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When a main hero or team leader is so obviously important to the story the secondary characters' actions will not have much of an impact when it comes to the big fight. This can happen in the natural evolution of the story, and is more tolerated when the Terrible Trio does it. When it happens to the characters we've known for a long time, it's pretty depressing. The one bonus is this usually gives the main hero the best motivation to try his best.

Ironically, this is less jarring when the other characters have no special abilities, since it's logical the hero could be the only one to do things. In these cases, the secondaries will still find ways to help.

Goes hand-in-hand with Only I Can Kill Him. This is the result when they just Can't Catch Up when it applies to everyone. At best they end up Overshadowed by Awesome. See Gondor Calls for Aid for an inversion. Compare/contrast Hero Secret Service, where the team is useful but still cannon fodder. Also contrast with Let's Get Dangerous when they're competent and aren't cannon fodder. When it's done with extras rather than characters, they often become a Redshirt Army. Finally, compare Spotlight-Stealing Squad.

For Cannon Fodder as part of Military and Warfare Tropes, see... well, its own article.

Examples of We Are Team Cannon Fodder include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Dragon Ball Z's later arcs, the effectiveness of the characters in the grand scheme of things was basically whittled down to a few Saiyans. The least subtle display of this has to be the final fight with Cell in the arc's climax, in which every non-Saiyan protagonist combined their powers to attack a severely weakened Cell from behind, who was already struggling to hold off Gohan in front. Their attacks didn't so much as wrinkle his clothes, and were all rebutted simultaneously by Cell, who didn't even have to turn around.
    • Bear in mind that Piccolo, the most powerful of the non-Saiyan characters had a year previously become the most powerful character on the show to a significant degree by merging with his other half, and only one year later had been surpassed completely again by all the Saiyan characters despite them each training vigorously for the entire time. Akira Toriyma seems to regard Saiyans as perfect gods in that respect.
      • To be fair, they kind of are. That's the point of them. Still, poor Piccolo.
      • A year? More like a few days. The only "years" in that arc that occurred after his fusion with Kami were in a chamber where time passed by about 365 times faster than it did outside.
    • And it finally comes to a head in Dragon Ball GT, where even Gohan, Goten, Trunks, and Vegeta to an extent are rendered completely ineffectual against the Big Bad of each main storyline. That's right; everyone who's not Goku squarely ends up here eventually.
  • Notably averted in Naruto. While the title character and his nakama are particularly powerful, they don't force the rest of the cast into cannon fodder position. In fact, of the dead members of the Akatsuki, Naruto has only been directly involved in the defeat of two: the first he took down after that member was worn down by Kakashi and the second which he handled mostly on his own still took the rest taking an attack that left that member partially weakened, support from his team of summons, and some critical information that they revealed to him (which they spent a long time finding). Kishimoto seems to do a pretty good job of keeping the rest of the cast at least marginally relevant. Unless they're a woman.
    • Played ridiculously straight in the Fourth Great Ninja War arc, where Naruto single-handedly out-performs roughly eighty thousand ninja.
  • The third arc of Yu Yu Hakusho has Kuwabara, Kurama, and Hiei so weak that they can barely dent Big Bad Sensui when attacking him all at once. This is despite the fact that Kuwabara has a weapon that's capable of cutting through absolutely anything, including entire dimensions, in a single stroke.
    • Inverted with the fourth and final arc, which eschews yet another save the world plot in favor of some (very violent) Demon World politics. A group of Demon Kings and their companions have power which greatly outstrip that of the main cast, yet none of the main cast have any real interest in winning the tournament which will allow them to rule the entire Demon World. They fight instead to resolve personal issues, and since they don't necessarily have to come out as the victors this time, Yusuke, Kurama, and Hiei can still lose a few battles without weakening their badass image.
  • VERY commonly seen in all seasons of Digimon, primarily in Frontier, which for stretched out last story strip always has Takuya and Koji using the powers which required everyone else to lose all of their power whatsoever (Susanoomon even required Koji to give up his power the first time, though the second time averted it by requiring everyone to combine both their power and bodies together).
    • As far as main characters go, in Digimon Savers, none of the primary four became useless. Normally, only the protagonist and his rival/best friend's partners get the most powerful forms. In Savers, the four primary protagonists's digimon all get to the highest possible evolution. The main character, however, is still the only one whose partner gets a special weapon at his second most powerful evolution (or most powerful if Burst Mode doesn't count as a new evolution) and is the only human character, aside from his father, to actually fight enemy digimon, including the godly ones, alongside his partner.
    • Akari and Zenjirou from Xros Wars probably got it worst, not even getting Digimon of their own.
  • Happens all the time in The Slayers. No one except Lina is powerful enough to kill a bad guy, it seems, so the other characters spend most of their time looking incredulous as the bad guy shrugs off their most powerful attacks until Lina deals with her various miscellaneous crises and saves them.
    • The characters are fully aware of this. In fact, in one battle, Gourry and Zelgadis make ready to fight the Big Bad, telling Lina: "There's no way we can beat him; the best we can hope for is to hold him off until you regain your strength." With added emphasis on Get better fast.
    • It got somewhat subverted in the fourth series, Slayers Revolution, with Pokota being at least at par with Lina, if maybe just somewhat weaker (but even crazier). Their squabbles provide much of the plot dynamics.
    • Much of this is related to Slayers being RPG based, and Lina's the Sorceress.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! and Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, the one-on-one duel nature of the show means that this trope is handled differently: occasionally characters besides Yugi or Judai will face the Big Bad... and you know they're going to lose, because only Yugi and Judai can actually beat them.
    • Averted in the manga version of GX, when Manjoume defeats the initial villain David Rabb before Judai even duels him. Before that it was Subverted by Reggie (who takes over as the main villain after David's defeat) who intentionally loses to Misawa.
    • Averted during the Fortune Cup and Dark Signer arc of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, where each character is able to more or less equally contribute to the fight against the bad guys. Following that, various other characters, mostly Jack and Crow, being defeated to set up Yusei as the big hero becomes increasingly common, and you can count on one hand the number of duels that Aki, Ruka, and Rua have gotten since then as well.
  • Transformers: Victory, where all the good guys are Team Cannon Fodder, and serve to get beaten up until Star Saber shows up and kills everyone with Stock Footage.
  • From Code Geass, pretty much the entire Knights of the Round group, save Suzaku, Gino, and Anya. It gets ridiculous when Suzaku eliminates one knight roughly ten seconds after her first appearance and another five seconds later.
    • Are you implying that Bismark Waldstein is cannon fodder?
      • I assume that the poster means Monica, taken out right after Dorothea.
  • Averted in the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, where Ed and Al are fairly strong compared to many of the heroes, but aren't necessarily the strongest. As such, they typically have to work with others to defeat powerful villains like the homunculi and Scar, enabling even minor characters to make significant contributions (for example, Falman shoots down an icicle onto Sloth's head, stunning him and enabling Ed and Al to kick him off the ledge).
  • Averted in One Piece as well. Luffy is, of course, the best fighter of the main cast, but the rest of his crew are no slouches either, and almost always get something to do when the fighting starts. On top of that, many of them have skills that are vital to the well-being of the ship and crew. Luffy has on more than one occasion said that he'd be utterly lost without them.


  • Name a single traditional horror film where anyone else but the Designated Hero survives until the end. Somewhat averted in modern horror films by the Anyone Can Die rule seeing more frequent application.


  • The last two Animorphs books did this to all of the auxillary Animorphs, who were attacking heavily-armed Yeerk ships head-on, distracting the Visser while the orginal crew & Ax successfully pulled off a more covert battle.
  • Warhammer 40000 novels are known for pulling this one frequently. Any army/division/company/strike team/squad/ship/fleet/planet/solar system not the protagonist's own will either serve no role in the story or be destroyed.
  • Sun Wukong in Journey to the West literally has to do everything himself. His two (arguably three) combat-capable allies do little more than get kidnapped (and swim).

Live Action TV

  • Whenever you see an SG team with a number larger than one, or composed entirely of non-Americans, in Stargate SG-1, at least one of that team's members will not be coming back through the gate. The only position with a higher Red Shirt rate on the show is the ship captains.
    • SG-3 under Col. Reynolds avoid it by being THE Colonel Makepeace's old unit.
    • Any fully Non-American ANYTHING, not just team, is doomed. Especially if its Russian. Russian SG Program? Entire base slaughtered. Russian SG team? Dead, except the hot chick. New Russian officer? Possessed by Anubis twice, then dead via Heroic Sacrifice. Russian Battlecruiser? Destroyed in its first battle.
    • In Stargate Atlantis, the Marines serve this role. Go ahead, try to find an episode where a team of Marines doesn't suffer a Total Party Kill. I'll wait.
      • They must replenish their supply all the time because Sheppard is always asking for a team of marines to go offworld with him and get killed.

Tabletop Games

  • Games workshop tends to treat the Imperial Guard this way. And the Planetary Defence Force is the cannon fodder for the Imperial Guard, treated as speed bumps for any invading force so that the main protagonists (Space Marines, usually, considering they're the faction in Warhammer 40000 with the highest fan base) can get there to save the day.

Video Games

  • The entire Gallian army in Valkyria Chronicles. At one point in the story, every last one of them is vaporized as collateral damage in the Karmic Death of their leader; absolutely nothing changes, except said leader isn't there to harass the militia captain anymore.
  • Some scenarios in Age of Mythology's campaign pit Arkantos and Co. against forces consisting mostly or entirely of myth units. Sucks to be a human soldier during these parts.

Web Comics

  • Gets a Lampshade Hanging in the Web Comic MS Paint Masterpieces, an unusually faithful fanfic sprite comic adaptation of the classic 8-bit Mega Man games, in which the inaction of the world's human armed forces against the evil Robot Masters is explained by showing that they were not inactive at all - merely unable to keep up with the super-powered robot hero. The elite American squadron sent to fight the Robot Masters has a reputation as a suicide squad, sent on dangerous missions with a low expectation of survival. It is led by Colonel Fodder, who wisely chooses to sit most of every mission out. The team is called Fodder Force. And just in case you missed the joke the first time, the Fodder Force has a Chinese counterpart called the Red Shirt Brigade.
  • Likewise lampshaded in this Adventurers comic.

 Karn: Psst, can you keep him busy for about five turns?

Tesla: I have both lower defense and less HP than you.


Western Animation

  • The 2000 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe had most of the secondary team mates as cannon fodder when they were together as a group. This came after a flashback opening for the pilot episode as well as the remaining events of the pilot that showed them as being effective and powerful allies. After He-Man arrived, most of them would just wait for him to arrive and beat the bad guys. Most of them got a Day in The Limelight episode to showcase their individual skills, which helped balance it out.
  • Dragon Booster
    • The main hero, Artha, is ridiculously overpowered, being a legendary hero and all, and so his team-mates were relegated to the background, but they still managed to do something in the early episodes. However, as the series went on, they went from being somewhat useful to totally useless, requiring Plot Tailored to the Party episodes to be written for them to be useful without being abducted and brainwashed by the bad guy.
    • Lance, Artha's 10 year old brother, made things a little more jarring as, by the fact of being 10, it made sense for him to not be as included. To see him more included in some episodes (even if he was not the hero of the day) such as Wraith Booster and a few others, than Kitt and Parm (the "best racer in down city" and a genius who are both Artha's age) was a bit jarring.