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 can work well if it's clear that the subversion of audience expectations is the point, either for humorous purposes (such as the Anticlimax Cut) or as a more serious commentary on the genre of the work. If the Anticlimax is unintentional, however, or if the author's purpose just isn't sufficiently clear to the audience, the result is serious audience frustration. Use caution.
Compare No Ending. For anti-climactic deaths, see Dropped a Bridge on Him.
Examples, which are somewhat spoilerish:
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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 Anti-Climax, a subversion thereof, or some kind of combination is up for debate.
The 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.
Pretty much all the regional Evil Teams suffer from anti-climatic endings.
In Kanto and Johto, Team Rocket never forced a final confrontation.
In Hoenn, Team Aqua and Magma's two-part finale suffered from a rushed pace and horrid animation.
In Sinnoh, Team Galactic had Cyrus disappear and had no actual final battle apart from Brock's Croagunk defeating Saturn's Toxicroak in one hit from out of nowhere.
In Unova, Ghetsis never battles with Reshiram, who is brought back to his senses with one shot from Pikachu. The promised Reshiram vs Charizard battle never happens either, though that could be a case of Never Trust An Opening.
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 X1999 movie between Messianic Archetype 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, Aizenattacks 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.
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 Anti-Climax 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 anime fans feel that it was anti-climactic.
The Aincrad arc in Sword Art Online is based on the premise of a death game, but aside from few early casualties noone of importance dies, and the final boss battle is over in blink of an eye and the big bad is forgiven without suffering any consequences. Besides dying.
The finale of Digimon Adventure ends up being this due to the characters finally meeting the Big Bad of the series and then completely beating him in the next episode, right after he's been introduced.
In Hunter × Hunter, Gon spends the entire series searching for his father Ging. When he finally makes his first present-day appearance, he's just shown talking with the fellow members of the Zodiac with no build-up or fanfare whatsoever.
Even better, the Zodiac itself gets a huge build-up, culminating in a two-page spread of them walking towards Hunter HQ. Except that they're all facing away from the reader, so it's impossible to tell that one of them is Ging.
In Umi Monogatari, there is no final battle, as Sedna's nature and the accompanying sorrow is accepted by the islanders rather than sealed away. There is, however, an emotional battle to save Urin.
In the The Superman Adventures issue "Jimmy Olsen vs. Darkseid". Seconds after Jimmy breaks Superman out of Desaad's bindings and reverses the body swap, the lord of Apocalips himself shows up. The two heroes brace themselves for a battle, only for Darkseid to tell them he doesn't want to fight Superman now and let them go home.
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.
Played straight in "Pug" - after a lengthy sequence where the duo attempt to find the titular dog and the MTM, it turns out the MTM was in one of the holes Calvin and Hobbes had dug, and Tug had come in the house earlier.
In Robo Bando every single fight is one expect for Chapter 4 and 6.
A Delicate Balance: After six chapters of buildup, Twilight finally gets the nerve to ask Applejack whether or not she's willing to go out with her. Applejack's answer? "I don't know". It isn't for two more chapters that Twilight actually gets a definite response.
In the Total Drama story, Legacy, the show's producers scrap the final episode's scheduled jury vote in an attempt to avert a major anti-climax, as they can see that one finalist has only token support at best. A winner-take-all final challenge is substituted.
In The World's Greatest Chunin Exam Team, Team Terumi faces a "super-powerful" team from Kiri who was hiding their abilities in order to get revenge on the Fourth Hokage for killing their parents in a border skirmish years before Naruto was born by killing his son. They boast about how they deceived their jonin-sensei and their peers, and how they are the genius users of extinct bloodlines. B... has them beat in fifteen seconds. This is lampshaded by Naruto and justified by Gaara, who points out how their deception worked against them, as because of their facade they were never given any tough missions or training. Self-training can only get you so far, causing them to lack any experience that would make them any sort of a viable threat to a team of three S-Class shinobi.
Minor one in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Major Toht pulls out a device made of wood and chains, and is obviously about to torture Marion and Belloq. Then he folds it into a hanger and hands it to his henchman to hang his coat on.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana is incognito at a book burning, and when he tries to leave the massive crowd he's wadding through accidentally pushes him right in front of the Fuhrer himself. Hitler looks at Indiana for a moment, before taking a vital book out of Indie's hands, opening it... scribbling his name on the front cover, and handing it back to him.
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 Anti-Climax 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 Greenlampshades 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 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.
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.
It's also suggested by Connor that he may not have been the one who did it but merely took the fall, as expected in Japanese culture (except the lawyer was American).
In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, 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 simultaneously. 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.
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 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.
The 1994 unreleased The Fantastic Four had Doom step into the room and start doing some Evil Gloating over his enemies, only to realize mid-sentence that they'd beaten all his goons and escaped and he was only talking to himself. He took it surprisingly well:
Done deliberately in Gangs of New York: the epic showdown between the Natives and the Dead Rabbits is interrupted before it can even properly begin when the New York Draft Riots (which have been simmering in the background throughout the whole movie) finally explode and the Navy starts shelling Manhattan to quell them (yes, really). Amsterdam doesn't even get to kill his hated Arch-Enemy: The Butcher dies from a shrapnel wound.
In Iron Man 3 the Mark 42 flies into save Tony, only to hit the side of a crane and fall apart.
Subverted because Tony uses it to trap Killian, then tells Jarvis to blow it up.
Similar to Iron Man 2; when Rhodes brings the War Machine armor to Hammer for upgrades, Hammer installs a bunker-buster weapon he calls "The Ex-Wife"("It takes everything!"). During the final battle with Vanko, Rhodes launches the Ex-Wife, which promptly bounces off Vanko's chest and lands sputtering on the ground.
Tony: Hammer-tech? Rhodes: Yeah.
To be fair, though, all the other weapons on the War Machine armor except for the repulsors are also Hammer-tech, and they work pretty well.
Also, as the supplemental comic book (which also explains why Rhodes wasn't present in The Avengers) shows, his Ex-Wife was apparently the lone dud in the entire production line. Apparently it's not a case of Hammer-tech being lousy as much as it just not being the Colonel's day.
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.
Ivanhoe ends with the big trial by combat to determine the fate of Rebecca. Brian Du Bois-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.
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.
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.
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.
Zarquon coughed. He peered round at the assembled gathering. The stars in his eyes twinkled uneasily. He handled the microphone with confusion. "Er..." he said, "hello. Er, look, I'm sorry I'm a bit late. I've had the most ghastly time, all sorts of things cropping up at the last moment." He seemed nervous of the expectant awed hush. He cleared his throat. "Er, how are we for time?" he said. "Have I just got a min—" And so the Universe ended.
In the novel version of The African Queen, the protagonists' plot to destroy the German gunboat Königin Luise fails when the eponymous river barge is sunk by a storm. Instead, the pair is captured by the Germans and — given their pathetic condition — released into the custody of their countrymen, who have already contrived to bring their own gunboats to the lake, and sink the Königin Luise on their own.
The Season 1 finale's final fifteen minutes were mostly filler, as the top two teams got on two different trains, fifteen minutes apart, to the Finish Line, while Joe & Bill were still stuck in Alaska.
Despite being one of the more memorable seasons overall, Season 17 had an Anti-Climax over the last few episodes. Nick and Vicki wound up so far behind due to a six hour penalty that there was pretty much no suspense that the final three would be anybody but Brook & Claire, Jill & Thomas, and Nat & Kat. Then in the final leg, Jill & Thomas get lost halfway through the episode, while Nat & Kat so thoroughly dominate the final leg, it became pretty obvious that they were the season's winners.
They 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.
Season 22, Bates & Anthony got so far ahead they did not see another team after the midpoint of the episode.
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.
A scene in the series three 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The West Wing brilliantly subverts its tendencies for its characters to go on epic speeches in "Gone Quiet".
CJ: Can you answer it?
President Bartlet: "Why do I want to be President?" *sighs* I've been thinking about it for a couple of hours. I almost had it.
CJ stares blankly; episode ends
A few seasons of Survivor have had an anti-climax:
Palau: When Ian was voted out, it seemed pretty obvious that Tom had that season in the bag.
Exile Island - The two obvious winners (Terry and Cirie) finished third and fourth, respectively, leaving us with a final two of Aras and Danielle. This is a more subjective example - as the season wouldn't have been as predictable if the final two consisted of Terry or Cirie and one of the other two.
One World - About the time Toryzan is voted out, you can pretty much guess that Kim's going to win. The final episode was pretty much an Anti-Climax, since anyone can guess that Alicia and Christina are going out next, with only a legitimately interesting final immunity challenge and Christina's Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass moment to carry the episode.
Mythbusters tried to redo the JATO rocket myth, having a huge build up (both literally and thematically) till the rocket car was slowly approaching the ramp... at which point it just blew up on the ramp. The looks on everyones faces was so deliciously tragic.
Season 10 starts with another attempt at the rocket car. This time we get a result! The first car rolls after hitting the bump, the second car goes about 70 feet before hitting the ground and spiraling.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a big one in its season 4 episode "Fear, Itself". At one point of the episode, a fear demon is accidentaly summoned ... but it turns out the demon is barely the size of a hand and poses no thread at all.
The first two seasons of Longmire built up the fact that Walt would have to fight for reelection as sheriff against his younger, slicker and more political deputy Branch Connally. The election day finally arrives, both men give their final speeches and then Cady is in a serious car accident and both men forget all about the election to rush to her side. We only find out that Longmire won when the other candidate is told that he forgot to give his concession speech. The election is barely mentioned after that as the real climax of the second season begins.
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 old Swedish pop song Balladen om det stora slagsmalet pa Tegelbacken is about two gangs of young hoodlums from Stockholm, who meet in the middle of the city to have a huge fight. For four hours the two gangs stand around yelling at each other and waving their fists. Then, after four hours of nobody having the guts to actually start fighting, they turn around and go home again.
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 Wizards of the Coast 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 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.
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)
Cave Story: This can happen in the first fight with Balrog. When he asks you if you want to fight him with "that pea shooter of yours", one would think you would have to say "yes", but if you say no, he just leaves.
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. Additionally, Broken Steel allows you to use the mutant, but the resulting cutscene still calls you a coward for doing the smart thing.
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!
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 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.
This is a problem with the manga in general. If boss battles appear at all, they tend to be really lame Single Stroke Battles.
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.
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!"
Shin Super Robot Wars: After the final scenario, Ryuusei speaks for you all when he hopes that this really was the end, and that you're not going to hear the beep of another message calling you to battle. You do in fact hear a beeping, but it's just Watta's watch telling you all that it's time for tea. Ryuusei gives him a mostly good natured clunk on the head, which Watta's butler finally responds to in kind on Ryuusei's noggin.
Invoked in the "Sir Hammerlock" DLC for Borderlands2, having finally fought your way through hordes of savages to Professor Nakayama's hideout and defeating the Mad Scientist's ultimate creation, Nakayama himself emerges, and trips, falls down a flight of stairs, and dies without ever fighting you. At least you get to loot his lab afterwards.
In Pimp Lando, the Cliff Hanger ending of "Pimp 2K" (episode 6) is completely resolved before the titles roll in "Love Changes Every Pimp" (episode 7).
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.
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.
"Blink" from College Roomies from Hell!!!: 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.
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!".
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.
Dragon Ball Z Abridged has the Garlic Junior arc begin on episode 31. It also ends the Garlic Junior Arc on episode 31, due to the fact their plan relied on outmatching Mr. Popo. Like that was going to work.
The Ultra Fast Pony episode "Stay Tuned!" demonstrates how much a climax or an anti-climax depends on the context. It's an abridged version of the MLP:FIM episode "Party of One". In the unabridged "Party of One", Pinkie Pie thinks all her friends have abandoned her, and she grows increasingly unhinged until she discovers that her friends were actually organizing a surprise birthday party for her. That is a satisfying conclusion. In "Stay Tuned!", Pinkie Pie is a police detective investigating Applejack's massive criminal empire, and she grows increasingly frazzled as it becomes clear that all of her friends are in on the conspiracy. When Pinkie storms into Applejack's barn and demands an explanation... she discovers that her friends were actually organizing a surprise birthday party for her. That is an anti-climax.
Numerous joke Creepy Pasta will build a dark and spine-tingling atmosphere, then end with the phrase "...and then a skeleton popped out."
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.
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.
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.
The fourth season finale of Winx Club had the Winx beat the remaining Fairy Hunters relatively quickly and easily. 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. There were also several sub-plots that had to be settled.
In one episode of Celebrity Deathmatch, Johnny and Nick managed to get Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster together, and get them to fight to the death. The fight lasts precisely sixseconds.
In another episode, Genghis Khan is brought back from the dead to fight. However, it turns out he had his brain swapped with that of Mahatma Gandhi, so he just sits there looking scared instead of actually fighting.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's second season finale had Shining Armor and Cadance using a powerful shield to knock back the Changelings rather quickly after the latter proven themselves to be a threat by defeating Celestia and the main characters. It's pretty anti-climatic considering it came after an epic battle sequence. Even the episode doesn't know what to do next so it suggested "Uh... dance?" and after that climax, the ending turns back into your typical My Little Pony episode, without almost any acknowledgement that a wide-scale invasion happened, even when one character (a very important one at that) pops in and asked if they missed anything.
In the Hero Factory cartoon's 1st season finale, Big Bad Von Nebula is defeated when the Heroes ask him to guess which one of them is holding the device that can destroy Nebula's black hole — his old teammate Stormer or the rookie Furno. Nebula picks Stormer because he thinks he's selfish, but when Furno reveals that he has the devices, the supposed mastermind acts so shocked that he lets Furno chug the things into the black hole and then the Heroes simply snag Nebula's Magic Staff out of his hand and trap him in a pocket dimension. No fight occurs, and the other villains are also defeated very easily, despite coming off as near-unbeatable in previous episodes.
The climax of BIONICLE: The Legend Reborn, handled by much of the same team as the Hero Factory show, is often seen as this, with the dreaded Tuma turning out to be a stupid dragon, and the real Big Bad and the combined Bone Hunter and Skrall army being powerless against Mata Nui's Mask of Power and the other heroes' Elemental Powers. The novelization at least rewrites Tuma's defeat (Mata Nui used his size against him, instead of a battering a conveniently flashing and unprotected wound on Tuma's back) and gives some justification for the Skrall's sudden incompetence.
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.
Australia's Donald Bradman is widely considered to have been the greatest batsman in the history of cricket. He entered his last Test Match in an Ashes series with a test career average of 101.39. Unfortunately, he was bowled for a duck in his first innings in that match. Still, he only needed four runs from his second innings to ensure a final Test career average of 100 — to this day nobody else has come close. England promptly collapsed to an innings defeat so that Bradman never got to bat again. He ended his Test career with an average of 99.94.
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.
At the end of World War II, everyone expected to see Hitler pay for his war crimes. Instead, he shot himself. Though in the long run, the other part of the climax was, well...
Almost everyone thought the United States would win the Vietnam War easily. Instead the US troops left after over 10 long years of fighting and with the reputation of warcrimes outraging the international public. Only 2 years later after US withdrawl, the Vietnamese communists redeclared war on South Vietnam and won with practically no resistance.
The War in Afghanistan also is appearing anticlimatic. After occupying Afghanistan for 10 YEARS to find Bin Laden, it was discovered that he was actually in Pakistan. Even Bin Laden's death seemed anticlimatic for some because it took too long to find and kill him, AND AMERICANS ARE STILL IN AFGHANISTAN.
Every doomsday prediction is met with this, with Y2K and the 21st of December 2012 being the biggest examples in recent history.
The infamous Geraldo Rivera hosted a live broadcast of the opening of Al Capone's vault: after hyping it up massively, claiming that it could contain everything from bodies to compromising photos, the safe turned out to contain...nothing.
Comet ISON, after being hyped by the medias as being the comet of the century that could be brighter than the full moon... just disintegrated near the sun and disappeared.