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Reverse Cerebus Syndrome

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Left: The Ultimates at their prime with one of their biggest drama bombs.
Right: The Ultimate Marvel line is about to get closed, so what the hell, bring in the Ultimate Spider-Ham and his troupe.note 

So you're following this story. So far, it's a very dark and edgy, tight and gripping thriller. Three main characters have died, the fourth is having an abortion in order to prevent the evil conspiracy from using her child to bring forth the apocalypse in a Crapsack World. Nobody smiles, ever.

Then you tune in next week, and find out that... the three dead guys have been resurrected thanks to the powers of a Magical Girl Bunny-Ears Lawyer who takes the form of a polka dot unicorn. The evil government conspiracy is actually a sham by The Man Behind the Curtain, a demonic dog from hell who speaks entirely in Pig Latin and just wants to impress chicks. The heroine's pregnancy was just a hallucination brought on by overcooked chocolate-chip cookies (and she's fine now). There's No Fourth Wall any more, and the characters have a degree of Medium Awareness. Everyone always smiles.

This Tone Shift away from seriousness and more towards humor can happen for any number of reasons. Maybe audiences weren't jiving with the more serious take. Maybe there was some Executive Meddling involved. Maybe the writers were just bored. In some cases, the story started funny, became serious, but then returned to its roots. And if it runs long enough, it may go serious again.

If done badly (or at all) it can piss audiences off- after all, True Art Is Angsty.

If this way happened to the actors in Real Life, that's Leslie Nielsen Syndrome.

Inverse of Cerebus Syndrome, can be combined to get Cerebus Rollercoaster. Compare Lighter and Softer. See also Denser and Wackier when a series gets less realistic and zanier as it goes on. An instance of Mood Whiplash.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Buu Saga of Dragon Ball Z, which brought the long-absent humor aspect of the story back in full force, featuring things such as Gohan trying to be a superhero only to be immediately found out, a tournament which quickly degrades into slapstick, villains who are initially so weak that the heroes aren't at all bothered by them, Goku getting favors from a god by offering to introduce him to Bulma, a sage who "brings out Gohan's potential" by forcing him to sit still while he reads comic books, and the world's most powerful coffee candy. To top it off, the villain of the story is an Eldritch Abomination from the dawn of time who resembles a fat creampuff in Arabian Nights digs, who kills people by turning them into candy and eating them. This arc also had its fair share of very dark parts providing no small amount of Mood Whiplash, meaning you're either laughing for real or laughing for how messed up it can get. Especially notable since it came right off the heels of the Cell saga, which was likely the single darkest of the DBZ sagas, making the switch in tone all the more noticeable.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry had most of its 4-to-8-episode-long arcs slowly turning from amusing Slice of Life to gory horror. An arc starting with a cute and hilarious card game will end with a boy killing two of his best friends. Then came the last arc of Kai was somewhat of the opposite, starting with a flashback showing a girl's parents dying before being sent to an Orphanage of Fear where she was abused and possibly raped, yet ending in what was practically a shonen-style action-adventure story with Non-Lethal Warfare and Everybody Lives ending. Even the main antagonist survives.
    • Rei upped this with the funny variant, the first and the last episodes are sillier than any arc-beginning episode ever, and they don't even end in tragedy. The arc episodes though are quite dark, being about Rika dying and entering a "good" world where Keiichi never shot up a girl, Satoshi's parents never died, etc. It climaxes with Rika killing her mother in order to get back to hers and an ambiguity on whether it was All Just a Dream or not.
    • Kira is just straight-up ecchi comedy.
    • Averted in the Kaku movie. It's Higurashi meets a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • While always humorous, earlier episodes of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei really presented the whole cast as deeply depressed and unhinged people, whereas later episodes rely on more self-referential and pop culture humor and the cast is generally better adjusted. For example, although it was always implied he never really wanted to kill himself, Nozomu's suicide attempts largely stop later on in the series. On the other hand, Chiri becomes increasingly murderous as the series progresses.
  • Code Geass underwent this likely as a side effect of Executive Meddling. Instead of continuing Zero's attempted hostile takeover of Japan after a genocide, the Reset Button is pressed via Time Skip and the show once again goes back to the wacky hijinks of the Absurdly Powerful Student Council. The English dub even hangs a lampshade on it. Then the clown shooing begins. Fans can only guess at what season 2 would've been like if the first several episodes hadn't essentially rehashed season 1, but it's been implied that C.C.'s real name (which was implied to be significant somehow, if only because they went out of their way to hide in in season 1) and the source of Suzaku's Charles Atlas Super Power would've been among the things revealed.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V flip-flops between this and Cerebus Syndrome, with the series slowly getting into darker and more depressing topics, but then ending the first arc with the main character getting an optimistic pep-talk from his mom. Season 2 gets even darker and then closes with an extremely optimistic message and an easy solution to a very complex societal issue, until the last thirty seconds of the episode set up the next season.
  • City Hunter: The first two volumes start as very gritty and serious, with Ryo actually killing the target bad guys ; but after this and until the last two volumes where the story becomes serious again, the series becomes very comedic, what's all with Ryo and Kaori's antics, and the use of Humiliation Conga and Hoist by His Own Petard to non-lethally defeat the Bad Guys of the Week.
  • The first series of Cat's Eye was fairly serious and action-driven, albeit with a lot of lighthearted comedy moments in-between robberies. The second series was a borderline Romantic Comedy, with increasingly absurd heists and a larger amount of focus on the Dating Catwoman relationship between Hitomi and Toshio.
  • When The Castle of Cagliostro was made by Hayao Miyazaki, he put his own spin on the Lupin III character. He had already toned him down from the raunchier, more manic version depicted in the manga while working on Lupin III: Part 1 series with Takahata, and made him even Lighter and Softer here. As a result, it flopped in Japan when it was first released—the people who liked Lupin III for what it was were turned off, and the people who didn't like Lupin III didn't have any reason to watch the movie. It was only in later years, when Miyazaki gained recognition for his original works and more people watched the movie without any prior Lupin III experience, that it belatedly gained a reputation as a classic.
  • The first two seasons of Monster Rancher certainly aren’t without a lot of humor, but they overall carry a serious and melancholic tone; containing a lot of deaths both off and on screen, several ruthless villains led by a terrifying Big Bad, and an especially sad Bittersweet Ending. The third season is massively Lighter and Softer with less life-threatening danger, goofier villains, and even more humor. Justified as the Big Bad, the being behind most of the previous seasons darkness, is gone. Fittingly when the Big Bad is revived in the grand finale, this trope becomes subverted.
  • While still darker than many of the other Pokémon adaptations, Pokémon Adventures isn't quite the gritty, violent series it was in the Kanto and Johto arcs anymore. The only exception is the end of the Ruby and Sapphire arc, which had a fair amount of onscreen deaths, but Ruby had a Celebi and was able to undo everything.
  • Berserk, after the infamous turning point in the manga where Guts is defeated and his love interest is raped, begins to introduce less grim elements and humor, such as a brat who serves as a parody of samurai and Kid Hero, mermaids fighting pirates, and so on.
  • Hohzuki Island starts off having the adults being evil and taking out life insurance on the children so that they could kill one of them whenever they were running low on funds, leading to the kids attempting to go to the other side of the island and escape. All deaths that take place are undone except for the adults despite at least onenote  revoked "death" being blatantly lethal and it turns out that only the bad guy is actually evil and the adults are actually good.
  • Sailor Moon S, the anime's darkest season yet, which included older Senshi, Well Intentioned Extremists galore, Sadistic Choices For the Greater Good, dark Messianic Archetypes, and even a Post-Final Boss that proved the Monsters of the Week were Not So Harmless after all, was followed by... Sailor Moon Super S, which mainly focused on Chibi-Usa, featured mostly completely ineffectual circus-themed MOT, veered towards fantasy/fairytale-like imagery, barely bothered with character development (with the Inner Senshi being hit the worst) and whose fight scenes were almost entirely slapstick comedy up until the final few episodes. The next season, Sailor Moon Sailor Stars went with a darker tone again, even revamping the Super S Big Bad and putting her at the helm of the anime's most nightmarish arc yet.
  • Vinland Saga starts off with a very dark and depressing tale of an innocent kid turned killing machine, with a brutality that almost gives Berserk a run for its money. The second arc, after the Prolonged Prologue, while still not exactly light, has a noticeably more peaceful atmosphere. The third arc has a lot more humor and even an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain with Sigurd. It all follows the Character Development of the main character Thorfinn, who gradually gives up on violence (or at least tries to) and finds a reason to live that doesn't involve murdering people.
  • The Land of Waves arc of Naruto has a noticeably grimmer and more down-to-earth tone than future arcs. While future chapters feature topics even worse than that arc, they play it off in a more standard shonen fashion.
  • Zig-zagged with My Hero Academia. The first two seasons are mostly constant action and focuses on the criticism of a world where superheroes are a common profession. The next couple of seasons then have a lot more lighthearted school life scenes, which includes showing off everyone's dorms and preparing for a school festival. However, come season six which goes on to go back in the same, if not, darker tone than the first two seasons.
  • Symphogear goes through this over the course of its first season.
    • The anime begins with Miku grieving the death of her best friend and main character of the show. In a flashback, Hibiki goes to a concert, where a Noise attack occurs, which results in many gruesome deaths. Kanade sacrifices herself to save Hibiki, who then gains power by getting hit in the chest with a fragment of her Symphogear. In the present, Tsubasa hates Hibiki and blames her for her friend's death. Later we learn about Swan Songs –- ultimate techniques which end with attacker's death. In episode 4, Tsubasa uses it, starts bleeding heavily and collapses seemingly dead.
    • After this point the show starts to go away from its initial darkness and becomes more standard and idealistic Superhero story. Tsubasa quickly reconciles with Hibiki. More magical girls join the squad, even those who were introduced as enemies. Characters go through multiple power-ups and Swan Songs no longer kill their users. Some characters still die, but the main cast doesn't bear this risk and villains often get redeemed before death. Needless to say, Hibiki wasn't actually dead.

  • In an overlap with Denser and Wackier, the comic strip FoxTrot started out relatively down-to-earth and realistic. There was no shortage of Story Arcs and Very Special Episodes; e.g., Peter trying to give up chewing tobacco, or Paige and Jason finding a hypodermic needle on the beach. Some story arcs took as long as two months, such as the 1997 arc where Jason attends summer camp. Sometime around the late 1990s-early 2000s, the comic became much looser and more comedic, often deconstructing comic tropes, breaking the fourth wall and exercising the Rule of Funny as often as possible. What little story arcs existed in the 2000s were often very off-the-wall, such as Jason dreaming that he's become a mini-Paige.
  • Marvel Year In Review started out as a view into what a news magazine would look like in the Marvel Universe, and played that role to the hilt. Although there were a few comedic moments (such as Captain America watching his own movie from the nineties and declaring that "a great blow was dealt to the name of truth and justice this day"), they were mostly derived from events that happened in the comics as well (such as the fact that there was a scene were Cap went to watch his own movie). However, that changed starting with Issue 3. Thanks to Infinity War, all the staff working on the magazine were replaced with Evil Twins, who decided to start taking the piss out of everything happening in the comics, such as the abundance of crossovers and Anti-Hero Substitutes. The new direction stuck with the magazine until the end.
  • The Savage Dragon started off as a byproduct of the Darker and Edgier period of comics. After about a year or so, the comics began to show some humorous characters, making the comic more fun. Once the 00's came around, the comic was turned into more of a Shout-Out to classic Marvel Comics and is a lot goofier.
  • Cerebus the Aardvark itself had this happen at least twice.
    • The first instance occurred all the way back in Issue 3. The first two issues were - in all honesty - straight-up fantasy adventures that happened to star a Funny Animal and had some comic relief thrown in here and there. Issue 3 was where the series started to overtly parody the Heroic Fantasy genre rather than imitate it.
    • Later on, after years of progressively-darker and more-serious plot developments, Dave Sim gave readers Guys, Rick's Story and Going Home: three very comedic and light-hearted (although definitely not kid-friendly) story arcs.
  • Deadpool; started as a typical Rob Liefeld 'creation inspired by' Deathstroke, but had a tendency to snark (something added by Fabien Nicieza, Liefeld never intended such). Joe Kelly then made him insane, but also did many other things making this arguably more a case of character development or focusing.
  • This became the fate of W.I.T.C.H., dumping the episodic and action-packed storylines that drove the first seven storylines in favor of episodic slice-of-life stories with a few action-packed multi-parters in between.
  • Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters attempted (and failed) to emulate the Darker and Edgier nature of the original Godzilla film and Heisei Era films with gratuitous violence, Death of a Child, and limp-fisted attempts at dated social commentary. This proved pretty unpopular and so the comics afterwards decided to go in the opposite direction, emulating the fun and adventure of the Showa Era films with insane set-piece moments, loads of monster brawling, occasional bits of dramedy, and a Myth Arc that would be at home in a pulp adventure serial. The results have been much better received by fans.
  • Budiansky's run in Marvel's The Transformers was started with the famous "New Order" four-parter, one of the darkest stories in the entire series, where Shockwave defeats and captures the weakened Autobots, hangs their bodies like meat at a butcher's, and severs Prime's head to probe it for the power of the Creation Matrix. The arc is completely serious and dark throughout, with Shockwave as a competent and unstoppable foe. The Budiansky stories following were instead characterised by lightness and goofiness, as they became increasingly more ridiculous and humorous, featuring space kids, robot wrestling, and car washes of doom, and it is these more Slice of Life stories that tend to be associated with him. Furman's run on the other hand, was consistently dark and serious.
  • Ultimate Marvel was an imprint that took a serious, dark, more grounded and down-to-earth approach to the Marvel mythos. The Ultimates (the local version of The Avengers) fought against Hulk during a destructive rampage very similar to the 9/11, and then against an alien invasion of the Chitauri, aliens that used to work with the Nazis. Peter Parker died fighting against the Green Goblin, and Miles Morales became the new Spider-Man. Reed Richards, who started as a hero with the Fantastic Four, becomes a villain who would establish his technocratic society by any means necessary, including the destruction of Berlin, the genocide of all the Asgardians, and the infinity gauntlets. Galactus comes from the prime reality, and almost destroyed the whole planet. But the imprint started to decrease in sales after almost a decade, and was closed during the Secret Wars (2015) crossover, where Doctor Doom saved the multiverse from destruction and remade it in his image. In Ultimate FF #5, one of the last issues of the Ultimate Marvel before the closure, all the serious tone is thrown out the window, and we have a visit from Miles Morhames, the Ultimate Spider-Ham (an antropomorphic pig with Morales' Spider suit), who comes from an alternate universe "similar" to the ultimate one. The thing is so bizarre, that it goes beyond description. Let's hear Morhames' own description of his home reality:
    Miles Morhames: From what we learned, your world and ours are the same. Mostly. We were invaded by the Chiuauatari, and defended by the Ultipets. Our Peter Porker died heroically, just as yours. Mooster Fantastic, Hulk-Bunny, Quacksilver, and your Dr. Storm as Kangaroo the Conqueror tried to take over the world. And then him. Galactypus. He's the beginning of the end. He's why I'm here. (talking to Sue Storm) I've seen what will happen a thousand times. Your relationship with Ben Grizzly will end, painfully, and then you will fall in love with him: Duck-tor Doom. As the rifts got worse, Doom hatched a plan, something that would remake the universe using his feeble powers. It was supposed to kill billions, but save millions. I thought Simian Storm just couldn't live with that. But love for Doom blinded her, and our universe paid the price.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • The Land Before Time has this as a result of its plot. The first movie is about finding dinosaur paradise and so for the rest of the series, they're living there and going out to solve problems. What makes this obvious is the fact that all the films in the series except the first one are musicals.
  • The sequels to An American Tail go through this. While the original was heart-wrenching yet whimsical, Fievel Goes West was heavily comical in tone; The Treasure of Manhattan Island was Darker and Edgier than FGW, but still not much like the original except for the setting; and Mystery of The Night Monster was rather silly.
  • The third, fourth, and fifth Ice Age movies. The first two (but especially the first), while still comedic, are much darker and more violent and serious than the following three.
  • The two The Brave Little Toaster sequels go this route. The original movie, while not without moments of whimsy, was much darker and had a more foreboding atmosphere, while the second and third films went in a more lighter and more comedic direction.
  • The series of direct-to-video Scooby-Doo movies that started in the late 1990s follow this trend. The first two, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island and The Witch's Ghost, gained recognition for being Darker and Edgier than the previous television shows, and feature genuinely threatening antagonists with real supernatural qualities who are trying to kill Mystery Inc. The next two, The Alien Invaders and Cyber Chase, still feature the gang in more danger than usual, but are a bit lighter in tone. Legend of the Vampire would then deliberately invoke the tone of the original 1969 series, and most of the movies that followed since have leaned heavily on goofy comedy and sometimes outlandish situations (especially the various crossovers), with the films becoming increasingly tongue-in-cheek and self-aware with each new installment as well.
  • The Lion King 1 ½ is a lot more comedic and cartoonish than the first two. The fact that the film has Timon and Pumbaa watching the movie in a theater as a Framing Device says something.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A major offender is the A Nightmare on Elm Street film franchise. The original movie was a very dark and spooky horror masterpiece featuring a mysterious and sinister Freddy. As the series went on, the plotlines became ridiculous, the deaths more over the top, and Freddy became more of a Large Ham who flung witty banter and product placement like nothing else.
  • Friday the 13th films became more tongue-in-cheek as the years went by, eventually ending in space.
  • Leprechaun series began as a relatively straight horror, though with the title character making bad puns and riding a tricycle at superspeed. The sequels became increasingly more campy, to the point that four and five are titled Leprechaun 4: In Space and Leprechaun in the Hood.
  • The Evil Dead franchise. The first film is straight horror, the sequel is a horror/comedy hybrid, and Army of Darkness is almost a pure comedy.
  • The Child's Play series as well. While the concept of a serial killer in the body of a hybrid My Buddy/Teddy Ruxpin/Cabbage Patch Kid was never entirely serious, the earlier films were played much straighter than the later ones. In particular the fourth and fifth are definitely better classified as horror-comedies. With the sixth movie, Curse of Chucky, being made to bring back the more straight horror and the seventh film bringing back some of the comedy, it seems like the series is headed into Cerebus Rollercoaster territory.
  • The James Bond film franchise. While there are still some dramatic character deaths, once it was out of The '60s there was a lot more self-referential humour and lampshading of the Strictly Formula aspects. The Craig movies continue to play with the formula, but are far more serious.
  • The Godzilla franchise started off depicting the horrors of a nuclear holocaust. The first movie was very dark and, even by today's standards, frightening. The series gradually shifted from allegorical horror to a children's movie series best known for goofy rubber suits and ridiculous plots. The titular monster, originally a metaphor for the atomic bomb, turned into a proud national icon and the source for cartoons, toys, video games, etc. It wasn't until 1984's The Return of Godzilla (and, to a lesser degree, the previous two movies, which preceded it by ten years) that the series took a partial turn back to its serious roots, and it's been wavering back and forth between both extremes ever since. However, the first film remains the darkest, most haunting film in the franchise's history.
  • Final Destination. The first film and the second film were genuinely dark and unpredictable with some nice Character Development and well written death scenes (except maybe for that one in the first movie). Then the third and fourth films upped the gore, nixed character development and became Bloody Hilarious. The fifth returns back to the horror and dark plot of the first second films, though the deaths are still Bloody Hilarious (quite fitting, since the film is a prequel to the first film after all.
  • The two Buttercream Gang movies by Feature Films for Families experienced this. The first one was a straight drama about growing up, drifting apart from friends, and the pain in trying (and failing) to keep said friendships intact. The second one did a complete 180 from that and was an adventure-comedy complete with buried treasure and inept mooks. Which one is better? It depends on what you're in the mood for.
  • The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia was widely criticized for having goofy depictions of characters like Falcor and the Rockbiter who spew pop culture references as opposed to the far more serious mood of the first movie.
  • This happened to the classic Universal Horror: Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man started out in genuinely frightening movies, and their monsters wound up being outwitted by Abbott and Costello.
  • The Superman Film Series hit this with Superman III, starting with the choice to cast comic actor Richard Pryor as a bumbling-but-brilliant computer programmer in the employ of the Corrupt Corporate Executive villain. General wacky hijinks include an opening credit sequence focusing on Disaster Dominoes tumbling on the streets of Metropolis and a temporarily evil Superman causing trouble by straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa and blowing out the Olympic flame For the Evulz. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace mostly reverses this, with the exception of a Totally Radical nephew/sidekick for Lex Luthor.
  • Tim Burton's two Batman Film Series films, Batman (1989) and Batman Returns, were much darker and grimmer than the Batman (1966) version of the franchise, but still contained hammy villain performances and plenty of camp, such as constant Prince songs or rocket penguins. When Joel Schumacher took over for Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, he dropped the dark elements, leaving nothing to counterbalance the Ham and Cheese of Jim Carrey as the Riddler, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, and the infamous Bat-nipples.
  • Gremlins. The first film was a hybrid of horror and Black Comedy, but with the sequel, the director decided to parody aspects of the original and give the film a feel like a feature-length Looney Tunes sketch (with the movie being bookended with the actual Looney Tunes).
  • Wes Craven's Shocker starts off as the pursuit of a Serial Killer who murders the main character's girlfriend, along with his entire family (one of which was a little girl). Things start getting a little more farcical once the killer makes a Deal with the Devil to be turned into electricity so that he can Body Surf around the town. He then starts popping out of inanimate objects; like an armchair. Once the hero and the villain both get Trapped in TV Land and interrupt a bunch of live TV shows with their fighting, one has completely forgotten that it's a 'HORROR' movie. The hero even gets the bad guy to do some amusing tricks using a remote control just to emphasize how silly the film has become.
  • This has happened with the Sharknado films. The first two Sharknado films, while they still had a bizarre premise of a tornado full of sharks coming in and terrorizing the people, were more grounded in storytelling. But starting with Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, the series started to get Denser and Wackier with the characters facing off the sharks in space, April being turned into a powerful cyborg and eventually the events of the series turns out that the sharks actually came from a Shark God.
  • The trilogy started with Basket Case, much like the Evil Dead one, became increasingly comedic. The first film was a low-budget but still sleazy and disturbing horror film, the second one was more of a horror with many black comedy elements, and the final one became outright wacky and zany, with almost nothing that could be construed as scary.
  • The DC Extended Universe has been going this way. The first two movie in the franchise, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, were directed by Zack Snyder and had dark tones comparable to The Dark Knight Trilogy. However, both films received mixed to negative reactions from critics and audiences, with some even drawing unfavorable comparisons to The Dark Age of Comic Books. Warner Bros. responded to the feedback by course-correcting to make subsequently movies lighter and whimsical. Wonder Woman (2017) has a more optimistic outlook, with director Patty Jenkins drawing inspiration from Superman: The Movie. James Wan's Aquaman (2018) and David F. Sandberg's SHAZAM! (2019) embrace the whimsical and fantastical mythos of the source material by having the characters keep their classic costumes and their goofy powers. Subsequently, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and SHAZAM! were more positively received by critics and audiences compared to Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman.

  • The first two stories featuring Retief were serious in tone. But by the third story, it had focused more on satire and humor, which the series is widely known for.
  • Dean Koontz's Frankenstein's series. The first two books are considerably darker than the last three.
  • The Mental State appears to go through this process. Chapters 2-5 feature rape, murder, incarceration, madness, drug dealers and hazing. Once Zack’s schemes start kicking off, the tone and environment become considerably lighter. The Big Bad is essentially a bond villain with prosthetic fingers. By the end, everything has been sorted and everyone except the Irredeemables get a happy ending.
  • The Xanth series by Piers Anthony began as relatively straightforward adult fantasy novels set in a virtual Death World, with many common fantasy elements like centaurs and dragons, characters undertaking serious quests with significant, sometimes world-altering consequences, and a few pun-derived creatures and objects thrown in occasionally to lighten the mood. As the series progressed a Hurricane of Puns took over the narrative, the characters' quests became progressively lighter and sillier, and most of the obstacles they faced devolved from genuine threats to amusingly inconvenient nuisances. Anthony eventually gave up even the pretense that a major character's life would ever be seriously threatened, to the point of lampshading it with Okra Ogress, whose entire quest is literally to become a main character because she knows that main characters are guaranteed to live happily ever after.
  • Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology is organized this way: the earliest and most famous poems in the cycle focus on the characters who are criminals, Driven to Madness, murderers, and so on, but as the cycle continues, the characters are more prone to looking beyond the world's ugliness. However, the Spooniad at the end slides back towards cynical.

  • U2: In the wake of Rattle and Hum's disastrous critical reception, the band dropped the earnest, serious image they'd developed like a hot potato and spent The '90s reminding people that they had a sense of humor and a working knowledge of satire and irony. Bono did once note that their more Rule of Cool image was meant to distract people from their still-present heavy subject matter:

    Live Action TV 
  • Akumaizer 3 starts off fairly dark and dramatic, with the second episode alone having the main character's mom dying, but midway through it becomes much more wacky and light-hearted, with goofier and more surreal episode plots and much more focus on children. Although it goes back to being dark for the final two episodes.
  • Angel went through something similar at the beginning of Season 5, although it'd be more accurate to say that the show suffered from permanent comedy-drama dissociative identity disorder. This was not new to season 5; the series radically shifted in focus several times, starting all the way back in season 1. The ending of season 5, however... not so much.
  • The X-Files had a few comedy episodes here and there since late season 2, which was part of what made the show work so well: they gave the viewer a brief, amusing break from all the darkness and edginess. In seasons 6 and 7, this went too far. For a while, it seemed like every single episode of the formerly dark, creepy drama was a comedy. Season 8 returned the show to a high creepy-to-silly ratio.
  • The Brady Bunch began as a somewhat serious (but still comedic) show. Unfortunately, the series quickly descended into goofball territory.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Third Doctor era began with a season where stories featured moral ambiguity, bittersweet and downer endings and real tension between the cast about the military way of UNIT and the Doctor's pacifist nature. Starting from the next season these elements were gradually removed.
    • The Fourth Doctor's tenure underwent this shift as well. After a debut season that included such unsettling serials as "Genesis of the Daleks", seasons 13-14 had many violent horror-inspired storylines ("Pyramids of Mars", "The Seeds of Doom", "The Brain of Morbius"), to say nothing of the truly dark "The Deadly Assassin". Complaints from Moral Guardians poured in. When new producer Graham Williams took over for Season 15, the show quickly started to lighten up with the addition of Robot Buddy K-9 and the Doctor's humorous side had more airtime; in general, stories in this period were less gruesome and violent if not verging on comic ("City of Death" being the epitome of this). This was even lampshaded on a sort of symbolic level in "Horror of Fang Rock" (the first Graham Williams story) - the setting and plot superficially resembles that of the moody Gothic Horror, but the monster is identified as something deliberately weaker and more harmless than the Eldritch Abomination or Leaking Can of Evil monsters preferred by the previous regime, and everyone involved in the gothic world dies, leaving the Doctor and Leela to make some jokes and head back to the TARDIS. When John Nathan-Turner came on board as the producer for Season 18, he dialed back the humor and had K-9 written out of the show; the season ended with the Fourth Doctor's regeneration in the very serious "Logopolis".
    • The contrast between the Sixth Doctor and the Seventh's Doctor's tenure is also thought of as this. The Fifth and Sixth Doctors had increasingly dark and convoluted stories involving parallel universes, and the Sixth Doctor in particular was batshit insane and more violent than most preceding doctors (perhaps except for some of the early stories with the First Doctor). Executive Meddling caused him to be abruptly replaced with the Seventh Doctor, who had much fluffier stories such as "The Happiness Patrol", which, while being a satire on Margaret Thatcher's Britain, is mostly remembered for having an evil version of Bertie Basset killing people with fondant. Despite this, the Seventh Doctor was also a Magnificent Bastard that would use complex plans to achieve victory, sometimes having his victory plotted out from the start, even causing serious emotional suffering to his companion Ace, a girl with a love for explosives. These traits would carry over to the various revival incarnations particularly when they were definitely on the line between hero and villain that happens to like humanity. Ace herself was also abnormally dark for a companion, being more than willing to get into combat, even attacking Daleks.
  • Scrubs, which started off as a contemplative drama punctuated by zany comedic moments in the first season. Each successive season veered the show more and more into completely zany comedic territory with sillier and sillier hijinks and characters. Post-move-to-ABC, though, it's almost played straight, as the show turned back toward what it was the first season.
  • The first episodes of Passions tried to incorporate horror elements a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Charmed, leading to much Narm. Eventually, the show gave in completely to the witchcraft, complex death plots and total absurdity it's known and loved for.
  • Charmed zig-zags from dramatic to whimsical and back seemingly on a whim. Season 1 has many horror elements to it, with demons such as werewolves, mirror ghosts and hell fiends. Cue the start of season 2, and we have cupids, girls turning animals into men for dates, and a bland love triangle as the main arc. This was fixed in season 3, but then season 6 went down this route again, adding a surplus of fairies, leprechauns, wood nymphs, and a magical "Mr. Right." Season 7 went back in the other direction again.
  • Lost in Space began seriously, but the tone had given way to camp by the end of the first season.
  • While it had always been a highly optimistic comedy, How I Met Your Mother's first four seasons never shied away from emotional moments and tough, grim, even Tear Jerking storylines (Marshall and Lily's temporary breakup, Ted and Barney's fight, Ted getting left at the altar, Barney's unrequited feelings for Robin). Come season five however, it was all thrown out the window as everyone experienced Flanderization, the show underwent Denser and Wackier, and episode after episode revolved around pointless goofy filler. Even Robin and Barney's breakup had no emotional depth and no fallout until late in the season. The show reacquired some seriousness in season 6, however, and subsequently went too far in the other direction with extreme Cerebus Syndrome in season 7.
  • Ugly Betty shifted from a dramatic-comedy to focus solely on comedy during Series 2, hence the reason Alan Dale asked that his character Bradford Meade be killed off. Indeed, by the third series the show devolved into a farcical parody of itself, struggling along by rehashing the same tired plotlines. Unfortunately the show only managed to shift back into drama in the last few episodes, long after the cancellation had been announced.
  • Revenge flirts with this trope in its 4th season, becoming significantly more campy and soap-operatic with outlandish plots such as Victoria escaping from a mental institution with a parasol, Louise attempting to kill Margaux with an overheating sauna, and a literal Trapped In An Elevator encounter between Emily and Daniel. The tone shift was especially problematic in light of the dark note Season 3 ended on, producing an uncomfortable dynamic where Emily trades playful banter with the woman who smothered her fiance to death just episodes ago.
  • This is very obvious in Chouriki Sentai Ohranger. The first few episodes depict the earth almost being fully conquered by the Machine Empire Baranoia, with humanity struggling to even maintain a fighting chance. However, because of several real life events, including a terrorist attack by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, this series had to be severely toned down. As of the eighth episode, the series adopted a much more comedic tone, with the villains using silly Monster of the Week schemes, rather than employing the merciless all-out attack they maintained in the first seven episodes. A prime example of this is a monster turning clothes worn by people into battle armor, allowing it to mind-control said people. Avoiding this monster's power required one of the female rangers to fight the monster wearing only a bikini.
  • The Kamen Rider franchise, from 2000 on. First, we start with it Darker and Edgier than its pre-revival self; Anyone Can Die, the manner of deaths can be Nightmare Fuel, sometimes monsters are people too and some must die anyway, sometimes Humans Are Bastards, and "good guys" can sometimes do things that are downright unheroic - though rare, it can even extend to the main Rider (see Kabuto.) As of the so-called "Neo Heisei Era" (2010 onwards), it's easing off - not to the point of no longer being dramatic, but on the Batman continuum, maybe it's gone from The Dark Knight to Batman: The Animated Series. Fewer heroes with an F in good, better chance of being able to save the guy who didn't want to turn into the Monster of the Week, better chance of being able to save the first poor shmuck the bad monster takes a shot at, and the Dangerous Forbidden Technique isn't actually guaranteed to kill you, and more Large Ham characters. It mostly starts with the new decade, but even then, compare Kamen Rider 555 to Kamen Rider Kiva. Similar in construction, same showrunner, monsters kill civilians left and right, monsters are all transformed humans... but 555 ends with one general still plotting and the Big Bad not completely defeated, half the cast dead, and main hero Takumi hasn't long to live. Kiva ends with a new peace between humans and Fangires, the resurrected original Big Bad defeated, the new one redeemed, a wedding, and a new adventure with the main hero's Kid from the Future about to begin.
    Also, each series in the Neo Heisei era has a common trend with a member of the main cast dying in the penultimate or final episode; of the four, two come Back from the Dead (Double's Philip and Fourze's Kengo), while the other two stay dead but it's still treated positively (OOO's Ankh dies happy knowing that he had real friends, his spirit continues to watch over Eiji, and The Movie suggests that he will eventually be revived, while Wizard's Koyomi was Dead to Begin With and the show ends with her spirit being put to rest).\\ And then along comes Kamen Rider Gaim, which could be seen as a Neo-Heisei era hero starring in an early Heisei era series replete with character death and moral ambiguity; this should come as no surprise, seeing as the showrunner and head writer was Gen Urobuchi. However, even with all that, the series still manages a fairly happy ending: the hero and his love interest Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence and leave the planet (taking the Alien Kudzu with them), the rival dies but finally finds peace, and the sidekick who had undergone a massive Face–Heel Turn finds acceptance and redemption.
  • The U.S version of The Apprentice became this when it changed its format to become an all-celebrity show. The birther opinions from Donald Trump don't help the show's possible view of itself as a paragon of solemnity either.
  • Power Rangers, in the new-10’s, has deliberately invoked this, as a response to the Darker and Edgier later Disney seasons. While fan reaction is all over the place, ratings have been for the most part good.
  • Lexx is a textbook example of this trope. The first TV movie has a little levity, but is unmistakeably a drama. The next three have mostly the same tone, but with sequences of incongruous silliness slotted into the drama. The second season settled on Star Trek-like episodic drama blended with low-level humor. The humor was cranked up in season 3, and, for the first time, meta-humor started appearing. The fourth and final season seemed almost like a comedy, with frequent self-parody and references to the show's fandom.
  • The very first episode of the 1960s Batman (1966) TV series, "Hey Diddle Riddle", while comedic in tone, did make reference to the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents by "dastardly criminals" (an origin story almost exactly like the one from the comics, and one the producers of the show hesitated to so much as allude to), and it's clear from the dialogue that (again, just as in the comics), Wayne has become Batman in order to fulfill a promise he made to his parents for that very reason. Following this two-episode story arc, the show never brought up the murder again.
  • Legends of Tomorrow was a dramatic show with some comedic beats in season 1, taking its two main arcs featuring captain Rip Hunter, Big Bad Vandal Savage, and heroes Hawkman and Hawkgirl serious as a heart attack. However, the drama was falling flat with both audiences and crew, so for Season 2, the show was retooled into putting the emphasis on zany time-travel hijinks (the element that most considered worked the best), jettisoning the Hawks and Savage and reducing Hunter to a supporting character (and eventually removing the character as well), and sanding down the darker edges of White Canary and Heat Wave into lighter, unquestioned heroes. The show became a cult favorite with each subsequent season, landing on several critics' top-10-television lists praising its humor, creativity, and appealing cast. What was once a dramatic show with hints of comedy had successfully turned into a Guardians of the Galaxy-style adventure comedy with the occasional dramatic beat.
  • Metal Heroes:

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy
    • Final Fantasy V has a much more lighthearted tone compared to its predecessor, Final Fantasy IV. Even though considerably more characters die for real in V than in IV.
    • Final Fantasy IX. After the more downbeat tones of VI, VII and VIII, IX brought back some much-needed humor. It's still has its dark moments (its main theme is mortality, after all), but it's significantly cuter and sillier than the previous installments.
    • Final Fantasy X-2 has a goofy, deliberately cheesy veneer masking a reasonably serious plot, whereas Final Fantasy X was darker and grimmer most of the time. It's justified in that most of the things that made X so dark were dealt with in that game.
    • Similarly, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings is significantly lighter and happier-feeling than its preceding game, Final Fantasy XII, but in a weird way. Final Fantasy XII has a somewhat grounded tone, having a far-reaching plot involving politics, the issues of general masses, and freedom and subservience that sometimes you kind of get the feeling of being small and weak among the myriad of problems presented there. Meanwhile, Revenant Wings is a straight-up fantasy that explores the main characters' personal issues, akin to some other games in the series, so the issue is confined within them. Plus, Revenant Wings only focuses on the safety of the aegyls (though they're decidedly a subset of humans), yet the original game focuses on of every races, especially humans.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance did a complete shift in tone in comparison to Final Fantasy Tactics. While the first game was extremely dark, the next game was much more light hearted and had a much more vibrant color scheme, though it still retained a few dark themes. People hated how childish the game looked and how the story was directed, so Final Fantasy Tactics A2 attempted to mix light and dark themes together and it was met with warm praise.
  • Team Fortress also underwent this change—compare the original Quake mod and its Valve Software remake to its sequel. The more realistic and less goofy-looking designs in Team Fortress Classic compared to Team Fortress, on the other hand, could be interpreted as regular Cerebus Syndrome.
  • Team Fortress 2 itself has undergone a variation of Reverse Cerebus Syndrome; while the story hasn't gotten less serious, the design process certainly has. When the game was launched, the art style stuck to a strict "Eagleland during The '60s" theme, and each character was boiled down to a series of instantly-recognizable traits, in terms of both design and game balance. Compare that to today, with over 300 increasingly-wacky unlockable hats and weapons inching further into Rummage Sale Reject territory. A Scout armed with a fish fighting a Heavy wearing a Dodgy Toupee was unthinkable in 2007, but is rather commonplace today.
  • The first Shadow Hearts was a dark, almost entirely serious game inspired in large part by the works of H. P. Lovecraft. It has occasional comic interludes, but they're very rare, and overall the story is pretty Grimdark. The sequel, Covenant, dials up the comic relief considerably, and is generally a lot more over the top, but for the most part the explicitly comedic elements stay in the side quests. The main storyline focuses primarily on the protagonist's lost loved ones and impending death, and if anything is even gloomier than the first game's. In the third game of the series, From the New World, the story becomes mostly about comedy in the form of anthropomorphic cat mafiosi, Brazilian ninjas, vampiric obesity, and an intrepid boy reporter protagonist who inexplicably possesses a cell phone in 1929. There are still some serious moments, especially near the end, but they're barely more common than comedy was in the first game.
  • Go back a step further to the oft-overlooked Koudelka, which Shadow Hearts is a sequel to. This game is dark and deadly serious, as is fitting for a Survival Horror RPG, and makes Shadow Hearts look like a laugh riot high adventure in comparison. Roger Bacon is the only real source of humor in the game, while everyone else is depressed and soaked in tragedy and horror. The bad ending is the canonical ending for this one.
  • As this article about Sonic Colors says, Sega aimed to invoke this trope for the Sonic the Hedgehog series, starting with Sonic and the Secret Rings, after the Darker and Edgier games that were Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Sonic Generations continues in the same vein, and Sonic Boom, both the game and the cartoon, are pure goofiness. However, starting with Sonic Forces, the series started moving back in the other direction, followed by the much more melencholic Sonic Frontiers, the latter of which switched writers to long-time fan-favourite Sonic comic writer Ian Flynn, who has years of experience writing both the serious and goofy sides of Sonic.
  • The Persona series went this route with Persona 4, which despite its plot about serial killers and the sublimation of humanity's consciousness into the sea of shadows as orchestrated by the embodiments of self-destructive desire, is just so darn cheerful and optimistic its signature color scheme is sunshine yellow, its mascot is a colorful and pun-spewing teddy bear, and it ends with an unambiguously happy ending. After its predecessors' soul-crushing "Good" endings, and especially within the greater Megaten franchise, this was quite the Mood Whiplash.
  • Puyo Puyo's predecessor series Madou Monogatari is often associated with the PC-98 ports of the first installments, which were extremely dark, with the second game infamously having a scene with an uncensored decapitation of one of the series' staple characters. Madou Monogatari as a whole, from the original MSX release to the sillier Mega Drive port, isn't as dark as many make it out to be, but it's no secret that by 1996, both series took a turn for the lighthearted, and even more so when Sega acquired the former franchise.
  • The Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series gives us this. The first installment is fairly serious, with you either leading the Soviet Union's attempt to conquer Europe or the heroic Allied defense in an alternate World War II using mostly-realistic weapons. The second game features out-of-place technology (More of it than the first game), Psychic Powers, and attack squid. The third game includes, among other things, bear cannons and Tim Curry.
  • Saints Row began as a relatively straight gangster story that some would say took itself too seriously. Even the breakout sequel still maintained multiple serious storylines and was closer to a dark comedy in terms of tone. Then the third game took the franchise into full-on Denser and Wackier territory with very little in terms of serious drama. The fourth game added superpowers and aliens. Reaction to the shift has been met with either full on embracement, reluctant acceptance, or a downright sense of betrayal.
  • The original LEGO Star Wars was a fairly straight retelling of the prequel trilogy with some added jokes along the way. Later LEGO Adaptation Games were full-on over-the-top parodies that only nominally followed the events of the films they were based on.
  • The Story of Seasons franchise has gotten Lighter and Fluffier over the years. Since Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness, the series has toned down its darker themes of grief, mental illness, alcoholism, and relationship issues, though they still appear to a lesser degree.
  • [PROTOTYPE] is a pretty bleak game where the angsty protagonist must put down a Zombie Apocalypse while avoiding a fascist military organization made up of Well Intentioned Extremists and general Sociopathic Soldiers determined to stop the infection using any means necessary. The sequel is more or less a parody of this - the protagonist and most of the villains are scenery-chewing Large Hams, Blackwatch has become an army of cartoonishly evil, Black Comedy-generating dog kickers, the story is a lot more black-and-white, and the game is generally more willing to have fun with the absurdity of its premise.
  • Ultimate Custom Night is the final (kinda) game of the Five Nights At Freddys series. While the first games were very austere and played for horror, here all the sinister and lifeless but moving animatronics are turned into goofy Punch-Clock Villains who taunt the player by making Call-Back references and fourth-wall breakers. The cutscenes such as Toy Chica: The High School Years are hard to take seriously.
  • While Splatoon in general leans more towards the goofy side of things in general, the final battles of the story modes are generally more serious and high-stakes... However, with the original game and Splatoon 2's Hero Mode final battles, the latter of which involves one of the most heartbreaking moments of the entire series involving Marie trying to reach out to her Brainwashed and Crazy cousin Callie, you can replay them. Rather than a repeat of the original scenes and dialogue, the whole thing turns into a comedy instead, as in the first game Callie and Marie express exasperation that their grandpa got kidnapped and they have to do this whole thing all over again, and in the second game Callie puts the hypnoshades that brainwashed her back on because they look good on her, much to Marie's exasperation. And in both affairs, only DJ Octavio himself actually takes the fight seriously at all. This is averted for the final battles in the Octo Expansion and Splatoon 3 Hero Mode, however, as replaying them is explicitly framed as the player character recalling what happened.
  • Kingdom Hearts has the bleakest setting of all, the story coming off of a Near-Villain Victory with most of the worlds in the multiverse destroyed, and protagonist Sora gets thrown into the conflict when his world becomes the next one to get annihilated. Many of the NPCs in this game are refugees who escaped the destruction of their worlds, like Gepetto from Pinocchio hiding out in Monstro or Beast from Beauty and the Beast traveling across the remaining worlds to look for Belle. In spite of it all, however, Sora is able to restore the multiverse to before this destruction took place, and all subsequent games in the series involving Sora are more about him stopping the bad guys from carrying out their plans than the first game's protection of what little is left.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: After earlier seasons took the show from a comedic slice-of-life to serious multi-season arcs, Season 14 is an anthology where, aside from the odd sad moment and three Origins Episodes about existing villains, it's all about the comedy again. The following three seasons are also more biased towards laughs, although the drama ramped up once the villains played a bigger part in the plot.

  • xkcd. The earlier strips are very avant-garde and philosophical, and often not meant to be funny. Eventually the comic shifted to being primarily a nerd humor Gag Series. This change is the main reason for its Broken Base.
    • "Outbreak" depicts an ad for a fictional film that starts with the beginning of a zombie outbreak... that ends five minutes later, quickly transitioning into a Romantic Comedy instead.
  • Occurs several times over the course of Shortpacked! as the comic returns to wacky hijinks mode after each "Drama Tag" episode, though the reverse is not invoked, parodied or lampshaded like the Cerebus Syndrome that preceded it.
  • The Bikini Bottom Horror is a Dark Fic of Spongebob Squarepants that starts off with Patrick turning into a monster and going on a killing spree across Bikini Bottom, with the other characters desperately trying to fight Patrick and his clones the best they can. But it turns out that Patrick isn't the only character who got a hefty dose of Adaptational Badass, and when the other characters undergo their own transformations, the story turns into something more akin to a superhero or Kaiju story.

    Western Animation 
  • While Batman: The Brave and the Bold, being the epitome of World of Ham, was always Lighter and Softer than Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, or The Batman, the later seasons played this up more.
  • The Simpsons:
    • The Show Within a Show Police Cops is an In-Universe example for being changed from an action series to a comedy and, to Homer's dismay, changing his namesake character Homer Simpson from The Hero to the useless Plucky Comic Relief.
    • Season 1 was somewhat dark and gloomy, at times it even barely kept its elements of comedy, and elements that eventually meant nothing in the show were taken very seriously then. Episodes ranged from Homer attempting to commit suicide at the thought of being a hopeless loser, Bart and Lisa barely escaping death at the hands of a criminal babysitter, and Moaning Lisa was just plain heartbreaking. Seasons 2 and 3 did step up the comedy, but only a bit. In fact, in the premiere for the second seasonnote  we even see the American bad boy Bart Simpson cry; and in the first episode of the thirdnote  we see mental health issues and loneliness being taken quite seriously. Homer was also incredibly grouchy, Marge was an extremely scornful wife and mother, Bart's deeds actually had consequences, and Lisa was always depressed.
    • Beginning with season 4, the Simpsons rarely had any dark, depressing moments for around a decade, and anything shown to be a downer was usually either played for laughs or treated like no serious problem (except for some episodes such as "A Milhouse Divided" and "Alone Again, Natura-Diddly"). During Al Jean's (current) tenure, the seriousness was gradually amped up (although not to the extent of the first three seasons), the darkest episode of the later seasons probably being The Boys Of Bummer, which disappointed many by ending a very dark episode with an unintentional snorefest. Since then, serious themes have been used sparingly and often as sources of Black Comedy.
    • The early Treehouse of Horror episodes were dark, murderous and were morbid at best and downright terrifying at worst (the one in which teachers are gradually eating through students is a perfect example). The modern ones tend to keep the bloodiness but have become much sillier. How many horror stories have you heard of that start off with a Media Watchdog getting murdered by a media classification? The comic book series based on it did the exact opposite, and now focuses on more straightforward horror stories with some Black Comedy.
  • Subverted in ReBoot's "My Two Bobs". The first half of it features the return of S1's humor and Games as the main threat, which is far less dramatic than the previous "Daemon Rising". Then Megabyte comes back and it all goes to hell, and The Bad Guy Wins.
  • The My Little Pony franchise as a whole. The original special - called Rescue at Midnight Castle - has little humor and is mostly comprised of as much action and Nightmare Fuel that they could insert into such a short story. Its villain, Tirac, is the undisputed king of Vile Villain, Saccharine Show. The next special, while still dark, is considerably more cute and lighthearted. My Little Pony: The Movie (1986) is mostly on-par with the second special but with still more humor. My Little Pony 'n Friends would have its dark moments, but continued to go even fluffier. By "Generation 3", the franchise would become purely lighthearted slice-of-life, before G4's Friendship is Magic returned to having more adventure-oriented plotlines mixed in with such episodes.
  • Although the main plot of Beast Wars remained as dark as ever through the series, the third season played up much more slapstick than previous ones, and tended to exaggerate characters in general, resulting in a more surreal and comedic show.
  • The early episodes of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy were much darker and more morbid in tone than the wacky, nonsensical show that it later became. It's up to the viewer whether this was a good or bad thing.
  • Big Hero 6: The Series started with a Half-Arc Season centered around a dangerous criminal mastermind whose ultimate aim was to destroy the city. It concluded with a short, mostly episodic season oriented around comedy where the closest thing to an Arc Villain was Noodle Burger Boy.

Alternative Title(s): Buu Syndrome