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Someone is attempting to assassinate someone. But the target refuses to be assassinated, either because of luck, a talent to survive, special skills, or a skilled bodyguard.
The assassin may be killed by his target, have poisoned himself before the mission, commit suicide, be executed by his leader or organisation (or alternatively have other assassins sent after him, which sometimes causes him to outclass these in turn) or by the person who contracted him, or join the 'outclasser'.
A character can evolve into a real 'assassin outclasser' when recurrent assassination attempts fail, which makes the character in question even more cautious, which makes the failure of more assassination attempts even more likely. But such can only happen if the majority of assassins were defeated by the target him/her/itself (and not by a bodyguard or similar), since this title demands that the target defeat - "outclass" - the assassins. The trope itself, however, is just about assassination attempts failing because of the target (like in Tales of the Otori) or some "protector" (see Artemis Fowl, where it's the Battle Butler), or great amounts of attempted assassinations that failed because of the exceptional luck of the target (see The Dark Side of the Sun).
Sometimes, this a running gag. In many cases, that situation leads to a Crowning Moment of Awesome or "Who's Laughing Now?" for the assassin's target, but sometimes it can horribly fail, when the lucky streak breaks and the target cannot defend themselves sufficiently anymore, either because of further, much more skilled assassins that were sent or because the target became overly self-confident and careless after outclassing various assassins.
If the assassin refuses to finish the job instead of failing or is verbally convinced by the victim to leave them alone, see Hitman with a Heart.
Anime & Manga
- Hilariously, the Assassin class servants, named Assassin, have a terrible track record.
- In Berserk, anyone who tries to kill Griffith will die. Period.
- Reima sends a bunch of assassins after Fuga in Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin after he runs away from home. Thanks to his own ability and Riki's help, Fuga gets away relatively unscathed.
- Outlaw Star had a guy who was a specialist in assassinations for the Anten Seven. He was assigned to kill Gene while Gene was staying at a local resort. The guy disguised himself as a tourist in an effort to get close to Gene, but kept getting derailed by accidents.
- This also happened with Suzuka. She spent her introductory episode trying to kill Gene's friend and financier, only to let up and join him until such time as her employer was bankrupted by said friend.
- In Weiss Kreuz, Farfarello holds the honor of being Weiss' only known target to completely escape death. It reaches Karma Houdini levels when you sit back and realize he's murdered two teenage girls (both of whom were love interests for main characters), his own mother, tortured countless religious men, and actually has the happiest ending in the series: he settles down with the woman he loves and only ever cameos again.
- In One Piece, the main characters manages to defeat two pairs of Baroque Works assassins, and eventually defeat their leader, Sir Crocodile, and destroy the whole syndicate.
- Ace used to try and murder Whitebeard whenever he saw the chance. Judging from the flashback examples, Ace never managed to cut even a hair on his head.
- Bernard Wiseman tries to fell the eponymous Gundam in Mobile Suit Gundam 0080 War in The Pocket, and it looked like he'd be successful too before he was impaled by the Gundam in battle. The Gundam didn't get away without losing an arm, its head, and a good chunk of the torso though.
- This is the entire idea behind the Human Target. Christopher Chance impersonates people who live dangerous lives, and takes on whatever comes after him until they're safe.
- Ultimate NickFury did this by putting a hit out on himself. When the assassin looked through his scope to take out Fury the only thing he saw was the good colonel sighting him with a rifle of his own.
- Happens in Ninja Assassin in the bathroom.
- The Pink Panther Strikes Again is all over this. Chief Inspector Dreyfus has gone insane and sent assassins from around the world to kill Clouseau. But they've also been told to assassinate each other because each country wants to have the privilege of killing Clouseau. Meanwhile Clouseau bumblingly foils each try, not even knowing about the assassination attempts most of the time.
- In Angel's Dance, a random woman is targeted for assassination simply as target practice for a hitman-in-training by his mentor. The woman survives the first attack and quickly adapts herself to avoiding and turning the tables on her would-be killer.
- Tales of the Otori: Takeo, Justified by him being a trained (and very talented) assassin himself.
- Discworld: Sam Vimes does this to various assassins many many times. Despite being an enormous headache for the political intrigue of the city, Vimes proved so repeatedly unkillable that he became one of only two people struck from the guild register; the other is Vetinari, either because as a former assassin he too is unkillable, or simply because as the Patrician, and, being Vetinari, killing him would cause too many political hiccoughs.
- Not only is he unkillable, but Vimes provides a unique opportunity for the Assassin's Guild. Unlike the Patrician, who tends to make sure Nothing happens to people who make attempts on his life, Vimes tends towards relatively nonlethal measures of self defense, provided his family is not targeted. Thus, the Assassins use him for a training exercise... in humility. Indeed, Vimes seems to take a perverse pleasure in booby-trapping his home.
- Also, in Thud!, some religiously fanatic Dwarves try to attack his family: One of them gets roasted by twenty six dragons after his flamethrower utterly fails to harm his target, one is stabbed by Willikins and one is knocked out and dies from poison he took before.
- Also from Discworld: Rincewind, who survives all manner of ridiculous situations through a combination of extreme luck and applied cowardice. Assassins fare no better around him than anything else. Worse, usually. Special mention goes to all the wizards trying to kill him in The Light Fantastic.
- In Interesting Times Lord Hong is introduced in such circumstances. He is, of course, the outclasser, if such word applies to such a flamboyant display of sheer badassery.
- Also, Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully, who by virtue of his position is a prime target for Klingon Promotion. He rarely kills attempted assassins, but always at least breaks a limb. Much like Vetinari and Vimes, the other wizards realized it was simply too much trouble to try and kill him and have since largely given up the "Pointy Shoes" tradition.
- Moist von Lipwig in Making Money discovers another side to the Assassins and might have finessed them into keeping him alive. He is under a suspended Guild contract that will only be activated if he fails to keep the dog Mr Fusspot alive and healthy. If the dog, who has become chairman of the Royal Bank and thus a highly important player of the game, dies, so does Moist. Therefore to allow Moist to keep the dog alive and to allow a Guild member a chance to earn the money if he doesn't, Moist - and dog - need to be bodyguarded and kept alive by the Guild.... and this dog is politically important, don't forget...
- Another Pratchett example: This is a great part of The Dark Side of the Sun: Dom Sabalos survives countless assassination attempts, mostly due to 'probability maths' that grant him fate-like, epic luck by allowing him to instinctively "navigate" to countless Alternate Universes where he survives those attacks.
- Steven Brust's Dragaera novel Yendi. During a turf war Vlad Taltos survives multiple assassination attempts. He finally realizes that he shouldn't have been able to survive them that easily and realizes that there's something deeper going on.
- In The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, the entry on assassins is all about this trope. It indicates that at some point the protagonist will get attacked by a supposedly dangerously skilled assassin and defeat/kill them, and the assassin will go their death complaining that the protagonist wasn't playing according to the "rules".
- In Amanda Downum's The Bone Palace, Savedra, the Crown Prince's transsexual mistress, repeatedly dispatches assassins sent to kill her, the Prince, or for that matter his wife. Not that either of them is that defenseless either, especially the rather Amazonian warrior Princess.
- In Lynn Abbey's Beneath the Web, after many failed attempts, the assassins' guild declares Prince Rinchen sorRodion too difficult to kill, and refuses to take any more contracts on him.
- In The Dresden Files, assassins regularly make a pass at the titular wizard for one reason or another. In Summer Knight, after Harry and Will see off a hit squad in the first few pages of the book, Harry complains that normally assassins only take a swing at him after he's started the investigation.
- Eugenides from The Queen's Thief series is able to take on multiple assassins singlehandedly and win. Turns out that the hook he has instead of a hand is actually razor sharp. Also, he was trained to be a soldier, though he doesn't look like it. And he's a master of the Barehanded Blade Block. Also, he has the literal protection of a god.
Live Action TV
- Done in an episode of Lois and Clark, where an alien assassin is trying to kill Superman. Upon failing, he has an immediate Eye Lights Out death - failure is unacceptable in his culture.
- This is what the board game Kill Dr. Lucky is all about.
- The main cast of canon characters for the Seventh Sea RPG includes The Evil Prince Villanova, who thrives on this trope. Assasins are casually sent for him, and just as casually are never heard from again. In several instances he is seen dispatching at least some of them himself. When he publically broke the rules of Swordsmen's Guild they sent a specially trained enforcers, who are about as badass fighters as it gets. Being mailed parts of their bodies yearly pretty much stopped said Guild from further action on the matter...
- In Clonk a player-made scenario called Faffnir is an assassination mission. According to the guards, your character is nowhere near the first person they've had to deal with.
- Sissel's first few jobs in Ghost Trick are to protect Lynne and her associates from blue-skinned assassins. In some instances they actually succeed, but Sissel goes back and changes events to thwart them.
- Exit Fate. Daniel does it only once, but afterwards, he manages to convince the assassin (who wanted to avenge his dead sister) that he is innocent in the case of aforementioned sister's death, what makes the assassin join him.
- Kaguya from Touhou is always doing this to Mokou and vice-versa. Both are immortals.
- Zevran in Dragon Age will try to assassinate the PC. Obviously you have to survive the battle to continue the game. Afterward, you have the choice to recruit or kill him. Recruiting him means you'll face more assassins a little later in the game. If you get his approval high enough, he'll confess that he only went for a head on assault because he wanted you to kill him. Otherwise, he would have tried a sneakier method.
- In Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven you actually play the assassin sent after the rival mob boss' brother, who proves so cautious/tough to kill that the mission 15 (appropriately titled "You Lucky Bastard!") is the single longest mission in the entire game. First, you try to call the bar he is in, and then just shoot him when he answers the phone. He wasn't there, and you kill a random stranger. Next, you use a car bomb, but he let his friend borrow it, and so once again kill a stranger. Then, you try to just ambush him with a machine gun, but it jams and you have to run away. Then, you hire some professionals. They take over a train junction; when the target is stopped at some train tracks, one professional while make sure the safety bars don't go down, while the other professionals are in a car behind the target. The idea was to ram the car into the trains. He figures this out and drives off, so the professionals drive into the train by accident. You immediately chase him to a train yard, but he's surrounded by men. After killing them all, he hides behind a reinforced door. After blowing it up by ramming a train into it, you finally get to kill him. When you do, your character says "You lucky bastard!"
- The Ship, what with the objective of the game being to assassinate other players. Killing innocent NPCs or players whom are not your current target penalizes your score, but (if you can figure out who it is) you are free to kill your own assassin. And take his wallet.
- Iji is a major target for assassins once the Komato arrive. She survives repeated attempts by Asha, before finally killing him. If Iji avoids the fight, then he kills himself from shame.
- When you first meet Sheena in Tales of Symphonia, she's trying to assassinate the Chosen. Luckily, she's terrible at it, and eventually she joins the party.
- Failing to assassinate someone in the Total War games will often lead to the target developing paranoia and becoming even harder to assassinate. Due to Artificial Stupidity the AI may sometimes try to serially assassinate your most valuable general, who only becomes better and better at outclassing the more they try.
- Which can be funny moments in there own 18 seconds into this shogun 2 clip.
- In Cave Story, Balrog clumsily tries to ambush the hero about five times and always hilariously fails, until he finally realizes that fighting him has no use.
- A bunch of assassins (players) set loose on one another is the entire premise of the multiplayer element in the Assassin's Creed expansions Brotherhood and Revelations. Most of the game modes are set up so that your target is different from your pursuer, meaning you can't kill the person trying to kill you, but you can outclass them by stunning them before they get you, making them fail their contract. It's also common to get killed by your pursuer just before you manage to kill your own target. The new Assassinate mode allows you to kill any opponent, allowing you to outclass potential assassins directly, but only if they haven't yet locked onto you.
- Parodied in Bahamut Lagoon: when you recruit a pair of ninjas into your army, they also give you a free assassination as a bonus. You can choose the target to be either the Rebellious Princess, a Mighty Glacier or a Red Shirt. No prizes for guessing which target is the only one they actually succeed in killing.
- Hitman: Blood Money features a mission where the player character 47 must locate three other assassins before they can kill their target.
- In the "Tribunal" expansion pack to The Elder Scrolls III Morrowind you are randomly assaulted by dark brotherhood assassins whenever you sleep, until you get to the heart of the problem (and the main premise for the Tribunal expansion pack) and stop them. Naturally, if you aren't employing this trope, you die. Game Over.
- In Tropico 3 and 4, one possible random event is an assassin being sent after El Presidente; the player can choose to hide in their mansion for several months until the assassin gets bored and leaves, bribe the assassin to leave, attempt to arrest the assassin with the Secret Police, or hire an even better assassin to assassinate the assassin before he can assassinate you.
- Ace Attorney Investigations 2 plays with this trope. The first case features an assassination attempt on a foreign presedent, which fails. But it turns out to have all been staged. The president was trying to Invoke this trope in a desperate attempt to salvage his declining popularity.
- The Hegemonic Brute of the Alpha session in Homestuck was sent to kill Dirk Strider but ends up getting slain by his target a few panels after his appearance.
- Brock Samson in The Venture Brothers season 3 finale manages to defeat three assassins sent after him.
- In Batman Beyond, an assassin, Curare, is sent after Commissioner Barbara Gordon's husband, DA Sam Young. When she fails, the society she's a member of begins hunting her down for her failure. Thinking proactively, she in turn begins hunting down and eliminating them.
- There were over 40 attempts on Adolf Hitler's life, mostly by his subordinates.
- Zog I, Skanderbeg III of the Albanians has survived over 55 assassination attempts. He also carried a personal sidearm (a tradition carried on by his son Crown Prince Leka), and is said to have exchanged gunfire with potential assassins on at least one occassion.
- Fidel Castro has survived over 638 assassination attempts from the CIA. These assassinations have ranged from exploding cigars to mafia-style shootings. Castro himself is well aware of the numerous failed attempts on his life and has said, "If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal."
- He also said that when he dies, no one will believe it.
- He also happens to hate Call of Duty: Black Ops, which just happens to start with a mission where you shoot him in the head. Of course, this is a double.
- He also said that when he dies, no one will believe it.
- Richard Lawrence tried to assassinate Andrew Jackson with a pair of pistols. Unfortunately for him, both of them misfired, and Jackson subsequently gave him a serious beating with his cane.
- A man in Portland, Oregon hired a hitman to kill his estranged wife. After a protracted struggle, the woman was able to disarm the hit man and subsequently strangled him to death.
- ↑ The assassin comments "You are... stronger than I", but in fact, Daniel just had healing spells.