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In Real Life, warfare is hardly an entertaining and carefree experience, and can seriously mess with kids' heads... not to mention their bodies. However, warfare and fighting can easily make for good, clean fun in entertainment media, and is often marketed to children. Most parents and Media Watchdogs are okay with media portraying Non-Lethal Warfare, regardless of the nature of the combat, its origins, the fridge logic or the unfortunate implications it may engender. No matter how lethal the weapons are, how dangerous the environment is, what the attitudes to enemy combatants and civilians are, no-one gets hurt and no-one dies. At least, not on-screen.

Commonly, the combatants will use weapons or powers that stun or KO rather than kill, or at least have the option to. Anyone with more lethal weapons or power sets won't ever hit their target because the target knows Deadly Dodging. Lethal or destructive weapons will only hit the scenery or vehicles, and in the latter case, the crew will usually have ample time to eject or bail out first. Generally, the above will give an impression that things Could Have Been Messy were anyone playing for keeps or slightly sloppy.

We should mention the rules set out above assume that the setting allows for the possibility of death at all, and that it can happen off-screen. If the target audience is too young even for that, the scale of Nerfed violence increases (er, decreases?). No one will use bladed weapons or guns (arrows might fly, though.), traps, tanks, and other large scale weapons will be completely non-lethal, perhaps even designed to humiliate the enemy rather than knock them out. Likely "weapons" for use will be "energy" guns that are about as dangerous as laser tag guns... scratch that, less dangerous. Laser tag guns can at least potentially blind you. Or perhaps blunt weapons that "can't kill" because they don't cause bleeding.

This trope isn't an indicator on the quality of the on-screen fighting though, which doesn't need to be lethal or scarring to be entertaining. If it were to be considered "bad" it's only when it fails to carry Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

Compare with Bloodless Carnage. Contrast with how Snowball Fights and Paintball Matches are Played for Laughs with exceedingly 'gory' acting from the participants, especially when those involved act excessively militarily. Compare and contrast Nobody Can Die, where death is a narrative impossibility even when dealing with explicitly deadly weapons and situations.

See also Stun Guns.

Examples of Non-Lethal Warfare include:


Anime

  • Mahou Sensei Negima had this kind of war at the end of the school festival, with the attendees playing magicians fighting off a Martian invasion. With lots of magical guns and staffs against robots with clothing destroying lasers and telportation bullets. What do you mean real magic, it's all CGI folks! This only worked due to the only actual Martian (we think) Chao Lingshen being a total Anti-Villain. It still managed to be one of the series' greatest Crowning Moments Of Awesome so far.
  • Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko.
  • In ~Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure~, the war between the UN and the Rara Army is deliberately handled this way, with either side surrendering before the risk of serious losses. Of course, nobody tells the protagonist Kazuki this before his first battle -- what, and spoil the angst?
    • They also schedule their battles and give the population time to evacuate before they start.
  • In Pokémon Special, Lance blows up a large section of Vermilion City. When Yellow protests to the lives lost, Lance points out since a major event was happening at the bay, the city itself was currently empty. In a slight aversion, he admits that there probably were a few people caught up in the blast, but not that he cares.
  • Zigzagged in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. The fluff details horrifically violent conflicts in the distant past featuring -- among other things -- armies of cyborg zombies, universe-destroying starships, and human WMDs under every freaking rock, all used at one point or another in a series of interdimensional wars which lasted thousands of years and devastated countless universes. It's enough to make a Space Marine wince. However the main series takes place over 100 years after the end of those wars and the Time-Space Administration Bureau has outlawed mass-based kinetic weapons in favor of magic-based weapons, the logic there being that magic can be set to stun living targets even when it's being used to level buildings or blast halfway through the interior of an ancient starship. The titular character follows this religiously as does most of the main cast, but several characters die anyways even with these weapons in use. And then there's the Force manga, which features a team of villains who are completely immune to magic, forcing the good guys to ditch the stun guns and use perfectly lethal magic-powered kinetic weapons against them. But that's okay, they can regenerate.
  • Toshokan Sensou. All the beligerents wear military-grade body armour. With few exceptions, their guns appear chambered for handgun bullets. Result: People get shot, people fall down with nasty bruises and possibly some cuts and are out of the fight. Few, if anyone, actually dies. This system seems to have been implemented on purpose since the Media Cleansing Comittee and the libraries are, essentially, involved in an institutionalized Civil War under state supervision.
  • The entire premise of Dog Days: war is literally a sport, complete with commentators, live coverage, betting and quite a lot of fanfare. When someone is slashed by a sword, they don't die, they temporarily turn into a cute ball-shaped kitten/puppy. Justified, in that they wage their wars in a protected space that grants this ability to everyone there (except Shinku, supposedly).
    • Of course this becomes a plot point later on as wild monsters are not subject to this rule.
  • AKB0048 in regards to the stance taken against the DES soldiers. Any manned unit is to be disabled with strictly non-lethal force.

Board Games

  • In Shogi, captured pieces are truly captured, not outright killed.

Film

  • In The Warriors of Virtue the forces of good an evil have been at war for years.. but never kill anyone. Ever. The leader of the good guys accidentally killed someone before the start of the film and the titular heroes are about to go their separate ways in disgust. When the human POV character asks why everyone is so aghast at the idea a war might result in death he is repeatedly shouted down. "IT WAS A LIFE!"
  • In Mystery Men, the heroes go to see Dr. Heller, who told them that he was a weapons designer. However, he didn't say he designed non-lethal weapons, which leaves them unimpressed and disappointed, until he demonstrates two of his weapons: a tornado-in-a-can and a blamethrower.

Live Action TV

  • The RoboCop TV series took advantage of the publicity given to NLW at the time to avoid having Robocop kill anyone in a series aimed at children (unlike the movies). Robocop is instead armed with an array of Non-Lethal Weapons which he uses to capture the badguys.
  • The A-Team: Though there was lots of gun play and death threats throughout the show's run, fire fights never actually resulted in anyone getting killed or even injured.

Video Games

  • In the Sonic the Hedgehog RPG spinoff, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, Tails works out a way to send the Nocturnus echidnas back to their own dimension in a non-lethal manner. Enemy Mine Dr. Robotnik seems almost affronted by the fact that "It won't hurt them? Not even a teeny bit?"
  • Combat in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is somewhere between this and a Blood Sport, since if you agree to an official duel arbitrated by a judge, the judge's magic will (depending on which translation you're playing) either keep you from dying even if you're unconscious and face-down in a river, or keep you from staying dead. Of course, things get uglier if you're fighting in a lawless region, and the Japanese version implies that innocent people can and frequently do get killed in the crossfire.

Visual Novels

  • Maji De Watashi Ni Koi Shinasai has the Kamikami War, the most extreme of actions two feuding classes can take. Weapons are non lethal, no broken bones, no punctures, no holes! This despite weapons like a bow with arrows that can pierce metal shields.

Web Comics

  • Played with in Penny Arcade. They did a series of strips of an alternate Earth where there was no nuclear war; instead, all disputes were settled with Ping Pong matches. Potentially deadly Ping Pong matches.
  • Sluggy Freelance has the Dimension of Lame, where getting nuked meant receiving a bunch of Notices of Unified Kindness Envelopes.

Western Animation

  • G.I. Joe. Blue lasers anyone?
    • Actually, the really bizarre thing about G.I. Joe looking back at it as an adult is that their "laser guns" don't look like sci-fi weapons at all, instead virtually all the guns are animated to look like realistic depictions of identifiable real-world guns. Snake Eyes clearly is packing an Uzi, Duke blasts away on what's obviously a Colt .45, Falcon has a pump-action shotty etc. etc. But instead of firing bullets, these realistic firearms inexplicably shoot lasers, which is very dissonant. Sometime you can even see the guns expelling shell casings! That's right kids, LASER BULLETS!
      • Oxidized Copper tracers?
      • Resolute, an 11-episode miniseries created to hype the movie, averted this. The guns actually do fire bullets (they did feature red muzzle flash and blue muzzle flash as a shoutout). There's plenty of A-Team Firing and the Cobra Blueshirts are still unable to hit anything, but the Joes do manage to gun them down often.
      • Most other adaptations (like the comics and the movie) brutally avert this, as we've got characters on both sides firing real bullets and actually scoring some kills against enemies.
  • Battles in Transformers tend to involve lots of lasers and big weapons, but characters rarely die outside the movies and some of the comics. Even if they do, Death Is Cheap in Transformers. This was averted most visibly in Beast Wars, though every series has one or two onscreen deaths.
    • However, one episode of Beast Wars there was an official truce going on, so they couldn't use their guns. It involved a lot of slapstick comedy and Amusing Injuries.
    • Heavily averted during the first act of Transformers: The Movie
    • Transformers Animated seems to instead largely avoid showing direct warfare: most of the battles we see are small scale, and all of the fighting in Ratchet's flashbacks are implied instead of shown.
  • The Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon ("SatAM" to fans) was set in a world where the heroes were a small band of Freedom Fighters fighting against difficult odds, so they had to have some losses. However, they also could Never Say "Die". The solution? Robotnik's main way of disposing of his enemies was to "roboticize" them--that is, use a machine to turn them into mindless robots that would follow his orders. This was very effective, as the person's personality essentially "died", and they were also forced against their will to act as Robotnik's soldiers. Robotnik's forces also used laser weapons, but predictably, they never caused any fatal damage.
    • Early in the second season, a temporarily de-roboticized Uncle Chuck explains that the mind actually doesn't go away, and the roboticized person is simply aware of what is going on around them without any way to control themselves. It's debatable as to whether this made it better or worse.
    • There's also the first episode, where the Freedom Fighters fend off Robotnik's robots with catapults shooting water balloons at them.
  • Spiral Zone justified this trope in its premise, since the "Zoner" Mooks are all Mind Controlled innocents; the heroes want to save them, and the villains want as many warm bodies as they can get.
  • Rambo the Force of Freedom has a very low body count compared to the latter movies.
  • In An American Tail: Fievel Goes West the final climactic battle is fought with slingshots rather than real guns.
  • WITCH has armies with swords duking it out impressively... and nobody ever actually depicted being cut. The heroines disposed of villains by evicting them from the area with elemental attacks, or forcing them to retreat by pounding but not permanently damaging them with the same.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Mechanist's people fight the Fire Nation with smoke, fire, and stink bombs. They also use presumably deadly fire bombs, though any death they might cause is obscured by the smoke and flash of the explosion.
    • Although they then blow the entire mountain face away with the war balloon's engine, so there's not a whole lot of room to get around how very dead the attackers are. Sokka's probably a better example: in the first two-and-a-half seasons, he favors his boomerang and is reasonably good at hitting people, generally resulting in knockouts. Once he has his sword, though, he's limited mostly to hitting terrain and weapons. This despite him sharpening his boomerang on several occasions...
  • Codename:Kids Next Door Has the Badass Army of kids at war with various adult villians who wish to oppress, harm, and enslave the world's children, and while most villians don't seem to shy away from trying to kill their KND foes, you never see it happen, nor do you see any KND Operatives doing any of the sort to them.

Real Life

  • Sports is in essence non-lethal warfare. The competition can be real, (Cold War Olympics?) but the body count is significantly reduced.
  • Many cultures used to practice non-lethal warfare such as in the Native American custom of 'Counting Coup' (where a combantant would essentially touch a rival with a stick and that counted as a winning blow in a battle) this did not prove to be an effective form of warfare against european colonists.
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