What is Power Creep:
Power Creep can mean many things, depending on who you talk to. Everyone has their own limits. For me personally, the basics are when the characters involved grow more powerful as the situation demands, only when the situation demands.
There’s a general idea of the trope is that with every battle or obstacle, the character grows more powerful. Which results in the battles or obstacles becoming greater over time to keep an air of suspense. It is also often accompanied by a series of other tropes that fuel enable the increases in power. It is especially apparent when it happens over the course of long running series.
Where do you see Power Creep:
Power Creep can exist everywhere. Comic books are the most well-known for this trope and may have helped popularize some examples. Yet it remains that power creep can show up anywhere. I would argue that it doesn’t even have to be in sci-fi/fantasy, so long as you extend the definition of power to things like money or influence.
How Power Creep Appears:
It can start of innocuous enough. Sometimes it even stays that way. Other times, it starts off fine but little things add up and BAM we have a runaway train on our hands. This is one of those tropes that people can hate when they’re obvious, but not notice at all when they’re subtle. Or they can love it when it is over the top.
1. Anime: I have abilities I didn’t before.
The first of the categories, this section focuses are for the times when a character gets a new ability out of the blue, because they need it, typically when there is no hope left and nothing more to give. These powers can be one-use only, become the makeup of the character, or become forgotten about over time. There are a few ways to make this version even more extravagant.
Madoka Magica: I have now become a god
These are the characters who have become so powerful they’re indistinguishable from a god. Often, while you would think these characters have no further higher to go, and no one and nothing would ever be able to challenge them again! Nope! There is always higher to go, and a new enemy to conquer! The
story money creators installment demands it! It is also used as a good way to end a series, because where else is there for a character to go than that?
One Piece: I’m just better, okay?
These are the characters that just get better over time, for little to no real reason shown. Could have happened through training, age, time, or through battle. Happens off screen so the reader/viewer isn’t aware of what happened and the results are a surprise. Otherwise known as “getting stronger”, what a new idea.
Cardcaptor Sakura: I’m new, gimme a break
Power Creep doesn’t have to be a cheap gimmick or unnatural progression. It can easily be justified by circumstances, such as the character still learning their powers and just not knowing what to do until it happens. This trope is very versatile that way.
Bleach: I broke better than before
You know those characters that are lying broken in a field somewhere or something, and something triggers within them and they get a new power and suddenly they can do everything they needed to do and they’re back in fighting shape? Yeah, that. Sometimes without the fighting shape part.
Naruto: New power? Nah, old power. I’ve had it forever!
For all those characters just casually dropping in new powers like it is no big deal, despite never being even hinted at before, this one is for you! Why is it a problem? It isn’t. There are many perfectly valid reasons for that happen. There can also be some over the top ridiculous examples of it, too. Trope wisely, kids.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: With my powers combined, I can do this!
Ah, one of my favourite words: gestalt. And probably one of my favourite applications of this trope, too. This is for the times when the character realizes they can combine their powers together to become more powerful. Sometimes that character uses one power to fuel the strength of another power. Other times they just use them in concert with each other to achieve an effect greater than their parts. Can also be used with more than one person. Great variation.
Pokemon: What power? I don’t have that power.
An example of trope inversion. This can be as dramatic as a character having a power taken away from them and having to cope with its loss, or as subdued as just plain forgetting. It can also be a gradually creeping loss. Mostly it is just that power has been forgotten at the most “convenient” time. It is easy to think of the dramatic times when a character has had a power stolen, but the subdued form can be even better. Just look at the Elves of Middle Earth slowly fading.
2. Fairy Tale: YES! With this I am more powerful than ever before!
These are the times when there is an outside force causing the character to level up. Either through an item they have acquired, or gaining an ability from a dying friend (or foe) or activating a power they don’t typically have access to.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: I’ve got the golden tiiiicket!
Using an item is an incredibly common way to have a character power up. Amulets, ancient weapons, family heirlooms, mysterious substances, a miasma in the air, and more are all examples of this trope. Likely to be temporary, this sometimes becomes a permanent thing.
Claymore: Your power? MY Power!
Gimme that power steal, I love a good power transfer! Voluntary or involuntary, sometimes it is even heredity, this application of the trope is for the times when a power passes from one character to another, through whatever means.
Dragon Ball: Danger Will Robinson!
Have a character who becomes more powerful when they get hurt? How about a character who gets angry and super modes? These are two common examples of this variant of the trope when a character triggers abilities they don’t otherwise have through some event or condition. They don’t have these powers all the time. Once this first shows up, it tends to show up again and again and again. Because drama.
3. Sailor Moon: But this just worked!
This is a particularly insidious variation of Power Creep. The characters will have spent the entire last book, last season, last series, last arc, last whatever growing up and becoming more powerful, all for that hard work to mean nothing and they have to do it again. And once it happens one time, it will likely happen every other time, too. Usually this happens through one of the variations of the trope already discussed.
Note: The more I researched this, the more I feel that Sailor Moon should really be the answer for every single one of these variations.
Which of these trope variations do you enjoy the most? The least?
Instead of anime, what are some good examples of these tropes for Movies/TV, books, web serials, audio dramas, etc?
Is there a variation I didn’t add that you want to talk about?
How often do you come across these?