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We are witnessing a Curb Stomp Battle. Maybe the Imperial Japanese Navy has caught the American giant sleeping. Perhaps Skynet's forces are ripping the TechCom troops a structurally superfluous new behind. Whatever the case, the losing side is getting it hard.

How do we show that it's not hopeless, or that the losing side isn't utterly incompetent? Give them some small victory to help counterbalance the stomping they're getting. A Curb Stomp Cushion is kind of like a Hope Spot, except that it doesn't necessarily give the impression that the good guys are gonna win, just that they're still capable of taking a few bad guys down with them. This can also serve to foreshadow that the until-now nigh-invincible enemies may not truly be as invincible as they seem.

If it is the villain at the losing end, this is likely to avoid Invincible Hero shades overcoming the winning hero. Possibly also combined with Not-So-Harmless Villain.

Examples:


Anime & Manga

  • In Holyland, the Masaki vs Yuu fight is clearly one-sided, but Yuu still manages to get in a few hits, including a solid kick that the other thinks might have cost a rib.
  • The fans of Signum, who has been curb-stomped recently in Nanoha Force, find a little solace in the fact that she managed to chop her attacker's right arm off in the process.
  • In Vision of Escaflowne when young pup Van and experienced knight Allen duel in their Humongous Mecha for the first time, everyone expects Allen to curb stomp Van, and he does. But as he's standing over Van, he's shocked to suddenly notice a gash in the side of his own mech.
  • Really, pick just about any shounen manga in the past 30 years where a side-character has gone toe to toe with a Big Bad or The Rival. This trope will apply for every second or third fight before The Hero gets involved. Dragon Ball had it happen once or more per saga until the end, and more recent series like Naruto and Bleach have whole years of this stuff used to build up how insanely powerful the current villain is while still reminding readers that he can be beaten.


Fan Fic

  • Tamers Forever Series: Chaosgallantmon vs the Tamersand Daemon vs the Tamers.
  • Ponies Make War: The Royals' attack on the Loyalists' base -- the Loyalists take losses, but for the most part they escape, and Twilight Sparkle recovers from her Split Personalities in the process, so that's a bonus.
    • The second Battle of Ponyville looks like one of these, as even though Terra takes out Luna and wipes the floor with the Mane Six, they refuse to give up, and get in plenty of hits of their own. It ends up as a subversion, as they actually manage to win, thanks to reigniting the Elements of Harmony and stripping Terra's power.
  • Ace Combat: The Equestrian War: The ponies successfully recapture Cloudsdale in chapter 14, defeating a griffin army group roughly twice their size. They've lost only eight fliers.


Film

  • Occurs in Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. Baragon managed to catch Godzilla off-guard few times. However, it's all in vain since Godzilla still manages to roast him alive.
  • Opening scene in Terminator 2 shows many of the human forces being helplessly overrun and slaughtered by Skynet's machines. Then we see a mangled and helpless Terminator lying on the ground as a human trooper stands above it, taking aim to finish him off. Later in the same scene, we see a flying Hunter Killer get taken out with a rocket launcher.
  • Tora! Tora! Tora!: Amidst all the carnage the Japanese forces are wreaking on the surprised Americans, we do see a few bright spots for the Yanks. Two fighters manage to make it into the air and engage some of the attacking bombers. Truth in Television, as seven American fighters on the island managed to get into the air during the attack to engage the enemy.
  • The Empire Strikes Back: Yes, their entire base is destroyed, but 2 of the 5 AT-ATs are taken down in the process, and most if not all of the transports escape the Imperial fleet.


Literature

  • In HG Wells' novel The War of the Worlds the human military is almost helpless against the invaders, but there are two small successes.
    • An artillery crew takes down a tripod but is incinerated afterward.
    • The torpedo ram HMS Thunder Child destroys two tripods and possibly a third before being destroyed itself. The crew's Heroic Sacrifice allows a fleet of small ships carrying refugees to escape.
  • In the opening scenes of the Worldwar series, human troops get annihilated all over the world by the alien invaders. Then a plucky German Panzer squad ambush an alien tank column. In exchange for losing the last 4 tanks the main character is in command of, they kill a single enemy personnel carrier and a single enemy tank by exploiting the aliens poor tactics. This is considered the most successful action against them of any kind, of the entire human-alien war so far. Obviously as the story goes on It Gets Better for the humans.


Live Action TV

  • Several battle scenes in Babylon 5 have this element. Most notably, the Season 2 episode The Long, Twilight Struggle features a fleet of ships being ambushed by a large Shadow fleet. Amidst the ships getting cut apart left and right, we do see two of the ships concentrating their fire to wound a single Shadow Battlecrab - the first time we ever see one of these ships damaged in battle.
    • The Earth-Minbari war was a generally one-sided stomping of humanity, with a single human victory being the destruction of the Minbari flagship the Black Star in a minefield. Naturally, Sheridan was the one behind it.
      • And the sore losers never let him forget it.
  • Implied in the Miniseries of the Battlestar Galactica Reimagined remake. Boomer mentions that the only ships being effective at all in combat against the Cylons are obsolescent or overdue for refits, which of course indicates that somewhere amidst all that carnage, at least a few Colonial warriors were getting their own punches in.


Video Games

  • This can be done in-universe by Alpha 1 in an early mission of Free Space: during an important escort mission, the known enemy is suddenly and unexpectedly taken out by untargetable ships nearly impervious to the primary weapons available, who then turn on you. It is rather hard to destroy the strange ships... but if one pulls it off, the debriefing hails it as proving that the new enemy rampaging unchecked through Terran and Vasudan space can be hurt.
  • In Mass Effect 3, Palaven is taking a heavy beating, but the description of the war includes how the Reapers actually lost a few ships in the opening.
    • While the Codex initially refers to the Fall of Khar'shan and the Fall of Earth for the first two fronts in the Reaper War, once Shepard visits the Turian home system, the Codex is updated with a third entry: The Battle of Palaven.


Western Animation

  • Bugs Bunny often outsmarted his foes with sheer ease. Every now and again however a brief of wit or Genre Savvy would bestow the villain and take Bugs by surprise to make things a little more tense (and likely to prevent Bugs from becoming insufferably smug).
  • During Wendy's brawl against Cartman in the climax of the South Park episode "Breast Cancer Show Ever", Cartman manages to get a few good hits in against Wendy, but still ends up with what he deserves.


Truth In Television

  • The Dunkirk evacuation, codenamed Operation Dynamo by the British, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 27 May and the early hours of 3 June 1940, when British, French and Belgian troops were cut off by the German army during the Battle of Dunkirk in the Second World War.
    • The Allied forces just got Curb Stomp'ed in Europe and were retreating. The "miracle of Dunkirk" was hailed as a victory. The British press presented the evacuation as a "disaster turned to triumph" so successfully that Winston Churchill had to remind the country, in a speech to the House of Commons on 4 June, that "we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations." Nevertheless, exhortations to the "Dunkirk spirit", a phrase used to describe the tendency of the British public to pull together and overcome times of adversity, are still heard in Britain today.
    • The Germans didn't have it all their way in Europe; upon being told that he'd been hit by British tanks during a more vulnerable moment during the German attack, which turned out to be two British tank brigades, the German general initially believed he'd been hit by five divisions.
  • As mentioned in the example for Tora! Tora! Tora!, the Pearl Harbor raids had a few examples of this, be it AA gunners successfully shooting down attacking planes, or the seven Army Air Corps planes making it up into the air to engage the enemy. It wasn't enough to make a difference, but at least they tried.
    • A bigger victory for the Americans was actually a case of good luck-or bad luck for the Japanese. One of the main goals of the Attack on Pearl Harbor was to sink both the American battleships, AND the American carriers. When the Japanese arrived, all they found were the battleships. Turns out the carriers were out on patrol or delivering planes. It turned out to be a costly mistake for the Japanese, especially when those carriers turned up in battle later.
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