Created By: Lawman592 on April 21, 2018 Last Edited By: Lawman592 on 11 hours ago
Troped

Extraordinary World, Ordinary Problems

A fantastic setting has mundane concerns

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trope
Fantasy stories set in magical lands, Fairy Tale kingdoms, worlds of High Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy, or Sugar Bowls and science fiction stories set in a Crystal Spires and Togas Utopia or somewhere on the squishier end of the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness seemingly take place in universes far removed from the concerns of reality. Yet despite how fantastic these worlds seem upon first impression, it can turn out that their denizens still spend much of their time dealing with the same ordinary matters (e.g., money, employment, taxes, bureaucracy, politics, legal disputes, potholes in the street, etc.) that people do in Real Life. This is how the Extraordinary World, Ordinary Problems trope works. It can be invoked by anything from a quick joke, a parody of fantasy and science fiction tropes, or a complete deconstruction of either genre. One way to get the point across is to feature an outsider who's initially in awe of the new setting but soon learns things really aren't much different from the mundane world he or she came from.

Can overlap with Weird Trade Union, Magical Society, and Signed Up for the Dental when labor issues and disputes crop up in the fantasy or science fiction setting. Often comes up in a Fractured Fairy Tale. Frequently part of an Urban Fantasy work (and can be among the Urban Fantasy Tropes).

A variation on Reality Ensues and also Fantasy All Along if the aspect of Real Life is only briefly brought up as a joke. Compare with Low Fantasy, Mundane Fantastic, Magic Realism, Mundanger, and Adult Fear. See Fantastic Angst, where a character suffers from a real-world personal problem with an extraordinary source.


Examples:

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     Anime 
  • One Piece: the main premise is about Luffy and his Straw Hat Pirates traveling the world for the ultimate treasure, the titular One Piece, in a highly wacky yet beautiful world. On the many islands they visit, however, they may find issues of oppression (frequently from the place's ruler), rival pirates terrorizing the place, or (like in Enies Lobby or Marineford) the Straw Hats simply trying to rescue one of their friends.

     Comic Books 
  • Top 10 takes place in a city filled to the brim with people with superpowers, but most of the crimes that Precinct Ten has to deal with are mundane crimes like prostitution, domestic abuse, and public intoxication.

     Film: Animated 
  • This is played every way to Sunday in The Incredibles. The Parr family is basically your average family, but with superpowers, and all the typical concerns are still there... at least in part due to the superhero relocation program, which prevents them from doing any actual supering (not that this stops them from using their powers in, say, typical dinner-table squabbling).

     Film: Live-Action 
  • The Star Wars universe is one of the softer Science Fiction settings. However, in The Phantom Menace, the invasion of Naboo is sparked by some rather dry and prosaic disputes over interplanetary tariffs and trade. There is also a surprising amount of attention focused on how the corrupt and ineffectual bureaucracy of the Republic helped to enable the crisis.

     Literature 

     Podcasts 
  • Welcome to Night Vale takes place in a sleepy little desert city where few of the population could be considered "human", but they still deal with problems like tuition, rent, local elections, contract negotiations...
"The Sheriff's secret police are searching for a fugitive by the name of Hiram McDaniels. Mr. McDaniels is described as a five-headed dragon approximately 18 feet tall and weighing 3600 pounds. He is suspected of insurance fraud."

     Tabletop Games 
  • Red Markets: Just because there was a Zombie Apocalypse doesn't mean that there aren't still bills to pay and retirement plans to save up for.

     Video Games 
  • The Dragon Age franchise has elves, dwarves, dragons, Blood Magic, and The Horde of man-eating zombies, yet most of the world's major problems stem from imperialism, racism, class divides, religious extremism, and a general lack of proper communication between its denizens.
  • Drawn to Life: The game takes place in a fantasy world with anthropomorphic fox creatures, berries that make you grow to the size of a house, and a villain that wants to cover the entire world in dark shadows, among many other oddities. However, this doesn't stop the villagers from worrying about rather mundane things, such as preparing for a festival, bickering over the sale price of mayonnaise, and complaining about the lack of toys at the beach.
  • This is common in the Fallout universe. While the main quests always resolve around problems specific to the retro-futuristic wastelands of America, many of the sidequests are helping people with their mundane problems, like picking up some paint for a handyman, helping an alcoholic become clean, help an insecure boy become more confident. Given that it is still a game, the problems get a fantastic twist, but are ultimately still very mundane.

     Web Animation 
  • RWBY: In a world where everyone has special powers, hybrid weapons are commonplace, and giant monsters roam the wilderness, they still must deal with typical burglaries, credit cards being declined, and the stress of high school.

     Web Comic 
  • In Unsounded, the Functional Magic of pymary requires rare First Materials — primordial versions of mundane materials, left over from The Time of Myths — to create permanent enchanted items. Many First Materials have been exhausted and others are becoming rarer, so Magitek engineers struggle to use them as efficiently as possible and the Corrupt Corporate Executive Jab Beadman is willing to go to great lengths (including regicide and warmongering) to secure untapped deposits.

     Web Original 
  • Turkey City Lexicon has the term "Squid on the Mantlepiece" for this trope when it's done badly—that is, when there's a significant mismatch between the mundane drama and the fantastic setting's overblown stakes.
    It's hard to properly dramatize, say, the domestic effects of Dad's bank overdraft when a giant writhing kraken is levelling the city. This mismatch between the conventional dramatic proprieties and SF's extreme, grotesque, or visionary thematics is known as the "squid on the mantelpiece."

     Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel series and spinoffs are all set in a fantasy world which mainly borrows from Eastern cultures where certain people can "bend" elements. However the conflicts in most of the story arcs are often mundane issues which just so happen to take place in such a setting. For example, the Fire nation's imperialism in the first series is shown more akin to something like a European nation at the height of colonialism or the Roman empire, rather than hoards of Always Chaotic Evil mooks marching out of mordor.
  • This is the setting of one of Dexter's Laboratory sections: The Justice Friends, in which the superheroes Mayor Glory, Val Hallen and Krunk live in a leased apartment and how their superpowers and personalities clash with normal life and problems, all themed as a Sitcom.
  • A lot of the humour concerning the Urpneys relates to this in The Dreamstone, since in spite of working for an Evil Overlord of a fantasy world, Frizz and Nug tend to treat their work as a standard dead end job, being Press-Ganged into most of the manual labour or scapegoated by Middle Management Mooks, Urpgor and Sgt Blob (mostly to avoid the pressure of their own boss, Zordrak), and being treated as heartless scum for an occupation they don't even want to have. Some of the hero grunts, such as the completely apathetic Mr Blossom and even the Noops, Rufus and Amberley, start to show glimpses of this later on, since it is implied their frustrations with the Urpneys lie more in their constant bumbling schemes causing more collateral damage which they are made to fix.
  • Futurama: The main character, Philip J. Fry, is initially dazzled by the New New York of 3000 A.D. after being frozen for 1,000 years. However, he becomes more blase' about the setting as he finds he still has to do the same things he did back in 1999 like earn money, get a job, find a place to live, and pay taxes.
Community Feedback Replies: 46
  • April 21, 2018
    4tell0life4
    Go check Mundanger
  • April 21, 2018
    Lawman592
    This proposed trope is similar to Mundanger but mostly lacks the "danger" aspect of it.
  • April 22, 2018
    intastiel
    Related to Fantastic Angst, where a character has a real-world personal problem with a fantastic cause.
  • April 22, 2018
    4tell0life4
    So I guess, Mundanger is a specific aspect of this trope, then?

    May crop up in Urban Fantasy.
  • April 22, 2018
    StarSword
    This could maybe work as a supertrope to either Low Fantasy or Magic Realism.
  • April 23, 2018
    MetaFour
    The Turkey City Lexicon has the term "Squid on the Mantlepiece" for this trope done badly—that is, when there's a significant mismatch between the mundane drama and the fantastic setting's overblown stakes.
    It's hard to properly dramatize, say, the domestic effects of Dad's bank overdraft when a giant writhing kraken is levelling the city. This mismatch between the conventional dramatic proprieties and SF's extreme, grotesque, or visionary thematics is known as the "squid on the mantelpiece."
  • April 23, 2018
    intastiel
  • April 24, 2018
    Argon2
    • The Unexplored Summon Blood Sign is essentially about a guy trying to escape his crazy ex-girlfriend. That said girlfriend is a goddess whose tantrums can slaughter billions plays surprisingly little into the plot (except to establish the very real threat she poses to him).
      Word Of God: How did you like this complicated-looking story that is actually a love story between a boy and a girl? That it was Shigara Masami and not Kyousuke who figured it out was this volume’s biggest twist. Lots of misunderstandings is the key to a love comedy!
  • April 26, 2018
    StarSword
    Literature:
  • April 27, 2018
    Snicka
    • The Wizarding World in which the Harry Potter series takes place has many problems that resemble the non-magical world: political corruption, manipulated media, and most importantly, Fantastic Racism in the form of pure-blood wizards hating those with muggle ancestry, as a commentary on real-life racism and discrimination.
  • April 27, 2018
    4tell0life4
    • This apparently is what makes Cars 2 rather glaring. The original Cars has the plot being about a race car wanting to win a racing tournament, which is typical in a world full of cars. The second, however, has a plot akin to Spy Fiction (with another racing tournament for the background), just with living cars.
  • April 30, 2018
    Koveras
    • The Dragon Age franchise has elves, dwarves, dragons, Blood Magic, and The Horde of man-eating zombies, yet most of the world's major problems stem from imperialism, racism, class divides, religious extremism, and a general lack of proper communication between its denizens.
  • May 1, 2018
    Drakos25
    Legends Of Tomorrow villain Damien Darhk, particularly in season 3, has a stated goal of "remaking the world in my own image" but still regularly struggles with (rather hilariously ) with everyday problems like, should he start dating again and being a good (villainous) father to his daughter, [[Spoiler: the to-be vessel of a demon trapped in the flow of time]].
  • May 1, 2018
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
  • May 3, 2018
    Basara-kun
    Western Animation:
    • This is the setting of one of Dexters Laboratory sections: The Justice Friends, in which the superheroes Mayor Glory, Val Hallen and Krunk live in a leased apartment and how their superpowers and personalities clash with normal life and problems, all themed as a Sitcom.
  • May 7, 2018
    intastiel
    Ed.: I'd missed that the reference to Fantastic Angst was a duplicate.
  • May 7, 2018
    StrixObscuro
    Comic Books
    • Top Ten takes place in a city filled to the brim with people with superpowers, but most of the crimes that Precinct Ten has to deal with are mundane crimes like prostitution, domestic abuse, and public intoxication.
  • May 9, 2018
    CactusFace
    • This is common in the Fallout universe. While the main quests always resolve around problems specific to the retro-futuristic wastelands of America, many of the sidequests are helping people with their mundane problems, like picking up some paint for a handyman, helping an alcoholic become clean, help an insecure boy become more confident. Given that it is still a game, the problems get a fantastic twist, but are ultimatly still very mundane.
  • May 9, 2018
    4tell0life4
    Surprisingly there are no anime examples yet.
  • May 15, 2018
    Koveras
    ^ The OP also seems to ignore Video Game examples from the comments...
  • May 15, 2018
    Lawman592
    ^ I'm not doing it on purpose. When I can, I try to add new categories and new examples. This is still a work-in-progress.
  • May 16, 2018
    Koveras
    ^ What is your procedure for vetting examples, then? I have posted the DA example above two weeks ago and still haven't heard any feedback on it...
  • May 16, 2018
    intastiel
    • In The Stormlight Archive:
      • Alethkar's War of Reckoning against the Parshendi began in retribution for the assassination of their king, but continues because Parshendi lands are a fantastic source of gemstones to fuel the Functional Magic of Soulcasting, which produces a vital source of food for the Alethi armies. That the competition over harvesting gems is a good source of political capital in the Alethi Deadly Decadent Court doesn't help matters either.
      • When the local God Of Evil Odium unleashes a worldwide Hostile Weather system, the nascent coalition of nations is at least as concerned with mitigating the damage it causes cities, rural areas, and food stores as it is with fighting back Odium himself.
  • May 17, 2018
    Lawman592
    ^^ My procedure boils down to whether enough suggestions have been submitted for examples and whether some time has opened up for me to add them.

    As for anime, I haven't seen enough to submit any examples myself. I'm leaving that up to other more knowledgeable tropers.
  • May 24, 2018
    intastiel
    • In Unsounded, the Functional Magic of pymary requires rare First Materials — primordial versions of mundane materials, left over from The Time Of Myths — to create permanent enchanted items. Many First Materials have been exhausted and others are becoming rarer, so Magitek engineers struggle to use them as efficiently as possible and the Corrupt Corporate Executive Jab Beadman is willing to go to great lengths (including regicide and warmongering) to secure untapped deposits.
  • May 29, 2018
    Lawman592
    I would've thought somebody would've suggested some examples from Discworld by now.
  • May 31, 2018
    Bisected8
    • Avatar The Last Airbender and its sequel series and spinoffs are all set in a fantasy world which mainly borrows from Eastern cultures where certain people can "bend" elements. However the conflicts in most of the story arcs are often mundane issues which just so happen to take place in such a setting. For example, the Fire nation's imperialism in the first series is shown more akin to something like a European nation at the height of colonialism or the Roman empire, rather than hoards of Always Chaotic Evil mooks marching out of mordor.
  • May 31, 2018
    4tell0life4
    ^ I believe The Legend Of Korra goes the same way as well.
  • May 31, 2018
    Miss_Desperado
    How does Adult Fear relate to this trope?
  • June 4, 2018
    Lawman592
    ^ It wouldn't be too far removed from Mundanger. However, this proposed trope, on the whole, would be seen more often in lighter circumstances and used for purposes of comedy or deconstruction.
  • June 5, 2018
    4tell0life4
    Probably a good anime example
    • One Piece: the main premise is about Luffy and his Straw Hat Pirates traveling the world for the ultimate treasure, the titular One Piece, in a highly wacky yet beautiful world. On the many islands they visit, however, they may find issues of oppression (frequently from the place's ruler), rival pirates terrorizing the place, or (like in Enies Lobby or Marineford) the Straw Hats simply trying to rescue one of their friends.
  • June 5, 2018
    zarpaulus
    • Red Markets: Just because there was a Zombie Apocalypse doesn't mean that there aren't still bills to pay and retirement plans to save up for.
  • June 7, 2018
    SumDumNerd
    RWBY: In a world where everyone has special powers, hybrid weapons are commonplace, and giant monsters roam the wilderness, they still must deal with typical burglaries, credit cards being declined, and the stress of high school.
  • June 12, 2018
    Chabal2
    • Overlord 2012: Ainz finds himself in a new world that functions very much like YGGDRASSIL, the MMO he was playing at the time. However, he quickly discovers that many mechanics are entirely different, and that running day-to-day life is more complicated than before. Not helping things is that he's trying to run Nazarick like he would have wanted a corporation to be run, but the employees are former NP Cs who view him as a god and thus reject anything like off days or salaries. He's also disappointed to learn that adventurers are used for Escort Missions or Fetch Quests rather than exploring the world, once he starts becoming a world power he starts working to make them more in line with MMO players.
    • Kaamelott: Most of the humor comes from the juxtaposition of the King Arthur mythos (finding the Grail, Arthur defending Britain from invaders, horrible monsters threatening the countryside) with The Dung Ages where Medieval Morons are prevalent. One of the pilots showed that the Knights of the Round Table have to peel their own vegetables if they want more than just meat on their menu and that there are more knights than there are seat at the table, so they need to take turns, while another has Arthur need to mediate between two knights over one of them occupying the other's room. Even finding the Grail is a secondary consideration, as even the gods (who want it to be found) keep giving cryptic and contradictory hints as to what and where it is (it might be a cp or an incandescent stone).
  • June 13, 2018
    WarJay77
    • Drawn To Life: The game takes place in a fantasy world with anthropomorphic fox creatures, berries that make you grow to the size of a house, and a villain that wants to cover the entire world in dark shadows, among many other oddities. However, this doesn't stop the villagers from worrying about rather mundane things, such as preparing for a festival, bickering over the sale price of mayonnaise, and complaining about the lack of toys at the beach.
  • June 15, 2018
    4tell0life4
    When is this going to be launched?
  • June 16, 2018
    Lawman592
    ^ Soon. I think there need to more examples. Also, I need the rewrite the main page so it reads better.
  • June 16, 2018
    4tell0life4
    Does the Cars 2 example count?
  • June 16, 2018
    Psi001
    • A lot of the humour concerning the Urpneys relates to this in The Dreamstone, since in spite of working for an Evil Overlord of a fantasy world, Frizz and Nug tend to treat their work as a standard dead end job, being Press Ganged into most of the manual labour or scapegoated by Middle Management Mooks, Urpgor and Sgt Blob (mostly to avoid the pressure of their own boss, Zordrak), and being treated as heartless scum for an occupation they don't even want to have. Some of the hero grunts, such as the completely apathetic Mr Blossom and even the Noops, Rufus and Amberley, start to show glimpses of this later on, since it is implied their frustrations with the Urpneys lie more in their constant bumbling schemes causing more collateral damage which they are made to fix.
    • A large part of the premise for Hanna Barbara's two animated sitcoms, The Flintstones and The Jetsons is that despite the fantasy settings playing on both the distant past and future respectively, the gimmicks are often only a comical gloss on the main cast and plots, which often revolve around relatable domestic situations such as family or neighbourly conflicts or, perhaps most iconically, trying to maintain employment. The former sometimes even touches on more sensitive subjects of the time it was made such as adoption, while Fred and Wilma Flintstone were noted as the first animated couple to sleep in the same bed.
  • June 18, 2018
    Bisected8
    So wasn't Avatar The Last Airbender/Legend of Korra an example?
  • June 19, 2018
    Twoeyesshort
    This is played every way to Sunday in The Incredibles. The Parr family is basically your average family, but with superpowers, and all the typical concerns are still there... at least in part due to the superhero relocation program, which prevents them from doing any actual supering (not that this stops them from using their powers in, say, typical dinner-table squabbling).
  • June 21, 2018
    zarpaulus
    Might be related to Mundane Fantastic

    • Welcome To Night Vale takes place in a sleepy little desert city where few of the population could be considered "human", but they still deal with problems like tuition, rent, local elections, contract negotiations...
    "The Sheriff's secret police are searching for a fugitive by the name of Hiram McDaniels. Mr. McDaniels is described as a five-headed dragon approximately 18 feet tall and weighing 3600 pounds. He is suspected of insurance fraud."
  • June 22, 2018
    WarJay77
    This looks launchworthy.
  • June 22, 2018
    Lawman592
    ^ I'm getting ready to do it. However, I was waiting for someone to suggest some Discworld examples. (I don't know the series well enough to suggest any myself.)
  • yesterday
    WarJay77
    ^ Ah, can't help you there, never read the series.
  • yesterday
    Lawman592
    ^ I'm not necessarily asking you. I just noticed Pratchett's books are extensively mentioned on this site and I thought for sure somebody would come in with some examples for this proposed trope.
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