The spotlight shines brightly on one particular character, or on a select group of a particularly large cast. They take center stage, right wrongs, find stuff out, do a bit of rescuing and learn all about themselves in the process.
Which is all well and good for those characters and their fans... but what about everyone else? Come to think of it, we haven't seen Bert in three months. Where did he go?
Out of Focus is the flip side of Character Focus. While someone's hogging the limelight, other members of the cast are going to see a serious decrease in airtime. Particularly luckless characters may vanish for extended periods of time without any particular explanation, only to be brought back as if nothing's happened. A consequence of Creator's Pet.
Webcomics are particularly prone to this. It's easy to see why - when you've got a cast of twenty characters and only four panels available, it's obvious that someone's going to lose out. If a character isn't central to the plot, with such limited space (and usually, time) available, it's probably a waste of time putting them in at all. Webcomic readers usually understand this, but even the most tolerant and faithful of readers may get a little dissatisfied if a character, who was formerly one of the main cast, has been sighted less frequently than the Loch Ness Monster.
Sometimes Out of Focus is a necessary evil for the medium, as in webcomics. Sometimes, however, it's creator favoritism — they've got a brand new shiny character they want to flesh out, and everyone else is put on hold until they do so, or the comic has just changed writers and they prefer characters X, Y and Z to characters A, B and C. Occasionally though, it's just forgetfulness — the writer gets wrapped up in a Story Arc and forgets that just because they know when someone is due to reappear doesn't mean that their readers do.
Deciding if a character is Out of Focus tends to be relative to the media in which they appear. In a daily webcomic, for example, two weeks may be a long time for an absence. In a three-days-a-week webcomic, it may be over a month before it's noticed that someone's missing. In television, however, a member of the main cast who goes vanishes without explanation for a single episode had better have a damn good reason for their vacation when they get back, unless the show has Loads and Loads of Characters.
Likewise, audience acceptance is proportional as well. Webcomics are free, and therefore fans are generally more accepting if their favourite hero disappears for a bit. Too long, though, and the creator risks alienating a particular protagonist's fans. When someone has to hand over money to follow a story, however, as with comic books, they may get a little annoyed when fan favourite Mr Terrific doesn't even make a cameo appearance for twenty issues.
Another good example for when this is a necessary evil is for Strategy games, in which Anyone Can Die and usually they're gone for good depending on the game. A good way to keep special characters in focus is to more or less program and write a lot of event data into the game, in the event that the player recruited the character and then still has them. But sometimes, the player may just dismiss them or let them die and they wind up Deader than Dead, so in order to save time, the games are programmed under the assumption that they could be dead and that the only NPCs that are still around are plot-crucial ones. A Real Time Strategy game would often avert this by making it crucial (They die, you fail the mission and Game Over) or they die but are resurrectable. It's also possible to get around this where if they die in battle, they're merely knocked out and come back if needed.
If a character is absent for too long, they risk suffering from Chuck Cunningham Syndrome, dropping off the face of the Earth, never to be seen again. Alternatively, they may be Put on a Bus or Killed Off for Real when the creator decides (s)he has no further use for them. If they return after the nature of the story has changed in their absence — for example, the plot has come down with a nasty case of Cerebus Syndrome — and they don't seem to fit in with the tone any more, they may become The Artifact. Out of Focus can be averted, or compensated for, by using Rotating Arcs or by the creator reassuring the fans that Captain Superhero hasn't died and will be back as soon as he's relevant to the story.
This also often happens for optional characters, but as you'll notice; they're...well, optional, so the events are written without them.
When a sequel or adaptation shoves characters Out of Focus and removes their plot importance, it's Demoted to Extra. If a major character is Out of Focus from the start, then you got an Advertised Extra. Contrast Character Focus, Spotlight-Stealing Squad.
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Anime & Manga
In Bodacious Space Pirates, Chiaki suffers from this around episode 8, when Gruier shows up. What makes it more painfully obvious is the amount of emphasis on her during the opening and closing credits, where she is seen alone, or with just Marika, the main character. She plays a very important role in the beginning of the show, and helps Marika start her space pirate career, then largely vanishes while Gruier spends time with Marika. However, she gets more screentime again around episode 15.
The anime was famous for this throughout Johto, causing Brock and Misty's characters to be easily summed up as "movable background". The writing staff did end up employing a variation of Rotating Arcs in later seasons, but only two characters have such arcs going at a time — leaving Brock and Max almost eternally Out of Focus and Misty Put on a Bus (and May and Dawn Put on a Bus at their arcs' conclusion). Fan reaction has been mixed, to say the least.
The writers unfortunately seem to have fallen back into this as of Black and White. Iris and Cilan aren't as bland as Misty and Brock were back in Johto, but they don't have clearly defined goals like May and Dawn did. For the most part, Iris and Cilan are just tagging along with Ash. Somewhat subverted; Iris has revealed that she wants to be a Dragon Master and Cilan a top Pokemon Connoiseur.
Ash's bird Pokémon fall into this a lot. Pidgeotto for example, traveled through an entire region with Ash and barely won any battles at all. Usually it was just called out to search for/pop Team Rocket's balloon, or to blow away one of Weezing's Smokescreen attacks. To its credit, it played a important part in winning a Gym battle so Ash could get the Earth Badge. Swellow and Staraptor have been allowed to have a little more battling prowess, but they still don't seem to get as much screentime as Ash's other team members. This is likely because there are no Flying-type attacks that explode; hence no blasting off Team Rocket.
Almost all of Dawn's Pokémon got very little screen-time due to a certain Piplup hogging all the limelight. You know, thatPiplup. Her Pachirisu in particular suffered from Out of Focus, getting less screen-time than all of her other Out of Focus Pokémon combined. To make matters even worse, Piplup is seen as a major annoyance by many fans, resulting in it becoming The Scrappy of the Diamond & Pearl era.
And now the Team Rocket trio. As of Best Wishes, they no longer appear in every episode, and when they do, it's for a short amount of time. Granted, there are many who actually prefer this, as the short time they spend doing important things is usually plot-important, as opposed to the years they've been in every episode solely for comic relief or as chew toys.
Mahou Sensei Negima!: given the size of the cast, it was inevitable that just about every character other than Negi would fall into this at some point. The most notable ones are Kaede (who after a brief day in the limelight chapter early on hasn't had much plot relevance outside of being additional muscle for the group), Anya (who was in focus for all of a dozen or so chapters before getting stuck as a Damsel in Distress), and Ayaka (who hasn't shown up at all since the Magic World arc started note Okay, about half of the class hasn't shown up since then, but the others that got left behind were minor characters at best). There's also Zazie, who was never in focus to begin with, despite being one of the series' most mysterious characters.
Wolfram falls victim to this periodically. Although he's physically present in every episode, in some episodes his lines consist mainly of "Yuri!" yelled at regular intervals with different vocal inflections. At the start of the show, he was the loud, over-emotional but undeniably loyal accidental fiance; by the end of the first season, he narrowly avoids becoming The Artifact when the plot hits Cerebus Syndrome and turns into a drama after Conrad's apparent betrayal. He usually loses out to big brother Conrad, who gets quite a bit of Character Focus. Wolfram regains some ground at the end of season two, although he was unconscious for most of it.
The same goes for Gunter and Gwendal, although it's debatable as to whether they qualify as "main characters." At least Gunter gets the odd day in the limelight to show off.
You could validly claim that the whole of the Konoha 12 outside of the main Team 7 (Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura) suffers from Out of Focus for the Shippuden portion of the manga. Aside from glimpses of spotlight for Team 10 (Shikamaru, Choji, Ino) during the Hidan and Kakuzu arc and during their reunion with now-deceased Asuma during the Shinobi War, the development of the Konoha side-characters has been virtually non-existent. All Team Guy (Rock Lee, Neji, Tenten) got was a small bone throwen to them to act as back-up for Team 7 during the Rescue Kazekage arc, and Team 8 (Shino, Kiba, Hinata) had it worse just recieving a minor role to help the Konoha search party look for Itachi.
Lampshaded in an omake at the last episode of a Story Arc, where Temari and Kankuro were both pissed that they weren't going to be showing up again for a long time (they've both recently reappeared in the manga after being gone for 172 chapter which is over three years real time).
Lampshaded again in a later omake which has Shikamaru noting that for the next Story Arche's pretty much the main character and Naruto will barely do anything (to Naruto's shock). What makes it even worse is that after that Naruto still doesn't even participate in a fight that goes anywhere for over a year of manga chapters.
Lampshaded again in another omake when Neji has a tough time remembering who Hanabi, his cousin, is. Of course, she wasn't intended to be an important character, but even he falls out of focus.
Poor, poor Hinata. After finally getting the courage to confess her love to Naruto in the Pain arc and saving him from being captured in the process, Naruto goes berserk and transforms into his 6-tailed form, eventually defeating Pain. Her confession has yet to be directly addressed by Naruto, over four years after the fact.
Iruka, Naruto's friend, first mentor, and first role model, tends to only show up whenever Naruto reaches an especially significant personal milestone (the few examples in Part II include his return to the village, Jiraiya's death, being accepted by the villagers, and going off to war).
Side character Lunch fell through the cracks. She didn't even get Put on a Bus; she was just gone. The creator eventually admitted sheepishly that he had forgotten all about her.
This happened to a lot of the characters, actually. Most of the secondary characters in Dragon Ball Z were main characters in Dragon Ball who were shifted out of focus in favor of the Saiyans.
Bleach has such a huge cast of characters, no-one has escaped this trope. Even the main character can go without focus for long periods of time while Tite Kubo focuses on other characters, with Ichigo being largely ignored during 2008 and 2009, and his friends being totally absent during his final fight with Aizen. In particular, Tatsuki and most of the other posse associated with the high school setting were dropped like the first stage of a rocket once the story shifted settings.
Lampshaded in Eyeshield 21 when Ishimaru (who is himself the focus of a running gag relating to how he is constantly ignored by creator and characters alike: Demoted to Extra) shows up in a later arc for one panel after a year's worth of publication time absent only to lament "I finally show up after a year and my panel is so small..." before disappearing again.
Aki from Keroro Gunsou. She is the mother of the Hinata family and thus the 'highest rank' in Keroro's eyes. Of course it was obvious she would be out of focus due to her job which makes her come home rarely. But she is portrayed as a main character so having her only make an appearance in background events is kinda sad. We also know very little about her.
Naru Osaka, ostensibly Usagi's best friend, just kinda disappeared by the time the Sailor Moon Classic season ended. It was probably because Usagi had found new friends in all the other senshi, and she had unfortunately just been a filler friend for a whole season.
Lampshaded and played with in fanworks and extra materials not done by Naoko herself. Fans postulated Naru was some sort of living mana battery (and it even led to a few fics where she became the newest and most powerful senshi) and when the seasonal villains stopped collecting energy, her interaction with them stopped as well.
Later seasons do this to the Inner Senshi. In Super S and Stars, they're basically one composite entity and barely exist as individuals (except in occasional powerup or focus episodes. Hell, Jupiter and Venus share some of theirs.)
Also Usagi's entire family, who in beginning were a very important emotional anchor just kind of faded away the longer the story went on. Maybe this is why so many fan writers like to ship Hotaru/Sailor Saturn with Shingo.
The moon cats (Luna and Artemis) began to become out of focus in the final season.
The manga at least attempted an explanation. Shinji accidentally killed Toji during the Bardiel incident (in the anime, Toji lost his leg), and subsequently avoided Hikari and Kensuke because he was unable to face them after what he'd done. Hikari, after catching a glimpse of Shinji and Kaworu, remarks that "Even if Ikari-kun was with us again... it wouldn't be like before. We wouldn't be like friends anymore."
Honda/Tristan, although Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series has made him something of a Ascended Extra. Tristan doesn't even appear in the DS game Nightmare Troubadour, even though literally everyone else from the first two seasons do. It helps that, by reducing the time of the episodes, his scant few lines give him a higher percentage of the show!
One of The Abridged Series' main running gags is how Bakura gets very little screen time. It's almost always his Superpowered Evil Side that shows up in the show.
Season 3 of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX saw Asuka, Manjoume, and Shou become completely irrelevant as the exchange students steal what would have been their roles in the season.
A serious problem was that character arcs were terminated very swiftly in order to change focus to a new character. After Allelujah's enormous Shoot the Dog moment in which he wipes out a child-soldier breeding facility, he essentially stopped being in the plot in order to facilitate Setsuna.
In the second season, Allelujah again finds himself having a short subplot that could not be expanded on until the later episodes (and was thin even at that). It got so bad that during a critical battle (the first offensive of the new 00-Raiser suit) that Allelujah's Arios is used solely as a battery to power the Cool Starship. He gets exactly two lines in the episode, for a grand total of three words.
The main problem is that Allelujah's whole role in the plot revolves his super solider past and Soma/Marie that has absolutely nothing to do with any of the other main characters or the main plot of Innovators Terrorism and Celestial being. So basically whichever the plot is focusing on means he's either getting all of the focus or none at all.
Most of the characters that survived the end of the first season get demotions in order for the series to switch the focus to Ribbons and his next phase of world conquest, but all the surviving combat characters became members of the A-Laws, so they had adequate time to show their stories. The only surviving user of a non-Celestial Being Gundam, Nena Trinity, however, ends up going from being part a major storyarc to becoming a servant and was almost a non-factor throughout the second season. In fact, the episode that finally gave her adequate airtime and revealed why she went to Liu Mei all those years ago... was her last.
Digimon doesn't exactly have the best track record with this trope.
Yamato and MetalGarurumon in the final arc, showing up for maybe a minute in the span of five episodes. It even feels sort of shoehorned it since in that sole appearance they pretty much came out of nowhere with no explanation, nuked Pinocchimon, then disappeared for the next three episodes.
Digimon Tamers wasn't the most even in its handling of the screentime of the tamers. Of the ten, only five (Takato, Ruki, Jenrya, Ryo, Juri) were really in focus during the final arc. That said, there's justification for it this time: the former four are the only ones able to effectively fight the D-Reaper, while they're trying to rescue the latter from it. Three of the tamers are too young to participate much (Shuichon, Ai, Makoto), and two of them didn't even become actual tamers until the last episode anyway (Ai, Makoto). Above all else, it should be noted that only the five in focus were intended to be tamers from the start; everyone else wasn't planned at all and was simply a case of Throw It In, so expecting them to become proper main characters is fairly unreasonable. (Except for Kazu who was always intended to be a Tamer but still got screwed focus-wise anyway.)
Digimon Frontier is utterly notorious for this - throughout the latter half of the series only Takuya and Kouji, maybe Kouichi on occasion if you're lucky, actually do anything or have any real plot relevance.
Then there's Digimon Savers, which is arguably the worst in that only Masaru - one character out of four - is really focused upon much. Touma isn't so bad comparatively, but then there's Ikuto and Yoshino. Ikuto regularly disappeared completely for extended amounts of time, with minimal explanation, and Yoshino is even worse especially considering she's still there the entire time. In fact, Ikuto and Yoshino were so out of focus that they had their Digimon reach the Burst Mode in the same episode (while Masaru/Marcus and Tohma/Thomas got individual episodes for that).
Digimon Xros Wars goes through an odd journey for it's characters as well. First arc? Taiki, Akari, and Zenjiro have the spotlight while the other Xros Loader digidestined, Kiriha and Nene, remain in the background. Second arc comes around and Akari and Zenjiro get Put on a Bus for Kiriha and Nene to gain their spotlight alongside Taiki. Sequel arc then comes around and Kiriha and Nene join the bus as well to make room for the new main character, Tagiru, and Yuu, the Sixth Ranger entre from the second arc.
Miyuki Takara in gradually faded into the background as the show progress through its season. Although she was initially presented as a primary character, noting her prominence in the opening title sequence, by the end, Yutaka got far more screen time and dialogue. Fans speculate that Miyuki's shallow characterization of being an intelligent, friendly, Meganekko didn't mesh well with the series coming to focus more on playing with quirkier personal behaviours and banter. Despite Yoshimizu apparently has a meganekko fetish.
Tsukasa also fades out a bit in the last few episodes. She had only one major line in Episode 23.
In 2010 episodes of the manga (the anime only got up to Volume 4), the four main girls themselves go somewhat out of focus since they graduate high school and go on to different schools. Konata and Patty of all people are the only two who remain together. The manga has started to focus more on a "new generation" of girls at Ryooh High School.
In To Love-Ru, Ren appears less and less as the series goes on. Mainly because his female alter ego, Run, gets more screentime. Though even Run doesn't get that much anyway.
Ever since the "Black Diamond" arc, Yaya Yuiki from Shugo Chara! has the sole purpose to transform into "Dear Baby" once every 3 episodes and then get her butt kicked hilariously, due to her powers being so absurdly useless (Ducks?! Seriously... DUCKS?!) that even MaTi would laugh. She gets almost no screentime aside from embarrassing scenes and her lines in dialogue are limited to baby-like 3rd-person ranting about wanting something. Her guardian Chara, Pepe, is even worse, she's doing so few things that even completely determining her personality becomes challenging.
In Ouran High School Host Clubotaku girl Renge had a whole chapter dedicated to her in the manga, but then she fell into the background. She does still make quite a few cameo appearances such as during the Halloween chapter, and is said to be one of Haruhi's customers. The mangaka, Bisco Hatori, said she had intended to make Renge a more frequent character, but for whatever reason she never went through with. On the flip side, the anime adaptation turned Renge into an Ascended Extra and the As You Know, Genre SavvyFangirl. Bisco-sensei was happy to see Renge get more screentime, even if it did become less frequent toward the anime's finale.
Soul Eater does this on and off with its characters, shifting the focus frequently. Not so much in the anime, but the manga sometimes has even some of the main protagonists absent for three or more chapters except maybe in a panel or two. It seems more apparent in the manga since it's updated monthly which can cause slower plot progression depending on what's happening (despite the fact the chapters are generally 30+ pages long).
Lupin III frequently takes the spotlight off of some of the characters. It's one way to avoid the Four Lines, All Waiting trope that can happen with multiple characters going in different directions.
Goemon is the most constant victim. He'll usually going missing for long periods of time, off training while the others pursue the MacGuffin of the week. Sometimes he'll appear 2/3rds of the way through the story.
Fujiko will occasionally make only sporadic appearances, especially if she's sided with the bad guy.
In a Real Lifees The Plot example, Goro Naya was having trouble in the late (20)00's, so the writers would come up with injuries and obstacles to make fewer lines for Zenigata. He'll disappear for long periods of time, popping up only for humorous purposes or to conveniently derail Lupin's plans.
In Azumanga Daioh Sakaki seems to get most of the focus throughout the series... until her animal plot is resolved with Mayaa coming back. For the last two episodes of the show, she has MAYBE ten lines total and about half of those are random background/crowd chatter lines it seems. For most of the rest of the series, Kagura probably falls into this most of the time as, despite being one of the main six, she doesn't show up properly until a little under halfway through the series and is rarely (if ever) the focus of an episode (or the small mini-episodes that make up one episode).
To say nothing of Kaorin, who gets relegated to the secondary cast almost immediately and hardly shows up at all in the last third of the series, partly the result of getting assigned to a different class.
In One Piece, all of the Straw Hats except Luffy have only been seen on two occasions in the manga since Chapter 512, when Kuma teleported them to separate islands; once to briefly show their whereabouts, and once more in a two-part cover page story arc. Granted, the entire crew gets back together after the timeskip.
Smoker and Tashigi (the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist pair that chase after the Straw Hats) for the first half of the manga (and therefore, the first half of the Grand Line). This was most likely deliberate, as Smoker's logia abilities meant that Luffy didn't stand a chance in hell at beating him. Since that's no longer a problem, the two are bound to get their roles expanded.
During the Yotsuba arc in Death Note, the perspective subtly but noticeably shifts from Light and his plotting to that of L and the task force, making it closer to an ensemble show. L's moral ambiguity comes into greater focus, Matsuda gets his day in the limelight, Misa gets in on the action by the end, and Aizawa gets some nice Character Development. There's a reason for this - during that arc, Light doesn't have his memories of using the Death Note, and his purpose during those episodes is to be the voice of reason for L when he suggests letting people die in order to catch Kira. Which makes it even more jarring when he gets the Death Note and his memories back at the end of the arc, and his Gambit Roulette that's been running in the background the entire time is revealed, culminating with the death of L.
Also, the foreign ten-year-old Sarah MacDougal gets focused in for a part of one early volume, then is cast aside for the rest of the story.
In episode 13 of Persona 4, the story is mostly told from the perspective of the protagonist's surrogate little sister, Nanako, as she conducts a childish investigation while pretending to be a cartoon detective. Later in episode 14, we see exactly what the Protagonist was up to, and how Nanako saved the man who operated the fireworks (he was choking), and because of the things she didnote Nanako suggested a delivery service for two people who wanted shaved ice and let a girl borrow her toy wand to fish out a scarf from a tree branch, indirectly helped the Protagonist save the life of a mother after she was struck in the head.
The four major protagonists of Slayers have only so much of their histories covered (and the importance of said histories only go so far), but virtually nothing is known about Gourry Gabriev, the swordsman of the group. The only thing known about him for sure is that an ancestor of his wielded the Sword of Light and defeated a beast named Zanaffar with it. He has an established backstory, but it's only availible via interviews. When a potential story involving said ancestor falling for an elf girl popped up in a Non-Serial Movie, Haijime Kanzakajossed it.
In Yuru-Yuri, Akari, the supposed protagonist, loses focus to her wacky friends. The anime turns this into a horribly cruel joke, to the point that the camera drifts away from her in the middle of a monologue to focus on something more interesting, and her friends need to write her name on their hands to remember who she is.
In Bakuman。, Miho has been seen much less after the news comes that PCP will not get an anime, and Mashiro and Takagi must come up with a manga that will, a significant setback in their promise to have Miho star in their anime. Justified in that Mashiro and Takagi have promised not to meet in person until they fulfill their promise. Toward the end of the manga, when the anime gets greenlit, only for Miho's relationship with Mashiro to come to light and cause controversy, Miho appears much more.
In Ranma ½, Ranma would often drop by Dr. Tofu's office when he was injured or needed medical advice. A few seasons later and Dr. Tofu seems to have vanished without a trace.
Tadakuni slipped out of presence over the run of Daily Lives of High School Boys, despite being the protagonist. This has been lampshaded In-Universe in both manga and the anime adaptation; the anime even said his out of focus is because he was too plain.
Medaka Box: Akune and Kikaijima (aka the other student council members) often get less and less screen-time as the series delves into more absurdity. Even Zenkichi is not immune.
Yumi Kayakawa, the main character of Cat Paradise, is considered to be this by the mangaka. However, the manga does have a considerably large cast for only five volumes, so it was probably difficult packing in all that character development without this happening.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica has an odd example. Go find a piece of art—fanart, official, whatever—containing four of the five Magical Girl heroines. Which one is left out? It's Kyoko, isn't it? Exceptions to this are rare: four of the end-of-episode artworks have four of the girls, and all of them lack Kyoko. The series page image, which is commonly used in promotions, does the same thing. Kyoko is the last main character to appear (in episode 4), but she ultimately gets more screen time than Mami and has a pretty obvious Les Yay thing with Sayaka, so the reasons for her being excluded so often are unclear. It's possible that this was to preserve The Reveal of her first appearance, since most artwork featuring four girls was produced before the fourth episode. After the conclusion of the series, most artwork shifted to either feature all five girls or feature pairs.One of the few post-series pieces◊ to feature four out of five actually features Kyoko over Mami.
While normally part of the core cast, Kuroko, Saten, and Uiharu all had significantly reduced roles in the Sisters arc of A Certain Scientific Railgun, which focused almost exclusively on Mikoto. You could even say that Mikoto herself suffered from this since Touma featured heavily and was the one who defeated Accelerator in the end.
Captain Marvel is said to have been getting this treatment, as he's slipped into something of a Dork Age in the past few years, and has received very little attention from the DC Titles. His nemesis, Black Adam, has been given much more reception, being written with major parts into various Crisis Crossovers. The reason given for Marvel's shoddy appearances in The DCU, according to Dan Didio, is "He doesn't fit in." This might be because DC (and Didio in particular) is pushing Darker and Edgier, and Captain Marvel has always been associated with Lighter and Softer. Which would explain why Black Adam, who can best be described as "Captain Marvel as an antihero" is getting all the spotlight. Don't worry, Shazam fans. Captain Marvel is currently undergoing a reboot in the New 52Justice League of America, written by Geoff Johns.
Many, many characters at any given time in Gold Digger. At least once, an entire year once went by with the main character, Gina, only appearing in occasional cameos.
The Inhumans tend to fall into this trope in regards to their leader Black Bolt. The writers usually focus their attention on him since, not only is he their king, but he's much more powerful than the others and just looks really cool. The others usually stand in the background and look concerned.
Ever since the failures of New X-Men and Young X-Men, most of the 21st Century X-Kids have fallen victim to this. With the exception of a few characters like X-23 (now part of the All-New X-Men) and Prodigy (now part of the Young Avengers), most of the young mutants faded into the background in favor of the newer young mutants who were introduced after Second Coming and AVX.
Milo Bloom, the eponymous star of Bloom County, gradually disappeared from the comic after Opus the penguin came to dominate.
Jazmine didn't appear in The Boondocks comic for two years when the focus shifted more politically after 9/11. Then she shows up, revealing that she had been in hiding all that time, and chews Huey out for not noticing (Yes, for two whole years. Yes, they were both still ten years old.)
Chad, the older brother of main character Jeremy, has almost never appeared again since going off to college. Possibly, this has been lampshaded — in one strip, Jeremy's mother Connie says, "Wasn't it nice seeing your brother again for a whole week?", but Jeremy simply hadn't noticed he was there; in another, Connie laments Chad's lack of communication.
Lately, Zits has nearly completely taken on the perspective of the parents, in order to make more jokes about teenage behavior, and many of Jeremy's friends have been sidelined (or have disappeared completely) from the comic as a result.
Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Schroeder are the only characters from the original cast of Peanuts that lasted. There are even some indications in very early strips that Shermy may have been intended as the main character. Remember Shermy? Exactly.
Nermal from Garfield was missing for three years until he reappeared.
After FoxTrot went to Sunday Strip-only in 2006, pretty much every cast member except the Fox Family was pushed to the side, with only background or minor roles.
Snuffy Smith originally centered around a character named Barney Google, and the strip's full official title is still Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, but the Google character hasn't been seen regularly since the 1950s.
In Aeon Natum Engel after the initial offensive of Operation CATO, The EVA pilots go out of the spotlight until the summoning of Moloch.
Since Willow was based on the author's real life friend, it wouldn't be much a surprise that she dies in My Immortal when the two have a falling out. But even when the two reconcile, Willow's role as Ebony's best friend is shifted towards B'loody Mary. A lot of characters drift out of focus as the Love Triangle between Ebony, Draco and Vampire develops.
Earth and Sky: Once the Pegalathon starts up, attention stays on the Harmony Aeronautics team and the villains trying to sabotage them, with all other characters pushed to the sidelines (though Applejack shows up for a few chapters in the middle of it). Pinkie Pie mentions this during her and Fluttershy's cameo in chapter 37.
Films — Animation
Both Pocahontas and Mulan, despite being marketed as official Disney Princesses, actually do not appear in most of their merchandise unlike thesixcoreprincesses (and to a much lesser extent, the recently introduced Tiana and Rapunzel) let alone several group artwork. This may have to do with controversy over using a real person's life as a fairytale in the former's case, and the fact that Mulan is not actually a princess (for that matter, neither is Pocahontas, but Disney felt that since she was the chieftain's daughter, that was close enough.) Recently, both Jasmine and especially Snow White, probably for the better, are also starting to suffer from this, in order to make room for Tiana and Rapunzel.
Disney's Peter Pan also ends up in this. Tinker Bell gets her own spin off series, and Captain Hook and his crew appear in Jake And The Neverland Pirates while Peter has only a few appearances there. In fact Tink appears more often in the media than Peter.
In the fourth installment of the Ice Age franchise, Crash and Eddie barely appear, and contribute nothing to the plot.
Watching A Goofy Movie out of context, you probably would not be able to guess that PJ was a main character of Goof Troop, since he's only in about a third of the scenes in the movie and has very few lines and little screentime in most of those. His screentime improves significantly in the sequel, but considering what he spends the screentime on, it's still a bit low. Pete suffers a similar fate in the first movie, but in his case it only got worse.
Master Shifu was a major character in Kung Fu Panda, but was Demoted to Extra for the sequel. This is justified, since his character arc from the first film had ended and someone had to guard the Jade Palace while the heroes were away.
A common criticism of Michael Bay's Transformers films is that the Transformers themselves are Out of Focus in favor of the human and army characters. This was an issue of practicality in the first film though, as the cost of the CGI limited how much screen time the Transformers could actually have. They show up a lot more in the sequels.
Almost Famous arguably has an in-universe example. In the middle of the movie, Stillwater receives a new batch of t-shirts from the record label - which are quickly discovered to have Russell front and center, with the rest of the band in the back, out of focus. This sets off an argument between Russell and Jeff Bebe on the way Russell has increasingly become the public face of the band, with everyone else fading away. At one point, Jeff Bebe even shouts, "I'm just one of the out of focus guys!"
The third Astérix film (Asterix at the Opympic Games) gives more screentime to Lovesix and his Romantic Plot Tumor than to Asterix and Obelix, the protagonists of the series.
In Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, this happened to Augustus Gloop. He barely spoke at all during the movie, disappeared after the first room, and even when they were doing the "let's meet the Golden Ticket winners" interviews, his parents did most of the speaking for him. This was mostly due to the fact that his actor didn't speak English and had to learn all of his lines phonetically, but just notice how very little you see of him.
The two older children - Dana and Robbie Freeling - in Poltergeist are mostly sidelined after the first acts and replaced by the paranormal investigation team. Carol Ann is missing for a more plot-centric reason. Sadly Dana is entirely missing from the sequels, for well-known reasons.
Goldmoon and Riverwind are very important characters in the first Dragonlance novel, but after that their story arc is basically finished and they largely recede into the background for the rest of the Chronicles.
The title character of the Haruhi Suzumiya novels has greatly reduced role in the later books, with Yuki and then Mikuru taking a more prominent place. This is possibly justified because the title character isn't the main character. That role falls to our Narrator, Kyon. Given Kyon's notorious status as an Unreliable Narrator, the titles themselves may be intentionally misleading.
In Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, sometimes characters are barely mentioned in a book due to the ridiculously huge cast. This is at its most egregious when Mat, one-third of the series' Power Trio, spends an entire book apparently trapped under a pile of rocks. (He was actually recovering off the page.)
Hawkfrost, a major character in the ten previous books had his role reduced to ominously floating around ThunderClan camp a few times from Long Shadows to The Fourth Apprentice. However, he became important again from Fading Echoes to The Last Hope, serving as one of the main recruiters of the Dark Forest.
In the SkyClan and the Stranger manga, many characters who were important in Firestar's Quest and SkyClan's Destiny, such as Egg and Frecklewish, simply disappear from the story. This is one of the more understandable times it happened, seeing as SkyClan and the Stranger is a manga that's about 300 pages long, while the rest of the SkyClan Saga is nearly 1000 pages of print featuring Loads and Loads of Characters.
RiverClan's role in the plot was significantly diminished in Power of Three and Omen of the Stars, although this was due to ThunderClan no longer sharing a border with them.
Cinderheart was a major character in the first four books of Power of Three, but after her first character arc was wrapped up in Eclipse, she got little more than a passing mention in Long Shadows and Sunrise.
Kell Tainer is the main-focus character in Wraith Squadron. His Character Development arc finishes by the end of that novel, and the next two novels (Iron Fist and Solo Command) focus on other characters in Wraith Squadron, with Kell getting viewpoint status for maybe one section per book.
Edilio from the GONE series often falls victim to this, in spite of a overwhelming amount of support from the fanbase.
This is discussed/justified in FEAR, the latest GONE novel, where Edilio points out he does have lots of things happening to him, it's just people don't know about it because he doesn't make everything about himself.
A few characters who were quite prominent in the earlier Discworld novels have slipped into this. Magrat and Verence might make a cameo once in a blue moon and Rincewind (who was the original protagonist of the novels) has been Demoted to Extra as part of the Wizards ensemble. Then there is Carrot who has slowly faded away in the Watch books when he was originally the second most important character.
It's become something of a standard rule in Dom Coms that the protagonist couple have three children (see Full House,Home Improvement,The Nanny, etc.) as a quick and easy way to have an entire childhood's worth of plot lines very quickly (the oldest has teen problems, such as dating and driving, the middle child has kid problems, such as first day of school, and the youngest gets to sit there and either look cute, or get an occasional one-liner.) Often, the youngest of the three children will have to go out of focus, usually because very young kids simply can't act that well and are subject to stricter child labor laws.) D.J. from Roseanne and Jake from Reba are two notable examples.
Inverted on Full House, where D.J., the oldest of the three kids, befell this trope instead, being the least "cute" of the three, and utterly lacking in "precious" mannerisms and memorable catch phrases.
On Family Matters, on the other hand, the youngest child (Judy Winslow) went so far out of focus that she actually disappeared.
Similarly, on Boy Meets World, the youngest Matthews sibling went out of focus and then disappeared completely, but she showed up a few seasons later, played by a different actress. Lampshaded when the new actress' first line in the show was "That's the longest time-out I've ever had!"
Given its large ensemble cast, this easily happens on LOST.
The worst-off character is unquestionably Claire, who's only had three episodes in the limelight. This is particularly frustrating, especially in the final season when her reappearance after a season long absence seems like a good set up for a terrific flashback episode that never really happens and the hold situation is instead Hand Waved away magically.
Jin and Sun got a pretty bad case of this in several seasons. In the first season they both appear in most of the episodes and get their own centric episodes but after that all of their centrics get lumped together as one and their role in the plot diminishes considerably. For starters, in season 3 they both disappear for about six episodes in a row and have no dialogue in several others. Its also around this time that they start to just sort of follow other characters around for want of something to do other than the occasional Character Focus. Luckily they both get some decent character development in seasons 4 and 6 which keeps them from being completely useless. It also helps that their death scene was probably the show's biggest all time Tear Jerker.
All 3 non Daniel Faraday freighters after season 4. Charlotte never got much love for the writers and then she dies. Miles pretty much just becomes a two man comedy team with Hurley and doesn't get a season 6 centric episode. Season 5 sets Lapidus up as important, with Bram thinking he may be a candidate he becomes a regular and then goes out of focus with the candidate story shifting focus to other characters with nary a mention of Frank. Poor guy doesn't even get flash sideways cameo and is basically just comic relief. Until the finale when his unceremonious death turns out to be a subversion and he pulls off a final Crowning Moment of Awesome by successfully getting the survivors off the island.
The year before in Power Rangers S.P.D., Disney didn't want to hire yet another regular actor to play Sam the Omega Ranger. Since the showrunners were kind of stuck with him thanks to Stock Footage, they resorted to Fake Shemping and cut his presence down to the occasional token appearance.
Tracy: Everything worked out with Jenna's dad visiting. Liz: What? Tracy: Oh, you weren't really around for any of that.
Josh, meanwhile, disappeared from the show for so long that it looked for all the world as if he'd suffered from Chuck Cunningham Syndrome. He eventually showed up again after having been absent for over half of the season. In the next season, he was Put on a Bus and hasn't been heard from since.
Although a little more focus was placed on her at the end of season 5, when she got married, Cerie previously appeared just often enough on the show to remind you she was still there.
The Simon (Number Four) and Doral (Number Five) model Cylons are hardly seen anymore, and certainly have had far less character development than the other models. Arguably the Fours were never prominent outside one episode, but the Fives had a fair amount of screen time in the first year of the show.
And then there's D'Anna, who opts to stay behind on Earth after everyone else leaves, and Leoben, who sort of freaks out when Starbuck finds her own body and is then never seen again (except for a brief appearance in the Grand Finale), despite vast hints earlier on that he was a fairly central and important player.
After season six, Laurie Forman was never seen on-screen again but was mentioned in passing many times over the next two seasons. These ranged from explaining what she was doing at that point in time (such as moving to Canada), to her past in Point Place (such as who her godparents are). Laurie's last screen reference is in the finale, where Kitty, after stating heartfelt reasons why she loved everyone in the room, including telling Donna that she loved her like a daughter, asks "Speaking of daughters... has anyone seen Laurie?" prompting a long laugh from the studio audience.
The players from the range of third-voted out to right before the merge are pretty much living props at the reunion. Yve perhaps got this the worst in Nicaragua, literally never getting a question directed at her. Jill supposedly wasn't even at the reunion.
Other than Shambo and Russell Swan, the entire Galu tribe in Samoa was out of focus, as well as Mick in the Foa Foa tribe. You can actually cut out every shot of the Galu Tribe with the exception of Russell Swan being evacuated and you wouldn't miss anything important - heck you probably wouldn't even change the length of the episode.
A few people in Tocantins when the Camera wasn't focused on Coach.
Particularly bad on the first few legs of each season of The Amazing Race, when some teams can go entire episodes getting only one or two lines, though these are usually teams who last late into the race and will get their airtime later.
Brennan from Season 1 was almost never shown talking in the interview segments; all the talking came from his partner Rob. He later explained in an interview that this was probably due to his tendency to ramble on compared to his partner's terser, and hence more editing-friendly, talking.
Derek got pushed into the background in Season 3's later episodes in favor of his brother's Love Triangle with Flo & Zach.
Uchenna & Joyce won Season 7, but did not get major airtime until leg 8, and the were pushed back into the background for most of All-Stars.
Fellow winners Kisha & Jen got lost behind all the big personalities in Unfinished Business, and only got snippets of airtime prior to the last four legs.
Jeremy & Sandy (Season 19) finished in second, but didn't get much screen time until one of the late legs.
In 90210, Navid, in theory one of the main characters and appearing in the opening credits, barely appeared in the first eight episodes and after the pilot had no plot of consequence for a third of the season. Ironically this only changed when his character was tied in with a guest character who had been far more visible and important (she was promoted to the credits soon after and they are now the Official Couple).
This happened to Potsie on Happy Days after Richie and Ralph left the show.
Most of Potsie's post-Richie/Ralph appearances were simply as a singer of the house band for Arnold's.
Ryan is still listed as a main character in the credits of The Office (US) but it has been a long time since he has had a plot of consequence. At this point Andy is clearly the de facto most prominent character after the main four and Ryan lags behind most of the supposedly secondary cast.
Ryan has a get-out-of-jail-free card, because the actor who plays him also happens to be one of the executive producers of the show. Well, he's a writer who got promoted to executive producer. It isn't like he pitched a hissy fit.
Several characters in Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer suffered from this, Xander probably getting the worst of it, but Giles, Anya, Dawn, and to a lesser extent Willow were all massively pushed to the sidelines in order to accommodate more storylines for Spike.
Although Giles's reduced screentime was more due to the fact that the actor moved back to England to spend more time with his family.
Spoofed on Community, where one episode features an entire Abed subplot of befriending a pregnant classmate relegated to the background. In some scenes, Abed's plotline is shown onscreen, but literally Out of Focus.
Kamen Rider Den-O does it to its own main character, Ryotaro, as time goes on. This is presumably due to a combination of the Imaging stealing the spotlight and Takeru Satoh, Ryotaro's original actor, leaving the franchise to pursue other roles after the third (and supposedly Grand Finale) movie. The character was Nth Doctor'd for his next few appearances, but won't be showing up at all in the upcoming Kamen Rider 40th anniversary movie.
Kyra Rockmore, Kenan's sister in Kenan & Kel. After Season 2, she rarely ever appears in the show. She doesn't even appear in episodes with the rest of her family or The Chicago Witch Trials episode which would have been a perfect opportunity to bring up her crush on Kel. She does, however, appear in the series finale movie as well as the graduation episode.
Came up in the 8th season of Scrubs due to budget cuts; every member of the main cast was Out of Focus for at least one episode.
Dr. Warner and Dr. Huang were never really in focus and have always missed several episodes a season.
Sergeant John Munch went out of focus around season nine when he got promoted to his current position and is appearing less than the doctors.
As of season 12, Captain Cragen has also gone out of focus.
This becomes really noticeable when one of the three remaining characters takes time off like in "Reparations" when only two of the seven cast members appeared.
Compared to her CSI: Crime Scene Investigation supervisor counterparts Horatio Caine and Mac Taylor, Catherine Willows from the mothership suffers from this, in favor of the Ray Langston Show. Of course, if you're going to shell out the money for Lawrence Fishburne, you're going to end up using Lawrence Fishburne.
Genelle Williams' character Leena on Warehouse 13. Although Williams is a main contracted actor, she's actually not in very many episodes, and her character Leena has little screen time in episodes she is in, and has little impact on the plot. Leena isn't even acknowledged in series promos that supposedly highlight all the main characters. Williams is also absent from the new intro sequence.
With the Spotlight-Stealing Squad having a choke-hold over the entire 13th season of Big Brother US, Porsche, Adam, and Lawon have had this. Posts on Jokers Updates have even been talking about most of the newbies (Especially Porsche and Lawon) only to have numerous responses of, "Who?"
Parenthood has mild examples as many characters (especially the children) simply do not exist - and are never mentioned - in episodes that do not focus on them.
The Knights of the Round Table in Merlin fall prey to this trope. Though they were given significent attention in their introductory episodes (in fact, both Lancelot and Gwaine are introduced in episodes that are named after them), once they were established characters the writers seemingly ran out of ideas over what to do with them. Two were actually McLeaned when the actors decided they had better prospects elsewhere, and the remaining ones were given virtually nothing to do but jump into a fight scene every now and then.
This happened to Dawson on Dawson's Creek due to Joey and Pacey getting more focus. In fact, Joey is the only character to appear in every single episode, despite the show being named after Dawson.
Glee has Tina Cohen Chang, who whilst having a large, dedicated fanbase, was lucky if she got 1 line per episode in season 2 and 3.
In universe: Tina ended up losing it and got angry with everyone. She now has more lines and complains when she isn't being focused on.
In Breaking Bad, Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz feature prominently in Season 1, but are not seen again till the last two episodes of season 5B. Walt had pretty much written them out of his life due to his animosity regarding Gray Matter, but he realises they are his only hope to his get money to his children without it looking suspicious.
Sam Grey who played Scouser Alice Chantrey went from main character to appearing now and then due to modelling commitments. She was still plot-relevant, but became harder to write about as her alternate career began.
Police, Camera, Action!, although a documentary series, had contributions from a number of police forces, but these went out of focus by certain series:
After the 1998 series, Rigspolitiet Denmark (the national Danish police) appeared less and less, with a cameo in Nowhere to Hide.
Same for Leo De Haas Produkties B.V. who supplied footage from The Netherlands between 1995 and 1998. However, they had cameo appearances in the 1999 and 2000 series.
By 2007, neither foreign force appeared in the Re Tool.
Also, the Surrey and Hampshire Police footage was less often used after 1998, leaving just Metropolitan Police, Lancashire Constabulary, Lincolnshire Police, Los Angeles News Service and Police Service of Northern Ireland as the main contributors.
Friends : Ben disappears after season 8, Carol after season 7, and Susan after season 6.
This is what led up to the death of WCW. There were so many contributing factors to why WCW died, none of which should have happened. Hulk Hogan had a seven million dollar contract that gave him complete creative control. There were over 140 guys on the roster, most of whom never got used — yet they still bought plane tickets to fly them to shows (for the sake of comparison, WWE's current roster of male wrestlers currently sits at 65; their entire team, including Divas, commentators, announcers, referees and valets, might barely break 100.) Executives from Turner Broadcasting couldn't handle the backstage politics, and the bookers they hired were happy to put themselves over at the expense of the company.
The number of wrestlers on the roster had gotten to around 265 when the decision was made to cut costs. About 200 wrestlers were fired. Before the cuts, the roster included Lanny Poffo and Kevin "Nailz" Wacholz. Poffo was hired as a favor to his brother (Randy Savage) in 1995 and never worked a match for the company. Wacholz worked one match for the company in 1993 (as "The Prisoner" at the first Slamboreee) and signed a contract, but everyone forgot about him, so he was never pink slipped and his contract rolled over until someone realized he was paid to do nothing for 7 years and he was released. Going back even earlier, The Honky Tonk Man was working for WCW without a contract (which in WCW usually paid a weekly salary instead of per appearance), he would sign in at each TV taping. After he quit, he asked a friend to keep signing in for him so he could keep getting paid. It worked for a few months until they were caught. It's believed that there were many, many other screw-ups where wrestlers were forgotten about and paid for doing nothing.
A similar variant happens in Pen and Paper RPGs. While this can easily happen in when a player is absent for too long or doesn't speak up enough. However; it also happens when a group is well-established and a newcomer happens to join. A group starts to act like the other person is not there, and as a result their character acts out of focus. This sometimes drives away newcomers, and discourages other people who have an interest in the game but have nobody to play with because of the local group(s) are ironbound.
The Spamalot song Whatever Happened To My Part? is about the Lady of the Lake complaining about the fact that she hadn't been onstage since the end of act one (The song is sung halfway through act two).
The Fool in King Lear has no spoken lines after Act III. Directors sometimes address what happens to him, sometimes not.
Many BIONICLE characters fell victim to this phenomenon, as the story always had to focus on those guys that kids could buy. The web-serials thankfully ceased this, and then some older characters even received new toys.
There's always lots of characters, and you can do the support conversations any time you like, but in a Fire Emblem game, you're lucky if you get a single line more than two missions after you're introduced, as the developers don't want to rest anything plot-significant on the shoulders of someone who might be dead by that point.
Recent games have been getting clever about this with optional "Info" conversations, allowing a good fourth of the cast to get decent story-relevant characterization.
Some other games also have natter between enemies they state they are out to get or know somehow. For example; Nino, Jaffar, and Renault actually have a few things to say to Nergal instead of just of Athos and the lords in Rekka, In Path of Radiance, Ashnard will have a conversation with Ike, Mist, Elincia, Tauroneno, Haar, Jill, Reysa, Esa, Nasir, Tibarn, Naesala, and Giffca if they attack him. He also says something to any laguz if he fights him.
In Tactics Ogre as well as its spinoff, any of the special named characters with custom portraits who join you will rarely get a word of dialogue after their story arc is over. Some like Kachua, Canopus, Guildus, and Mildain play relevant parts in the story in Tactics Ogre if they're still alive. However; the ending certainly doesn't forget that they joined you at all, oh noo - So if you kept all the named characters who joined you through the story alive and didn't dismiss or let anyone die, be prepared for a long ending! And some of these characters even join in groups, too — so as you can bet, there's a LOT of possible variations!
Knight of Lodis has a smaller cast in general than Tactics Ogre, so it's a lot easier to keep the special characters like Ivanna, Orson, Shiven, etc in focus after they joined your party. Like with Tactics Ogre, you get variations on the ending depending on who survives. And to a greater extent, you see more characters talking against an enemy who they have something personal against. (Nichart and Ivanna will talk with each other) However, the optional characters like Elrik and Eupharie don't speak much after their small story arc... Elrik does talk with Rimmon if he's still there.
Orson and Shiven deserve special mention. Depending on which path you took, one will join your party, and the other will simply vanish from the storyline. If you took path A, Orson will be a boss because he's still with Rictor's Army. If you took Path B, Orson will join you because he was dismissed from Rictor's troops and Shiven will actually...vanish into the shadows until a good part into chapter three when Cybil is nearly killed by Alphonse and he shows up out of almost nowhere, However this is actually justifiable; Shiven is actually a ninja who was hired to spy for Cybil - he was off in the shadows.
Most Final Fantasy games have this, except the characters other than the main three (hero, lancer, and love interest) tend to drop in and out of focus. List of examples follows:
Final Fantasy XII inverted the usual way this happens: instead of the hero and his girlfriend being the main characters, everyone else in the party (except for Fran) got all the Character Focus while Vaan's role was to exist as a way for them to reflect on and work through their problems. Word of God is that Vaan was never intended to be the main character. He was a last minute addition to satisfy a request from marketing for a more traditional main character.
This is reversed in Revenant Wings where Vaan becomes not only the main character, but the savior of the world. To the point where many of the other characters become window dressing.
Final Fantasy IV was the first one to give characters distinct classes and characterisations. Though Cecil's always in the party, the other members rotate with the plot momentum and thus do get some relevance to the story after they initially join.
Final Fantasy V had issues for each character, but seeing as the party only changed once, everyone stayed in focus.
Final Fantasy VI juggled its ensemble cast relatively well in the first half of the game, with Terra and Locke acting as the de facto main characters. After The End of the World as We Know It when the party members are scattered and must be re-gathered, Celes takes over main character duties, several minor characters are given A Day in the Spotlight, and Terra and Locke are almost entirely Out of Focus due to being (usually) the final two to rejoin the party. The former at least gets a couple cameos. The latter is simply absent, and isn't given much to do after he comes back either.
Final Fantasy VII has Cloud's struggle as the game's focus, but the other non-optional characters got several mandatory sections that featured them heavily, and even one of the optional ones had a lengthy side-quest focusing on her.
Final Fantasy VIII had little time for people that weren't Squall or Rinoa, and tried to make up for this with the odd time that the whole party have to tackle a crisis and giving the characters various other roles. Selphie becomes the final airship pilot, Zell is Mr. Exposition, etc. Seifer was the most unfortunate victim of this. At the start of the game, he's The Rival to Squall and is clearly set up to be one of the main villains. Unfortunately, following the end-of-Disc-2 battle with him at Galbadia Garden after which Ultimecia is revealed as the true villain, he diminishes in importance. The real kicker is that his character arc gets no closure. He's fought at Lunatic Pandora as the final boss of disc 3, and then the next time we see him is the ending, where he's... fishing? What?
Final Fantasy IX was the best about this for the most part. Except for Quina, who was just there for comic relief and Freya, who... well after disc one she just stands around and looks like a rat. But the ATE system let other characters get scenes when they weren't with you, or even on different continents!
Final Fantasy X was somewhat mixed about it. The power three of Tidus, Auron and Yuna still get all the action but Wakka and Rikku get decent time. Lulu, however, is limited to provide exposition on locations and people's actions/motives (her backstory is a SIDE QUEST for God's sake). Kimahri isn't relevant till 3/4 through the game either.
Penelo in Final Fantasy XII seems shoehorned in so there could be a sixth character, as well as a natural mage character.
Final Fantasy XIII shifts perspectives a lot, so characters go in and out of focus. It can be said, though, that all of them are pretty well developed.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 seems to have taken this to the next level in regards to Lightning. During the first trailer, we are told she is the main character (playable and otherwise). Come upon the second trailer, and we see that she now shares the spotlight with Serah and Noel. Fastfoward to today...and while she is the only character on the box art...as far as we know, she only serves as the narrator and will be sometimes playable for brief periods of time (one time has thus far been confirmed). Yet Toriyoma still describes her as a "Major character", "the backbone of the plot", and the "driving force of the plot"...pretty good for a mostly non-playable, barely seen character, huh?
Guile; being a rather popular character during the time of Street Fighter II, it was rather odd that he wouldn't appear for the next several years. He finally returned in the home console version of Street Fighter Alpha 3, the arcade version of which featured every other character from the original World Warrior except for him.
Guile going Out of Focus makes plot sense, however, as his entire character motivation was to avenge the death of his friend Charlie. In the Alpha series Charlie is still alive, and in Street Fighter III the murderer is long dead. (No such excuse exists in the plotless Versus games, however, where his presence has been sorely missed since Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age Of Heroes.) The games where Guile does appear — EX and Street Fighter IV — have Bison alive, giving him a reason to be there.
Many of the new characters in Street Fighter III have yet to make an appearance outside the Street Fighter III games. Though this is slowly being rectified, as Alex, Yun and Yang, Ibuki, Makoto, and Dudley have since made appearances in other Capcom games. Also a partial justification, as Street Fighter III is currently at the end of the Street Fighter timeline, and some characters' stories, such as Necro, Urien, and Twelve, are based around the game's Big Bad, making it hard to find a good reason to put them in other Street Fighter games. And Alex is the current champion of the World Warrior tournament!
Another fighting game example: Cham Cham in Samurai Shodown, although popular, has only appeared in a few games. Earthquake and Gen-an from the same series.
Regal from Tales of Symphonia is the only member of your party that you never have to use in the game. After his backstory is all wrapped up, he has very few lines throughout the rest of the game, unless you aim to take his ending.
Maderas and Hoggmeiser don't get any lines after they've been defeated and joined your party in Disgaea. They're not even shown in cutscenes.
In Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, every character other than Wylfred goes Out of Focus as soon as the chapter in which they're introduced concludes, unless you use the Destiny Plume on them, and even then, they only get last words. But, if someone related to that character is around, they add a couple lines to the death scene.
Donald Duck and Goofy were Sora's constant companions in Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and Kingdom Hearts II. After that, they've fallen by the wayside. They only had brief cameos in Birth By Sleep, were just unlockable multiplayer mode characters in 358/2 Days, and their biggest role in Coded was reminding Data Sora about what they and the real Sora did together in the past. In the upcoming 3D, "dream" versions of them are set to appear in a Three Musketeers-based world, but the real things still aren't up to much.
This arguably started happening as early as Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. They were very major characters in the first game, as their search for King Mickey is one of the driving forces of the plot, but as more original characters, such as Roxas, Naminé, and Organization XIII, were introduced and focused on, Donald and Goofy ended up losing quite a bit of limelight. Come Kingdom Hearts II, their only role is to pretty much just be... there; the two are no longer essential to the story, and they aren't even present during the final battle.
In the Left 4 Dead DLC expansion Crash Course, Bill has no new lines, and uses earlier lines when they aren't quite appropriate. This is because his voice actor, Jim French, was busy with his other jobs and Valve couldn't get in touch with him in time to record lines.
Rochelle in Left 4 Dead 2 has lots of interesting lines, but the game usually focuses on the other 3 survivors when it's time for someone to talk, thus most people never get to hear Rochelle say anything interesting or even talk at all. This unintentionally makes Rochelle's character bland and generic, which many people hate her for but hardly understand why she is this way.
In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Midna steals a lot of Princess Zelda's spotlight, who is pretty much demoted to an Exposition-giving Princess Classic... however, she returns to the focus in the end of the game, where she turns into a Lady of War (and to her credit, most of the time she's out of focus is because of something she did that saved Midna's life.)
The Zelda team have actually been gradually averting this trope in regards to Zelda; with her being a cross-dressing Stealth Mentor in Ocarina of Time, then an Action Girl / Pirate Girl in Wind Waker and recently the always-present Exposition Fairy in Spirit Tracks. The only other situation like the Midna one above was in Phantom Hourglass, where her spotlight is stolen again, this time by Linebeck.
In Xenogears, pretty much everyone who joins the party after Bart doesn't get much of the spotlight after the plotline where they're introduced. Rico, in particular, is given nothing unique to do after the party leaves Kislev.
Jim Raynor for a great deal of Starcraft's story. He's the main character for the Terran campaign, and then only pops up occasionally with minimal impact throughout the first game and expansion's five other campaigns. Justified, since he didn't really have much manpower behind him after defecting from Mengsk. His major contribution is helping the Protoss defeat the Overmind, but he really just shows up, with no explanation of how or when he formed an alliance with Zeratul, and then leaves again. He's front and center for Starcraft II, though, and manages to get a lot done with a small rebel force.
Probably the most extreme example is Eiji Kisaragi. He burst onto Art of Fighting 2 as a mysterious stranger with a tenuous connection to Ryo Sakazaki, and it's strongly hinted that he's going to be a major player for years to come. In SNK's very next fighting game, King of Fighters '95, he's reduced to a bit player who gets bushwhacked by Iori Yagami. Then in Art of Fighting 3, he's mentioned all over the place (largely in connection with exile Jin Fuha) but not seen even once. And that's the last we see or hear of him for nearly a decade, finally resurfacing in KOF XI (where he's a bit player in a throwaway joke plot).
This certainly happens with Pokémon's titular monsters. Every time a new generation of Pokémon is introduced, alot of the Pokémon end up becoming out of focus and usually are only available to the player after they've beaten the main storyline and obtained the national pokédex. Pokémon Black and White is especially bad with this since none of the older Pokémon are available to the player until the national dex upgrade is obtained.
Mario/Luigi, Peach, Bowser, and Bowser Jr. in Super Mario Galaxy. It looks like the game is about Bowser and Bowser Jr. kidnapping Peach and carrying her into outer space and Mario/Luigi having to travel from one planet to another to save her, but in the actual game, that's not even the main plot.
A common complaint about World of Warcraft: Cataclysm was that the Alliance and it's leaders got very little story and character development compared to the Horde. A few members of Blizzard's staff have even admitted they dropped the ball here, but hope to do better keeping both factions interesting in future expansions.
In World of Warcraft as a whole, the major Out of Focus revolves around the world's factions. Blood Elves and Draenei were the sole focus of their expansion, The Burning Crusade, but for a time had very little to no continuation beyond the end content of that. Thankfully, this has been averted for the blood elves as of Mists of Pandaria, but the draenei sadly are still waiting in the wings.
Wrath Of The Lich King continues this trend with the rebel Death Knights of Ebon Hold being pushed aside when Cataclysm arrived, despite their major focus during the fall of the Lich King, as does Mists Of Pandaria with the Goblins and Worgen, who were introduced in Cataclysm.
In Mega Man X: Command Mission, Massimo, Marino, and Cinnamon have introduction levels, but that's it. After that, they're just cast-filler who tag along with X, Zero, and Axl for the sake of it. Had Capcom at least given them more missions that reveal more about their backstories and personal reasons for joining X's group, Massimo, Marino, and Cinnamon would've been decent at best.
In a series that has loads and loads of popular characters and make up most of the cast, Touhou bosses tend to be one-game wonders that don't always get seen again. If you're lucky, you get a return as a protagonist assist, another game's midboss, the Fandom really likes you (e.g., Cirno), or you are Patchouli Knowledge. The traditional mitigation of this problem are games that feature as many of the character as possible: Phantasmagoria of a Flower View, the three fighters (Immaterial and Missing Power, Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, and Hisoutensoku), and the Shoot the Bullet series. Additionally, supporting material for the series is at least half World Building so the bosses crop up a lot.
A joke goes that Izayoi Sakuya was knocked Out of Focus for Konpaku Youmu, and then Kochiya Sanae, as protagonists. In series, though, she's stated very directly that she wouldn't go on Incident resolution unless it directly involved Scarlet Devil Mansion.
Since Halo 3 Master Chief has been given less focus outside the main games, and the writers are more into expanding the rest of the background of Halo.
The Mass Effect series had numerous characters and some were given more focus than others.
The third game had many of the characters from the second game cut to reduced roles. While possibly justified given the nature of the second game, Garrus and Tali return to the squad and are given large roles. Thane, Miranda and Mordin have larger, non-squadmate related roles, but the rest serve only as cameos.
Interestingly enough, the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC does this to Shepard, as the DLC quickly becomes all about Liara and ignores everyone else.
Apollo Justice was meant to become the new protagonist of the Ace Attorney series when his game was released back in 2007. Jump forward five years, and fan-favorite Miles Edgeworth has gotten two games of his own, while original protagonist Phoenix Wright has appeared in one crossover, and has another starring him coming up. Apollo has appeared in none of these, and marketing for the series has largely returned to putting Phoenix and Edgeworth front and center. It remains to be seen if the upcoming Ace Attorney 5 will return to Apollo.
Apollo appears in Ace Attorney 5 with a design that makes it look like he Took a Level in Badass. His role is still a mystery. But Phoenix is returned to being the main character that the player will control.
Pom Pom of Homestar Runner fame was once one of the core characters, Homestar's best friend, and the Straight Man of the group. Once Strong Bad became the de facto main character, the humor became more wacky and surreal, and Pom Pom's role gradually faded until he could only be seen in brief cameos or holiday toons.
Ultra Fast Pony occasionally lampshades characters who go many episodes between appearances.
Apple Bloom appears in the very first episode, then doesn't appear again until episode nine. Twilight Sparkle completely forgets about AB's existence in the interim.
In "One Joke to Rule Them All", Zecora has a brief scene, after which a caption appears, reading "And we'll never see Zecora again... A fate worse than Luna."
Vashiel from Misfile frequently falls victim to this trope, last seen wandering the earth looking for a missing angel. Has now reappeared and, shock horror, appears to even have his own story arc. It shan't last you know.
The characters from the first three books of Girl Genius, except for Agatha and Krosp, are almost entirely replaced with a new cast of characters at the start of book 4; Gil (pictured), Klaus, and their inner circles slowly weave their way back into the story over the course of book 6, and Vonn Pinn and the students return toward the end book 8, bringing the Castle Heterodyne arc into full swing.
The character arc involving "Lord Tedd" has been rather Out of Focus, but at least a Lampshade or two has been hung. Specifically, that YES Normal Tedd's father HAS been doing things in the background.
This has also happened to two of the eight main characters, Justin and Sarah, a good deal. Both of them are usually lucky to get to be the chorus, while all of the other principle characters usually have a storyline in progress for them; interestingly during the party Justin sort of swapped roles with Elliot, with Elliot and Sarah's main lot in things during the period of crises everyone else was having seeing the two of them make out on the couch.
Scott the Linux guy and his penguin Ted disappeared without a trace for several years, despite an upcoming plot point about him being announced once and several hints being dropped that they were to be part of a major storyline. In a bizarre move, fans who questioned his absence were actually banned from the comics forums over it. The promised storyline finally came to fruition in August of 2011.
The Chef Brian and Players strips have almost entirely vanished, though as strips featuring them are intended to be non-sequiturs (since they're, you know, not really important to continuity), it's nowhere near as distressing as the Scott and Ted absence was.
Now that the Reset Button has been pressed, the strip focuses almost ENTIRELY on the Players.
Something Positive features such a massive cast, with many people living in different parts of the country, that formerly major characters like Jhim & Kim (the former of whom was easily in the Top Five most important characters in Year One) will disappear for an entire year before being seen again. This trope is essentially why the creator has the "Old Familiar Faces" series every January — because he realizes a lot of characters have vanished but he does want readers to remember they still exist somewhere in S* P-world.
Friendly Hostility employs Rotating Arcs to give its cast equal air time, and the creator of the series keeps readers ahead of what's happening (especially regarding who's not around for this plotline and when they'll be back). However, Bootsie and The Demon are still prone to disappear. More surprisingly, Collin, one of the two main cast members, is totally absent for an extended period of time in both 2005 and 2007, as the "Big Summer Storylines" — An Arc that lasts for the summer holidays — in those particular years focused on his boyfriend, Fox, and characters who had far more to do with Fox's storyline than Collin's (Fox's sister in 2005, and his workmates in 2007). When Collin is the focus of the arc, however, Fox will at least be mentioned, or given a one shot "Meanwhile..." comic to update the reader on what he's up to.
Steve was absent for a while. Lampshaded several times, where often one character will mention "We haven't seen Steve in awhile." cutting to said character drinking. He even spent an, alluded to, stint as a government agent taking out some nameless supervillain to explain his absence. For a little while it was unclear if this was actually real, or just a drunken dream, until a later strip showing a chance encounter between him, Marten and said Big Bad's BaronessTorture Technician seems to indicate that it wasn't.
Raven was once one of the most prominent characters at the start, but went out of focus for months and wasn't mentioned. Her role as the other point of the barista trio had been mostly taken over by Penelope. Eventually, she was Put on a Bus, and shown to have left for college.
There was quite a gap where Pintsize and Winslow went unseen, and secondary characters like Penelope and Tai went out of focus during dramatic arcs for others. They all came back later, though.
Another strip lampshading the non-appearance of some characters.
Goblins has this with the character Dies-Horribly, due to his story being a subplot, and the infrequent update schedule.
Now inverted in an especially cruel way. The last comic to feature the original Goblins group of Complains and company ends on a massive cliffhanger... And ever since then, the story has focused roughly equally on Dies-Horribly and company and Minmax's group. Said comic was posted in January 2011.
Boo, the conscience-hamster and the Mascot has perfected his vanishing act to magician-worthy standards. On one hand, this makes sense, as MegaTokyo has been leaning towardsthe melancholy side of life lately, and fuzzy, incompetent hamsters may jar the mood. On the other hand, with all the angst that's been heaped on Largo lately, you'd think now would be a good time for his conscience to lend a hand. Boo has shown up again, though Largo seems to have lent him to Ping. Or something... This might also be a demonstration of how much Boo is out of his league, and how little influence he has on people. Remember the comics with him just trying to find Largo?
Happens to just about everyone at one point or another in Sluggy Freelance. Usually occurs when one or two characters get Trapped in Another World, causing the strip to focus almost solely on their efforts to get home for the next few months, with only token appearances from the non-dimensionally displaced characters.
Tessa and Rachel were intended to be the main protagonists, but this only last for the first couple of chapters before they were slowly replaced during the happenings of the next couple by Shelley Winters, the main protagonist of the SGR's precursor Bobbins. In later chapters, they would rarely show up except for a few special "A Tessa and Rachel adventure" chapters. Eventually, they vanished for a while before their last appearance as villains, leading a group of evil nuns.
This also happened to plenty of others, as there were Loads and Loads of Characters, and often ones that had spent two chapters in the limelight would rotate out to for new ones. Even Shelley, who became the more or less the centre of the ensemble and Series Mascot, was Put on a Bus for a few months at one point.
Homestuck: Despite its rapid update rate, Loads And Loadsof Characters and limited page sizes mean several characters are out of the limelight for any amount of time spanning anywhere between days and weeks because:
The author is taking his sweet candy coated time to properly flesh out a character through a series of one on one conversations between two characters
The Author is taking his sweet candy coated time to properly explain a plot point through a series of one on one conversations between two characters
The Author is trolling the readers
Done intentionally in Fite!, where Gorgado's face actually replaces Guz's in the header for a while.
During 8-Bit Theater's latter years, you could call it The Black Mage and Red Mage Show, Featuring Thief. Fighter would be silent (or even absent) for several episodes in a row, only to pop in for one panel and spout a non-sequitur. Depending on the current story arc, said exposition would be about magic or the elf kingdom, with the mages and Thief trading roles as The Watson. Poor Fighter was left out of pretty much all story-important conversations by necessity.
Slick in Sinfest starting around 2011, which was amplified by the birth of one of the more notorious plot tumors (The Sisterhood sub-plot) and Spotlight-Stealing Squad in the strips history. Lampshaded in 1/3/2012. Also applies to Buddha, the dragon, the zombie, and the angels after the Sisterhood appeared.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender, though he did have his moments, Sokka lost quite a bit of the limelight in season 2 to compensate for the development of Prince Zuko as well as the inclusion of multiple new characters, being regulated primarily to comic relief and the occasional smart guy. Come Season 3 Sokka's doing better (gets A Day in the Limelight and costars in at least one episode), but Toph averages about four lines per episode with one Breather Episode centered on her, and by the end she's the only one in the main cast with a major part of her personal arc unresolved. This does end up lampshaded on at least two occasions. ("I'm going with Zuko! What? Everyone else went on a life-changing field trip with Zuko. Now it's my turn.")
Even that one episode in season 3 split the time with Katara and actually focused more on Katara loosening up than it did Toph reigning herself in.
Bolin had a similar problem in Book 1 of The Legend of Korra. Out of the 12 episodes, he only really has development for 4 of them, and the last 7 episodes he doesn't contribute anything except a funny line or two an episode.
Starting in season 3, this started to happen to the titular Venture family more often. According to the writers, it was sometimes hard to write an episode because they have to find something to do for each of the four main characters while the main story is happening. Quite to the point where they just said "to hell with it" and left them out almost entirely of a few episodes.
Brock Samson in the fourth season, at least until near the halfway mark. Even Billy Quizboy was getting more airtime.
Dr. Orpheus was a major supporting character throughout the first three seasons, getting nearly as much screen time as anyone outside of the Venture family. He was out of focus to the point of absence throughout most of the first half of season 4, and then again in the first half of season 5, having only one minor appearance outside of the Halloween special.
Some time around season five, many of the oldest supporting characters either became rarely seen, or just shoved into the background. Many of the small-town stereotypes (Officer Barbrady, the mayor, Jimbo and Ned) have faded away as South Park has apparently become larger, gaining a whole police force. Dr Mephisto, Pip (later killed), the 'Visitors', Chef (also dead) also disappeared.
Ever since coming back from the dead for supposedly the last time, Kenny rarely has anything to do — he either just stands there and doesn't say anything, or he doesn't appear at all. This is lampshaded quite a few times, and occasionally he will have his time in the spotlight. In later seasons Kenny gets more and more screen time exactly for the sake of averting this trope, rather than any practical reason.
As Drawn Together came to focus more and more on Captain Hero, formerly important characters such as Foxxy Love and Princess Clara were reduced almost to background roles while supporting characters such as Ling-Ling seemed to barely be in the show at all anymore.
In the third and last season of Dragon Booster, the plot centered more on Artha and Moordryd, and the other characters were essentially there to fill time or get defeated by the pair. Mostly because the unmade Academy seasons were supposed to focus on their studies there.
Since Family Guy was Un-Canceled, Lois, Meg, and Chris only get one (sometimes two) episodes per season focused on them, while the rest of the season being focused on Brian and Stewie, and to a lesser extent, Peter. Season 7 featured the first chapter in which Meg and Chris don't even appear ("Love Blactually").
This is particularly ironic because the entire reason that Donald Duck was created was that Mickey was originally quite a Jerkass, and when he started to become a really popular character, they decided that he needed to be nicer. All of Mickey's more negative qualities were passed on to Donald Duck so that he could be a foil to the now nicer Mickey. This was done specifically so that Mickey would remain their most popular character.
One of the many things that went wrong with Hey Arnold!'s movie was the fact that, while the series gave many background characters their day in the limelight (one of its notable strengths), only Arnold and Gerald (and Helga) get much action in the movie. None of the background students get any lines, and Phoebe (a regular student) gets only one line. Heck, Arnold's grandparents, Helga's dad, and the Sunset Arms boarders, get more time than most of the other students.
In the early days of the show, Bart had his best friend, Milhouse, and a second-best friend, a kid named Lewis. As Milhouse, Nelson, Martin Prince, and Ralph Wiggum got Character Focus, Lewis never developed any of the quirks that made the other four interesting, and so he was demoted to background character.
Bart himself used to be the main character on the show. While he's still one of the main characters, Homer replaced him as the mainest of the main.
Barney used to be Homer's best friend in early seasons; later, he drifted away and Lenny and Carl became Homer's main friends.
The 137th Episode Spectacular lampshades the disappearance of Mr. Largo (the music teacher) and Dr. Marvin Monroe.
The first episode of Season 4 introduces the new character Thomas the goat, only to virtually ignore his existence a few episodes in. He's basically passed off as another friend to Muscle Man and an occasional servant for him and the other characters.
High Five Ghost gets hit with this hard. Despite being a supposed main character, he has yet to get A Day in the Limelight episode after almost 5 seasons. The aforementioned Thomas has at least been important to the plot of a couple episodes, and he is considered a minor character.
One of the reasons (but hardly the only one) that fans dislike the second season was that almost half the contestants from Season One were cut out. What makes it worse is that the neglected campers were mostly the ones who hadn't gotten very far originally, and thus missed a chance for greater Character Development even though some of them (Cody, Noah and Ezekiel, for example) have surprisingly large fanbases.
Season three also left some characters out of the game, though most of the season two rejects got in, and some of the "bigger" characters from past seasons (like Leshawna and Lindsay) were voted off fairly early. Most of the minors still got voted off pretty early or got shoved out of the way to make room for the Courtney / Duncan / GwenLove Triangle, and even Cody spent most of the season doing nothing but getting hounded by Sierra, despite making it all the way to the final three.
In the early episodes of Phineas and Ferb, Django seemed to be at least a semi-regular member of the main characters' group. Unfortunately he never developed much of a personality and kind of fell by the wayside; in season two he's only gotten two voiceless cameos.
By the mid 1960's most of the recurring characters from Looney Tunes were gone aside from Daffy Duck, Speedy Gonzales, Wile E Coyote And The Roadrunner, and the occasional odd appearance by Elmer Fudd. Even their star character Bugs Bunny was gone; his last cartoon was in 1964 and he didn't appear in any new shorts until 1980.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Nowadays, Gary only gets a few lines per episode (not that he has much to say, anyway), Sandy appears 1 to 4 times a season, and Mrs. Puff and Larry only appear once in a blue moon. SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Mr. Krabs and Plankton are the only regulars now. It's gotten so bad that at one point Sandy Cheeks was referred to as Sandy Squirrel. That's right, the writers have literally forgotten her name.
Thomas and Friends suffers from this, largely due to the fact that several new characters are introduced per series. As a result, formerly major characters like Duck, Oliver, Bill and Ben, Donald and Douglas and Terence haven't appeared in years. Hasn't stopped them appearing in multiple toy ranges, though.
Fifi LaFume from Tiny Toon Adventures, who appeared semi-regularly in Season 1 and even got a major role in the movie, appeared quite rarely in Seasons 2 & 3. Much to the disappointment of fans, she only gets four shorts of her own in the entire series.
Dana Tan, Terry's girlfriend from Batman Beyond, had fewer appearances and lines after the first season, and overall only had one episode about her. Mary and Matt McGinnis, Terry's mother and brother, never even got a focus episode.
Twilight Sparkle got a bit of this in Season 2, as the writers were no longer required to include her in every episode. Applejack got hit with this even worse; she had only two episodes focused on her. Of those, one was shared with the rest of her family. In the other, she's MIA for a good chunk of the time, and the episode is told from the POV of the rest of the cast, who get as much screentime as she does.
Roberta of The Cleveland Show has such a minor role in the series you'll often forget she's even on the show, despite technically being one of the five main characters. Meg and Hayley, who both qualify for Out of Focus in their shows, are like Brian and Stewie compared to her.
As mentioned above, Hayley. Her and Stan were the first two characters created for the show when said show was envisioned as a modern "All in the Family" and would involve the characters bickering over politics. As the show got off the ground, more character-driven plots arose and politics became much less of a focus, thereby giving Hayley less purpose since unlike most of the other characters, even Stan, she didn't really have much to her character aside from Strawman Liberal. As a result, her airtime compared with Stan, Francine, Steve and Roger is increasingly minuscule; sometimes she doesn't appear for whole episodes, and other times she's lucky if she has similar screen time to Klaus (see below).
Subverted with Klaus the German fish; Some claim Klaus should be in this category, but he has never been an important or significant character, existing only for one or two funny lines an episode pretty much since from the beginning.
Founding Avenger Ant-Man appeared once in the second season to let the viewers see the beginning of his Sanity Slippage, came back in a later episode as the mentally unstable Yellowjacket, and then mostly served as just extra assistance for battle scenes.
The Mighty Thor and Captain America got this when the second season began. Thor had to help repair Asgard after the defeat of Loki, and spent 12 episodes away from the other Avengers as a result. (Although, two of those episodes did show some of his Asgardian exploits.) Cap vanished for 10 episodes because Skrulls captured him.
The numbers become more confusing when watching in production order, upheld by Disney's DVDs. The "first" eight episodes of the second season have both of those heroes separated from the rest of the Avengers, yet the "ninth" episode has them inexplicably fighting with the team again, yet they don't work with the Avengers again until four episodes later (when they officially reunite).
After the Incredible Hulk got framed for attacking SHIELD, he spent several episodes imprisoned from crimefighting. He eventually became free, but decided to end his full-time membership with the Avengers to sort things out.
The show underwent a retool near the end of its run to put the so-called "Big Three" of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor into the spotlight more often. This reduced the other members to extra firepower at best, and victims of the antagonist at worst. This seems especially drastic for The Wasp, Black Panther, Hawkeye, and Ms. Marvel, who all played major roles during the preceding story arc.
It feels arguable whether or not this happened to The Vision. He did play a major role in three of the final episodes preceding the retool, but that doesn't sound like much compared to the five Avengers listed above. He also played vital roles in some of the show's very last episodes.
King of the Hill did this with Luanne, largely due to voice actress Brittany Murphy wanting more time to pursue her movie career. For many seasons Luanne would only make a brief cameo or even not appear at all in episodes not specifically focusing on her. In later seasons she did become more prominent again. Similarly, Connie's appearances became less and less frequent after she and Bobby broke up.
This happens to Huey Freeman in The Boondocks, which is odd considering he's meant to be the main protagonist. He got plenty of focus in the first season, but after that he only seems to be there just to comment on things happening around him, or to advise other characters against something, and his more outspoken attributes have been largely downplayed. The majority of episodes from season 2 onwards focus on Riley, Granddad, or even Ruckus of all people.
In Futurama the original premise (and first season) of the show was built on Fry adjusting to living 1000 years in the future. Fry's character adapted to his surroundings far quicker than the writers planned, so the show ended up evolving to focusing more on the case as a whole (especially Bender.) The Post-Revival Comedy Central Era was especially more of an Ensemble Show over all.
Despite being the one carry-over from previous iterations, Penny Ling in Littlest Pet Shop (2012) has had very few significant things to do ever since her two consecutive episodes focused on her early on in Season 1. Most likely, this is because her distinguishing characteristics are timidity and emotional sensitivity, two traits that fellow main character Sunil has. Because their personalities are so similar, one of them would've had to be shoved into the background, and it was Penny. (That being said, Minka was hit even harder with this, but that's a different story.)