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So the Big Bad has been unleashed, or the rebellion needs more help over-throwing the evil empire. Who do you get to help? A crack team of trained mercenaries? How about some expert martial artists? Maybe the existing peace-keeping forces such as the police or military?
No? Then how about those kids standing over there? Yeah? Okay, cool, go for it.
This trope happens when, instead of getting qualified help from highly trained professionals, or at the very least, adults who are more likely to understand the risks associated with a possible life-or-death scenario, we're treated to a team of young people with little to no experience with whatever they're about to face and thrust into it head first. Often, the teens are given weapons or powers to defeat this threat, but are given little to no training with these things, yet, for plot reasons, still come out on top.
This trope usually occurs in media aimed at kids and pre-teens, as that's the sort of audience who looks up to high schoolers as the pinnacle of human achievement, or at the very least are more relatable than some "crusty old" 30-somethings. Ironically, many such shows, if live-action, will invoke Dawson Casting and those "teenagers" won't really be teenagers anyway. Go fig. If we're talking about an anime or comic, it may very well be a result of Author Appeal.
Many stories sometimes have a token teenager, or may even have a whole sub-cast of children, but this trope is for when most or all of the main cast are teens (or younger). So Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation wouldn't count here. However, the trope applies if the singular main character is young.
Anime and Manga
- Sailor Moon: At least, it seems this way at first.
- Tokyo Mew Mew seemed to pick 5 random girls who were just in the wrong place and wrong time. They just happened to have DNA that was compatible with the chosen animals.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the mecha anime it deconstructed, fall within this trope and Falling Into the Cockpit.
- Like wise with even younger children in Bokurano.
- Getter Robo, at least in the original continuity.
- Prétear. Granted, it's justified in the case of the Leafe Knights--they're literally born into the role and not exactly human, so they've been training for this their entire lives. (Plus, the four older knights only look as if they're in their late teens or early twenties, but they're actually about twice that.) However, this trope is played completely straight in the case of the titular Magical Girl--Himeno is about 15, has no formal training besides an interest in martial arts (that she doesn't even seem to use in battle) and is completely mentally unprepared for her role as world savior. This is dealt with in-series during her constant battles with self doubt, as well as Takako/Fenrir's backstory--she was also a teen unprepared for battle, and focused obsessively on Hayate to give her the confidence to continue, which was why his rejection of her was so earth-shattering.
- Ronin Warriors: It was so bad that in the first episode they almost lost due to what was basically a pissing contest, and they spent the rest of the season paying for it.
- The Eldoran series does something like this, except that "teenagers" is replaced with "A class of elementary school kids".
- Robot Taekwon V combines this with a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, and the Big Bad is defeated by a teenage boy, his Action Girlfriend and his friends.
- Mao-chan one-ups this. Due to publicity issues, Japanese military had to resort to getting a trio of ridiculously cute little girls to stop alien invasion. And make a television show about it. Somehow it worked.
- Nanoha Takamachi was a pre-teen when she was recruited to find the Jewel Seeds, mainly because she was the only person with magical ability that Yuuno could find on short notice. Unlike the normal examples, this was done purely because Yuuno was injured and couldn't do it alone. Also, Yuuno had originally intended to take Raising Heart back and finish the quest by himself once he had finished healing up. It was Nanoha who insisted that she see it through to the end, even after trained professionals showed up and said they could take it from there.
- Dr. Gero tries doing this to defeat Son Goku, turning a runaway brother and sister into super-powered cyborgs. It doesn't end well.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Kyubey, Witches are on the loose, recruit teen girls with wishes!. There is a reason why it has to be teen girls.
- The Pretty Cure franchise does this virtually all the time. Yes! Pretty Cure 5 had Nozomi personally choose who was gonna be a Pretty Cure (with the general formula being that they would blow it off, new monster show up, realize she couldn't abandon the others, come back and become a Pretty Cure). Heartcatch Precure is probably the only one who doesn't follow this formula.
- Sort of done all throughout Digimon, though they're more of the tween-age in most of the shows - all apart from Digimon Savers, which stars a Hot-Blooded street punk that's recruited by a secretive government organisation when he forms a partnership with and Agumon.
- Borderline in The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer; played straight for all the teenage characters - Yuuhi, Amamiya, Mikazuki, Tarou, and Hanako, but the age of all the Beast Knights ranges from primary schoolers to the 40-year-old detective Nagumo.
- X-Men: Though in this case, the X-Men did receive combat training prior to their first mission. It bears mentioning that the team's youngest member was only 13. Justified in that mutant powers manifest at puberty, and Xavier started a school for "gifted youngsters" to train them in their potentially uncontrollable and deadly mutations. But he also liked watching them sweat.
- In Ultimate X-Men, the team barely has time to be assembled and forced into tight leather pants before being sent to rescue a young mutant from 50-foot killer robots.
- While not a team, it should be noted that every single Robin (and all four Batgirls) ever has been a youngster.
- Played straight, and extreme, in the Marvel comic Power Pack, which chronicles four pre-teen siblings who received their superpowers and world-saving mission from a dying alien. This was actually a subversion of the more typical adult, Serious Business superheroes of the time, and much of the humor since has come from contrasting them with heroes like Wolverine. Similar to the Animorphs situation, the alien was dying, the kids were there, and the alien didn't exactly have the option of going and getting the Marines.
- Kyle Rayner, who was for a decade or so the only Green Lantern, started out this way. Ganthet needed to give the last ring and power battery to somebody, and Kyle was standing there, so Ganthet literally said, "You'll do," and gave them to him.
- In Animorphs, five teenagers are picked by an alien to save the world from an alien invasion. To its credit, the series does deal with the absurdity of five teenagers being the world's only hope, and in the end they're all shown to have some fairly deep psychological trauma.
- Initially explained that said alien didn't have much choice, since he was about to die and the kids happened to be there, but it is later revealed that a Sufficiently Advanced Alien Energy Being (read: stand in for God) hand-picked more than half of the kids for various reasons; since it is involved in an absurdly complex universe-spanning game with an evil Sufficiently Advanced Alien, the earth's defenders being teenagers might have been a restriction as part of one of the in-game deals.
- The Andalite Chronicles has another explanation: experience had taught him that human children were capable of much more than one might think.
- When the Animorphs gain the ability to increase their numbers, they seek out teenagers. Because they adapt to new situations quicker than adults.
- They also figured other teenagers would listen to them and be happier to let them take the lead than adults would, in addition they deliberately seek out disabled kids as there's no way the Yeerks would be using them as hosts.
- A literary example, the new Hardy Boys series, Undercover Brothers. Frank and Joe are members of a crime group composed of teenagers, ATAC (American Teens Against Crime). The reasoning behind it is that teens can go places and ask questions that would be suspicious if asked by an adult.
- In Ender's Game, the Battle School recruits kids as young as 6 or 7, where they are examined for strong willpower and survival instincts. This is justified in-universe, because no one old enough to understand war and with enough compassion to be a great general will fight it. Like in Animorphs about, the kids end up very, very messed up. And the fallout is that many of them try to take over the world Ender's older brother recruits some of them on his side and does conquer the world.
- While they didn't exactly recruit them, the rebellion in The Hunger Games series doesn't get off the ground until Katniss and Peeta (mostly Katniss, who has a lot of attitude) defy the Capitol and become the figureheads for the rebels.
Live Action TV
- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: the Trope Namer. In the pilot, mentor Zordon asked for "five overbearing and over-emotional humans" in the area, and helper robot Alpha said, complete with facepalm, "Oh no, not that! Not... teenagers!" to which Zordon responded, "that's correct Alpha," to which Alpha sighs, "I was afraid of that." Only one of the group didn't have any martial arts training and they were fairly decent shots on the very rare occasion when they actually used their blasters. The reasoning behind this, stated in the first episode was that as teenagers they would be the generation to inherit the planet, and thusly should be the ones who protect that inheritance.
- The Power Rangers series continues this (though usually to a lesser extent; most of the later seasons had the characters be past high school), stopping occasionally for mentors that actively seek out professionals- from nonmilitary professions. When we do get something that's technically military, at most one of them has any concept of military tactics, procedure, or discipline. And in several years, the leader was most likely to be a straight example: someone with no experience given the role for no discernible reason. In fact, Power Rangers is the Namer for that trope: Rookie Red Ranger.
- Kousoku Sentai Turboranger from Super Sentai is probably the Trope Codifier, it's the first Sentai team to consist of just teenagers, but they've yet to be referred as 'Teenagers With Attitude' (this was before Power Rangers was even conceived in its current form).
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Averted, mostly. Most of the Scoobies weren't exactly recruited - they were just swept up in events. Anya and Tara were genuinely recruited, but they had extensive knowledge of demons and magic, respectively (and in Anya's case, was over a thousand years old despite physically being a teenager). Also, in later seasons, they stopped being teenagers. Slayers though are always chosen from teenage girls, and few of them live past 18. About the only explanation for this is that the creepy old men who created the Slayer role figured younger girls would be easier to control or they lived before "teenager" appeared as a concept and what is now a teenager was considered an adult.
- Many City of Heroes players make their in-game avatars as teenagers.
- Ditto Champions Online players.
- Earthbound's four main characters are teens (and possibly even younger in the Japanese version), though they were chosen by a prophecy. Unlike many examples, though, the trope is deconstructed a bit, since what the characters have to go through at the end of the game is meant to signify a loss of innocence.
- In El Goonish Shive Susan and Nanase got their magic potential unlocked this way, when two immortals recruited them to fight a dangerous vampire-like being called an Aberration they'd had a run in with. This encounter led to Susan getting some psychological scars due to being forced to kill someone who used to be human at the age of 15. It later turns out the Immortals in question had no need to do so as they could have called on several other sources, the fact that they asked teens to do so was a source of great disgust to Jerry, a separate Immortal.
- Sailor Nothing also deals with the absurdity of choosing teenaged girls to save the world. Who would come up with such a ridiculous idea? A villain who actually wants the good guys to lose?
- Captain Planet and the Planeteers had Gaia recruiting five teenagers with no previous experience fighting evil. On the good side, they were able to summon a superhero when things got too tough. The Planeteers were the generation that was going to grow up to inherit a polluted planet, like the intended audience, so it made sense for Gaia to teach people of that generation to take care of it.
- Double Subversion with the Storm Hawks, as when they tried to register the first time, they were turned down for being too young (with the exception of Stork). Eventually, they are recognized by the Sky Council as Sky Knights.
- Also lampshaded as many secondary characters comment on their ages for about the first dozen episodes.
- At one point several other kids tried to join the team as well, but were ultimately encouraged to return to their homes for awhile.
- Played straight in the new Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 animated series. When one of the six teens rather sensibly ask their holographic Obi Wan why they alone were chosen to save the world, she replies that each one brings "something different" to the team. Which one brings driving experience to a battle for the fate of the world that involves high-speed racing is never said. Whether this is Lampshade Hanging or Better Than a Bare Bulb is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
- The Animesque Totally Spies. Think Power Rangers meets Buffy.
- Explained as the reason why the Mother Planetoid adopted the Brats of the Lost Nebula and gave them the equipment they needed to battle the Shock forces, as the Planetoid's creator believed that only teenagers and their chaotic nature could outmaneuver the Shock's forces.
- While most of the cast is, surprisingly, grown up in Generator Rex the title character and protagonist, Rex is 15, and working as the top agent for a NGO Superpower. Completely Justified thanks to his High Level Superpowers, the most important of which is Permanent Power Nullification in a world overrun by superpowered, often mindless mutants.
- Though they do all have such skills. Given that Vert Wheeler suggested the recruitment of the rest of the initial team, he presumably explained this to the Obi-Wan offscreen.