Supernatural, magical, or just plain awesome beings know there's no better place to be effortlessly stood on than tall and usually thin objects, be they pine trees, lampposts or the nearest available tall building. This is flying for people who cannot fly. Or even the ones who can.
Less about true strategy and more about looking cool. Expect Dramatic Wind (actually, wind speed increases with altitude, so wind that seems dramatic to those on the ground is ''normal'' at high altitude). In anime and manga this has become a choice dramatic entrance for villains, introduced via a panning away of the camera from a completely every day scene, or the aftermath of a dramatic event, to reveal that said villain was watching all along, and provide a nice segue for the next part.
This seems to have originated from training techniques that involved standing on bamboo; see, for example, the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Teen Titans examples. This is common in Wire Fu movies.
When the geography that you stands compares you superior, you are playing with Geo Effects.
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Anime and Manga
Tuxedo Kamen from Sailor Moon was a master of this. That was all he ever did. Haruka and Michiru were fond of standing on high pillars as well, and the Sailor Moon S opening credits put all the senshi up there.
The Stars anime actually parodies this: when Uranus and Neptune try the high ground trick by standing on the dining table in Usagi's house, Aluminium Siren actually remarks on how rude they are for doing so with shoes on, making them blush in embarrassment.
And in both Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero, Gilgamesh makes his formal appearance in the war like this (the former on a wall, the latter on a lamppost), because even standing on the same ground as lesser heroes is an insult to him.
First shot of Rukia in Bleach has her standing on top of a powerline pole. When the other two Shinigami first appear, they too are standing on lampposts. A preference for high places is even listed on Rukia's character sheet.
Rukia's zanpakutou, Sode no Shirayuki, does the same when she appears in the real world, standing on top of the tower of a nearby bridge when facing Ichigo at the beginning of the recent filler arc.
Vice-Captain Tetsuzaimon Iba seems to have an affinity for the high ground whenever he battles Ikkaku over who has to buy the next round of sake.
Occurs constantly in Naruto, related to the ninja's ability to channel chakra into their feet. Also used in the Walk on Water combination with logs that balanced on the surface of a lake in a pivotal point during the climactic Naruto vs. Sasuke battle.
Sasuke's first warning that his charming big bro Itachi has gone Ax Crazy is catching a glimpse of him doing this in blacked-out silhouette on a telephone pole, against a rising red moon, with only his crazy eyes visible. Shortly afterwards, Sasuke stumbles on the first of many, many bodies...
In the original Ah! My GoddessOAVs, Belldandy watched Keiichi go to work while improbably on top of a thin willowy tree. (However, Belldandy gets a pass because she's both literally and figuratively a Goddess and she can fly.)
Belldandy and Urd do this a couple of times in the Ah! My Goddess manga too.
Likewise various characters from YuYu Hakusho. At one point, Kurama is seen standing on the railing of a balcony in the manga. Why he just didn't stand on the balcony is a mystery; the anime corrected this, if memory serves.
The heroine of Shamanic Princess and her rival can actually generate their own tall, thin objects to stand on whenever required. It's a handy backup for situations when a nice moon-silhouetted church steeple isn't available.
Amelia is introduced in Slayers doing this as she confronts a bandit. She explains to Gourry later that as an "ally of justice", she is expected to make this sort of entrance. The problem is that she's still working on the dismount; every time she does a dramatic jump down to begin the battle, she crashes. One of the Slayers movies takes this even further, with two characters climbing stone precipices to hurl verbal abuse at each other (at a distance of less than fifty feet).
At the beginning of the third season (Try), the joke had run its course and fallen into disuse. So they brought it back and flipped it. Amelia jumps from a ridiculously tall tower and scares everybody, but this time she casts the levitate spell right before landing. The kicker? She risked her life and limb just to heal a small bump on an old woman's head.
Anju and Ren both do this in Karin. Both are able to fly by various means but seem limited by the vampire creed to the Rule of Cool.
Cyberdoll Sara leaps up onto a powerpole in Hand Maid May, to aid her search of the city for May. Kotaro Nanbara, being mortal and far less cool, is forced to scramble up with normal climbing.
Lelouch is seen in the first OP of Code Geass doing this. Given his utter lack of physical skills and his flair for the dramatic, what we didn't see was the 15 minutes he spent using his Mind-Control Eyes on an army of people to get him up there.
Meta Knight was quite fond of this pose in the Kirby anime, although this is rather understandable given his short stature.
In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Fate is standing on a telephone pole firing magic when Nanoha first sees her. Justified insofar as Fate has true flight.
Later, Hegemon Ingvalt of ViVid makes her first appearance standing on a street light as she challenges Nove to a fight.
All of the cloaked Dragon Knights from Noein do this, it's an aspect of their otherworldliness.
"Twilight Suzuka" in Outlaw Star does this several times, usually as she's about to enter battle.
Ranma and his father trained by sparring atop bamboo poles... and were Cursed with Awesome by falling off into the Cursed Springs of Jusenkyou. Ranma also frequently runs along fence railings. And Kodachi Kuno does this as part of her Martial Arts and Crafts.
The holy city guards that fight Claire in Claymore don't remark how incredible she is until she leaps onto a steeple.
Used constantly by Nagi in Mai-HiME, with Lampshade Hanging. Nagi (who is fond of having the high ground, to say the least) appears on top of Fuuka Gakuen's clock tower in a very cool and dramatic manner and starts delivering an important message to the main characters, and Midori tells him to step down because standing that high is dangerous. Nagi also falls from his high ground a time or two.
In the first episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Flame Wingman does this after the Skyscraper card is activated, glaring down at Ancient Gear Golem from one of the taller 'scrapers, despite being quite visibly capable of flight. It does look cool, though. The same happens later in the series, just before Jaden defeats another student who had stolen Yugi's deck and was imitating him.
Also done in the manga of the same series, this time with young Jaden's Flame Wingman attacking one of Kyou Hibiki's Elemental Heroes.
Master Asia of G Gundam clearly one-upped almost everyone at this trope when he once performed it by standing on the tip of his own martial arts belt twisted into a pole shape while balancing on top of the wreckage of the Humongous Mecha that he'd just defeated with nothing but said cloth and his bare hands. He also tended to do it in the traditional manner, and at times even did so while in his Gundam, despite the fact that its weight should have caused the collapse of what he was balancing on.
G Gundam being a Super Robot series that runs on Rule of Cool, elite Gundam Fighters like Master Asia can simply tell the laws of physics to shut up and sit down.
In another Gundam example, Norris Packard did this with his Gouf Custom on top of an already bombed out Vietnamese office block in The 08th MS Team, to scare the protagonists and give him a psychological edge.
In Gundam 00 season 2, GrahamMister Bushido tops the aforementioned two, at least in altitude, by posing his Masurao on top of an asteroid.
Light of Death Note visualizes himself and L doing this as imagery of their struggle against one another, using incredibly thin skyscrapers.
Jeanne of Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne almost always begins her transformation sequence by jumping off a building, tower, etc. She enjoys attacking her adversaries this way as well.
Raitei and the Four Kings in Get Backers are often portrayed sitting or standing on large columns of rubble. Two in particular seem to enjoy it: when Ban and Shido get into a fight on a sloped rooftop, Kazuki makes sure to be standing higher along when he steps in, and honestly? Sitting on a(nother) rooftop and making cryptic remarks is really about all Masaki does until the final arc of the manga.
A recurring trope in X1999 in which almost every character gets to pose dramatically in an absurdly high place at one time or another. (Sorata even comments on this when he first meets Yuuto standing on the top of a rather tall tree.) They always seem to prefer leaping from telephone pole to telephone pole at perilously high speeds rather than take the public transportation, and they're also often seen leaping from building roof to building roof, among other tall things; it's implied that this is a power that all of the Dragons share.
Sonic does this a few times in Sonic X. There are also variations involving the nosecones of high-speed jets, and trees. He spends a lot of time very high up: balcony railings, trees and roofs are common sleeping places, tall poles and skyscrapers are vantage points, jets are a good place to dive in on the action and he also has a thing for mountains/
Spoofed in Soul Eater where Black*Star often does this; in one case he was so high up nobody could hear him, and the thing he was standing on broke.
Polylina in Galaxy Fraulein Yuna. May be a spoof of Tuxedo Kamen, since she wears a mask and holds a rose, and seems to be the main character's crush.
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou combines this with Walking on Water. Achieved not for coolness but for a sense of serene surrealism (check out the main article on YKK for a picture)
In the Battle Royale manga, Kiriyama takes this to the extreme, standing on the edge of a splinter sticking up from a broken wooden pole. To make it more ludicrous, he stands as if he were standing on solid ground, both feet spread wide apart..despite under a square millimeter of one foot (if that) actually having support.
Various characters do this in Silent Möbius, including both Cheyenne sisters, Katsumi Liqueur, and Ganossa Maximillian
In Fullmetal Alchemist, Ling is shown in a number of scenes looking from a higher elevation on a city below, alluding to his grand ambitions. After Greed possess him, he also gets into the habit. King Bradley also gets a brief shot standing atop Central Command in the first opening of Brotherhood, with a dramatic zoom-in to boot.
In addition, Kimblee does this in Ishval, standing on a high wall while blowing up Scar's entire village. Later, Scar hangs a lampshade on the role reversal as he stands on top of a building before escaping from Kimblee.
The first time Himiko Se catches a glimpse of Miyu and Larva, they're sitting (Miyu) or standing up (Larva) on top of a torii gate.
Not supernatural, but Sumire Kanou is overly fond of this in Toradora!. In fact, in a flashback in episode 16, where she's standing on a roof speaking to Kitamura, there's a ladder present, implying she made a point of climbing up before even speaking.
Dokkoida?! villain Edelweiss attempted this in her first appearance, but a combination of her frilly dress and high winds caused it to backfire.
All gímik anime feature this at least once. In Kiddy Grade there was Armbrust and his habit of smoking atop skyscrapers; Uta Kata has Saya standing on clock towers, in trees, and on magic flying scythes; the closing sequence of Gigantic Formula features Mana standing on a spire; in Kiddy GiRL-AND it is Shade spending a week hanging around on a tower spying on dreams.
Lampshaded in Seto no Hanayome. Sarutobi is playing the role of a wise old sage, so Nagasumi wonders why he's standing on a telephone pole.
Meta Knight often stands on top of tall objects in Kirby of the Stars. Fans conjecture that it's because he's short.
In Saint Beast, all the characters (but particularly Judas) spend time standing around on cliffs, trees, and other tall objects to add a sense of the dramatic. Zeus doesn't always have to even stand on anything when he can just float above everybody when he likes.
Recent incarnations of Spider-Man have also got him doing doing this, which isn't too much of a stretch, due to his adhesive abilities and equilibrium. (His more usual trick is to hang from beneath a lamppost arch or flagpole.)
Used to the point where it is considered an explicit sign of otherworldly skills or powers in the now-physically published webcomicMegatokyo. Many characters are observed walking on phone lines or on poles. It is even used by Miho (a possible Dark Magical Girl, and definitely one of the comic's most powerful beings) to convince Yuki that she is a Magical Girl by making her follow her up onto a power line without realizing it. Largo can also do it, but for Megatokyo, being good at games also counts as otherworldly skills.
A "manga-tized" Dee Dee from Dexter's Laboratory performs on top of a fence pole in this comic◊ done by artist Tavisha Wolfgarth-Simons.
Seen in Dungeon Keeper Ami on a number of occasions. Once, Ami battled a horned reaper on top of a temple to the light. In another instance she appeared in a monestary to rescue one of her minions. This was accompanied by dramatic wind despite being indoors (due to her flooding the room with fog). She was even observing the altercation the whole time, via scrying (she isn't a villain, but don't tell the other heroes that). So this trope fits to a T.
The Sailor Moon fanfic Tacky Yellow No-Name has Kunzite try to become a good guy, and once it's clear that he can't be a Sailor Scout, he decides to try out for Tuxedo Kamen's role. Thus ensues a battle between the two, where each leaps onto higher and more improbable locations, spouting words of wisdom as they go. It quickly devolves into stuff like "Never run with scissors!" - and ends in pain when Kunzite impales his foot on a weathervane.
The angels in The Prophecy have a fondness for standing on the backs of chairs, railings... anything that looks cool.
Although Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith uses this line verbatim during the duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, it's only a mild example as Obi-Wan claims a realistic hilltop as his vantage point rather than a towering spire, for ostensibly strategic reasons. However, it does also symbolize his moral high ground and happens to give him an especially heroic appearance during the climax of the battle.
Fan theory has it that Obi-Wan's position was not strategic at all, and he was deliberately goading Anakin into making a mistake. Indeed Anakin, driven by sheer rage, attempts to jump over Obi-Wan thus gaining higher ground to be presumably more strategic and/or look cooler. It does not go well.
In an earlier use in Episode I, it's subverted. Even though Darth Maul had the higher ground, Obi Wan won by leaping over Maul and using the Force to get Qui-Gon Jinn's lightsaber.
The one in Revenge of the Sith is possibly a Call Forward to a similar scene in Return of the Jedi, when Luke has the high ground on Darth Vader. Rather than jump up again, Vader elects to simply throw his lightsaber at the supports bringing the platform and Luke back to his level.
Prior to the fight in The Rock, the antagonist exclaims 'Your unit is covered from an elevated position, Commander. I'm not gonna ask you again. Don't do anything stupid.' It would mean a lot more if both sides weren't armed with guns, making it a good example of this trope.
While much closer to Geo Effects, this definitely fulfilled the purpose of the trope as Ed Harris's team of Marines definitely look imposing. And they also have a lot of cover and a much clearer line of fire on the SEALs (the SEALs really did have no cover at all).
Twice in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children: first Cloud stands on a building ledge as Kadaj hangs by his fingertips, then Sephiroth poses at the top of the same building when he appears a couple minutes later.
Invoked but subverted in Iron Man 2, where Rhodey suggests one of them with the big guns gets to the high ground while another one distracts the drones. Unfortunately, their arguing over whose guns are bigger distracts them long enough for the HAMMER Drones to arrive. They win anyway.
The cover◊ of Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix+ shows all the major characters either sitting or standing on poles (or in the case of Goofy, clinging to one).
Altair of Assassin's Creed I can climb most buildings, and on some of them, he can perch on a ledge to spot what is happening on the streets (thus revealing side missions). And then do an improbable somersault all the way to the ground into strategically placed hay carts. In the second game, you can then jump onto a guard (or two!) and stab them through the neck with your hidden blade(s).
This is common in the entire Assassin's Creed series; the "Leap of Faith" is a signature move of the Assassins.
Ryu Hayabusa of Ninja Gaiden fame likes doing this in the cutscenes of the Xbox remake series.
The Undertaker has done this on numerous occasions. Easily the coolest was during the first Undertaker/Kane feud in which Kane, Undertaker's storyline brother, is starting to menace female wrestlerSable. The Undertaker appears on top of the Titantron, proceeds to cut a promo on Kane for their upcoming WrestleMania XIV match, and ends it by summoning a bolt of lightning, which summons a standing casket with an effigy of Kane within it that then bursts into flames.
The Star Wars original is mocked in Darths & Droids, where Obi-Wan's Episode III speech is instead given by Darth Maul at the end of Episode I to Obi-Wan when he's hanging down the shaft. In this case Obi-Wan somehow manages to defeat Darth Maul anyway.
In the climax of Episode III, it is used again, but instead is noted that he has the high ground "and a readied action".
Yuyu Hakusho Abridged takes Hiei's tendency to perch on tree tops, and Kurabawa's strength building exercise of punching down trees to it's logical conclusion. The two then bicker over who's behavior was more ridiculous (and thus was at fault).
In one episode of Teen Titans, Robin also fights atop a bamboo grove against an anthropomorphic monkey while journeying up a mountain to meet a martial arts master. He later perches on top of the bad guy's staff (really his which was stolen), and then leaps off, causing the staff to smack the bad guy in the face.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender , Princess Azula is able to execute this by perching on a pole by the tips of her toes, during a chase sequence situated near a scaffolding. Looks cool, doesn't it?◊ Aang does the same during his fight scene with Zuko, in the unaired pilot which the sequence was based on. Not so much◊.
It's also how you play Airball, apparently.
An episode of Cow and Chicken featured the characters training with this method. When they ask why, their teacher says "I saw it in a movie once".
In one episode of Danny Phantom, Vlad greets Danny and friends by standing on top of a street light, cape bellowing from the wind in dramatic fashion and everything.
The Huns were known for attacking from uphill areas, so that when the enemy looked up to see them, they would be blinded by the sun. In a similar fashion, pilots are told to initiate a dog fight by charging with the sun behind them. This spread the idea that you should beware of "the Hun in the sun".
Inverted by some shield wall formations, depending on the equipment used. Generally, the weaknesses of a soldier in a shieldwall are the head and feet, with the body being protected by the shield. If you have the low ground, you can go for the enemies' feet while they can't do much against your head if you raise your shield. They can just lower their shields to protect their feet. With a square scutum, this is no problem. With a kite, shaped like an long inverted raindrop, lowering the shields still leaves gaps open while the enemy with their raised shields have better sight of your feet and are quite well protected themselves. Shield walls with kite shields might have preferred to have the lower ground.
Actually very effective for ranged weapons - higher ground presents both better lines of sight and firing arcs, as well as cover and - which was much more prevalent for bows, but still counts - things fire downwards much easier than upwards. Less so for melee combat, which does play against most use of this trope, though it can be helpful to slip through the holes in plate armour designed to let people's necks turn etc.
The advantage that climbing up something is much more tiring than going across a straight hill/downwards plane, whereas the reverse applies for the one higher up being able to go down with more momentum. Hence why most castle were built as raised fortifications.
Spiral staircases in castles generally spiralled to the right to invoke this trope and give an advantage to the defenders. The higher swordsman could reach around the central column to hit his opponent without much restriction, while the lower swordsman would either have a severely restricted angle of attack or would have to fight left-handed. A leftward spiral would have the opposite effect.
There were many instances in the American Civil War when a battle was won or lost because one side had to charge uphill, because it is much easier to attack and defend from a high position, partially because if you are above, you can see the entire battlefield, and if you are below, you can only see the front line of the enemy.
This wasn't as useful as one might think during the Napoleonic Wars. Generally, most of the conscripts that fought would fire too low when firing uphill and fire too high when firing downhill. Played mercilessly straight by the Anglo-Portugese army under Wellington at the Battle of Bussaco.
One of the reasons this didn't usually work against Napoleon was the efficiency of his artillery and their fragmentation grenades, that could easily take down enemy forces placed above his troops.
Holding the high ground is (probably) one of the reasons why the Romans defeated Boudica in the Battle of Watling Street. Aware of how badly outnumbered he was, the Roman commander selected a battleground where his forces were protected on their flanks by the walls of a gorge, and behind by forest; the only avenue of attack open to Boudica was to charge her forces uphill into the mouth of the gorge, tiring them out and bottlenecking them before they even got to engage the Romans.
The Romans attempted to invoke this at the Battle of Carrhae, but it was surprisingly subverted. Says Plutarch, "They were therefore compelled to retire upon the men-at‑arms, taking with them Publius, who was severely wounded. And seeing a sandy hillock nearby, they all retired to it, thinking they could more easily defend themselves against the Barbarians. But it turned out just the other way. For on level ground, the front ranks do, to some extent, afford relief to those who are behind them. But here, where the inequality of the ground raised one man above another, and lifted every man who was behind another into greater prominence, there was no such thing as escape, but they were all alike hit with arrows, bewailing their inglorious and ineffectual death."