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Derivative Differentiation
Following the leader is ubiquitous in all media. The reasons for this vary, ranging from a desire to attain some of the success of the original work to a desire to pay homage to a work that the creator of the derivative work adores.

This technique can be quite a double-edged sword, however. Some fans stay away from such derivative works, either because they know that most imitations are bound to be bad or because the work is so similar that they feel no need to invest any time into experiencing more of the same, regardless of quality.

So creators of derivative works find ways to make later installments less derivative, either in response to fan reaction or because their storytelling skills have improved to the point that they themselves no longer have to use derivation as a crutch. The work may still have some trappings that hint at its formerly derivative nature, but it's less likely that newcomers will easily be able to discern this.

Related to From Clones to Genre and Growing the Beard. Has nothing to do with calculus.


Anime & Manga

Comic Books
  • On his first appearance, the Bat-Man was pretty much The Shadow with wings. Then he got his own backstory, decided he didn't like guns, recruited a kid sidekick, and generally became his own person.
  • Deadpool used to be Deathstroke in red until they made him insane and gave him his own fighting style.
    • And fourth-wall breaking, don't forget that. It's my- err, his most charming trait.
      • You're not fooling anyone like that.
    • ...Shut up, brain.
  • The lead character of Peter David's Fallen Angel was widely assumed to be a lawyer-friendly version of Supergirl from his recently-completed series, but was eventually distinguished.
  • In PS238, many of the background superheroes are obvious walking shout-outs, like Atlas, who is the lone survivor of the doomed planet Argos, rocketed to Earth as a baby, must avoid deadly Argonite, etc. But a story arc revolving around Atlas's origins revealed — to his surprise, as much as anybody else's — that much of his backstory is an invention, and the truth is less Superman-like.
  • The pirates in Astérix started off as straight-up redraws of the characters from Barbe Rouge, apart from art style. Notably, in some of Baba's early appearances, he looks almost exactly like the original, photorealistic one, apart from bright red lips. Then one of them, Erix, got removed from the crew, and the remaining crew got increasingly grotesqued until they all ended up looking really different to their original inspiration, especially Baba.

  • Tales of the Magic Land started off as a loose translation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but later books in the series are original works that use said translation as a basis.
  • The Shannara series started off as fairly derivative of The Lord of the Rings, with the largest distinction being the former's After the End setting. The Sword Of Shannara even took its general plot structure straight from The Lord Of The Rings. As the series went on, however, the books developed more original plots, including an urban fantasy trilogy.
  • The early books in the Sword of Truth series were typical High Fantasy books that borrowed many elements from The Wheel of Time, but developed a unique feel in Soul of the Fire with the introduction of Objectivist themes.
  • For its own part, if you only read the first novel of The Wheel of Time you could be forgiven for dismissing it as Lord of the Rings with some light gender politics. The setting and metaphysics become much more distinct, and the gender politics much more pronounced, as the series continues.

Live-Action Television

Role-Playing Games

Tabletop Games

Video Games
  • Banjo-Kazooie never tried to hide its similarities to Super Mario 64, but fans didn't mind too much because the game was pretty good anyway. As gamers started to get tired of the formula set up by Super Mario 64, however, Rare decided to go in a different direction with Banjo-Tooie. The sequel contained more interconnected areas to make it resemble a Metroidvania more than anything. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts abandoned the Platform Game trappings altogether, introducing customizable vehicles as the central gameplay concept instead.
  • SNK's Art of Fighting was perceived by gamers to be a cheap cash-in of rival company Capcom's Street Fighter. Despite this, Art of Fighting set itself apart by introducing several new gameplay mechanics such as taunting, the addition of a spirit gauge to regulate use of specials, along with supers and desperation attacks. The game's scaling feature also became a series trademark.
    • Capcom later incorporated these same features, beginning with Super Street Fighter II: Turbo, the first game in the series to feature supers and a secondary meter for regulating them. Super Street Fighter IV adds revenge moves, which can only be used after the character has sustained enough damage, making them the SF equivalent of desperation attacks.
  • The Metal Gear series was initially just a tongue-in-cheek take-off of American spy and action films, but Metal Gear Solid was where the series started to establish its own identity (as the Sequel Displacement can attest to).
  • Saints Row started out as a pretty straightforward Grand Theft Auto clone, with the only caveat being Saint's Row's focus on gang violence. Each game has dialed up the Denser and Wackier aspects (Saints Row IV even features an Alien Invasion), with Grand Theft Auto IV dialing down the same. Putting Grand Theft Auto IV side by side with Saints Row: The Third shows that the two bear very little resemblance to one another at this point, aside from gameplay involving stealing cars.
  • Having also been made by Squaresoft, Super Mario RPG naturally has a lot in common with Final Fantasy games and other Square Role Playing Games of that era, albeit with Action Commands and the obvious Super Mario Bros. trappings among other things. After Square partnered with Sony and left the Mario RPGs in Nintendo's hands, however, Nintendo gave its Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games a different focus from typical Square RPGs, such as with a much heavier use of intricate Action Commands, simplified battle stat calculations, fewer party members on screen at a time, and Pre Existing Encounters with enemies that can be attacked for some damage at the beginning of a battle. Super Paper Mario in particular is a mix between Platform Game and Role-Playing Game.
  • The Great Giana Sisters was such a blatant clone of Super Mario Bros. 1 that Nintendo successfully sued to get it off shelves. So Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams comes along and introduces mechanics such as Dual-World Gameplay and heavier emphasis on melee abilities. Numerous critics noted the irony that a game that started off as a knock-off ended up becoming one of the most original platform games of 2013.


Web Original

  • BBV's Direct-to-Video sci-fi series The Stranger featured Doctor Who star Colin Baker as a mysterious stranger obviously based on the Doctor. Over the course of the series, the character's backstory was revealed, distinguishing him from the Doctor in the process.
  • BBV's follow-up audio series, featuring Baker's successor Sylvester McCoy and his co-star Sophie Aldred, did all its differentiation in a single unsubtle lump, to avoid the onset of legal trouble arising from the fact that its leads were practically indistinguishable from the roles McCoy and Aldred had played in Doctor Who.

Death by AdaptationDerivative WorksDisowned Adaptation
Captain ErsatzFollow the LeaderFandom Specific Plot
Depraved DwarfAdded Alliterative AppealDestination Defenestration

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