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The Distressed Domina (Domina in Distress or Domme in Distress) is a trope cousin and partial subversion of the Distressed Damsel and Distressed Dude, and something akin to the "Hot Action Girl" equivalent of the Badass in Distress trope but with a more closely followed formula and context. Notably, unlike the Badass in Distress who usually returns right to battle, the Distressed Domina is generally out of commission for the rest of the storyline and needs rescuing by the (almost always) male hero, who often saves her right near the story's climax.
The Distressed Domina is a favorite recurring trope in any media with an action plot or major villain. It involves a popular female character who is far from a damsel, in fact usually an ass-kicking Action Girl or Little Miss Badass who's not only competent, but often the most dominant and deadly fighter against the bad guys. Think of Hit Girl's body count in the Kick-Ass film. Despite this, she eventually finds herself in mortal peril, usually at the hands of a Big Bad or his main henchman and needing rescue. The trope is extremely popular in the action genre across media from live-action films and TV to comics, anime and Western animation, for one reason in particular. It allows writers, illustrators and directors to satisfy two conflicting audience demands: portraying strong female characters while at the same time allowing the hero to rescue the beautiful girl, appealing to both male and female audiences. The trope also helps to boost the menace of the Big Bad or Bigger Bad while adding a bit of unpredictability despite the fairly reliable sequence of events.
The formula for this trope is followed with amazing consistency across different media and very different storylines: 1. Action Girl and-or Little Miss Badass is shown to utterly kick ass and take names against the bad guys, especially against the scrubs and expendables but also against some moderately strong higher-ups. 2. This goes on for about 90 to 95% of the storyline. 3. But then things change when she reaches the top or nearly top of the villain hierarchy, where the Big Bad or, maybe even more commonly, his main lackey proves to be more than a match for the Action Girl or Little Miss Badass, 4. who winds up subdued and-or captured, and 5. the Hero has to step in to save her and 6. often take out the Big Bad. For the most part the Distressed Domina isn’t simply overpowered or outfought, instead there’s something in the clash with the higher-ranking enemy that poses a matchup problem for her specific fighting style or abilities.
Gassing, drugging, ambushing, surprise attacks and especially tentacles— Combat Tentacles or Naughty Tentacles but of a not-hentai variety though still often involving hints of Go-Go Enslavement—are the villains’ most common implements of choice in subduing or tying down the Distressed Domina in these cases. (Often literally, of course, in the case of a tentacle attack.) In some cases the Action Girl is actually the main heroine of the series but is saved by a male series regular who acts as a fighting partner. In some clever twists, the Big Bad himself winds up saving the Action Girl for his own, often cynical reasons. Keep in mind that despite such defeats, the Distressed Domina is no Faux Action Girl, she's the real-deal, and only the very toughest bad guys, or especially creative or crafty enemies, are able to defeat her.
Some notable examples can be found in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, King Arthur (2004), the X-Men series, Bleach, Naruto:Shippuden, The Scorpion King, Vampirella, Red Sonja and Kick-Ass. Because this trope almost always becomes clear only around the climax the examples here are unavoidably high in spoiler potential and it wouldn’t be possible to spoil-conceal all cases, though extreme spoilers or twists and major reveals will still get the treatment.
Anime & Manga
- Bleach has this for many of its characters including the, um, eye-catching Rangiku who's captured by Luppi's Combat Tentacles awaiting rescue.
- Sakura in Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden has held her own in some battles. In others... not so much. Sasuke, Naruto and Yamato have all had to come to her rescue.
- To be fair, though, even Tsunade herself has been this on occasion.
- A striking example is Eco,in Seikoku no Dragonar (Dragonar Academy). She thoroughly and repeatedly taunts, belittles, humiliates and dominates Ash Blake, the main character, to an extent that's astonishing even by the standards of tsundere lolis picking on hapless protagonists, and on top of that she's extremely strong, beautiful, capable in battle, perceptive and highly intelligent. She literally slaps Ash around half the time and a few other characters too (which must be esp. painful given her Femme Fatalons on top of her immense strength). In spite of all this, she can also be a bit rash, which puts her in mortal peril in Episode 3 against a terrifying dragon who entraps Eco, strips her down to her bikini and then knocks her unconscious as he covers and wraps around her with his squirmy tentacles, preparing to devour her. At which point her scorned "dog" Ash saves her... after which she still finds a reason to humiliate and pummel him into submission. Poor guy just can't catch a break.
- Enju Aihara in Black Bullet is also this, a very strong and powerful fighter who nonetheless winds up in big trouble against stronger opponents, with Rentaro coming to the rescue.
- Cocona and Papika in Flip Flappers are both frequently this, despite being very capable and intelligent they often wind up in over their heads.
- Alma in Ange Vierge, on so many occasions.
- Many of the fighting girls including Akame herself are this in the face of a mad scientist's trap in Akame ga Kill, being rescued by Susanoo.
- Suzuka in Outlaw Star has been this, against Gene himself.
- Many of the girls in High School DxD become this. They're often supernatural warrioresses after all, but sometimes they wind up in over their heads. Especially where bikinis, tentacles and pervy mad scientists are involved.
- Noelle in Black Clover is frequently this, She's a. member of the royal family and actually very strong with her magic and general fighting skills, but she hasn't quite yet learned how to control them well and often needs to be bailed out by Asta, Yuno or her other comrades
- Olivier Armstrong in Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood is this on many levels. She's such a hardcore Action Girl that she outranks her muscled brother, Alex, being not only a general but a general of the tough, unforgiving northern region. Which she rules with an iron fist, both loved and feared by the soldiers under her command. She's a trained killer and very effective tactician. Yet even she winds up in over her head against the Homunculus Sloth, who, despite his name, is deadly fast and ruthless in battle. He traps Olivier and literally almost crushes the life out of her in a classic formula lead-up for the rescue of a Distressed Domina. In this case, her rescuer is none other than her baby brother who she once scorned.
- Red Sonja is often this. She's as powerful and deadly a barbarian chainmail bikini-clad warrioress as they come. Yet she has her own struggles against wily and well-organized opponents (such as Kang the Conqueror in the Black Tower series) and especially sorcerers like Kulan Gath. In one such encounter, in a crossover with Spider Man, Sonja is defeated and bound to a spooky contraption by the sorcerer who promptly covers her entire body with a mass of writhing tentacles to sacrifice her... until Spidey slips out and saves the day.
- Vampirella is this, constantly. She's a powerful and very strong fighter, feared by her enemies, and her tiny little bikinis or monokinis, along with her fangs and Femme Fatalons, only reinforce the fact that she is not to be taken lightly. However, she does have some critical weaknesses, and when she is defeated, it's often quite overwhelmingly. And when it does happen, it usually involves getting tied down, knocked out, subdued or generally squirmed over by creepy tentacles of some sort. In an especially notable case of Distressed Domina peril, a powered-up Vlad Dracula in Throne of Skulls ("The Parting Shot") knocks Vampirella into a swarm of his "children": a teeming mass of squirmy carnivorous tentacle monsters that cover her and threaten to devour her before she's rescued by... Vlad Dracula, who wants to torment her more after storming a military base. Yeah,they kind of have a thing going.
- Lady Death is another frequent example of this, esp. against Genocide and his minions. With her busty string bikini fighting attire and Femme Fatalons, and her tendency to be captured by Naughty Tentacles, she's a close cousin of Vampirella and Red Sonja in this.
- Wonder Woman is very frequently this, usually as a result of attack from gas, powerful magic or, yes, tentacles.
- The title character in Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose.Like, all the time, and through too many methods to keep count of.
Films -- Live Action
- In King Arthur (2004) Keira Knightley’s Guinevee is a tough Amazonian like Celtic archer and warrioress who slays and takes out treacherous Romans and hordes of Angle and Saxon Germanic invaders of Romano-Celtic Britain, joining with Clive Owen’s Arthur character. However, she meets her match in Til Schweiger’s Cynric, the son and chief henchman of the Big Bad Cerdic, who uses his powerful shield and well-developed fighting skills to disarm and defeat her in hand-to-hand combat. Just before Cynric can deliver the final blow, however, Ioan Gruffudd’s Lancelot saves the day and fights Cynric. Pretty classic following of the formula aside from Lancelot, instead of Arthur himself, saving the Action Girl.
- Kick-Ass is a Trope Codifier in the Little Miss Badass category with Chloe Grace Moretz portraying Mindy Macready aka Hit Girl. She's a hard-talking, martial arts-trained 11-year-old girl and by a long measure the toughest and most effective fighter on either side in the film. That is, until she squares off to fight the Big Bad Frank D’Amico, responsible for her father’s death. Unlike the scrubs and high-level henchmen she encountered before, Frank is a skilled martial artist himself and he absolutely crushes Hit Girl in a complete reversal of her earlier fights. Again the formula is followed pretty closely here, with Frank about to pull the trigger on Hit Girl as she lies wounded on a broken table… until Kickass finds a way to save the day.
- Sort of lampshaded in Leon: The Professional with Natalie Portman's character Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl who becomes the title character's protege and so poses in many scenes with a loaded gun in her hands like the stereotypical Little Miss Badass. However, Mathilda never really does anything action-wise and soon enough winds up way in over her head against the bad guys, so is more of a classic Distressed Damsel. with Leon coming to her rescue.
- Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, a very tough and effective fighter, nevertheless becomes this against a manipulated, angry and very dangerous Hulk in 2012's Avengers.
- Tamara (Rachel Nichols) in the 2011 film version of Conan the Barbarian is this with an interesting progression. She starts out as a bit of a Distressed Damsel since she doesn't know her own remarkable warrior bloodline, but grows into her Action Girl persona as the story progresses, kicking ass and taking names against the bad guys later int he film. But in the climactic battle she's overwhelmed by the power of the Big Bad Zym, rescued at the last moment by Conan.
- Cassandra (Kelly Hu), the bikini-clad sorceress in The Scorpion King, is this. Although she doesn't do a whole lot of direct fighting, she's very intelligent and can clearly take care of herself, overcoming dangerous situations (like Memnon's snake test). Her sultry look and Femme Fatalons reinforce the subtle Action Girl image. However, the harsh desert conditions (after Mathayus kidnaps her) and ultimately Memnon himself in live combat prove to be a little too much her, and Mathayus has to come to her rescue.
- Freya (Sophia Myles) in Outlander is something of a Distressed Domina, though much of her fighting reputation as an Action Girl occurs offscreen and she doesn't do a whole lot of it in the scenes themselves. A fiery red-headed warrior maiden, she's like a live-action version of Red Sonja, the daughter of a Viking chieftain and a powerful warrioress in Scandinavia in her own right. But she's eventually overpowered and kidnapped by the Moorwen monster who leaves Freya screaming in a very terrifying "prison" .She's rescued by the hero Kainan and his Viking allies and, though she helps in the subsequent fight, needs a bit more saving before the group reaches safety from their determined enemy.
- Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is a very capable fighter and agent, and one of Ethan's more valuable allies in the series. She's also this at several points in the film, including at the fight in the beginning, when Ethan saves her from a mortal blow from several of the Syndicate's thugs who surround her.
- The 2010 Robin Hood film (with Russell Crowe) gives another classic example of this formula with Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett). An aristocratic daughter, she's highly intelligent and dangerous in combat, taking out many enemies. But she winds up in mortal danger against the Big Bad Godfrey, who uses cunning and confusion to defeat her. Robin is narrowly able to come to the rescue.
- Many of the Bond Girls in the James Bond film series are this. They have no trouble taking care of themselves, even if armed with nothing more than whatever they can carry in the straps of their string bikinis. except when it comes to the Big Bad or a right-hand man, with Agent 007 coming to the rescue. Both Magda and Octopussy hersefl in Octopussy are classic examples of the Bond Girl Distressed Domina, able to take care of things through most of the film except against the tougher villains in the hierarchy.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer is something of a Trope Codifier for this. Buffy's total kicking ass-ness doesn't need much introduction,the essence of her character is the tough, fearless, resourceful girl who kicks ass (supernatural ass too) better than any guy around her. Well, almost any guy. Buffy is, after all, up against some nasty beasties, and as strong, brave and smart a fighter as she is, sometimes her enemies prove tougher, especially the Big Bad and Bigger Bad level guys like the Vampire Master and Adam. But in some cases, even a tricky scrub vampire who stakes her. She also seems to have particular trouble with the unorthodox demons who, in a common pattern for the Distressed Domina trope, pose matchup problems for her, such as Sweet ("Once More With Feeling") and most scarily, the Gentlemen ("Hush"). Buffy winds up needing rescue by the guys around her,often by Angel and Giles but also even the much maligned Xander (each of whom she often saves a good deal). She's also rescued in several cases by Spike and, especially, Riley Finn, both of whom are a lot more one-sided in their rescues of Buffy without much in the other direction. Riley especially is frequently in the shoes of the guy to rescue the Distressed Domina, surprising since he has no supernatural powers. But he's an extremely skilled and well-trained soldier with a level head (well, up to a point) and saves Buffy from many of her scariest enemies, especially the Gentlemen.
- In the X-Files , Gillian Anderson's Agent Dana Scully is often this. She's very intelligent and competent, and is no doubt the level headed, more grounded member of the Mulder and Scully pair. Yet she winds up in serious peril in several episodes, being kidnapped and nearly strangled by the ultra creepy Donnie Pfaster in "Irresistible", and abducted by the head of a scary cult in "Chaco Chicken". David Duchovny's Fox Mulder, despite all his tics and general weirdness, consistently finds a way to get himself together and figure things out, and comes to Scully's rescue in these and other cases, though Doggett in a later season also does his share of saving the Distressed Domina.
- She-Ra is this with surprising frequency, especially since she was pitched as an empowering role model in the 1980's for little girls yet who wound up in a lot of massive distress that required male rescue. In one case it was a group of villagers who came to her rescue after her defeat by the cyborg Dylamug. In several eps, She-Ra was overpowered and completely bound by Naughty Tentacles yet saved as in one notable case (the episode "Above It All"), by the main bad guy himself. In one especially striking defeat in "Anchors Aloft Part 2", She-Ra is knocked clean out of the sky by the deadly Admiral Scurvy, requiring a climactic rescue effort by the Sea Hawk, the closest she has to a love interest.
- Scarlett in G.I. Joe was a more than capable fighter but she often became this too in many episodes, in one case screaming like a classic horror movie femme fatale as she's covered by creepy spiders until the rescue crew saves the day.
- In Superman: The Animated Series, an extremely dark and creepy episode "Unity" involves a Lovecraftian alien herald, who uses his powers and minions to repeatedly ensnare Supergirl in a swarming mass of ultra-creepy tentacles before she's rescued, in each case, by Superman.
- A surprising number of ancient women warriors and rulers were this. One example, Zenobia, a powerful ruler over Palmyra in present Syria,,was a very effective warrioress and political and military leader, as well as a legendary beauty. Eventually she was defeated by Roman Emperor Aurelian and his forces, but he so admired Zenobia's skill and bravery in battle that he spared her and her forces from execution, and made her an honored aristocratic guest in Rome.