In Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, the words for "four" (四) and "death" (死), despite being written differently, are pronounced similarly (somewhat like "sě" in Mandarin, "sei" in Cantonese, "shi" in Japanese, "tư" in Sino-Vietnamese, and "sa" in Korean). As a cultural trope, Asian works of media tend to treat the number the same way Western writers treat the number 13.
As a similar point of reference, building floors and apartments are (mis)numbered accordingly to omit the fourth floornote The US does the same with the number 13. Floors will go straight from 12 to 14, while the UK skips Rm13. or substitute the letter F for the numeral, and some Japanese people prefer to say "yon" (the kun'yomi for four) instead of "shi" (the conventional on'yomi).
Villainous groups of four are often given the name of Shitennō, a reference to the Four Heavenly Kings, Buddhist guardian gods of the four cardinal directions. Historically, the name Shitennō 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 (while you're more likely to see heroes in groups of three or five). That said, there's probably overlap with Five-Bad Band. (Unless, of course, The Leader is a samurai lord and his Five-Man Band are the Shitennō to him - Samurai Sentai Shinkenger comes to mind).
On an unrelated note, Christianity also has several examples of Four Is Death, with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the Four Last Things (Death, Judgment, Hell, and Glory). In Judaism, the number four is also prominent, some examples being the four worlds described in the Kabbalah, the four sons, the four horns of the altar in Daniel, the forty days of raining during the Deluge, and the four matriarchs (not to mention the Tetragrammaton, or four letter name—the written name of God YHVH).
Probably unrelated is the fact that 4 is the most common numeral at which Numbered Sequels peter out and are replaced with some subtitle instead. The Rule of Three may also be implicated.
Compare 108, Thirteen Is Unlucky and the Number of the Beast.
Note: This is not a repository for every time the number 4 just happens to appear (or for series where the fourth installment was particularly bad), this is for when the trope is consciously addressed.
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Anime and Manga
Sailor Moon manages a set of four lesser villains per story arc (the Amazon Trio are red herrings for the proper Amazones Quartet). The first set was explicitly called the "Shitennō".
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 Neon Genesis Evangelion, the fourth Evangelion unit (really the fifth unit if you count the prototype 00, but being called the 04 was all it took) disappeared into a Dirac sea during a startup experiment, taking a large chunk of the Mojave Desert with it. Also, Unit 03 — the real fourth Evangelion — got taken over by an Angel and had to be destroyed, nearly (and in the manga, actually) killing Toji too, who was, of course, the Fourth Child. And if that wasn't enough, Toji shortly prior became the fourth person that Hikari makes lunches for. Ouch. Unit-04 was always referred to as yon-gouki in dialogue. Even Rebuild does this.
In 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).
Later, Naruto's Superpowered Evil Side becomes dominant and goes into "kill everyone" mode when he grows four fox tails.
The Fourth Hokage spent the shortest time in office, a tenure that ended with him saving the village with a "Seal Evil" technique that required him to sacrifice his own life and seal his soul in the Death God's stomach, in eternal combat with the sealed Evil.
Meanwhile, the Fourth Kazekage seemed to be the worst thing to ever happen to Suna. He sealed a Tailed Beast in his son (in this case Shukaku, the One-Tailed Tanuki) which was already contained in a tea kettle. Gaara wasn't born yet and as a result the Kazekage's wife died delivering him. He then proceeded to alienate the boy from birth and when Gaara showed signs of being Ax-Crazy (like all of Shukaku's previous hosts) he ordered the poor kid's uncle (the only person up to this point who had shown any kindness to him) to assassinate him. And to top off his career, he got his face torn off by Orochimaru as a prelude to his village being used as cannon fodder in an invasion.
According to the Fifth Mizukage, the Fourth Mizukage was like this for the Mist Village, and is largely responsible for the "Bloody Mist" image held by most other countries. The fact that he was being mind-controlled by Madara note More accurately, Obito probably didn't help.
It's widely believed among the fans that, following the pattern, something seriously bad is going to inevitably happen to the stated-by-an artbook-to-be-the-Fourth Raikage (though maybe losing an arm was enough).
The Forest of Death's official title is the 44th Training Ground and has 44 gates.
The fourth stage of the Uchiha's Sharingan is the Mangekyo, which requires the user kill their best friend, and the fourth power of the Mangekyo is Izanagi, which allows the user to cheat death.
Sasuke was going to be the fourth body Orochimaru claimed before Sasuke thwarted Orochimaru and killed him, and before that, was going to be the fourth body Orochimaru had, including his original, before the Sound Four took too long and Orochimaru had to transfer prematurely.
The Kibao Hoarde of SD Gundam Force. Four elite Musha Gundams who protect Kibaomaru's castle. There's Bakuhamaru the Undefeated, Mokinmaru the Sword of Raven, Kijumaru the Battle Beast, and Haganemaru, the Iron Sphere.
One episode of Chobits deals with an apparently haunted Room 104.
In Bleach, Ulquiorra Cifer is the most powerful ghost Ichigo fights, leading Ichigo to initially assume he's number one. Not quite. He's ranked fourth.
He's also the only Espada with a second release state. Moreover, even the first release state of certain Espada is too powerful to be used under the dome of Las Noches, since it might tear the whole fortress down. Guess which Espada is the weakest to fall under that prohibition.
Also, Ulquiorra's general deathly appearance: pale skin, black hair, permanently cold-looking eyes with lines underneath running down his cheeks like tear marks... you get the picture.
The Eleventh Division's fourth seat is empty for both the superstition and because Yumichika thinks the kanji for "Four" is ugly.
Unohana Retsu, the captain of the Fourth Division is The Dreaded. She is also the First Kenpachi of the Eleventh Division, and the worst criminal to ever exist in Soul Society. Meaning that she was (and still is) worse than Aizen. Her actual name is Unohana Yachiru, the person Zaraki Kenpachi respected the most, and Yachiru's namesake. The name "Yachiru" means 8000 styles, referring to the fact that she has mastered every sword style in Soul Society. To top it all off, she is the inventor of the Art of Killing, which she plans on teaching to her tenth successor. She is probably the most blatant example in all of Bleach.
Moroboshi Ataru of Urusei Yatsura was marked out as a Cosmic Plaything by being born on the second most ill-omened day in the Japanese calendar, the thirteenth of April: 4-13. (This was also on Butsumetsu, the anniversary of the Buddha's death; the only unluckier day is April 4th, which is Four Is Death squared.) Additionally in the first episode, his jersey has the number 4 on it.
In episode 4 of FLCL, Naota gets beaned by Haruko during the 4th inning of the baseball game at the beginning of the episode. The umpire even shouts "dead ball!"
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, more than likely supposed to represent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, what with Gundams named God and Devil in the series.
Also worth mention is the fact that both Gundam 00 and Gundam SEED skip the obvious fours in their Gundam lineups (there is no GN-004 or GAT-X104). We then later find out what became of 004: it's hidden underneath GN-005, Tieria's Gundam Virtue. It's a girly looking Fragile Speedster down to the flowing red "hair" coming out of its head and is called Gundam Nadleeh, which is incidentally the word for people of the third, fourth, and fifth genders in Navajo culture, which only deepens the mystery of whether Tieria's a Gender Bender.
The second season of Gundam 00 seems to go to complete overkill with regards to the number four: it takes place 4 years at the end of the first season, the main Gundam Meisters are still composed of 4 members, the protagonist unit's designation number is 0000 and it is also the only 4th generation model at the start of the series. And if you want to take things further, the said unit is powered by two GN-Drives, one's from the very first (O) Gundam, while the other is from the protagonist's previous unit which is part of the third generation. Want to do the math? 1+3=? Guess. Oh, and the Innovades are four pairs, and it includes the Big Bad and Tieria.
In the 1000-Year Demon story arc of Zatch Bell!, the main bad guys our heroes have to get through to get to mastermind Zofis are the "Shitennō", the four strongest demons from last millennium's battle.
Claymores work in fours when participating in group demon-exterminating missions. In addition, when Number 6 (Claymores are ranked by power) lists the top five for her companions to watch out for, the only one to warrant emphasis and additional description is not Number 1 (by definition the strongest) but rather Number 4, who "cares nothing for the lives of her comrades or the lives of humans in general... A woman who lusts for battle and the blood spilled." The Number 4 to take over for her, Miata, is also little more than a Psychopathic Manchild, leading at least a few to conclude that all Number 4 Claymores are crazy.
There are powers of four all over Death Note... for obvious reasons. Take the Note's rules as one example: once a name is written in it, that person dies 40 seconds later. In addition, you have six minutes and forty seconds to write the details of the death after the name and cause - in other words, 400 seconds. One of the rules unmentioned in the series is that writing a name incorrectly four times in the Death Note by accident will grant the person who the user was trying to kill immunity to that Death Note. However, writing the name four times incorrectly on purpose will not only not render the target immune to that Death Note, but kill the user who wrote the name.
On a far more obscure note, Light's given name is spelt as "moon" (月). This has four strokes, which is ... crashingly unlucky and symbolic. Poor Light, doomed from birth.
On top of that, Mikami's office is number 4.
Also, Rem is Shinigami ranked number 4
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: In the 5th arc Guido Mista has a problem with the number 4. This is seen in not only his normal life where any time he is around anything that has 4 of itself he freaks out, but in his Stand which is six bullet-kicking creatures that have numbers on their heads... that of course skip the number 4. He himself said that whenever he is around the number 4 bad luck follows him. Ironically he is Italian, not Japanese.
Near the end of that part, after a bunch of people end up switching bodies... (It Makes Sense in Context) Guido accidentally ends up dropping four bullets on the ground. He begs another character to drop another, but then the villain attacks and kills Narancia. After that, the number of protagonists left is, in an instance of twisted humor, four.
Appears repeatedly in Weiß Kreuz: not only is Weiss, a team of assassins, made up of four members, so are three different groups of antagonists they go up against, and one team of allies. Sequel series Weiß KreuzGluhen, which re-forms the team into its fourth iteration, does not end well.
In Outlaw Star, the #4 Caster bullets are capable of killing the shooter if they fire them in succession. (As do the #9 and #13 bullets, both also being unlucky numbers.)
Usagi Yojimbo is actually an American manga, but takes place in feudal Japan. At one point the hero Usagi has to fight an infamous band of four assassins called... Shi. It is made explicit that this is an intentional pun on their part.
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.
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.
In the Rosario + Vampire anime, Tsukune arrives at the bus stop at 4:44 pm and is attacked by rivals for Moka's love. Later on, 4:44 pm is the scheduled time for his execution for being human.
Kuyou, the leader of the Student Police, is a youko with four tails.
In Soul Eater, weapon meisters use a form of spiritual telephone to keep in contact — the number for direct contact with Shinigami-sama is 42-42-564 ('shini, shini, goroshi' out loud — in other words, 'die, die, kill').
The 'shini' part gets used for Kid in the increase in the size of his soul - one scanlation translated Liz's comment as "42 soul-widths") and the Sanzu Line-enabled form for the Thompsons - Death Eagle .42.
This is also the other reason that Death Robbins ice cream has 42 flavors instead of 31. Ohkubo seems to really love this trope.
Lordgenome's four generals in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, who are also given a "Heavenly Kings" nickname. They are also named after DNA base pairs.
In .hack GU, Tri-Edge's mark looks like a stylized rendering of the Arabic numeral "4", rotated to its side (or mirrored, depending on how you look at it). The mark signifies those that have been killed by the enigmatic Tri-Edge, making the people that got killed fall into comas left and right.
In Code Geass R2, the first person with any screen time to die against Suzaku's new Lancelot Albion is the debuting Knight of Four. In the same series, the Valkyrie Girls, a group of pilots under the command of Luciano Bradley, are four in number- and they are the first to be killed by Kallen in the Guren SEITEN.
Tohdoh's "Four Holy Swords" are an example of Shitennō, though they aren't bad guys and they don't (all) die. In fact, they all survive the first season.... but only one of them lives until the end.
In D.Gray-Man a Level 4 Akuma could take on Generals easily and was close to annihilating the Black Order.
Though they haven't all had screen time yet, One Piece has four superpowerful pirates known as the Four Emperors (one of whom happens to be someone extremely important to Luffy) who act as a counterbalance to the Marines and the Seven Warlords of the Sea.
The 4th division commander of the Whitebeard Pirates, Thatch, was the only commander who met an unfortunate end before the present story.
PX-4 was the first of the Pacifista to be destroyed.
In the Zodiac arc, the local Psycho for Hire resides in the Fourth Temple of the Sanctuary, the Temple of the Giant Crab. He's actually named Cancer Deathmask.
In Saint Seiya Omega, both the Martians and the Pallasites have a group of four high-ranking members referred to as the "Shitennō".
In a Fictional Document in Monster, called "The Nameless Monster", the Nameless Monster goes through four hosts. The first three are consumed from the inside out. The fourth consumes everyone who knows his name.
Albert Heinrich, aka Cyborg 004, is the most heavily reconstructed and had most of his body replaced with various weapons. The original manga even saddled him with the nickname "God of Death", and his original personality was that of a rather frightening vengeance-seeker that enjoyed battling Black Ghost. However, his character evolved over the years, and in the 2001 version, he's more of a withdrawn, Big Brother Mentor who's very disturbed by his enhancements.
Akane-san from the broadcasting room from Gakkou no Kaidan will kill without fail any and all people who hear her voice. She counts aloud the exact time of the sunset before she finally kills her victim, carefully avoiding the number 4. Her spirit can be repelled if one interrupts her count and say the number 4 out loud. To seal her, she has to hear the chime that indicates the end of a broadcast before sunset. Guess how many bell rings does that make.
In Black Butler II, Ciel and Alois arrange to have a formal duel while their Battle Butlers face off. Ciel explains that it is traditional, in duels, to take ten paces away from each other before the beginning, but, after reaching four (which is deliberately pronounced "shi" rather than "yon") Ciel attempts to cheat by attacking. He is thwarted, but this starts off the duel nonetheless, with it ending in Ciel stabbing Alois, which later leads to his death.
Deadman Wonderland: The earthquake happened on 4/4/2014, measured 11.4 on the Richter scale, and 148,000 people died/went missing. The odd number out is that it happened at 5 PM.
In the animal adventure episode of Excel♥Saga, one of the dogs is portrayed as a gambler who compulsively fiddles with a pair of dice. At one point he rolls a 4 and 2 ("shi ni", meaning "to death") and remarks that it's a bad omen.
At the very beginning of Ghost Hunt, Mai and two other girls are telling ghost stories, at the end of which they count one-by-one, and there's supposed to be an imaginary fourth person. Only, Naru sneaks in and fills the role for real, with obvious results.
In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, there are four models of Mecha-Mooks used by the Big Bad. Types I through III are relatively benign: sure, they might hurt you and knock you out for a bit, but they are not really meant to kill people. Type IVs, on the other hand, are the Hero Killer kind, designed specifically to make people (especially mages) very dead. In addition to redshirts, their rap sheet almost included the title character herself and Vita by the end of the series. And it's also probable that they killed Subaru and Ginga's mother Quint when they showed up, and Lutecia's mother Megane barely survived.
For that matter, the four Wolkenritter, harbingers of the destruction the Book of Darkness will bring.
Quattro is one of the two most evil Numbers (the other is Due), and she enjoys to do evil things, including bringing people to death. Ironically, she is also one of the two weakest Numbers (the other is Uno).
The fourth episode of Shiki is appropriately titled "Fourth Death". It repeats for episode 14, given the kanji used.
In Kinnikuman Nisei Tel Tel Boy (Dialbolic) schedules his fight against Mantarou for 4:44 PM. Mantarou immediately notes that four is unlucky.
Sekirei gives us the Black Sekirei, #04 "Karasuba". Considered the most dangerous Sekirei in existence by those that don't know about #01, Miya, she is referred to as "MBI's dog" for her work hunting down anyone that breaks the rules of the game. She's a Blood KnightMaster Swordsman obsessed with killing the heroine during the final battle, and actively encourages her to become stronger because otherwise it won't be enjoyable. Did we also mention that she's an Omnicidal Maniac that intends to use her victory in the Sekirei Plan to destroy all life?
Dragon Ball GT takes this inverted trope even further with the Devil Dragon/Shadow Dragon of the Four Star Dragon Ball, Si Xing Long/Nuova Shenron. Si Xing Long is the Token Good Teammate, the Noble Demon and the Anti-Villain among the seven Devil Dragons. He even saves his enemy/friend Goku on several occassions.
During the Hunter Exam arc of Hunter × Hunter, Hisoka, one of the most deadly villains, is participant #44. And as the (fake) member of the Genei Ryodan, his tattoo has the #4 (though, we don't know for what the numbers of the Genei Ryodan actually stand for).
The four Dark Judges in Judge Dredd — Judge Mortis, Judge Fire, Judge Fear, and Judge Death.
In Boxers And Saints Four-Girl was unwanted by her family and wasn't even given a name, called a devil and believed to be bringing misfortune onto the family.
In Humble Shopkeeper, of the Bleach fandom, Shichi (an OC), whose (nick)name means 'seven', splits it into "Shi" (aka, 4) and "Chi", spelling them "death" and "blood", or, alternately, together "the place you die". This is explained due to her being an insane linguist.
The four number is carried on in Kira Is Justice, to the point that sixteen is a number used a few times. For example, the sixteen SIS agents.
In Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, Haruto gets killed by the Four of Swords card. More importantly, the death is from the fourth sword as Yayoi blocked the first three.
In Fanfic/Mutant, the 911 call rings 4 times before it goes to the answering machine. And then the one who made the call dies soon after.
Ju-on, the Japanese movie on which The Grudge is based, features a scene in which Mizuho goes back to her school to meet her boyfriend, Tsuyoshi, only to find that he isn't there. All she discovers is a mysterious cell phone that happens to be lying around. She ends up having to wait inside the school whilst a member of staff searches the building - suddenly, the room goes dark, Toshio starts running around out of her eyesight, and the cell phone she found earlier begins to ring when she is hiding underneath a desk. The number displayed on the screen is simply "4444444444". And when she takes the call, she only hears Toshio's creepy mewing noise. (Of course, Toshio also happens to be right behind her at this point.) Obviously, these are ghosts who like making culturally appropriate dark jokes....
There's also the Ju-on short film, which is simply titled 4444444444. It is set during the first movie, and is directly connected to the scene above - it details just what happens to poor Tsuyoshi after he also discovers the mysterious phone.
Shutter features a horror sequence where the protagonist is running down a series of stairs. No matter how many flights he goes down, it's always level 4. Creeeepy.
In the Robert Duvall vehicle Broken Trail, his character rescues from sexual slavery five immigrant Chinese girls. Since none of them speaks English, and he obviously doesn't speak Chinese, he names them "Number One" to "Number Five". When the girls realize this, "Number Four" objects to being given an unlucky number for a name. One of the other girls eventually accepts to be "Number Four", and she does so because she fully expects a tragic fate to befall her—which indeed it does.
Japanese horror film Gakkou No Kaiden revolves around things that haunt an abandoned school when the clock hits... 4:44AM. 4:44AM typically is more horrifying than 4:44PM, where it's Hand Waved that it's actually 16:44.
The Korean horror film White is about a K-pop group made up of four members, who all become cursed after covering a song haunted by a ghost.
In Versus, the Forest of Resurrection is the 444th Portal out of 666.
Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex has a heavy focus on Artemis's new-found phobia of the number four, and love for the number 5.
Features heavily in one of the stories in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, although with the Chinese si instead of Japanese shi. For example, it is a very bad thing to be the fourth concubine.
In the Shadowrun short story "It's All Done with Mirrors", the characters go to meet with a Yakuza boss who arrived in Seattle because of mishaps in his business to ask what will appease him into leaving. The Yakuza boss then outlines a task they will have to do for him. One of the mob boss's servants lays out sake with cups, and the boss offers to pour the drink for his guests. When The Smart Guy asks what will happen if they fail, the mob boss doesn't answer, but pours three times into his cup and four times into the cups of his guests. Only The Smart Guy, the Genius Bruiser, and The Professor in the group get the message.
House of Leaves has a lot of this: the Navidsons put four locks on the door leading to the scary parts of the house; the house is explored in teams of three with one person remaining behind to man the radios; there are four members of Will Navidson's nuclear family; there are four Exploration videos; and lots of little things peppered throughout the text.
Seen on occasion in BattleTech novels set in or involving characters from the Draconis Combine. Which isn't a big surprise, since being feudal Japan In Space! is basically that Successor State's hat; it just means the authors actually did do some research.
In the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation seventh season episode "Toe Tags", this trope is mentioned as they investigate the drowning of the bodyguard of an Asian high roller at a casino. She had been drowned because the high roller had bad luck and came unexpectedly back to his room and found her taking a bath in the bathtub he had had sprinkled with rose petals for good luck. So he blamed her for his bad luck.
In Kamen Rider Den-O, Momotaros, who counts his attacks, ends up missing "Part 4" due to some combination of tiredness and feeling unappreciated. When Ryotaro calls him out on this, he claims that not using four is cool and proves it by counting from one to ten... while skipping four.
In Kamen Rider Blade, the 4th Rider Leangle was possessed by the evil spider undead and could defeat the other Riders with ease during his first appearances. Sadly almost his whole life gets ruined by this. But after a few heroic sacrifices and The Power of Love, he breaks free of the Undeads influence and was able to control his powers freely.
The baddies from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers follow this. Rita Repulsa's henchmen (Goldar, Finster, Baboo and Squatt) were her own equivalent of the Shitennō.
The Four Hell Kings from Mahou Sentai Magiranger, who ended up being so powerful that the heroes needed to gain their LegendModes just to be able to defeat two of them, though the other two they handled on their own.
In the NCIS episode "Hung out to Dry" Tony initially refuses a switch of reserve parachutes with a marine because their reserve is number 4, citing the fact that four is unlucky in China. He relents when Gibbs points out they're not in China. Turns out that the reserve Tony had (Number 13,) was unable to open as the marine he swapped with sabotaged it to kill the victim. It was up there as part of a Batman Gambit by Gibbs to expose him. The number of the "dirty" reserve parachute was selected because the victim was like a living rabbit's foot. The guy's mindset wouldn't let him say no to taking the 'chute.
Numerous occurrences on LOST. Four is one of the show's Numbers. Boone wears multiple t-shirts in the first season containing fours or sets of four, and is the first regular character to die. In a season 5 flashback, Miles discovers his ability to speak to the dead by finding a dead man in Apt. #4. In Jacob's cave, Locke is indicated by the number 4, and is the first of the six uncrossed names to be crossed out (as he is dead). There are many other instances.
Food Network used to have a Chinese-cuisine show called East Meets West, whose chef/host Ming Tsai occasionally mentioned this trope and went out of his way to make servings consist of either three or five.
The fourth track on Coldplay's Viva La Vida—their fourth full-length album—is "42." All of its lyrics explicitly reference death, ghosts, and the afterlife, and it's almost exactly four minutes long. That's four 4s. There's no way this is a coincidence, but good luck getting them to cop to it.
Shiina Ringo's Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana runs for exactly 44 minutes and 44.4 seconds long and is full of allusions to death, with the final song translating as "Funeral".
The four Dark Judges in the Judge Dredd pinball — Judge Mortis, Judge Fire, Judge Fear, and Judge Death.
Some Sin Eaters have the number 4 tattooed onto them as a reminder of their deaths.
The older Ravenloft supplement Islands of Terror had an isolated Chinese-themed domain that played this trope for all it was worth.
West (西) is another near-homophone for death. In at least some versions of Mahjong, when played in Asian countries, it is considered bad luck to end the game during the West round; and if all four players in succession discard a West Wind, the hand is drawn.
Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 have the four evil Chaos Gods, omnicidal eldritch creatures that feed on emotions and mess around with the real world for the lulz. They are the main antagonists of both settings. 40k also has the four C'Tan, the material gods of the Necrons, though those have been broken into pieces and can be used like forces of nature in weapon form.
The Eldar pantheon was slaughtered by Slaanesh, leaving only three survivors: Isha, Khaine and Cegorach. The Eldar are trying to make a 4th one, Ynnead, from the souls of their fallen in the hopes that he'll rise up and defeat Slaanesh. Unfortunately, Ynnead is a god of death and will require every last one of their race to come into being. For the Eldar, four really is death.
At Disneyland Hong Kong in the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaways Mine Cars rollercoaster, the train goes through shaft no 4 (which is covered in danger signs) instead of shaft no 8 (a lucky number). Inevitably, later in the ride, a cable "breaks" on a chain lift, sending the train backwards.
Machine Robo's MR-4, Gyro Robo, was designated as an Enemy character in the American Gobots line.
Mega Man Zero's Four Guardians of Master X, who served as X's generals and bodyguards. They would later become good guys of a sort — but not before Phantom self-destructed, reducing their number to three, which, in turn, changed the stature to Rule of Three — he was the only general without a dominant element or weakness to another element.
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.
Mega Man Zero 4 has that heartbreaking conclusion, which implies Zero was killed.
Mega Man Battle Network 6 features EraseMan.EXE (aptly named KillerMan.EXE in the original Japanese version), an assassin Navi whose design draws on shinigami. When Mega Man fuses with EraseMan, he gains the ability to instantly kill viruses when the digit 4 is in their HP. As for Navis, they get an HP-sapping bug that eventually does them in.
Likewise, the first game has Wily acquire four superprograms to create the Life Virus. Later on, Battle Network4 has the impending impact of a meteor that will wipe out Planet Earth- which turns out to be an insanely powerful and near-omnipresent robot called Duo.
In between the time periods of Mega Man X and Zero, there's the Elf Wars, resulting in a barren world, and a massive drop in the population (60% humans and 90% Reploids were wiped out), that lasted for four years.
Mega Man X4 was the first game in the X series to escalate the body count up to a horrific extreme- and first to present a legitimate threat to destroy the entire planet. It was also the same installment where Zero suffered a tragic loss... the death of his crush Iris. In addition, three more key-to-the-plot Reploids perish: Colonel, a martyr to his own cause, Double, who performs a gory Face-Heel Turn and gets a Karmic Death, and General, who performs a Heroic Sacrifice. That makes four major deaths in the story.
A good number of Harvest Moon games do evil things to you at precisely 4:44 when you perform a specific action. For example: looking at the TV in Friends of Mineral Town. This feature is often removed from the US version, and in some cases is related to more serious glitches caused by a bad removal! Maybe it is cursed...
If you go to your dog house at 4.44am in Harvest Moon DS sends you into some sort of battle game with all the main female protagonists.
Death-related bosses and enemies in video games often have 444 or 4444 HP. Castlevania's Death is usually an example of this. So is Mitsuki Konishi, aka Tigris Cantus, from The World Ends with You.
Also, Master Tonberry, a robed green lizard like thing carrying a butcher knife and lantern that will slowly advance on your party before one hit killing you with said knife, or attack with 'Everyone's Grudge' doing 1 damage for each enemy a character has killed in the game, had 44,444HP in Final Fantasy VII
Death-themed items in Castlevania play by this trope as well. The Book of Death in Portrait of Ruin has 44 ATK, while Death's Robe in Dawn of Sorrow boosts STR, CON and LUCK by 4 (and Int by 13!). Death's Ring is especially noteworthy, as it boosts 4 different stats by 44 each but turns you into a One-Hit-Point Wonder.
The Four Heavenly Kings of Orochi in The King of Fighters, each with control over a different element. The Hizoku (a ninja clan with suspicious motives) has its own set of Heavenly Kings - Lin, Sai, Ran and Chat.
The Final Fantasy series often has a group known as the Four Fiends or some variation thereof, called the Shitennō in Japanese versions of the games. They usually consist of a Four Element Ensemble that form the villain's chief minions.
Final Fantasy IV, not surprisingly, ran with this trope. It's a recurring motif and it's never a good sign. Starting with Tellah, the fourth person who joins the party (after Cecil, Kain, and Rydia). No guesses as to his eventual fate. In fact, despite what some of the characters go through, he's the only one who stays dead.
The four bosses at the end of Street Fighter II are Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison, who form the "Four Devas" of Shadaloo (although this is downplayed in the later games, as the series introduced more members to the organization; Sagat also canonically left the organization prior to Street Fighter II, although this story element wasn't presented until Alpha 3 and at the time they were just including him as a boss to throw back to the original Street Fighter).
Tenchu 2 has the Four Lords of the Burning Dawn, who are named after the Four Heavenly Kings.
The series usually has a group of four bad guys who are tougher than any villain in the game except the Big Bad. The Four Wyvern Generals (initially three, but one is replaced after you kill him, meaning you fight four of them) in The Sword of Seal, Four Fangs in The Sword of Flame, Four Riders in Path of Radiance, etc.. The Sacred Stones looks like it'll subvert this at first — there are initially six characters in this group. However, one is betrayed and murdered by one of the others and another defects, leaving the number you actually have to fight and kill at — you guessed it — four.
In Fire Emblem 4 Seisen no Keifu, halfway through the game, your army falls into Alvis' trap. Most of the army dies including the main character, Sigurd. The female characters who escaped the trap die rather quickly after having their children as well.
In Super Paper Mario, the Flower People's civilization went into the Dark Ages in their year 444. You have to pay 4 coins for the ferryman to ferry you across River Twygz.
The first Golgo 13 NES game combines this with Thirteen Is Unlucky, as you are given 52 chances (4 x 13) to complete your mission, or else it's Game Over.
Every iteration of the main series games has a group of expert trainers known as the Elite Four. Defeat them, and you get to face off against the Champion in an epic Pokémon battle for all the bragging rights. Of note is that, in the original Japanese, the Elite Four are actually called the Shitennō. Of more note is that in Pokémon Special they want to kill everyone.
In Platinum, Cyrus has four Commanders under him.
There are also four Team Rocket Executives in HeartGold and SoulSilver.
Morty, the fourth Gym Leader in Johto, uses the Ghost type. Ghosts are associated with death.
And there's the Go-Rock Quad from the original Pokémon Ranger game.
Done rather subtly in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Platinum introduced a fourth Admin into the astronomy-themed Team Galactic. His name? Pluto (Charon in English), the planet/moon named after the god of death or his ferryman.
God Hand has the Four Devas as the main villains (along with a mercenary they hire at one point, Dr. Ion). In addition, the Dynamic Difficulty has 1, 2, and 3, but the level after 3 is Die.
Vexen, the fourth member of Organization XIII in Kingdom Hearts, is the first one to die, assassinated by Axel when he attempts to betray the Organization in a bid for his life by revealing the existence of Roxas to Sora.
Also, the fourth and final, in Sora's story member you fight in Chain of Memories is Marluxia. Fitting, what with having a scythe and all.
In Persona 3, October 4th is a very, very bad day. Additionally, The Reaper has 4,444 hit points.
In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Link must visit four dungeons, kill the four boss monsters, and retrieve their four masks. It turns out, though, that the four masks hold the spirits of the Four Giants of Termina, who are good guys that help stop the moon from falling into the world at the end of the game. Also, including the Fierce Deity's Mask, there are four transformation masks (and being the fourth mask, it's the deadliest). The dungeons lie in the four compass directions. If you draw lines connecting the temples/areas in the order you visit them in on the map, it will be a big four (on its side). And the goal of the game itself is to save Termina before the dawn of the fourth day. The number was very important to this game.
The fourth dungeon in various Zelda games refer to this as well. In Ocarina of Time, the fourth Adult Link dungeon is the Shadow Temple, which deals with the undead. Similar cases include the Arbiter's Grounds in Twilight Princess, the Maze Island Palace in The Adventure of Link, the entire Ikana Canyon in the aforementioned Majora's Mask (though the residing Stone Tower Temple isn't too dark, if at all), the Ghost Ship in Phantom Hourglass, and the Ancient Cistern in Skyward Sword.
In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, there are six coral reefs, known as One-, Two-, Three-, Four-, Five- and Six-Eyed Reefs. Four-Eyed Reef is the closest to Forsaken Fortress, which serves as the base of operations of the Big Bad. In addition, Forsaken Fortress itself is the fourth dungeon in the game,note completion-wise, while being the first appearance-wise and the fourth Triforce fragment is retrieved after finding the chart that lies inside the Ghost Ship.
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.
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 the Shmup "Diadra Empty", flying dangerously close to one of the last bosses will give you a bonus called "Abyss Walker", worth 44,444 points.
Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies has Yellow 4, the first story-significant enemy who gets shot down by the main character, thanks to her plane being in disrepair.
Also, the opposing side in 04 give Mobius One two prominent nicknames. One is "the Grim Reaper"; so the player character in the fourth game is death.
A non-in-universe example: Namco really didn't want to make a fourth game in the series - they finally agreed to on the condition that it was numbered 04.
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 La-Mulana, the last of the four key seals which must be found is the Death Seal, whose symbol contains the game's numeral 4. However, the Sage of Death (who unlocks the path to the Death Seal) will likely be the first of the four sages the player has to talk to.
In Resident Evil 2, an unlockable minigame, the 4th Survivor features an Umbrella Soldier codenamed Hunk. In Resident Evil 3: Nemesis's epilogue files, it's revealed that Hunk is nicknamed "Mister Death", and has a habit of being the only member of his squad to survive.
Hunk comes back as one of the four characters in the Mercenaries mode of Resident Evil 4. Consequentially, the fourth stage has the deadliest enemy in the game, which can spawn twice in a run; completing said stage also unlocks Albert Wesker, the Big Bad of the majority of the RE games (though not in that game itself).
The Keeper's Diary in the first game. Since it's his own personal Apocalyptic Log, the inexplicable "4" at the top of the last entry may have been a mistranslation. Since the keeper attacks you before you get a chance to read the diary, it can mean death for you, too.
In the REmake, you only get to see the last few pages of Lisa Trevor's journal while picking it up in the cabin near the cemetery. When combined with the remaining pages that you later find elsewhere, they form an Apocalyptic Log, which slowly deteriorates into illiterate writing as the dates proceed, as a Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma, until it ends with the same inexplicable numeral "4" at the top of the last entry as in the Keeper's Diary. Since Lisa attacks you as you are about to leave the cabin after reading the last page of her journal, it can also mean death for you.
Makeruna! Makendou Z features four demon queens during the second half of the game: Honmanimou (a big-breasted cow woman), Honmadecker (a prison wardeness, who upon defeat turns out to be Doro's wife, now back to her senses), Honmadengunner (a cyborg), and Honmayaner (an archer woman). Main villain Dr. Mud also tried to enslave Makenkah (whose real name was Kaimyouji Eizan) as a fourth cyborg general of his, the other three being Dinosaur, Chuuko, and Shou. Even further, this game is the fourth installment of the Makendou series (if you count the OAV), and seems slightly darker and edgier than the previous two games, ending with the school building collapsing (with who knows how many people inside).
In Nanashi no Game, Riko at one point gets trapped on a creepy subway where every car is Car #4. She dies at the end of that chapter. In addition, the company that created the game is located on the fourth floor of the building it's in — and it's been closed for four years, which you find out from the fourth e-mail you receive on the fourth day.
In the Wii version of Punch-Out!!, one of the challenges in Exhibition Mode requires you to defeat Japanese boxer Piston Hondo after blocking 44 jabs.
In Ghost Trick, main character Sissel can use his powers to rewind time to exactly four minutes before a person's death in order to attempt to prevent it.
In Fate EXTRA, the protagonist learns this applies to getting into the Holy Grail War: potential Masters had four days to figure out something was wrong with their school, investigate, and survive a qualifying battle. If they failed to succeed at this after four days, well... they weren't going ANYWHERE.
In Super Mario Galaxy, the rolling ball stages are full of massive iron dice blocks threatening to knock you into the abyss. Every side on these dice blocks read four.
Many enemies from Dark Souls have a four theme. You have the Four Lords, Gwyn's Four Great Knights and the corrupted monsters the Four Kings.
In Hellsinker there are four playable characters (and Kagura has four shot types), there are 8 (4*2) Segments, the Shrine of Farewell has four titled bosses and four Kaname Stones, four of the Prayer bosses are titled "Heroic Dead", the first form of the final boss has four Satisfaction Levels (counting 0), and the Quadruple Ones are four children.
In the Japanese escape-the-room game U-Sensor 2, you have to find a way out of a deserted office building in which it's rumored that there was a murder on the fourth floor in spite of the elevator not having a button available for that floor. It turns out that a vengeful ghost haunts that seemingly nonexistent floor and will kill you if you don't prevent the elevator from stopping at the fourth floor during the endgame. If you get the Bad Ending where the ghost kills you, your character sprite will be shown turning around exactly four times in the elevator before the ghost catches him.
TouhouBonus Boss Raiko Horikawa numbers her magical attacks: First Drum, Second Drum, etc. Her fourth attack is "Death Drum."
Rare Western example: in Ultima II, while travelling through space, hyperwarping to coordinates 4-4-4 will send your spaceship crashing into the Sun resulting in instant death.
Invoked in Sleeping Dogs, when Wei and Old Salty Crab use a triad boss' superstitious beliefs and adherence to feng shui by vandalizing his home, in particular smashing all but four decorative vases and setting the clock to read 4:44.
In World of Warcraft players in the pandaren race's Noob Cave will be repeatedly greeted by Jojo Ironbrow, who is known for being strong enough to break anything with his head. He shows up 3 times and is able to break wood, bamboo, and stone, so after that your character will expect him to be able to break a statue of solid jade, but when he does so he only ends up hurting himself.
In the 2011 version of You Don't Know Jack, the segue into the fourth question features a bunch of dancing 4s. In one game, one of the 4s is shot and killed, and subsequent episodes feature a crime scene, the remaining 4s dancing sadly without the other 4, and finally, a graveyard where the 4's funeral is being held.
If Freeza's fittingly named Death Ball in Dragon Ball Z: Supersonic Warriors misses the opponent and hits the ground instead, the background music switches to ominous rumbling and the opponent has 44 seconds to KO him before the planet they're fighting on blows up, letting Freeza win by default.
8-Bit Theater, as noted on its page, has the four Light Warriors (the protagonists and the worst thing to happen to the world), the four Fiends (some of the few actually dangerous enemies) and the four orbs to go with them (which are being used by the Big Bad for some diabolical purpose), the four Dark Warriors (a group of Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain characters), the four Other Warriors (inspired by Dungeons & Dragons classes), and the four real Light Warriors (making four warrior groups total). In addition, the average strip is four rows long.
In The Gamers Alliance, the Vulfsatz is a group of four elite assassins. Demons have four hordes, each led by an archdemon.
The number four shows up more than what should be considered coincidental in Marble Hornets:
In Entry #26, Jay receives a mysterious text message on the 4th of April (i.e. 4/4). Two weeks later, he receives a tape dated 4.4.2010 which contains footage of Jay's missing friend Alex and his girlfriend Amy narrowly avoiding an attack by the Operator, which happens at 4:04 PM. There is also some distortion around the entry's 4:04 mark.
The Totheark video "Decay" was uploaded on April 4, 2012, and it shows some of the footage from the tape in Entry #26, distorting it so that the date and time overlay each other. The last seven seconds of the video, when run through a spectrograph, reveal an image with the text, "TODAY IS YOUR LAST BIRTHDAY," with four dots under the word "birthday." Alex's birthday is April 4th.
In the same video, Totheark writes, "(HE WILL) LEAD ME TO DEATH."
The motif is continued in entry #40 - posted on May 4, with screen tearing occurring at 4:40 on the YouTube player and The Operator showing up moments later.
On The Simpsons (Kang and Kodos describing an island shaped like a skull) "That looks just like our number four!"
On SpongeBob SquarePants, one of Mr. Krabs's stories involves a person who liked to make funny faces, most enjoyably sticking his tongue out. After doing it 444 times, he couldn't get it back in until most of it crumbled off of him.
In "Hard Luck", a Season 4 episode of Code Lyoko, in which Odd is suffering from a case of bad luck from a broken mirror, as the gang are traveling to one of X.A.N.A.'s Repika via the Skid are talking about bad luck — to Odd's annoyance — Yumi remarks something similar to the following: "People in Japan avoid anything to do with the number 4 because it sounds like the word for death."
In Avatar: The Last Airbender , the first season three-member Gaang had their ups and downs, but were basically successful overall in achieving their goals. While in no way can fault be laid at the bare feet of Toph, her joining by and large coincided with every major defeat the now four-member group suffered. Only when Zuko fully completed his Heel-Face Turn and joined them did they escape this, and for good measure, Suki's rescue meant they were now six as they ended the war. None of the three hero settings in the finale had more than three members.
Canon also has several product lines conspicuously skipping from 3 to 5, but not skipping 40 and other multiples of ten.
Music equipment manufacturer Roland/Boss do this as well. The Boss guitar pedals are generally named along the lines of DD (digital delay) or OD (overdrive) and then a number. Guess which number is nowhere to be found in their product lineup.
164 (一六四, yi liu si) is a Chinese homophone for "one road to death" (一路死, yi lu si). This was the reason that the Alfa Romeo 164 was marketed in many Chinese-speaking societies as the 168 (一六八, yi liu ba) instead. Which, incidentally, sounds like "one road to prosperity" (一路發/一路发, yi lu fa).
There is a popular shopping center in the Philippines called 168.
Plenty of Chinese shops will put 168 in their signs for its auspiciousness.
In Cantonese, 14 (十四， sap sei) is consider a unluckier number than 4, since it sounds like "will surely die"/"is doomed" (實死, sat sei). 24 (二十四, yi sap sei) is even worse, as it could be interpreted as "easy and sure death/easily doomed" (易實死, yi sat sei) or if its digits are read individually (二四, yi sei), it sounds like "easy death" (易死, yi sei).
While US FCC regs normally prohibit customers from choosing specific numbers, T-Mobile company policy specifically requires them to grant any and all requests for a phone number with no '4's.
The Gang of Four from China were the four Communist party officials who were officially blamed for the Cultural Revolution. After their arrest, and during their trials, a massive hostile propaganda campaign was launched against them, which made full use of the four/death homophone.
The Big Four Pollution Diseases of Japan were four major environmental disasters which led to the establishment of the Environment Agency (the Japanese equivalent of the American EPA) in 1970. Three of the incidents took place in the 1960s, but the 1912 outbreak of cadmium poisoning called "itai-itai disease" is lumped in because a lawsuit wasn't brought until 1968.
In East Asian countries, the fourth floor is either skipped (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, ...) like the thirteenth floor is skipped in the West or, in an elevator, the buttons are numbered 1, 2, 3, F, 5 ... with "F" standing in for the English word "four" (which does not sound like death). Another common work-around is to replace the "4"-number with the previous floor's number appended with the letter A (i.e. 3A, 23A), as is floor 13 (replaced with 12A, and 14 replaced with 12B in this case). 14 is particularly bad. In Mandarin, 14 can be read yao sinote Yao is an alternate reading for "one" when saying numerals, a near homophone of "will die" or "death wish".
This is Up to Eleven in Hong Kong, as floor numbers with the number 4 are all skipped together in some newer buildings.
And thanks to the influence from being a former British colony, the traditional 13 is also skipped.
This convention is also quite common in Vancouver and Toronto, owing to their large Chinese population. The combination of eastern and western superstitions means that it's not unheard of for floor numbers in apartment buildings to jump from 12 to 15, missing both 13 and 14.
Tea sets or chopstick sets are sold with 3 or 5 cups/pairs rather than 4.
A common gift in China is three or five oranges, rather than four (generally, combo packs sold in Asia never comes in sets of 4 if they can help it).
The Rio Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas avoids the digit "4" in all floor numbers and room numbers. The floor just above the 39th is the 50th, for example.
In the standard reading of Tarot decks, number four in the minor suits typically signify stagnation or stalling. A common image for the Four of Swords shows a man lying as though dead on a stone bier, just to give you an idea.
As West (西) is another near-homophone for death, one Chinese metaphor for death is "to return to the west", in a similar fashion to the way a broken piece of machinery is said in English-speaking countries to have "gone south".
Richmond Hill, Ontario's city council has banned new street numbers with the number 4. The area is known to have a large Chinese-Canadian community.
The 9/11 attacks were essentially four coordinated airplane hijackings and suicide attacks.