Reckless Pacifist

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Martial Pacifist and Thou Shalt Not Kill can sometimes be a dodgy combination. If you think about it, it's actually a pretty complicated matter to "take down" somebody without really hurting them. To understand why this is, consider the following problem:

  • You need to render someone unconscious, but there are some complications:
    • You cannot kill your target.
    • You cannot give your target permanent brain damage.
    • You cannot give your target permanent organ damage.
    • No explosions allowed.
    • You are probably fighting on terrain that's dangerous even for people who are conscious and in perfect health.
    • You do not have access to chemicals of any kind that could render your target unconscious, or to a Stun Gun.
    • All of your weapons are designed to be lethal.
    • You have a time limit.
    • The person you're trying to incapacitate is trying to murder you.

The answer isn't simple, is it? Conventional Tap on the Head techniques all carry the risk of doing serious damage of one kind or another even if they don't kill the target, and you don't want to knock your opponent into a Bottomless Pit, or a fire, or an Acid Pool.

Reckless Pacifist is a trope for characters who adamantly claim they won't kill anyone, but nevertheless tend to endanger the lives of others (enemies, allies, or bystanders) quite often. Maybe their claims are hollow, or maybe they're just overly optimistic about their skills, or maybe they're depending on Toon Physics to make what they do work out. Maybe you can excuse them for acting rashly under pressure, but whatever their reasons, you have to wonder how it is that they've managed not to kill anyone.

Only rarely is Reckless Pacifism Played for Drama, which usually means that it doesn't work out.

Note that this is a form of Fridge Logic and/or Fridge Horror. The Supertrope is Martial Pacifist. Could Have Been Messy is when this trope is applied to an entire work, as opposed to a specific character.

This trope tends to present itself in media where Nobody Can Die, or Never Bring a Knife to A Fist Fight and/or the Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality is in effect. Contrast Technical Pacifist and Actual Pacifist. See also Destructive Savior for when pacifists are reckless with property instead of people, and Stupid Good for when pacifism is the wrong response anyway.

Examples of Reckless Pacifist include:

Anime and Manga

  • If it weren't for Vash the Stampede's Improbable Aiming Skills, there is absolutely no way that any of his opponents would still be alive.
    • And even then, we see that Vash himself pays for this when he removes his coat and the audience sees that he's covered in horrific wounds.
  • When Kira Yamato becomes a Martial Pacifist, he disables enemy mobile suits. However, doing so in the middle of a battlefield will probably result in their deaths. He does, however, cleave battleships in half which will invariably cause many, many more deaths.
  • Kenshin Himura does this a lot. Beating people into a pulp with a Reverse Blade Sword may or may not cause internal injuries, but somehow it never kills them, despite the fact that there are plenty of other people in the series who do use blunt weapons for lethal ends.
  • Pokémon and everyone who trains them.
  • Medabots and most people who own one.
  • In Cowboy Bebop, it's explicitly stated that bounties must be turned over to the cops alive and unharmed, but that sure doesn't stop the crew from using a variety of highly lethal equipment, from handguns to spaceship mounted machine guns and missiles, and display a total disregard for collateral damage.


  • Pretty much all superheroes with a Thou Shalt Not Kill policy deal with this. Some of the more Egregious examples include:
    • Batman. The Darker and Edgier the continuity you're viewing, the deeper he gets into this trope and the more reckless he gets. Excluding Bat-incarnations that actually did kill people, the deep end for the Bat is around the point where he just barely manages not to run over people with the Batmobile and smash every other mook's skull to bits.
    • Spider-Man. His penchant for kicking people off of heights and hanging them upside down with his webs doesn't lend itself well to nonlethal vigilantism.
    • Superman has an on-and-off relationship with this trope, Depending on the Writer. The basic idea is that Superman, being invulnerable to everything but kryptonite, can do things that would be too dangerous for normals. This could mean one of two things:
      • A) Superman can't get hurt, and so he can afford to pull his punches and work to ensure the safety of his enemies as well as his allies. Not an example.
      • B) Superman can't get hurt, and so he can afford to smash up buildings, vehicles, faces, and anything else that impedes him. Definitely an example.


  • The Terminator is this in the second movie. Being under orders not to kill doesn't seem to stop him from emptying a minigun at a group of police officers, then blowing up their cars.


  • Shinji from Battle Royale wants no part in the killing that's going on around him, and so fires multiple warning shots to scare someone off. Unfortunately, he noticeably lacks the Improbable Aiming Skills required to avoid shooting this person in the head by mistake, causing a minor Heroic BSOD.
  • Doc Savage has a strict policy of nonlethality, to the point that he won't normally carry a gun. When he does shoot people, he prefers tranquilizer pellets over bullets. His lieutenants (especially Monk and Ham) aren't so squeamish. The evil mastermind, however, typically dies in the end, thanks to his own infernal contraption, without any interference from Doc.

Live Action

  • Eliot on Leverage causes an incredible amount of havoc for a supposed "hero."

"So yeah, we managed to get 7 million dollars back from that evil company and bankrupt them to boot. Let's see, that covers the original victims, and... well, fifteen policemen with life-changing nerve damage, one guard whose dream of being a concert violinist will never come true, eight thousand workers who've just lost their jobs and will have to find a new way to feed their families over the holidays, twelve cars whose windows I broke as a distraction (I'm sure the insurance will cover it... oh, wait, we just bankrupted the insurance company), three young men waiting for organ transplants who died because we shut down the freeway the ambulances were on...."


Tabletop Games

  • Champions characters with a Code Against Killing have this problem. Often, the solution for them is to pummel the HP out of their enemies and then trust The Medic to keep them alive.
  • You can do this with no penalty as a Bare-Fisted Monk in Dungeons and Dragons, making all your damage subdual rather than lethal.
    • Note: Not all enemies are susceptible to subdual damage. Depending on the D&D ruleset used, dealing more subdual damage than the target's HP may deal lethal damage.

Video Games

  • Batman: Arkham Asylum has plenty of this, mostly because Batman's instant takedown moves include strangling mooks, breaking mook bones, or dropping mooks down a few floors. Don't forget the explosive gel!

Western Animation

  • In Batman: The Animated Series, Batman has:
    • Knocked over cars and brought down helicopters in motion with the drivers and passengers still inside.
    • Punched people off of a moving train.
    • Detonated ludicrous amounts of explosives and flammable fuels in close proximity to fleeing criminals.
    • Suspended a man by his wrist from the Batwing while flying low over Gotham and dipping him into Gotham Bay.
      • ...And this is just the first ten episodes!
  • Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender fits this trope well, as he's the one person specifically committed to not killing, even if it's the Fire Lord. That said, he does cause his share of collateral damage. Aang has been known to:
    • Use his wind powers to slam people into things (or vice versa)
    • Knock people out of boats into freezing oceans (sometimes actually destroying the boat)
    • Blow stuff up.