Elite Four

"The final four monsters always win. Even the ultimate masters are sent down to defeat. Prepare your excuse for losing!"
Dedar, Wario's Woods

In many cultures, particularly reflected in eastern works, Four Is Death. So it's only natural that a group of four should spell doom for their adversaries.

Historically, the name Shitennou (which translates into "Four Heavenly Kings") was applied to a samurai lord's four best men, which is the root of the "four subordinates to a powerful leader" trend in many Japanese stories. The Four Heavenly Kings themselves are Buddhist guardian gods of the four cardinal directions. In western works, four may be a nod to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to similar effect.

Popculture has taken both types of groups and expanded the concept to just mean an extremely powerful group of four, sometimes in the service of one even more powerful master. Because that technically makes five in total, this could also overlap with Five-Man Band or Five-Bad Band if the archetypes match up to those specific formations. Bear in mind there is a slight but noteworthy difference between a team of five with an internal leader, and a team of four with an external master, so while they may overlap they aren't one and the same.

The Elite Four also tends to overlap with Quirky Miniboss Squad. They may function as a Rogues Gallery such that each member gets a fair amount of screentime and development. Or you could just have to Run the Gauntlet and face them all at once.

The Elite Four are usually antagonists but they don't have to be evil. Occasionally even good guys will employ an Elite Four.


Examples:

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     Anime And Manga 
  • Beelzebub: The Tohoshinki are the collective title of Ishiyama High's most influencal delinquents and each of them has their own gang. Each Kanji of Tohoshinki represents the name of each member and they maintain the Balance of Power in their school and keep the other delinquents in check. Oga becomes effectively the school's banchou after defeating each of them in the first arc and they have become more or less his True Companions.
  • The God Hand in Berserk consist of four hyper-powerful demons that can only manifest in the physical realm every 216 years. Subverted in that while they start as four, the show's Wham Episode revolves around them adding a fifth member, Femto (Griffith), though he often does not interact with the other four.
  • In Bleach the Schutzstaffel are Yhwach's elite guard and consist of four exceptionally powerful Quincy: Pernida Parnkgjas, Askin Nakk le Varr, Gerard Valkyrie, and Lille Barro. They are strong enough to take down the Zero Squad themselves, bar Hyosube Ichibei, who is confronted by Yhwach himself, who themselves are stated to be mightier than the entire Gotei 13 collective. They all have the distinction of having bizarre and unfathomable abilities along with being nigh-unkillable, and become the last lines of defense from reaching Yhwach.
  • In Code Geass, the Japanese Liberation Front have the Shi Seiken, or "Four Holy Swords", a group of four highly skilled Knightmare pilots: Nagisa Chiba, Shougo Asahina, Ryouga Senba, and Kousetsu Urabe.
  • In The Devil Is a Part-Timer! the titular Evil Overlord appoints Emi, Chiho, Suzuno along with his other two surviving subordinates as new Four generals of the demon army. Yeah, all five of them.
  • In Digimon Adventure, the four Dark Masters are the bad guys of the final arc. We find out next season that they're the Evil Counterparts of The Four Gods.
  • In Fairy Tail, the Phantom Lord guild has the Elemental Four, each of whom has mastery over a different element. They serves as the enforcers to the guild's leader, Jose.
  • In Get Backers:
    • Ginji led a gang called VOLTS, and his direct subordinates were known as the Shitennō. They inspire equal amounts of terror and admiration among the population of Lower Town, and in the series proper are re-introduced to him and Ban as antagonists. According to one of them, Shido, the title "Shitennō" is for someone who has cheated death countless times.
    • Makubex attempts to duplicate their success with his "New Four Kings." After his Heel–Face Turn, one dies and the other just vanishes, leaving him with The Comically Serious and The Idiot from Osaka, plus his Team Mom.
    • Ironically, Kazuki, the least hostile of the four, has his own set of four subordinates who mirror the situation between Ginji and the Shitennō—including the aforementioned Comically Serious in Shido's place as the angry-but-ultimately-forgiving one. The aforementioned Team Mom mirrors Kazuki himself: clearly working against her former leader, but not directly threatening him.
    • Shido's Maryuudo tribe also boasts the four Shiki clans, which correspond to the four seasons. Their mortal enemies, the Kiryuudo, greatly fear the reunion of the four leaders, because it literally does mean death for them. Shido has the power to awaken hidden abilities to their fullest potential, and the other three have the powers of putting everything to sleep, healing, and instantly killing everything. They massacre the entire population of Kiryuudo pretty much in the blink of an eye.
  • Gintama:
    • In the Yagyuu arc, we have the top four of the Yagyuu clan, who are charged with protecting the main family: Toujou Ayumu, Nishino Tsukamu, Minamito Sui, and Kitaouji Itsuki. Although once the arc is over, only Toujou becomes a recurring character.
    • The ruler of Kabukichou district is a group of four influential figures, fittingly named the Shitennou. The members are: "Demon Mademoiselle" Saigou, the leader of the okama and is also a former warrior; "Peacock Princess" Kada, the owner of the largest casino in Kabukichou; "Grand Gentleman" Jirouchou, the leader of the yakuza; and "Empress" Otose, who is the landlady of the protagonists.
  • Gundam:
    • G Gundam uses this trope in a similar way as Sailor Moon, with the Dark/Devil Gundam having four principal minions known as the Four Heavenly Kings, with three acting as leaders for the Devil Gundam's various forces (Grand Gundam leads the army, Gundam Heaven's Sword leads the air force, and Walter Gundam leads the navy) with Master Gundam as the overall leader.
    • The Four Heavenly Kings have Expies in SD Gundam Force in the form of the Kibao Hoarde, the four elite generals of the villainous samurai lord Kibaomaru.
    • The Gundam Meisters themselves in Gundam 00 were a group that would wreck havok on all sides of every major armed confilct until they centered the hatred and military might of the whole world on themselves.
  • In Juuni Senshi Bakuretsu Eto Ranger, the fittingly-named Jyarei Four are Big Bad Nyanma's main subordinates and four of the most powerful opponents in the series. They're far more humanoid than the rest of the Jyarei Monsters, but individually are a bigger threat than most of them combined.
  • In Kill la Kill, Satsuki had an Elite Four who oversaw the organization of all of the clubs (Ira Gamagoori, Nonon Jakuzure, Uzu Sanageyama and Houka Inumuta). These four have the highest ranked Goku Uniforms after Ryuko and Satsuki herself and they are quite powerful in combat as a result.
  • The Quirky Miniboss Squad in Monster Rancher calls themselves the Big Bad Four.
  • Jokingly mentioned in My Monster Secret. According to Mikan, Nagisa, Shiho, Karen and Youko are known as the 'Complacent Four'. They even have their own Red Baron names, with Shiho being 'the Pervert' and Nagisa being 'the Runaway Train'.
  • Naruto: Megavillain Orochimaru sends his followers the Sound Four to retrieve Sasuke for him. The pursuit team of good guys sent after them, by contrast, are a five-man squad. (Which conveniently allows everyone on the team to face down a Sound Four member, with Naruto himself facing Sasuke).
  • One Piece:
    • The Donquixote Pirates has this built into their organization structure; they have 4 top executives that answer directly to the captain Doflamingo, and each top executives handles different matters and has 3-4 lower-ranked execs under their command. The four are named after the card suits: Diamante (diamond), Trebol (club), Pica (spade) and Corazon (heart), with Doflamingo using "Joker" as his alias.
    • In Skypiea Island, there exists the 4 Holy Priests of Skypiea that directly serve the Big Bad God Enel. They're named after terms in Buddhist myth: Satori, Gedatsu, Shura and Ohm/Omu.
    • The four strongest pirates in the world, who rule over the second half of the Grand Line (a.k.a. the New World) are called the Four Emperors. The original four were "Red Haired" Shanks, Kaido "of the Beasts", Charlotte "Big Mom" Linlin, and Edward "Whitebeard" Newgate. Later in the story, Marshall D. "Blackbeard" Teach kills Whitebeard and replaces him.
  • In Ronin Warriors, there are the Dark Warlords - Anubis, Sekhmet, Kale, and Dais - who serve as Talpa's generals.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Enishi's right-hand man's elite bodyguards are quadruplets explicitly named for the Four Heavenly Kings.
  • Sailor Moon:
    • The series manages a set of four lesser villains per story arc. The Amazon Trio are an exception, eventually followed by the more traditional Amazones Quartet. (In the manga, the Amazon Trio were Monster of the Week class and dealt with very quickly. The TV versions who get more screentime and characterization are in fact Ascended Extras.) The first set was explicitly called the "Shitennō".
    • There's another Monster of the Week promotion that gave one group two sets of these: First, the Four Phantom Sisters were the elite warriors of main villain Rubeus. However, Rubeus screws up enough times that the others reveal themselves: Rubeus, Esmeraude, Saphir, and their leader Prince Diamande are attacking Earth at the behest of the season's final Big Bad, their Treacherous Advisor Wiseman.
    • It is also shown in flashbacks to the Moon Kingdom, Princess Serenity/Sailor Moon and the four Sailor Soldiers were a "leader and four elite subordinates" group. Season two reveals that in the future, the current incarnation of the gang will be this for Crystal Tokyo, once an After the End world is pulled Back from the Brink and into prosperity by them; a happy ending even if they can't avert the disaster that will befall Earth as we know it in a few years.
    • In Sailor Moon Crystal, it's revealed that back during the days of the Moon Kingdom, Tuxedo Mask, then Prince Endymion, was served by his own elite four, who became brainwashed into being Queen Beryl's Shitennou.
    • Sailor Chibi-Moon will eventually have her own Elite Four as well, Sailor Ceres, Sailor Pallas, Sailor Juno, and Sailor Vesta. they were abducted by the Big Bad of the fourth season before they could awaken, and corrupted into the aforementioned Amazoness Quartet: individually known as Cere-Cere, Palla-Palla, Jun-Jun, and Ves-Ves.
  • Scrapped Princess has Cz, Steyr, Socom, and Galil, who make up the Peacemakers, a group of four incredibly powerful entities tasked with periodically wiping out the majority of the human race, in order to prevent humanity from developing past a medieval era. They are very good at what they do.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, the Spiral King had four elite generals who led his army. Each of them were based on The Four Gods and their names are a mashup of Nature Spirits and DNA nucleotides; each of them oversaw the oppression of the Human race in different war domains (land, sea, sky, and home defense).
  • In Toriko, the title character is one of the Four Heavenly Kings, the world's best Gourmet Hunters. The others are Coco, Sunny, and Zebra. They also each represent the five senses, with Toriko representing smell, Coco represents vision, Sunny representing touch, and Zebra representing hearing. Komatsu the chef completes the group, representing taste.
  • In Uchi No Maou Kamimasen Yo, Demon King Satan is the boss of the territory the characters live in. To challenge him for territory control, one must first defeat all of the Four Devas under him. Only one Deva has been revealed so far, Bifro the Zombie.
  • Violinist of Hameln has the four Mazoku Generals as acting Big Bads.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V: The Four Heavenly Dragons are this, each of them being owned by one Yuya and his counterparts. The dragons are central to their owners' overall strategy and each dragon has a couple of upgraded forms. They are much more dangerous when they combine their powers, either by just being present and playing with their individual strengths or by becoming one (either two dragons become one powerful dragon or all four become the ultimate dragon). Zarc combines himself with all Four Heavenly Dragons to become said ultimate dragon, Supreme King Dragon Z-ARC. While Z-ARC is already incredibly powerful, he also owns corrupted and powerful Servant versions of the Four Heavenly Dragons, who provide him incredible offensive options and protection while he also protects them by his mere presence alone.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's: In the Bad Future, the four last humans plan to change history and prevent the apocalypse from happening. All four of them serve as the biggest villains after the end of the Dark Signer arc, and against three of them, it takes the combined power of multiple duelist to defeat them. The one member who is defeated by the power of a single person is the Token Good Teammate of the team who pulls off a Mentor Occupational Hazard.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, the villains of the Maze City arc are the four rulers of Demon City, the Saint Beasts: Genbu the Stone Beast, Byakko the White Tiger, Seiryu the Blue Dragon, and Suzaku the Crimson Sparrow. They closely follow the symbolism of the cardinal directions: North (black / tortoise), West (white / tiger), East (blue / dragon), and South (red / phoenix).

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four are four humans that made a daring venture into space, where exposure to cosmic radiation gave them superpowers. Reed Richards, "Mister Fantastic," is the team leader and also The Smart Guy; Ben Grimm, "The Thing," is The Big Guy; Johnny Storm, "The Human Torch," is the Loveable Rogue / wildcard of the group; and Susan Richards, "The Invisible Woman," used to be The Chick, until John Byrne's run on the series promoted her to The Lancer.
  • X-Men villain En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse has his Four Horsemen, a group with varying membership due to replacing dead or defecting members. Depending on the story they range from mere Elite Mooks to Co-Dragons. A common thread across nearly every continuity is that Warren Worthington (Angel/Archangel) will spend some time as the Horseman Death.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
    • In the original Mirage Comics, Splinter explicitly trained the four turtles to be elite assassins so he could exact his revenge on Shredder for killing Yoshi. In future adaptations he trains them for self defense from Muggles and in case the legacy of Shredder comes back to haunt them. Still, even after training April, and other regulars come on board like Casey Jones, the four turtles are set apart as the best and most central members of their team.
    • In some incarnations Shredder has his Elite Guard comprised of four foot ninja in special robes, wide straw hats, and unique weapons. In one of the games from the 03 series they faced off against the turtles with the weapon most similar to theirs. Leo fought the sword user, Don fought the lance, Raph fought the trident, and Mike fought the ax since they were the only two left.
  • The Disney Kingdoms take on The Haunted Mansion has a rule that ghosts of people who died within the Mansion's walls have a measure of control over the magic contained within, with this power being split up among four characters: Constance Hatchaway the black widow bride, Madame Leota, the Hatbox Ghost and Captain Gore the Pirate Ghost.

     Film 

     Literature 

     Live Action TV 

  • In Kamen Rider 555, the elite Orphnoch Dragons are a group known as Lucky Clover. However, they don’t follow the Sailor Moon villain formula because one (Mr. J, the Crocodile Orphnoch) is beaten early on and the fourth (Kitazaki, the Dragon Orphnoch) doesn't arrive until much later. As such, the Big Bad (the president of Smart Brain) and the three Lucky Clover members that are active at any given time are the four main villains of the series.
  • Kamen Rider Kiva has the same head writer. The Checkmate Four are the head honchos of the Fangire, and are the Big Bad and his three elite warriors. We even have the last to arrive being a Blood Knight who treats it all like a game, though Rook isn't quite the same flavor as Faiz's Kitazaki.
  • This happens in several Power Rangers and Super Sentai series: in the more Red-centric ones, there is The Chosen One and those four helpers he has 'cause The Merch says we start with five suits. A good example is Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, where Takeru is a modern samurai lord (except not really) with the other Rangers as his elite four. The Sixth Ranger is a bit more of a solo act existing outside the usual chain of command in these series (in the same example, Genta is an old friend of Takeru who trained independently from the others and created his own Transformation Trinket to become Shinken Gold.)

     Mythology and Religion 
  • The Four Heavenly Kings are a group under Sakra, the lord of the devas in Trayastrimsa. They serve to protect the domain from the Asuras and to protect the Buddha, his followers and the Dharma from danger.
  • Abrahamic mythology has 3 groups:
    • A common group of Archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel, these four are considered 2nd to God himself (with Micheal being his Lancer). And all 4 preside over the quarters of the earth.
    • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are harbringers of doom and destruction. they are fated to be unleashed at the beginning of the End Times. They are Anthropomorphic Personifications of Conquestnote , War, Famine, and Death and are named appropriately.
    • The Cherubim, also known as the Hayyoth or Living Beings, the four Angels at the four points of God's Throne. Each has four faces: a man's, a lion's, an ox's, and an eagle's. Like the Archangels, they are subservient only to God himself.
  • In Greek Mythology there were the four Titan Lords who were of higher rank than the other Titans and presided over the four corners of the earth. They consisted of: Krios, Titan of the South and the stars, Koios, Titan of the north and wisdom, Hyperion, Titan of the east and the sun, and Iapetus, Titan of the west and mortality. They were under the comand of the King of the Titans, Kronos.

     Video Games 
  • The Vicious Ones, the main antagonists of Beyond the Beyond, have four members (winged archer Dagoot, grotesque magician Yeon, and Big Bad Black Magic duo Ramue and Shutat).
  • Many enemies from Dark Souls have a four theme:
  • In Eternal Sonata, Count Waltz has four agents working directly under him: Legato, his right-hand man, Fugue, the big lug Tuba, the cruel and calculating Fugue and the Dual Wielding assassin Rondo. He actually has two other agents, Claves and Serenade, but both are spies and don't work directly under him.
  • The Final Fantasy series has a recurring group of enemies often referred to as the Four Fiends, sometimes the Four Elemental Fiends or Archfiends. They usually double as a Four-Element Ensemble, since the individual members are often associated with the elements of Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. The characters themselves vary, but some variant of the same "Four Fiends" team has appeared in Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IV (and its direct sequel, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years), Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Bravely Default (a Spiritual Successor to Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light), Final Fantasy Dimensions, Dissidia: Final Fantasy, and Final Fantasy All The Bravest.
  • Fire Emblem
  • God Hand: The 4 Devas are a group of baddies who's out to resurrect their master, the ancient demon Angra Mainyu, to take over the world. They are Belze (he has the highest pecking order of the four), Azel (the Evil Counterpart), Elvis and Shannon. Played with when there's the "5th Deva" in form of Dr. Ion; he's actually merely the 4 Devas' ally.
  • The Millenion crime gang in Gungrave has the Big Four, the elite members who answers directly from their leader, Harry Mc Dowell. They are Bob Poundmax, Balladbird Lee, Bear Walken and Bunji Kugashira. Brandon Heat, our protagonist, was once a part of the group until he died (and resurrected as Beyond the Grave) and Bunji, his apprentice, took his place.
  • The Four Heavenly Kings of Orochi in The King of Fighters, each with control over a different element. Orochi also has Four Earthly Kings, who are weaker and less prominent than the Heavenly ones; together, they form the Eight Heads of Orochi. The Hizoku (a ninja clan with suspicious motives) has its own set of Heavenly Kings - Lin, Sai, Ran and Chat.
  • The main villains throughout the Lufia series are the four "Sinistrals", also known as "divine beings" or simply gods. They are Gades, Amon, Erim and Daos, and apparently represent the evils of Destruction, Chaos, Death and Terror, respectively. They are ruled by another being known as Arek, who never interferes, and it's plausible that other divine beings may exist, but they never appear.
  • Before taking on the final boss of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Link must first defeat the Four Guardians, each of which is a boss that yields a Plot Coupon mask after its defeat, freeing the spirit of one of the Four Giants. Once all of the Giants are free, Link must summon them to hold up the moon and keep it from crashing into Termina. The Four Giants clearly take their inspiration from the Buddhist Four Heavenly Kings, each guarding one of the four directions to which Link must travel to free them—the Southern Swamp, the Northern Mountain, the Western Ocean, and the Eastern Canyon.
  • Mega Man
    • Mega Man Zero: Big Bad Copy X has his Four Guardians (literally called Shitennou in Japan), his 4 personal guards as well as generals of their own armies: Harpuia (the air force), Fefnir (the army), Leviathan (the navy) and Phantom (the espionage and intel unit).
    • Averted, due to resource limitations, in Mega Man X2. The X-Hunters were supposed to have a fourth, female member, but neither she nor Violen's second form made it into the game.
  • The Malice Four in the NES Ninja Gaiden.
  • The four Knights of Danika in OgreBattle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber. You can also get a maximum of four Black Knights.
  • The Four Devas in the original Ogre Battle.
  • The English version of Pokémon is the Trope Namer, a localization of "Shitennou" or "Four Heavenly Kings".
    • Each and every game has the player's journey to the league end with beating the Elite Four, a group of 4 powerful trainers, second only to the Champion in terms of skill. After beating them you get to face the resident champion himself and take the title, ending the plot. Also, while in the games they are almost universally seen as heroic or ambivalent, in the manga adaptation Pokémon Special the Kanto Elite Four want to wipe out humanity.
    • In Platinum, Cyrus has four Commanders under him.
    • There are also four Team Rocket Executives in HeartGold and SoulSilver, and earlier a group of Four Rocket Brothers in Red and Blue.
    • In XY, Team Flare leader Lysandre has four female scientists.
  • River City Ransom has the Zombies, a faction of the Plague comprised exactly of four members. In the Japanese version, they were known as the Shitennō.
  • In Street Fighter II, after beating all the other characters, the player then got to challenge Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison, who form the "Four Devas" of Shadaloo. The series introduced more members to the organization later, but the only change to the four is F.A.N.G. taking Sagat's place when the latter left.
  • In Summoner the role of Emperor Murod's Dragon is filled by the Four Riders: The Serpent Rider, the Tiger Rider, the Ghost Rider and the Phoenix Rider.
  • Super Metroid calls attention to its four strongest bosses (excepting Big Bad Mother Brain) with a golden statue of the four clustered together that blocks the entrance to the final level. While the group is not explicitly given a name in the game, some sources refer to them as the Four Guardians (Kraid, Phantoon, Draygon, and Ridley).
  • In Tales of Xillia, King Gaius has a group of four elite generals known as the Chimeriad, all of whom are faced as bosses at various points in the game. They are Jiao, Wingul, Presa, and Agria. They also double as a Four-Element Ensemble, since Jiao specializes in earth, Presa specializes in water and ice, Wingul specializes in air and electricity (and dabbles in fire), and Agria specializes in fire.
  • In the first Tokyo Xtreme Racer game, there are two Quirky Miniboss Squad racing teams whose name starts in "Four" (Four Devas and Four Devils), consisting of four members each.
  • In Touhou, the Oni have the "Four Devas of the Mountains", who went their separate ways when they left the Outside World for Gensokyo. Suika Ibuki and Yugi Hoshiguma are confirmed to be Devas, while Kasen Ibaraki is strongly implied to be the third.
  • In Wild ARMs, the leaders of the Demon army are called the Quarter Knights. Wild AR Ms 2 follows this up with a four-member Recurring Boss squad known as Cocytus, who become the party's main antagonists for the first half of the game.
  • Half-Minute Hero: Discussed Trope (and Enforced Trope) in Evil Lord 30 Mode, as EvilLord believes that he is not complete without a Fabulous Foursome and goes out to recruit them.
  • Half-Minute Hero 2: The Second Coming: The Four Ultimate Kings.

     Web Animation 

     Webcomics 

     Western Animation 
  • Hades from Disney's Hercules looses the Titans from their prison deep within the Earth, using their vengeance against Zeus to engineer a coup d'etat. Four Titans: Lythos (earth/rock), Hydros (water/ice), Pyros (fire/lava) and Stratos (air/wind) advance upon Mount Olympus, while a fifth Titan, Arges (a cyclops with no elemental affiliation) keeps Hercules busy. Apparently poor Arges isn't coup d'etat material.
  • Card-Carrying Villain Optimatus from Loonatics Unleashed freed four select villains in the Loonatics' Rogues Gallery from prison capsules, to occupy / overrun the Loonatics while Optimatus engineers a coup d'etat on planet Blanc. The four Optimatus selects are Massive (The Big Guy), Mallory Mastermind (The Smart Guy), Weathervane (Berserker), and Sypher (Subversive).
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