ultimate element. Nothing is weak to it, but usually nothing resists or nullifies Almighty either. It's a double-edged sword, as it gives both bosses and players a method to deal damage regardless of immunities.
  • Two Worlds has Earth, Fire, and Water. Death was added when the orc god died.
  • In the Quest for Glory series, the fifth element is Pizza, which researchers describe as representing the well-roundedness and wholeness of the world. That, and it tastes good. In the fan-made remake of the second game, there's even a Pizza Elemental as a Bonus Boss.
  • Bahamut Lagoon features no fewer than three extra elements. (Actually a sixth, seventh and eighth. The classical elements are represented, but there are four nonstandard elements;) Earth, Light and Dark aren't visible in your dragons' stats. Earth is the first extra element, a dragon who knows Fire, Ice and Lightning magic can use Earth at the same level as its worst element. Then, a dragon with maxed out Earth, Healing, Poison, Strength and Defense will gain access to the Light and Dark elements. Very few monsters resist these elements, and finishing off enemies with them gives a chance to drop the best items in the game. Unfortunately, they also cost a lot of MP to cast.
  • The Match Three Game Elements is about distilling the four classical elements (Earth, Fire, Air and Water) and the sub-elements they create as you follow the story of Luca Pacioli's research on the same thing you're doing. The fifth element eventually reveals itself to be Cosmos, and you'll have to distill the sub-elements that result from it and the other four elements.
  • An alchemist in Shivering Isles theorises that each of the four classical elements corresponds to a part of the body (fire is meat, earth is bone, water is blood and air is breath), and that these elements when brought together create the fifth element, Flesh.
  • In Klonoa 2, there are four bells — Tranquility, Joy, Discord and Indecision — but it is revealed there is a fifth: Sorrow. In this case, it does exist within the Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors scheme, but it's been suppressed.
  • In Final Fantasy X, there are five elements, but you see the fifth (Holy) only extremely rarely, with the other four being much more common working in opposite pairs (Fire/Ice and Lightning/Water).
    • Other Final Fantasy games also tend to have elements more obscure than the "main" ones. The four western elements (earth, fire, air and water) are standard set for the crystals and the elemental archfiends, but the magic system is more complicated. While the standard three elements for spells are fire, ice and lightning, there are quite a few spells and special attacks with other elements or element-like properties, including air, water, earth, poison, holy, darkness, healing, gravity, as well as non-elemental spells.
  • In Luminous Arc 2, Ayano, Bharva and the Mage Queen, Elicia possess the Silver element, which is resistant to all other elements. In particular, Ayano can use it to the point that she can efectively nullify all magical damage for a turn.
  • Has started cropping up in the Golden Sun series with the release of Dark Dawn. Before there were the classic four, with some hints that a joint combination of those four as the eponymous Sun being a possible fifth. However, in Dark Dawn there are a large number of monsters with a Darkness element from the midpoint on that seems to be largely independent of the Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors and radically more powerful. Their presence is unnatural and is interfering with the state of the world.
    • Then it's revealed at the end that Chalis and Blados are Dark Adepts. And it appears that we now have a Sixth Element in the form of Light Adepts.
  • Lucia, the sole citizen of the Blue Star, wields a sixth special element in Lunar 2 Eternal Blue Complete. It is meteor/star-based, and this is more or less justified because it's thought that she has access to a higher power.
  • In the Mystery Case Files game Dire Grove, items representing the five elements have to be inserted into an underground ice shrine in order to defeat the Big Bad at the end. They represent the fifth element with mercury.
  • World of Warcraft has elementals, items which are the elements in a tangible form that are used for advanced crafting recipes. Originally there were more than four, but with each expansion the extra elements have been phased out; as of Cataclysm, there are five such elementals called Volatiles: Fire, Water, Earth, Air and Life.
  • Pokémon has the traditional Fire type for fire, Water type for water, Rock and Ground types for earth and a curious lack of an air element, depending on if you count Flying type as a viable replacement for air. Beyond these five to represent the traditional four elements, there are 12 other elements, namely Normal, Fighting, Poison, Bug, Ghost, Steel, Grass, Electric, Psychic, Ice, Dragon and Dark, all wrapped up in possibly the most ambitious Elemental Rock Paper Scissors scheme of all time.
    • The Japanese traditional system has elements of earth, water, fire, air and spirit, so perhaps Psychic could join the aforementioned five types to represent the spirit element.
    • If you want to follow the Chinese traditional system, Fire, Rock/Ground, Water, Steel and Grass could represent fire, earth, water, metal and wood.
  • Relatively obscure puzzle game Water And Wind Puzzle Battles has Fire, Water, Metal, Wood, and Earth as the main elements; it also has Wind (yellow) and Void (pink/purple). Combining three Water and one Wind into a valid combo removes all Water blocks from the board. Surrounding Void with one of each element (including Wind) creates a special "Void Clear" and removes every single block from the board. Technically a black 'Null' element also exists, but is only used in special puzzle modes and demonstrations, and cannot be chained or otherwise combined.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Real Life alchemists sometimes talked of such a concept - also called Quintessence (Latin, roughly, for "Element Number Five"). Common ideas were "Aether" and "vital essence" (essentially life itself). It was thought that the heavens were made of pure quintessence, and the imperfect Earth of the lesser elements. The extraction of quintessence was considered one of the fundamental goals of alchemy.
  • The Goethe-Gymnasium in Berlin-Wilmersdorf was built a few years before World War I in a historicist style. On the side facing Uhlandstraße are carved representations of the five elements - fire, earth, air, water and electricity.