Bloodnok: Seagoon, look here, a right twit you made of yourself firing that photo of a dinner at the enemy. Do you know what they've fired back?End of Episode
Bloodnok: The photograph of an empty plate.
Seagoon: Ha ha ha... An empty plate..! Well, there you are folks, the old anti-climax again!
The Climax is one of the oldest devices in storytelling. For those who don't know, the climax is when the story reaches its head, when the most important or exciting part occurs; in an action film, the climax is almost always a large, spectacular fight.
As a result, the subversion of the climax, the Anticlimax, is probably almost as old. The anticlimax is when you're set up for a climax, such as a spectacular, battle-to-end-all-battles between the hero and the villain. It's built up more and more until the suspense is extremely exciting, and the reader/viewer can't wait for it...then the hero kills the villain in one hit, or the villain spontaneously drops dead, or some other random guy shows up and destroys the villain before the hero does anything. Thus is the anticlimax. A Shaggy Dog Story almost always features an anticlimax. Interestingly, however, cases of Shoot the Shaggy Dog usually do have a climax.
Not all anticlimaxes are intentional, though. Oftentimes, they are caused when the story writes itself into a corner. Other times, it's caused when the writer realizes that their planned solution just wouldn't make sense compared to the logical one. Sometimes, it's caused when there are teams of writers that don't communicate very well. The planned resolution of a Story Arc is nullified by another writer, who might have written out the plot device intended. Sometimes, in the case of film and television, it's caused by budget constraints or unexpected cancellation. It's rather rare for unintentional anticlimaxes to show up in single works, usually popping up in long serials where there isn't a chance to unobtrusively go back and rewrite some pivotal moments to set up the proper climax.
Anticlimaxes are usually looked upon unfavorably, because if the audience is getting set up for a climax, they expect it to be followed through on. Therefore, except for a few rare occasions, an anticlimax should only be used for humorous purposes, such as the Anticlimax Cut. Compare No Ending. For anti-climactic deaths, see Dropped a Bridge on Him.
Anime and Manga
- The final episode of .hack//SIGN ends with the player-character heroes facing up to a Humongous Mecha-type monster, and it looks as if there's going to be a big climactic fight scene. Instead, the uber-hacker Helba just switches off the server and deletes the game. There was a real world ending that kinda makes up for it, though. The whole thing was a lead-up/prologue for the .hack games from one person's perspective (that person being Tsukasa). Considering the fact that Skeith, the monster, can't be defeated without subverting the physics of the game world with Data Drain, it would have been even more anticlimactic and a Downer Ending for everyone to die.
- Mahou Sensei Negima essentially plays ping pong with this one during the Negi/Rakan fight, which starts off with an apparent anti-climax ( Negi K.O.ing Rakan), before having 3 or 4 climactic moments, only to keep going. Ultimately, Negi's final massive attack fails to knock Rakan out, but drains him enough that they resort to Good Old Fisticuffs before fainting from exhaustion in a tie. Whether this is an actual Anticlimax, a subversion thereof, or some kind of combination is up for debate.
- The Pokémon episode The Battle of the Badge. In the first act, we're treated to Giovanni luring Gary into a false sense of security and then pwning him with a thinly-disguised Mewtwo. If Gary can't beat Team Rocket's leader and his Big Guy, how is Ash, whom we know has to win the Earth Badge in order for the series to continue, going to beat him? Answer: Giovanni and Mewtwo just happen to leave the gym right when Ash comes in, and instead he has to put up with battling the Team Rocket trio once again, but this time for an actual prize; thus, the writers sit out on having Ash meeting Giovanni and facing Mewtwo.
- Interestingly, Ash would've met Giovanni because he got to the Viridian Gym first, but Gary cut in front of him. What's more, Gary didn't even need to challenge the gym because he already had all the gym badges he needed to qualify for the Pokémon League. Basically, it was all just an excuse to keep Ash from meeting the leader of the organization he has foiled time and again.
- Rumiko Takahashi seems to love these ones, ending a "will they/won't they" romantic comedy with an "I don't know" not once, but twice.
- School Rumble. Harima & Eri get engaged. He moves to Yakumo's house. Timeskip a couple of years. Harima has left a long time ago and nobody knew where he was.
- After being filled with all sorts of cool, awesome fights, the final battle of the X 1999 movie between The Messiah and the Dark Messiah, built up over about two hours, lasted literally all of five seconds.
- There's a decent amount of complaints that the Chrono Crusade anime's final battle between Chrono and Aion is much, much too short, particularly after all the build up. The fact that the ending is a Downer Ending in the end probably doesn't help. (Parodied amusingly in this fanart.)
- To be fair, however, while the manga version is generally considered better, it actually cuts away from Chrono and Aion's final battle. We never actually get to see the outcome, we can only guess what happened.
- Maria Holic ends almost every episode by introducing some dangerous situation or even a monster, only to have it resolved within the first two minutes of the next episode and never mentioned again.
- Quite a few fights in Bleach have gone this way recently.
- 3rd Espada Tia Harribel is about to take on Hiyori, Lisa, and Hitsugaya at the same time. Before we see a single exchange of blows as the two Vizards prepare to fight seriously for the first time, Aizen kills Harribel for no reason.
- 1st Espada Coyote Starrk has seemed quite powerful, devastating his two Vizard opponents with his Cero and energy wolf attacks... until Kyoraku, who he previously blasted in the back, gets up and whips him like a chump in the space of one chapter, adding insult to injury by not even using Bankai.
- In all fairness this was mostly because Kyoraku already got a fatal wound in completely by surprise at the end of the chapter previous to that one, so in addition to being forced to play by Kyoraku's rules, he also had that extremely detrimental chest wound slowing him down.
- Tousen reveals his One-Winged Angel form, only to get stabbed in the head and killed by his ex-lieutenant, flouting established rules of the series in the process (you need to have a spiritual pressure close to your target's in order to hurt them, and Tousen had high-enough defense that he could block Komamura's Bankai and crack it as well as instant regeneration; Hisagi was much less powerful than him even under normal circumstances, since captains are far more powerful than lieutenants anyway and knowing bankai (which Tousen does and Hisagi doesn't) increases someone's strength exponentially)
- The final episode of the anime ended with the Lost Substitute Shinigami arc, where the final battles were very one-sided in favor of the Soul Reapers, more so than any other arc so far ( Kenpachi's battle against Giriko Kutsuzawa is quite possibly the shortest "fight" in the series' history). Ichigo didn't even have a hard time defeating Kugo Ginjo. What a way for the anime to end. The Bleach fans who don't bother with the manga and watch the anime exclusively must be pissed.
- Irresponsible Captain Tylor: epic use of the William Tell Overture heralds what is both an Anticlimax and a Crowning Moment of Awesome for the titular character: having been given command of the entire UPSF fleet, Tylor gives one order: advance. Eventually, he gets so close to Ru Baraba Dom's ship that the two can see each other; he raises his hand, as if he was giving the order to fire (Dom does the same), and then instead of ordering the attack he salutes the Raalgon commander. The fleets pass each other and the conflict is resolved with no losses.
- The first half of the third part of the Chuunin Exam in Naruto consisted of a series of knockout battles to halve the contestants. The penultimate three battles were Naruto vs Kiba, Hinata vs Neji and finally Lee vs Gaara (which lasted three episodes, caused several minor earthquakes and ended with the grievously injured Lee being carted off to hospital). The final battle was between Choji and Dosu—so short it was embarrassing.
- Lee had hoped that he would not have to go last, and was thus overjoyed when his turn came because he, through reverse psychology, hoped that it would not to make it happen, providing some justification for the most intense battle being the penultimate one.
- The ending to the animé adaptation of Chobits drastically differs from the manga and many animé fans feel that it was anti-climactic.
- Watchmen: "I did it 35 minutes ago." Long story short, without giving too much away: the way things end up going, none of the characters you've really been following constantly for the entire run end up having any kind of impact at all. The message has also lost the potency it might have had at the time, too, since Real Life history proved wrong a lot of the assumptions it was based upon, like the permanence of the Soviet Union, or the inevitability of nuclear war if concessions weren't made.
- The nuclear war only started because the soviets were scared shitless of America's own Physical God Doctor Manhattan, and with good reason.
- Every fight scene in the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Especially the way that The Dragon and the Big Bad were killed. The Dragon practically just lets her kill him, then the Big Bad shows about as much skill with a katana as a drunk sloth before he also gets killed in an anticlimactic way. While both were ostensibly played for comedy, it makes one wonder why the other slayers have been completely incapable of killing them.
- Not that the tv series didn't have this problem from time to time. Perhaps because of Girls Need Role Models, as the show goes on, it actually starts to become surprising when a villain actually manages to land a good solid hit on Buffy. Indeed, the shock of some episodes ( especially "School Hard", "Fool For Love" and "Dirty Girls"/"Empty Places") comes entirely from how rare it is for Buffy to meet anything close to her match in a fight.
- The horror-comedy Idle Hands has a hilarious Anticlimax ending. The plucky teen heroes are trying to save their friend from demonic sacrifice, when the Action Girl suddenly arrives and skewers the possessed hand with her magic knife. It writhes for a second then disappears in a little puff of smoke. Seth Green Lampshades it, saying something like, "What, that's it? No explosions? No hellfire? No WRAAARGH? Don't get me wrong, I'm glad everyone's okay, but... that was weak!"
- The ending of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The heroes are about to storm the castle and take the holy grail... and then the budget for the movie ran out. They never shot the epic battle that was intended. Instead, everyone gets arrested.
- The ending of the film Next. It is revealed that half of the movie was a vision of the future, where the nuclear bomb did go off. The film ends with Cris joining up with the FBI to stop the events of his vision from happening. To say audiences felt cheated by this would be an understatement.
- Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare would have been a lot more climactic if Freddy hadn't just walked away from Final Death five films in a row without so much as even a flesh wound. Of course, it was kind of Vindicated by History in the sense that they didn't continue the main franchise, but still...
- The ending of the 1993 Michael Crichton novel adaptation Rising Sun sets up a great climax, as Lieutenant Smith (Wesley Snipes) and Captain Connor (Sean Connery) finally confront the man who murdered a high-priced call girl in an office tower. They confront the suspect, a sleazy lawyer, who manages to escape and run away. The detectives follow him, setting up either a great fight scene or a shocking twist where one of the pair dies...then the audience learns that he's been thrown into a pool of wet concrete by low-level Japanese thugs. Offscreen.
- The apparent "climax" of Spy Kids 2 is a Professional Wrestling style fight between Antonio Banderas and Mike Judge, complete with everyone else shouting advice from the sidelines. Seriously.
- In Star Wars Episode III, Obi-Wan's "encounter" with the Magna Guards that occurs shortly before his fight with Grevious. You see droids which are said to be able to kill Jedi preparing for a fight and then he simply drops a big block on them.
- And then the fight with Grievous himself is worse.
- The Novelization makes both better; Obi-Wan defeats the Magna Guards outright through agility and guile. Grievous himself is a respectable challenge for Obi-Wan in the Novelization, nearly overwhelming his defenses with his sheer speed and power.
- The Cartoon makes this worse and better simultaniously. In the Cartoon Grievous could handle squads of Jedi by himself (the worse), but watch the end of the cartoon and you can see Grievous take a serious blow that explains his less than stellar movie appearance.
- And then the fight with Grievous himself is worse.
- No Country for Old Men: The main character gets killed offscreen, the other main character retires, the villain gets away with just a broken arm, and we never find out for sure what happens to the money.
- A few of the Hammer Dracula films have this problem. The worst offender is probably Taste the Blood of Dracula, which ends with Dracula stumbling into a chapel by accident and collapsing to dust because of the holiness surrounding him, rather than the usual uber-violent burning or impaling scene that most of the movies opted for.
- The 2007 film Stardust. The Big Bad and the Hero are all set up for a climactic final fight when the heroine decides she loves the Hero enough to flash the big bad to death. Apparently all-powerful evil witches are weak to bright light...
- To clarify, the witch was "flashed" with the power of a star.
- It could be worse. In the book, the witch just gave up earlier in the story.
- The ending of Kill Bill. While there was some great dialogue between the Bride and Bill, many people were expecting a kick ass fight scene. Blink for a second, Bill is dead.
- It's usually interpreted as highlighting the emptiness of revenge - The Bride's journey to Bill was exciting and full of brilliant fight scenes, but the actual act of taking revenge was unfufilling, over too quickly and didn't provide a neat finish to her struggle.
- The 1993 movie Wizards set up an epic conflict between the armies of darkness and the forces of good, building up to the fight between the heroic wizard of light and his arch nemesis when the good guy pulls out a hand gun and shoots the bad guy, avoiding the promised epic magical duel.
- At the end of Diggstown, after "Honey" Roy Palmer has beaten "Hammerhead" Hagan in the climax, it is revealed that he must now fight Menoso Torres, who is "tough as nails" and "dirty as they come." Of course, it turns out that "dirty" in this context means in the pay of Palmer's manager, who immediately order Torres to take a fall.
- In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, after Scott defeats Gideon Graves, he is faced with "Nega-Scott," the personification of every negative and evil trait he possesses. They face off offscreen, and end up as friends. (In the comics, the encounter happens prior to the final battle)
Knives: What happened?
Scott: Oh, nothing. We just shot the shit. He's a really nice guy. We're gonna get brunch next week.
- Most of the plot threads in Mulholland Drive have no conventional payoff.
- In the movie Equilibrium, the battle between Taye Diggs and Christian Bale has been led up to the entire movie. In a previous training sequence, they've been shown to be an even match. Taye Diggs dies in a single move. It's actually pretty awesome, though.
- The 2005 Fantastic Four movie is often criticized for seeming like this. Dr. Doom is now a metallic being with lightning energy surging through his arms. How do the Fantastic Four stop him? Surely they would have to do something to put this power mad villain through hell. Using their all of their powers, the heroes... freeze him by turning him into a big metal statue. Movie over. Roll credits.
- Across the Nightingale Floor ended with the protagonist heroically fighting his way into the villain's inner sanctum, only to discover that he's already dead. Later, in Brilliance of the Moon, the climactic final battle is completely averted when the leader of the enemy army gets shot just as the battle is about to begin. Lian Hearn seems to be fond of this trope. It did show the Big Bad's death, and arguably the heroic fighting could be considered the climax anyhow. May count as a subversion.
- The climax of the big fight in American Gods is anticlimactic. Shadow says 2, maybe 3, sentences and everybody leaves quietly.
- Good Omens: Just when it looks like the Apocalypse has been averted, a mighty rumble from underground signals that Crowley's boss isn't going to let this go easily. Crowley and Aziraphale arm themselves for the final battle, exchange speeches, change into their true forms, and the human characters decide to join them in the upcoming fight... then Adam waves his hand and suddenly there's no battle to be fought. Everything's back to normal now and the characters can get on with their lives! This is a deliberate form of Anticlimax, as Adam using the supernatural powers given him by his own father to send him away and deny him even his Roaring Rampage of Revenge is part of Adam's own Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Ivanhoe ends with the big trial by combat to determine the fate of Rebecca. Brian DuBois-Guilbert, the invincible Templar, is facing Wilfred of Ivanhoe, the only man to have unhorsed him (but who is suffering from a crippling wound that has laid him up for most of the book so far). The horns are sounded, the horses charge, lances are leveled... and Guilbert drops dead of a heart attack. Of course, in the book it's a thinly disguised metaphor for his guilty conscience at all the evil things he's done overcoming him—he would have obliterated Ivanhoe, dooming Rebecca to an unjust death. After this, the Templars grumblingly but freely accept the verdict, allowing Rebecca and Ivanhoe to go free. Not surprisingly, the movies play it straighter, with a brutal climactic fight to the death followed by Ivanhoe taking on all the Templars at once, thus Completely Missing the Point.
- Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. After an exciting sword/gun battle, the Protagonist, the heavily armed Mooks and cops pile onto their respective motorcycles, pickup trucks, and cop cars, and after that "it's just a chase scene." The next chapter has Hiro arriving safely at his destination.
- The conclusion of the Twilight series. The end of Breaking Dawn seems to be leading up to a violent confrontation that was set up two novels previous between the protagonist vampire clan, the Cullens and their allies, and the vampire authority known as the Volturi. Instead of fighting, the immortal vampires with dozens of superpowers between them choose to talk out their differences and come to a diplomatic solution. Quite a letdown, considering the genre.
- The genre is Romance with some adventure/action/horror on it. As long as the characters get their happy endings, she is following the genre. However I wanted a fight too, so disappointed.
- Expecting anything other than a Romantic Plot Tumor from any Twilight book will result in a let-down for the reader.
- Meyer said she wanted the ending of Breaking Dawn to be a chess master-type battle, mental and not physical. The let-down is more that instead of actual battle of wits, the Volturi simply run off when Alice provides a Deus Ex Machina, especially after about six or so chapters of the Cullens repeating how the Volturi would use any excuse possible to kill them and probably wouldn't even listen to their witnesses or evidence.
- The first book sets up a trend of anti-climaxes: Big Bad James kidnaps Bella and his cohort Laurent won't go up against the insane, genius hunter, even with seven other vampires. A big chase is enacted to save Bella, and she's thrown around a bit. Then, just as Edward arrives with his posse and it looks like we're going to get a kickass battle . . . Bella, the POV, blacks out and we don't see anything.
- This is nicely subverted in the movie. While the camera is focused on Bella, the audience can still see Emmett and Jasper subduing James in the background, while starting a fire and excitedly burning him. Also, we get to see Alice rip off James' head. Beautiful!
- The book Casino Royale has the villain Le Chiffre torture Bond, but before he can kill Bond off he is killed by a SMERSH assassin—at the end of the second act.
- This only seems strange after the later tradition of grand Bond vs. villain plots. The central conflict in the first novel is whether Bond will decide if being a spy is "worth" the torture, solitude, pointless involvement, etc. The (traditional) climax is actually Vesper's double-agent betrayal and suicide.
- Lawrence Watt-Evans uses this trope very, very deliberately in The Annals of the Chosen—as usual for Watt-Evans, This Is Reality, and the death of the first book's villain is less an honorable battle than an execution.
- The Left Behind series has an anticlimax ending for the ages. The only two heroes left are dying, Carpathia's armies are storming the walls of Jerusalem, resistance is rapidly crumbling and there is no chance of turning the tide. Suddenly, Jesus! The stage is set for a titanic showdown between The Messiah and the Antichrist and his armies. Then Jesus opens up a hole in the ground leading to a fiery pit of eternal damnation and Carpathia jumps right in with a devil may care attitude. Presumably saying something like, "Alright, good game, guys. Time to pack it in. We had some fun the last seven years though, didn't we?". On top of this, Carpathia's Dragon jumps in right after him, plugging his nose as if jumping into a swimming pool.
- Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: The final battle between Harry and Voldemort: The fight is literally just Voldemort throwing one killing-curse at Harry, and Harry throwing a disarming-spell at the same time which causes said killing-curse to backfire and kill Voldemort instead.
- To be honest, though, this one is justified. Voldemort only had eyes to kill Harry, and would only need one Killing Curse. The wand he was using wasn't his to use, as it belonged to Harry, and so it would not kill its own master. There's also that and the fact that Harry can't die while Voldemort lives. But that aside, if one considers the whole Battle of Hogwarts the climax, then it sure is one hell of an aversion.
- Stephen King's The Dark Tower has dozens of storylines which almost all end in anticlimax. The most notable is the fight between Roland and the Man in Black. Their conflict is resolved when the Man in Black is eaten by Mordred near the beginning of the final book. He is never mentioned again despite the fact that Roland spent the entire first book chasing him.
- Charles Palliser's The Unburied. The solution provided by Courtine to the mystery is so elegant that it deserved to be investigated further and either proved or disproved. The whole book is an account of how an innocent man went to the gallows, sent to his family to explain what happens, but the novel itself promises a lot more in the way of an Exotic Detective story and fails to deliver. The Framing Device just feels like an afterthought, and the Romantic Plot Tumor, probably pretty irrelevant to the intended recipient of Courtine's account, is also left unresolved.
Live Action TV
- A scene in the series four finale of Doctor Who shows a mysterious hand with red nail varnish picking up The Master's ring, accompanied by a sinister female laugh. Fans went into overdrive speculating who it could be, most suspecting The Rani, a fellow renegade Time Lord (or Time Lady). It was finally re-visited two whole years later, and the identity turned out to be a character we had never seen before, and who died moments after her introduction.
- Still, at least nobody guessed the identity. For obvious reasons.
- The final battle in the first season of Heroes. Over half a season was spent teasing the audience for an epic showdown between the lead villain, Sylar, and main character Peter Petrelli. In every case leading up to the finale, the writers either ended the interaction between Sylar and Peter suddenly (during their second altercation, Peter is stabbed in the head after a few seconds) or takes place offscreen (as seen in "Five Years Gone"). The NBC promos hyped it to no end. A lot was riding on the epic showdown at Kirby Plaza.... until it happened. Everyone took turns whaling on Sylar (including Nikki/Jessica, who beats on Sylar with a parking meter). The fight ends with Hiro teleporting in, with his sword stuck out in front of him, landing the final blow. Sylar and Peter had a complete assortment of powers at their disposal, and never used them. A complete letdown.
- Still better than the season 3 finale, in which the over-hyped battle between Peter and Nathan vs. Sylar takes place behind closed doors and all you see is Claire's eye!
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Twisted," the Negative Space Wedgie that is warping the ship and everything and on it (and incapacitating the crew) is really a bunch of aliens trying to say "hello." And there is no harm done and no reference to these events ever again.
- Walker, Texas Ranger often has anticlimactic endings to episodes, and in many ways the final episode itself was. Many villains are built up to be very sinister and frightening, only to be beaten with a punch or two. One villain was even defeated off screen, only referenced with a throw away line. The final episode tried to build up the villains' evil by having them kill off a few characters (only one of those characters was a main character, and it was a retcon anyway, as he had been dead for most of the season,) but the parallel story being told about Hayes Cooper not only made the main story quite short, the villains still didn't have anywhere near the setup many other recurring, multi-part episode, or even some one-time villains did. After the dream episode in which Trivette and Walker are killed before the cavalry arrives to presumably end the threat, a biker gang isn't very epic for a final episode.
- in Power Rangers Time Force, Ransik's entire army has been destroyed, his last giant robot has been destroyed, and the rangers move to face him. He blows them away, then goes after the last standing member Jen. So how does the series end? Not in a hopeless and brave final battle between the wounded rangers and Ransik, but when Ransik realizes he almost killed his daughter, and surrenders to the rangers. On the flip side though, Linkara commented that though it's "rather anticlimactic for this whole big series, but I give it points for being something other than just a big battle." And lord knows, we always get those in Power Rangers.
- Smallville hyped for its season 8 finale a battle between Clark and Doomsday with lots of tension about how Clark could die. The battle was 3 or 4 minutes, mostly off screen and Clark was just fine afterwards.
- Savvily averted in Frasier. The writers intended for Maris to be shown and/or heard at some point in the series, but after realizing that the character they had built up was so outlandish and monstrous that no writer or actress could do her justice and would just end up as a big letdown for the audience, they decided to keep her offscreen to the end instead.
- Typical problem in the championship rounds of robot-fighting shows, specifically Battlebots. Tournament rankings are such that the most favored to win will only meet late in the tournament... when the overall damage of fight after fight after fight severely limits their awesomeness.
- The Amazing Race suffered from this in the last episode of Season 19. Of the three teams who arrived in Atlanta on the same flight, third-place Amani and Marcus effectively eliminated themselves immediately by taking far too long on the first task. Jeremy and Sandy suffered from a miscommunication with a local who inadvertenly directed them to the suburbs instead of the correct destination downtown. As a result winners Ernie and Cindy had an enormous lead by the midpoint of the episode, completing the last task and leaving for the Finish Line before Jeremy and Sandy even arrived to start the last task. This robbed the finish of all suspense.
- Played with to a ridiculous extent by Five Iron Frenzy at their final live show. In the middle of the show, Reese Roper went into a long monologue about how he hated the practice of bands saving their best song for the encore, then announced instead that FIF would play the best song they ever wrote, right then in the middle of the show. It would be all downhill after that, and the fans could all go home early. And then "the best song they ever wrote" turned out to be this.
- The first "real" loss of MMA fighter Fedor Emelianenko; After 32 wins and generally being considered unbeatable, he tapped out on the second minute of the first round against Fabricio Werdum.
- After cutting a bloody swath through Europe, breaking the back of the Western Empire and the Eastern's purse, Attila turned back after a chat with the pope, and died of a nosebleed a while later.
- Obviously, any Anticlimax Boss (and many instances of The Man Behind the Curtain), as well as A Winner Is You, is an example of this.
- Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer has a staggeringly bad example of this for good-aligned characters. Throughout the entire campaign, you are told about how the Wall of the Faithless represents everything that is pointlessly cruel in the Gods' grand design. Slowly but surely you go about an epic quest to cast down the wall and rescue the tortured souls trapped within, culminating in an assault on the realm of the dead itself. Upon tearing apart the God of the Dead's city and making your way to the wall, the God of the Dead himself appears before you... and reveals you only got that far because he secretly pitied you. What's more, he's decided you've done enough damage and won't let you destroy the wall, despite admitting how evil its existence is. By this point in the game you are quite literally strong enough to kick his ass and do it anyway, and you can tell him so... But it won't change anything, and he just says But Thou Must! and sends you away. There is absolutely nothing you can do to stop him.
- Except that your character simply can't take on Kelemvor because he can quite easily kick you out of his home plane. The only way to fight him would be to take the ultra-evil ending where you become a world-devouring monstrosity. Intervention on the part of Wot C also meant that no major canon-altering changes could be present in the end-game, even if the canon is poorly thought out in this respect (discussion of the Wall in most fora is basically Flame Bait).
- The GBC Video Game Remake of Dragon Quest III when you finally get all of the medals from all of the monsters, the Grandragon, the ultimate critter.... falls asleep.
- Fable II. The hero spends a great deal of time gathering other heroes and preparing to defeat Lucian. When the player expects a final battle of epic proportions, Lucian is defeated simply by holding the A button and letting a magical music box kill him, and then pressing either B, X, or Y to finish him off with a single hit. (Or not, and letting Reaver shoot him instead)
- Fallout 3 (just the game itself, not the expansion packs) does this in spades. The final mission (where you have to reclaim Project Purity) starts with a glorified escort mission, where you stay behind a giant robot as it guns down Enclave soldiers outside the Jefferson Memorial. The game then becomes a joke, as you find yourself facing a final boss (Colonel Autumn) who can either be put down in just a couple of hits, or persuaded (if your speech skills are high enough) to stop what he's doing. The entire game wraps up with a But Thou Must!-style decision, wherein you have to decide whether to kill yourself in a radiation-soaked control room or have your partner sacrifice herself for you. Despite the fact that you have a mutant that's immune to radiation, you can't use him (as he explains it's "your destiny") unless you have the Broken Steel DLC. The game finishes with a 60-second cut scene that doesn't explain very much about what happened, and if you really want to know more, you'll have to buy Broken Steel.
- To add insult to injury, Broken Steel retcons your Heroic Sacrifice into severe radiation poisoning that causes a short term coma instead of death. Sending your partner in, on the other hand, will actually result in her death.
- Spore: Steve, the Precursor who lives at the center of the galaxy, after an impressive-looking intro, turns out to be a cute Flying Saucer with a squeaky voice.
- A romhack of EarthBound known to most everyone as Radiation's Halloween Hack pulls this off in a frustratingly well-done manner. After spending a large chunk of the game in the hellish Magicant of the insane Dr. Andonuts and finally facing off with him, you suddenly snap back awake in his lab to find the recently deceased man sitting before you. Completely unfazed, you return home to go make out with hot chicks and get drunk. You're a bounty hunter, after all.
- F.E.A.R. actually subverts this when you encounter Paxton Fettel. The confrontation ends with you putting a bullet in his head, and then that's it. No huge boss fight, no giant final battle, nothing particularly....wait, what's that laptop....is that Harlan Wade.....what's he doi- OH SHIT ALMA'S LOOSE!
- Pokémon: Every legendary Pokemon fights ends in 4 seconds with the Master Ball, though it is that entire point of its existence. Not so if you want to capture it with a weaker ball, though.
- In two of the final missions of Supreme Commander, you get fire control over Black Sun at the end. Literally, a button appears on the interface saying "Fire Black Sun: End the Infinite War". Clicking it causes you to win. By this point, it should be noted, you've already wiped out all the enemies on the map.
- The Scout Tournament in Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker.You face three adversaries, one stronger than the other, and eventually face off your rival in a fight that made itself wait for the whole game up to there...and she gets disqualified for hitting your monster...victory is yours, no sweat broken.
- The manga adaptation of Kingdom Hearts pulls this full force at the end of the run. In the game's penultimate level, you fight Riku, Maleficent, Dragon!Maleficent, and Ansem!Riku, then you move on to the final level and fight Ansem, Darkside, Ansem again, then Ansem aboard his battleship. The manga adaptation of the game has absolutely none of these fights: Riku runs from the first fight, then he kills Maleficent himself, the possessed Riku then hands Sora the dark Keyblade so Sora can release his heart, and once they track down Ansem, he gives his speech, unveils his huge battleship, and is then destroyed by the light of Kingdom Hearts without Sora and friends doing a damn thing. The game had a total of eight boss fights in its final two levels and the manga skips all of them—so not only is the manga an anti-climax, it's a lot worse for anyone who played the game first and was expecting some epic fight scenes.
- In Yo-Jin-Bo, if you are paired up with them, Jin and Muneshige will get in a fight. Then Kasumimaru will show up and interrupt them before a real victor is decided. Presumably, this is to keep the player from knowing who is the better fighter (and thus being persuaded by it). Additionally, the Big Bad of the story is only confronted and defeated in the Good endings; in most of the Bad and Forgotten Dream endings, he's still at large at the end, although there is one instance in which he's simply captured and imprisoned offscreen.
- In The Ball, after the protagonist braves a myriad of deadly traps, fights off hordes of mummies and a handful of gigantic, vicious monsters, and explores a massive, terrifying, practically Lovecraftian factory at the center of a volcano, the aliens take their ball and go home. This is not a metaphor.
- In World of Warcraft, the goblin starter story. At the end when you and Thrall finally defeat Trade Prince Gallywix, who has so far screwed you out of your life savings, tried to enslave you, successfuly enslaved your friends and commited various other atrocities, you stand there intending to lay down some righteous retribution, right? Nope, Thrall has other plans for him, like letting him remain the trade prince without any real reprecussions for what he's done.
- In the Super NES version of Shadowrun, after a boss battle with The Dragon, the final dungeon essentially consists of several floors of enemies before a hacking sequence as the final playable part. Jake then guns down the Big Bad and his two bodyguards in a cutscene.
- Supernormal Step sets up an epic battle between Van and a monster who has kidnapped two women. However, when it turns out that the women are... working with with the monster, Van points out that the fight has been rendered pointless and walks off.
- There's another great moment when Jim reveals a Big Secret. Fiona reacts very rationally given the revelation.
- 8-Bit Theater is full of these. Indeed, Brian Clevinger has stated that his favorite jokes are on the audience. He even faked an ending twice (though the first was kind of exempt due to being on April's Fools).
- Of the four fiends, only one was not killed by someone who entered the scene in the same panel in which they killed the fiend and two of those had been presumed dead.
- In fact, the comic's ending turned out to be an especially epic Double Subversion. After delaying things for several months while assembled heroes and villains bicker pointlessly, we finally get what looks to be a suitably dramatic fight of the remaining Light Warriors squaring off against Villain Protagonist and apparent Final Boss Black Mage, followed by The Reveal of Sarda as the real Big Bad and a resultant Curb Stomp Battle leading to an apparent last-minute victory by Zany Plan. All very awesome. But then: Sarda turns out to have survived, only to be almost immediately killed by Phlebotinum Overload and Hijacked by Ganon. The last arc is a slow-paced Shaggy Dog Story centering around the Light Warriors trying and failing to amass enough power to beat the True Final Boss. In the end, they fail, and he's instead disposed of- offscreen- by a secondary character and a Brick Joke from one of the very first comics. All amidst several months fraught with drama-defusing Schedule Slip. "The best joke is played on the reader", indeed.
- The ending of Bob and George.
- Hedge of El Goonish Shive pulls this enough for it to be considered a Running Gag. Some examples can be seen here, here and here (complete with Lampshade Hanging via the titles).
- The ending of the miscarriage arc in Ctrl+Alt+Del. Seriously... weeks of exposition, then cue to Happily Ever After.
- "Blink" from CRFH: all of the main cast are at Vernon's mercy, two of the six are technically already dead, another two are dying, one is suicidal, and...suddenly we cut to Dave's Easy Amnesia-induced hijinks two months later, when he's living idyllically with Blue and everyone else is at least physically safe.
- Collar 6: Well, what else would you call this?
- In Tales of the Questor, the stolen sword arc ends with an epic battle between Quentyn and two gangs of street punks--- or it WOULD have...
- Done amusingly in Cheer when Agent 32 and Alex (transformed into a centaur for the occasion) fight off a horde of gnome-creatures. They burst into the gym to finish them off...to find it empty. "Well this sure is anticlimactic!".
- Spacetrawler. All the time spent building up Kuu-drahc as a major villain, and a personal rival to Emily, culminates with a Combat by Champion fight between the two of them. Suddenly, rocks fall, Kuu-drahc dies. All Emily can say is, "Oh, come onnnn..."
- Order of the Stick hilariously Lampshades this trope for the 600th strip.
- The Homestar Runner game Peasant's Quest involves you to try and defeat the evil Trogdor the Burninator from destroying Peasantry. When you get to Trogdor's cave, he's huge. You throw a sword, he wakes up from his sleep, explains that he's "kinda invincible", and burninates you. The game then congratulates you, saying "You didn't defeat Trogdor, but you got closer than anyone else! You win!"
- The finale of the Blood Gulch Chronicles, high drama and an exploding bomb on an escaping ship...
Andy: 3... 2... 1!
Pelican transport goes pop
Grif: Boo, no explosion. That sucked!
- Immediately followed by a massive fireball when Grif's back is turned, but the climactic moment is still lost.
- Done as a fakeout in Atop the Fourth Wall. The threat of Mechakara had been building for a good thirty or so episodes and Linkara takes him down with a single pistol shot before continuing his Youngblood #1 review. And then Mechakara gets back up at the end of the review. And then the fun starts.
- In That Guy With the glasses 2ND year anniversary event, Kickassia when Santa Christ arrives to bring harmony to everyone but the Nostalgia Critic accidentally kills him, the Critic gets people all over the world (including the user) to say "I believe in Santa Christ". Increasingly uplifting music is played as it gets closer to what might be a climax. In order to add to the comedy, Santa Christ stays dead and is thrown into a skip.
- In the final episode of The Animals of Farthing Wood, the confrontation between the rats and the other animals is brought to a conclusion when the rat's leader has his tail bitten off, and everyone laughs at him. Which, considering the rather darker battle that takes places in the books, is a little off the mark.
- Some feel that the fourth season finale of Winx Club was this. But since one of the Fairy hunters had been killed off earlier, in addition to the fact that their magic was weakening, it makes sense somewhat that the final battle between them and the fairies was finished off rather quickly, with the Fairy hunters being frozen and then falling into a chasm. And there were also a lot of sub-plots that had to be resolved somewhat.
- The Fairly OddParents: In "Wishology", Timmy needed Crocker's help to defeat the Darkness and Crocker would only help if Timmy admits he has fairies. Timmy complied. Crocker felt it was anti-climatic but, since he was "a man of my word", he helped.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: Some episodes were about Cree's plan to detach the KND moonbase from the moon and send it to the sun. In fact, the first of those episodes was about Cree stealing what she believed to be vital data for her plan but actually being fake data planted by her younger sister Abby. After finally reaching the moonbase, she was discouraged by Chad telling her he had recently tried (and failed) to do so and we never learned how the fake data would have ruined her plans.
- (Warning: Major spoilers before the joke is made.)