The best example of anticlimax you can find is the anime Mob Psycho 100, each episode of the series is both a let-down and a surprising twist
The climax of a story is supposed to be the culmination of every element of the story that came before.
If it’s a romantic movie and the couple has only been flirting for the entire time, the climax is when they finally get to kiss.
If it’s an action movie where two rival gangs are on the verge of war, the climax will finally see the two groups fighting each other in an all-out battle.
This is the climax, the anticlimax is the exact opposite.
What is the anticlimax?
The climax is the fulfillment of the expectations of the audience, while the anticlimax is the rejection of those expectations.
A writer will trick the audience into thinking that an important and powerful event is about to take place, only to have a trivial moment take place instead.
The story will set up a conflict, give clues to the solution, build the tension, all those things in order to make the audience believe that the final showdown will be epic in scale and memorable.
Then, when the moment finally comes… everything is over in 1 minute and nothing of what was anticipated actually happens.
Example of anticlimax gone wrong
This happens when the writers have written themselves into a corner and don’t know how to end the story. When the anticlimax is used like this, it’s bound to be disappointing.
Here’s an example of anticlimax that disappointed even the most devoted fans: the ending of How I met your mother.
The writers of this sitcom involuntarily turned their ending into an anticlimax when they decided to stick to the original ending despite the fact that the story had changed and evolved into
A perfect climax and ending for the story would have been to simply let Robin and Barney have their happy ever after, and make Ted finally meet the love of his life.
What happened instead was that after an entire season that created anticipation for the meeting between Ted and the mother and the perfect wedding between Barney and Robin, everything was undone.
The moment when Ted shows Robin the blue french horn
(the ending) is not the culmination of everything that happened before, it’s the negation of it.
Fans felt betrayed by the show because it seemed as if the writers wanted to say: “Forget about the last 3 seasons, Ted and Robin are back together because… reasons”.
Example of anticlimax done right
I mentioned before the anime Mob Psycho 100 and how it is a perfect example of anticlimax done well. So let me prove it.
The anticlimax has 2 phases:
- a build up
- a letdown
The Build Up
So this phase starts at the beginning of the story and goes on until the moment when the climax is supposed to take place (usually towards the end).
Season 1 of Mob Psycho 100 has 12 episodes, and right from the beginning, we are filled with information about our main character’s life.
Shigeo Kageyama (aka Mob) looks, talks, walks and acts like an ordinary middle schooler except for one thing: he is a really powerful esper.
He has a part-time job as the assistant of Raigen, a man who pretends to have psychic powers to make a living
He has successfully convinced the kid that he is incredibly powerful and that he will teach him how to keep his psychic abilities in check when in reality he is just using Mob’s talent to earn money.
So this is the premise: Mob is a real esper and Raigen is just a con man.
Exactly because we see this escalation (from less powerful to seemingly invincible), we as an audience are tricked into thinking that the final showdown will finally force Mob to lose control and show his true power.
Not only that, though. During the series Mob repeatedly reaches “100%”, meaning that he has accumulated enough stress or suppressed emotions to lose control of his powers and become dangerous.
So this is our build up:
- Mob is the real deal while Raigen is not
- Mob is about to face his most powerful enemy yet
- Mob can lose control and be dangerous when he is too stressed
The Let Down
The let down is the moment when the tone is shifted and the expectations of the audience are thrown out of the window.
Episode 11 ends with Reigen apparently being killed by one of the Scars and the number “100%” appearing on the screen as Mob looks at his master laying on the ground horrified.
The audience thinks that it’s not hard to predict what’s going to happen: Mob will release his power and wreak havoc around him, destroying the enemies in the process. But… NOPE.
Raigen gets up and he starts fighting the Scars himself displaying incredible abilities, far superior to the combined power of his foes.
What happened? Did Raigen just preten to be a hoax this all time?
No, turns out that Raigen’s words “It’s ok to run away” caused Mob to release his powers which ended up being absorbed by the person closest to him (Raigen).
So now all the expectations we had, to see Mob go berzerk and show his full potential, have been destroyed.
Why it’s not disappointing
Despite the fact that Mob Psycho 100 is structured like a conventional Shounen, the message that it’s trying to send is definitely not conventional.
Usually, those stories involve an underdog, who is not really good at anything, training to one day become the best in his field.
The most classic examples are an alien kid with a monkey tail who becomes the strongest S
Mob Psycho 100 on the other hand, decides to say something different but equally meaningful. In Raigen’s words:
“No matter what kind of special powers they might be blessed with, people are still only human.”
Basically, the anime is trying to say that power doesn’t really matter if you cannot use it wisely. This is the theme of the series.
So instead of living a power fantasy through Mob’s life, as audience members, we are invited to rethink our preconceptions
As Raigen starts lecturing the various members of Scar, we realize just how foolish and childish they are for their ridiculous plan of world domination and their silly costumes.
The example of anticlimax gone wrong I brought up before failed because it contradicted most of what came before.
However, the anticlimax in Mob Psycho 100 is done well because it reaffirms what the show has been telling us since the beginning.
Right in episode 1, we are told by Mob that he wants to be able to fully live his youth without his powers getting in the way. Raigen later would reinforce this concept by instructing his pupil to use his powers wisely.
Also, the 3 major enemies that Mob had to face all had in common the fact that they were using their powers to attract attention, while Mob was taught to use them only if it’s absolutely necessary.
So this is why Mob Psycho 100 is a perfect example of anticlimax done right: it does create a shift in tone that ultimately leads to hilarious comedy, but it also enforces a concept brought up by the series that the audience might have not paid attention to.