I Just Want to Be Badass
Hey, Stinkoman! Everybody says you're the guy, but I wanna be the guy, too!
—1-Up, Homestar Runner
"If only I had more power!"
Like I Just Want to Be Special , I Just Want to Have Friends and I Just Want to Be Normal, I Just Want to Be Badass describes one of those wishes that consumers of media like to have fulfilled by the works they consume. Typically, males are somewhat more prone to harbor this wish. A tentative explanation for this could be the fact that western popular culture's standards of masculinity and badassery have some similarities.
In order to fulfill this wish of their audience, the creator of a work will usually create a viewpoint character and, over the course of the story, make said character Badass. This allows the audience to identify with the viewpoint character and as such experience badassery by proxy. Another way by which the author can fulfill this wish of the audience is to take a character that has already established his badassery and give said character a trait which the intended audience will identify with. Additionally, a writer can take a characterization with already-established Badass credentials and remove non-badass elements from said characterization in order to highlight the badassery.
On the other hand, this trope can be used in conjunction with Be Yourself, as we see an hero try to emulate more macho role models and failing miserably imitating their machismo. At that point, they give up in despair and focus on they can do, convinced that they are nothing special even as they learn some new knowledge or skills no one around thinks is important. However, when they are called upon to do what they have to for others, they find that those things he's learned have made him a near invincible Badass Bookworm who saves the day while the macho characters look on in astonishment.
An Escapist Character targetted towards the male demographic will often be a product of this desire.
This trope is very prone to being deconstructed. A possible reason for this is that producers of media are usually not particularly Badass and as such may regard this particular wish of the audience as immature or naive. This, of course, is merely a speculation. However, whole industries are built on playing this trope straight and allowing the audience to fulfill its badassery fantasies by proxy.
Arguably, video games in general have a strong element of this as their appeal. Many FPS games do at least in part avert or subvert this however. During some action games, there is a level where the game radically changes pace and becomes something different. For instance, an action game will toss in a stealth level where the player character is stripped of all their weapons. These levels are subversions of this trope and gain their impact from the sudden loss of power the player character has experienced. Survival Horror games often rely on averting this to generate fear in the player. Feeling powerful and competent is not conducive to feeling scared, frightened, alone and weak.
This trope applies in two circumstances. The first is that a character in the work is motivated by the trope (the in-universe version). The other is that the work engages with (fulfilling, parodying, or being to some extent motivated and/or changed by) its viewers Wanting To Be Badass (the meta-version). There is often considerable overlap between the two types; if this wish was not prevalent in viewers, said viewers would probably react differently to characters motivated by the wish. The later is so common-place that only examples of playing with or subverting this expectation should be listed.
Denying the fulfillment of this wish (i.e. averting or subverting the trope) can result in What Measure Is a Non-Badass? occurring.
See also; Wish Fulfillment,I Just Want to Have Friends,I Just Want to Be Beautiful, I Just Want to Be Special, I Just Want to Be Normal. Also heavily overlaps with I Want to Be a Real Man given that the concepts of Badass and manly are frequently interconnected. Arguably the cause of the Power Fantasy.
Again, please remember that neither Wish Fulfillment nor the fulfillment of any specific wish (including this one) is a bad thing. If reality matched our fantasies, we would not need to create fiction.
Anime and Manga
- Isidro in Berserk could be considered an example of this: even though he works a lot better as a Fragile Speedster with short blades and throwing rocks, he idolizes Guts (a Lightning Bruiser) and his BFS. This leads to problems, as he always insists on fighting like Guts instead of focusing on his true strengths (which involve throwing). Because his wish to be badass causes problems, there is at least a certain element of Deconstruction at work here.
- Guts himself is possibly the most badass character in all of fiction, but it's a shure bet that no one who followed the series actually wants to be him.
- Most Humongous Mecha protagonists feel this way before becoming pilots, often crossing over with Ascended Fanboy. So much that Shinji Ikari was notable for not wanting to.
- Impmon from Digimon Tamers does NOT enjoy being a Harmless Villain.
- Kosuna of Desert Punk just wants to be the #1 Action Girl in the Great Kanto Desert, and becomes an apprentice handyman to Kanta to do so. She then spends the rest of the series learning that survival in the desert involves a lot of grunt work, trickery, and that doing your job right means using your gun as little as possible.
- Negi Springfield definitely qualifies. Already a hard-working prodigal mage at the age of 10, his quest for power increases after many of his students become his mischievous followers, making him constantly worried for their safety. It doesn't help that he's surrounded by a lot of powerful people such as his more combat-trained pupils (Setsuna, Mana, Kaede, Ku Fei), his father's friends (Jack Rakan, Alberio Imma, Takamichi), and his former enemy (Evangeline), some of whom are game-breakingly powerful. Oh, and his father? An incredibly powerful war hero who is practically worshipped across the Magic World. That's a lot of hurdles to jump over. It's no surprise then that he would push himself to incredible extremes, even learning Evangeline's Dark Magic. He's definitely not your standard shounen hero.
- Mikado definitely qualifies because he wants to change something. It's what led him to create Dollars. Of course, later on you actually see that he has been Badass all along.
- Asago from Tokyo Crazy Paradise so very desperately wants to be a badass to match Ryuji, her husband-to-be, but she is always overshadowed by Tsukasa or runs into inhuman monsters. She gets tougher by the end of the series.
- The Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha series has a few examples.
- Teana Lanster during StrikerS was a deconstruction of this. She was so desperate at being a badass as quickly as possible that her reckless actions placed both her and her teammates at risk. While she did eventually Take a Level In Badass, she didn't do so until she let go of this mindset and concentrated on refining the skills and talents she had at a more sensible pace.
- Einhart Stratos in Vivid is a straighter example. Driven by the Genetic Memory of her ancestor, she is in a constant quest to become strong enough to protect everyone she cares about. This drive of hers only became more intense when she met and trained with the old cast of Nanoha, as she realized just how far she still has to go before she could reach their level.
- "If one is born as a male, at least once in his life he will dream of becoming the strongest man alive. Grappler is the martial artist who aims to become the strongest in the world!"
- In Chrono Crusade, this was one of the major motivations of Joshua, an Ill Boy whose Blessed with Suck Healing Hands powers confined him to his bed. After being disappointed by a suggestion from Father Remington to go through Training from Hell to grow strong, Aion offered him a Deal with the Devil to gain immense power through a pair of demon horns. It worked, but also turned him insane and allowed Aion to kidnap him and use his powers for his plans. This kicks off the main plot of the series, when his sister makes her own Deal with the Devil to be able to rescue him.
- After the death of his mother, the titular protagonist of Chirin no Suzu decides he wants to be a wolf. The problem? He's a lamb. Chirin thought that being a sheep is boring and that sheep are just a bunch of cowards - he wanted to be tough and powerful like a wolf. In the end Chirin does become extremely strong however he lost everything in his quest to become powerful. He's not accepted by other sheep, he took revenge on his mentor, and he's not a wolf.
- In Kick-Ass, two characters become superheroes: the title character because he wants to help people... and in a straighter version of this trope, Big Daddy because he was frustrated with his marriage and thought his life was boring. He even creates a fake Backstory to enhance his new identity.
- This is pretty much the basic idea of Wanted, both the original comic and the movie adaptation. The protagonist is a loser guy who becomes a Badass when he finds out he has a badass gene inherited from a father he never knew. The comic book (but not the movie) also attempts to deconstruct this trope by scolding the reader for identifying with the main character, who's essentially a violent sociopath. Perhaps not coincidentally, Wanted was written by Mark Millar, the same guy who also wrote Kick-Ass.
- Cyril, the bellringer mouse from the Redwall fic The Urthblood Saga has as his life's ambition to become a warrior someday, resenting his status as a lowly abbey novice and feeling as if his elders will always treat him like a child. While he becomes somewhat less enthusastic about the idea and more accepting of his place after his younger brother Cyrus just barely survives being wounded by a visiting soldier, he still has it as his ultimate goal.
- In Condorman, comic book writer Woodrow Wilkins insists on everything he writes being as realistic as possible. Therefore, he attempts to build and test all of the gadgets that his titular superhero will utilize. This dogged insistence on verisimilitude leads him to jump at the chance to go on a real spy mission, which leads him straight into a Defector From Commie Land plot and forces him to finally grow up a bit.
- Paul in Duumvirate. His best friends are Transhuman badasses, and he desperately wants to keep up.
- Nevere Burvelle, the protagonist of The Soldier Son by Robin Hobb, is this. He's raised to be an Officer and a Gentleman, goes through Training from Hell at the hands of someone who is a cross between the Noble Savage and a Complete Monster... and in the end is thwarted by magic that makes him grossly obese. He grows into something quite non-traditional, but clearly not the Badass he (and his dad) expected. Thus, Nevere is a subversion (or, if it's his Wanting To Be Badass that causes his being thwarted, he is a deconstruction) of the trope.
- Nevare never had much of a choice. As the second son, he was (by religious doctrine) always meant to be the soldier of the family. The ending of the first book, however, shows that he was well on his way to being badass and the potential was solidified even more throughout the rest of the series, thanks to his Trainer From Hell.
Live Action TV
- An (in)famous episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where wimpy, nerdy Jonathan had an attack of this trope and used a spell to turn himself into a full-blown Marty Stu. Buffy being, well, about Buffy, obviously this couldn't last.
- Joxer from Xena: Warrior Princess lives and breathes this trope. Aphrodite even grants his wish in one episode.
- Parodied in the song "Girl All The Bad Guys Want" by Bowling for Soup
- Johnny Cash song Folsom Prison Blues, where the protagonist has shot a man in Reno "just to watch him die".
- Also Dont Take Your Guns to Town by same artist, which song ends in tragedy.
- Brutally deconstructed(with a dose of Tear Jerker) in Immortal Technique's song "Dance With the Devil".
- Deconstructed with Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid. Snake is badass all right, but at tremendous cost to his own life. He is cynical, bitter, jaded, has a massive case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is so level-headed that many would consider him inhumanly emotionless, is controlled and manipulated by his superiors, and basically exists as a puppet. Even his free will is brought into question, with Liquid alleging he is controlled by his genes. Unfortunately, this trope is so pervasive that many people who played Metal Gear Solid completely missed the point and saw Solid Snake as the ultimate action hero badass and desperately wanted to be him... which resulted in...
- ...Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, an even more savage Deconstruction of this trope than Solid Snake. As an audience proxy character whom the player is encouraged to identify with, he essentially the audience for wanting to be badass by, at the start of his portion of the game, first failing miserably at being badass and then being harassed by his girlfriend because of his emotional distance (a common trait of badassery). Then, in the later portion of the game, it is revealed that he is exceptionally badass. Unfortunately the circumstances through which his badassery was generated were so excruciatingly traumatic that only a complete masochist would want to undergo them. Finally, when the audience gets their wish to be badass fulfilled, the game begins raping the fourth wall and reminding the players that they are playing a video game and hence are not really badass at all. During the game, several events and situations occur that directly copy (or are obviously analogous to) segments of the original Metal Gear Solid, further forcing the players to ask themselves whether or not they truly wish to be like Solid Snake (because being like Snake would not be nice, fun, heroic or awesome). If that weren't bleedingly obvious enough, the game's plot involves the entire game being a simulation of the events of the original game, designed to turn the player-character into Solid Snake!.
- Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy VII is a Deconstruction of this trope as well (in addition to attacking the audience for having this wish in the first place). Cloud so wanted to be badass that he deluded himself into living in a fantasy world where he was an elite super-soldier, all to impress the ladies, of course. The revelation of this delusion resulted in a cataclysmic nervous breakdown as well as having to save the world from an Omnicidal Maniac. Unlike with Raiden, the audience does eventually get its Wish Fulfillment.
- Mocked in a frequently forwarded webcomic stereotyping the three major current gen console users:
- I Wanna Be the Guy
- This is the reason Hammer from Xenogears eventually turns evil. In the end he's practically the only one on your team who isn't superpowered in some way, and this weighs heavily upon him.
- Deconstructed in both Mass Effect 1 and 2 by both Corporal Jenkins and Conrad Verner. In the case of Jenkins, he has a highly romanticized image of what it means to be a soldier, and when he actually goes on the first major mission in the game, he's gunned down and killed in minutes. In the case of Conrad Verner, he's more played for laughs and is a Take That of the players.
- Carver from Dragon Age II. He suffers from a massive inferiority complex due to his twin sister having magic, and his older sibling either also being a Mage or just a better fighter than he is. Much of his interactions with the other party members revolve around him (rather unsuccessfully) trying to prove he can be more than just Hawke's kid brother. Depending on the player's choices, these issues can get either better or worse as the story progresses.
- In two of the game's Downloadable Content, he can serve as a Guest Star Party Member, and is generally Older and Wiser. Carver may even say that he misses adventuring with Hawke, and be confidant enough to explicitly patronize his older brother/sister.
- The whole game deconstructs this audience desire (as well as the concept of the Big Bad). Yes, Hawke becomes insanely badass, to the point of being an in-universe Memetic Badass, but s/he is also partially responsible (inadvertently) for some of the most disastrous events in the plot, and may lose everything s/he has fought for and everyone s/he cares about.
- This is the defining trait of the Chaos Hero from Shin Megami Tensei 1; having been bullied and abused all his life, he just wants to gain enough power to stand on his own and not have to rely on anyone, even if he has to sacrifice his humanity to get there. This is a core principle of the chaos alignment - survival of the strongest.
- Kingdom Hearts has Riku, who swung this way in his younger days. He just wanted to be strong enough to protect his friends. Ten years later, growing dreams of glory and adventure made him swing more towards I Just Want to Be Special.
- In How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup wants to be acknowledged and respected by his village, as well as his father and the girl he crushes on. He does achieve all of this, but not in the way he expected.
- Tuffy Smurf of The Smurfs wants to be just like Hefty Smurf, and will prove himself to be like him constantly by doing some daring things that usually put the other Smurfs in danger.
- You, me and everyone else wants to become a badass too.
- Unless you truly are badass.
- Which is the de facto goal for people who play Massive Multiplayer Online games, like World of Warcraft.
- Military recruiters have a tendency to use this to their advantage.
- Deconstructed here, by a (former?) badass.