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A Useless Protagonist is exactly that, a Point of View character who can only watch as the Badass supporting characters bust their asses saving both him/her and the world. They may become more Badass later on, but they always start as something of a pansy.

This may seem similar to The Ishmael, but it's not quite the same. The Ishmael isn't the most key player, but can still be useful, often as the Sidekick. A character falling under this trope might really be the center of attention but is simply incapable of doing anything useful.

Think of it this way: Arthur is The Chosen One, but he is utterly powerless on his own and isn't even a Badass Normal, so he sits around doing nothing. Fortunately, he has Bob and Charlie to protect him, with Bob being the most important heroic force both in combat and in planning, and Charlie acting as his sidekick and, though not being as awesome as Bob, still being very useful. Think of Bob and Charlie as Batman and Robin, and Arthur as some poor schmuck in the story they have to save because he is the living descendant of Jesus, and poses a threat to the Catholic Church simply by existing.

If Charlie is the narrator, then he is The Ishmael, because, even though he's incredibly useful, this obviously isn't his story. If Arthur is the narrator, then he is this trope, because he doesn't do anything useful at all. He is not The Ishmael, however, because he is The Chosen One and the focus of the plot and action and this is ostensibly his story, even if Bob and Charlie do all the work.

Note that this is not a one-time uselessness due to strange effects, or a long-term effect on someone who requires protection. It's a healthy character with no good excuse for cowering behind their constant savior.

Another thing to think about is that this is not a place for "weak" protagonists. "Useless" entails someone who is completely ineffective in all story-important aspects. Some protagonists that lack physical strength are useful by being brilliant in some other fashion, a la the Chessmaster.

Contrast Pinball Protagonist where a character does have useful skills, but is incapable of acting on her own initiative because stronger characters have set the plot on rails.

Examples of Useless Protagonist include:


Anime & Manga

  • Nearly every male lead-type character in Harem Anime and Exotic Girlfriend shows will tend towards this trope, often being an incredibly bland character completely overshadowed by the girls to the point of not even appearing on the promo images and trailers for the show.
  • Sakai Yuuji of Shakugan no Shana. The Reiji Maigo is the only reason he even gets to remain in the world, and he tends to hide behind his semi-protective flaming swordswoman when push comes to shove. Except in the last two arcs of the second season. And VERY MUCH not so for the third season.
  • Hiro Hiyorimi of Princess Resurrection - much more so in the anime version, where he's generally completely incapacitated while Hime and the others take down the Monster of the Week.
  • Yukiteru of Mirai Nikki frequently slipped into this, often sitting back and letting Yuno or someone else (like Akise) solve his problems for him for entire arcs at a time. He got better once he was broken and subsequently Took a Level In Badass.
  • Defied in Fate/stay night, where Shirou constantly tries to be important to combat even though Saber is clearly far stronger. He eventually succeeds, and in one timeline becomes Archer.
  • The kids in Final Fantasy Unlimited.
  • The main character in the anime adaption of Agatha Christie's works is somewhat of a Mary Sue, who rarely has any important roles beyond finding Red Herring clues. She does get A Day in the Limelight when she substitutes a one-shot character who plays a crucial role in the novel that arc was based on.
  • Minato of Sekirei starts out this way, but later on begins to be a bit of a planner. It can't really be helped considering he is the heart in a series of super powered Action Girls. He also winds up taking notes from Seo and accompanies his Sekirei in their missions as support.
    • Plus, as an Ashkabi, if he dies, so do all 6 of his Sekirei.
  • Nina from Mamotte Lollipop.
  • Madoka Kaname from Puella Magi Madoka Magica until very late in the series. As in, the very last episode. In the previous timelines, however, she kicks massive amounts of ass.
  • Yuri from Alien Nine. She really only cries and has nightmares during the whole series.
  • Italy from Axis Powers Hetalia. So much. Germany acts as his baby sitter.
    • Lampshaded. The title Hetalia comes from the Japanese words for 'useless' and 'Italy'.
  • Played with in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Shinji isn't a Useless Protagonist but Shinji himself and a number of other characters view him as this. It's a major part of the crippling inferiority complex Shinji has.
  • Pick a Hentai anime or manga. 1): Does it revolve primarily around rape? 2): Is the focus character a rape victim rather than a rapist? If the answer to both questions is yes, he or she will probably be this. (Exceptions tend to be Pinball Protagonists or Faux Action Girls, or occasionally Faux Action Guys--after all, if they were capable of defending themselves, why would they be constantly getting raped?)


Comic Books

  • A possible example would be DC Comics' Major Bummer - he's the protagonist but he doesn't really do anything.


Film

  • Puma Man! To the extent than Vadinho the Aztec priest has to do anything more difficult that jumping around like an idiot or wrestling Donald Pleasance.
  • Also from the realm of Mystery Science Theater 3000; Mark English, the protagonist of Devil Doll. After spending the entire movie investigating the proceedings, the situation resolves itself without his help.
  • Jason from The Forbidden Kingdom. He's the protagonist of a Kung Fu film--starring alongside Jackie Chan and Jet Li--yet even after his Training From Hell, he's only capable of beating enemy Mooks.
  • Indiana Jones, at least in Raiders of the Lost Ark. While he does plenty of heroic stuff, his actions have absolutely no effect on the plot of the movie or its resolution. Remove him from the story and pretty much exactly the same things would have happened.
    • Well, Marian would have been slowly and painfully tortured to death by Nazis without his intervention, so he's got that going for him.
  • Jason in Diary of the Dead does nothing but recording whatever happened to the team. While the rest of the group are actually racking up zombie casualties, he's simply there to record it as it happens. It became Egregious in the later parts of the film where one of the girls was chased by a zombie and Jason is right behind the zombie chasing her and yet he didn't even try to attack the zombie that was right in front of him.
    • Except that he did that time. He had her lure it toward him, where he beat it in the head with a stick. Only problem is that he was too stupid to finish it off, as it later got up and killed on of his friends, and then later Jason himself. Also while Jason was being attacked he was still holding that fucking camera.
  • The Mystery Science Theater 3000-subject Agent for H.A.R.M.'s protagonist Adam Chance's main contributions to the narrative are killing Mooks, getting tricked, and failing to save the day.


Literature


Video Games

  • Hawke, the Main Character of Dragon Age II. For all the Badass heroism Hawke performs, for all the talk about how his/her actions changed the world, the so-called Champion of Kirkwall amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of things and is ultimately a spectator to others who do irrevocably change the course of history.
  • Vaan of Final Fantasy XII, plot wise, who despite being the POV character is almost useless to the rebellion compared to Basch and Ashe after the princess joins. He's decent in the gameplay, though.
    • He seems out of place likely because he was added at the last minute after Balthier and Basch were glossed over for the lead role. His purpose was supposedly to tie the game better into the whole Ivalice universe, so take that as you will.
  • The customizable main character in White Knight Chronocles has a tendency to just kind of stand around in the background as all the other characters do things.


Western Animation

  • In Jonny Quest, evil foreign governments, multi-national corporations, and billionaire supervillains send henchmen in droves to steal from Benton Quest... there's not much that protagonist Jonny, a young child, can actually do about any of this. He's pretty worthless in most episodes, sometimes making things worse; but one way or another, it's either Benton Quest or Race Bannon who saves the day.
  • Despite having a huge array of cybernetic enhancements, Inspector Gadget manages to accomplish very little while his niece and dog solve every problem along the way. Possibly justified in that he keeps a helicopter in his brain cavity.
    • Although, unlike most of these examples, this was intentional and Played for Laughs.
    • Only as far as he doesn't realize that he's always well into the act of infiltrating Dr Claw's latest scheme and easily seeks out Dr. Claw's henchmen or that he's just escaped a deathtrap because his gadget summoning gave him the "wrong gadget" again. He's seriously much better at what he does than most people think; he just doesn't know that's he's doing it wrong in the first place.
    • Also Gadget did occasionally come in rather useful completely by accident.
    • About five instances out the 86 episode long original series, Gadget uses genuine (and deliberate) competance to help thwart MAD or save someone (usually Penny). They are rare, but often quite a sight to behold.
  • The Dreamstone tended to swerve between Rufus and Amberley as Hero Protagonists or the Urpneys as Villain Protagonists. Neither managed to accomplish much. Rufus and Amberley were The Fools at best and Inspector Gadget-level Invincible Incompetents at worst (see above), while the Urpneys were Harmless Villains doomed to failure at their goal. A couple of early episodes give exceptions for Rufus, but not by that much.
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