When a series with an ensemble cast
has each episode focus on a different character. In other words, a series where every episode is a different character's Day In The Limelight
Not to be confused with Limelight Series
(where the focus stays on an ensemble of previously minor characters). Compare Plot Tailored to the Party
, where the overarching story is designed to place each character into the spotlight sooner or later (Rotating Protagonist
is more episodic), and Switching P.O.V.
, where we see different characters' perspectives
rather than just them.
If all these stories are happening simultaneously, but shown in different episodes, it's Four Lines, All Waiting
Not to be mistaken for Everything's Better with Spinning
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- Boogiepop Phantom does this.
- Paranoia Agent does this for almost every episode.
- Sonic X doesn't really have a protagonist. Depending on the episode, the focus may be on Sonic, Chris, Shadow, Tails and/or Cosmo, or Amy, give or take a character or two. This has not been received unanimously warmly; some fans felt this cheapened Sonic's characterization as a dynamic protagonist, especially since he was sleeping and running around without a goal most of the time.
- Bokurano does this. Character arcs may last two or three episodes instead of just one, but the principle is the same.
- Higurashi: When They Cry changes protagonists every arc. The viewpoint, however, is almost always Keiichi (when possible).
- Soul Eater, particularly the first three episodes/chapters which introduced each of the three main meisters and their partners (Soul and Maka first, followed by Black Star and Tsubaki and finally Death The Kid and the Thompson sisters). They then got a few Monster of the Week episodes each before the main plot kicked in.
- Durarara!! does this throughout, though characters do repeat and some episodes aren't about any one in particular.
- Pokémon Chronicles a short lived Spin-off of the Pokemon Anime, focuses on everyone except Ash while Ash was in the Hoenn region. And it rotates per episode. One episode would focus on Misty, another on Gary, another on Professor Oak, Casey, Ritchie, Tracey, and a few stories solely focusing on Team Rocket. This show might as well be called "Rotating Protagonist the series"
- The Brave and the Bold: Every month Batman would team up with a new hero. Often, this and other Team-Up Series in its mold were used to test the waters regarding the second-billing character. The tradition would be carried on in a modern Brave and the Bold series, where every issue features two different heroes or groups working together.
- Marvel had a counterpart to the above in the original Marvel Team-Up, where heroes would join forces with Spider-Man, and Marvel Two-in-One, where the Thing would have a new partner every issue. As with The Brave and the Bold, a modern MTU series dropped the superstar regular angle and featured new team-ups every time. However, the latest incarnation of the series is Deadpool Team Up, which naturally features the eponymous anti-hero alongside the issue's guest star. Deadpool Team-Up is notable for primarily featuring more obscure characters such as U.S. Archer and It, the Living Colossus. There was also the Marvel Age Supervillain Team-Up, which featured Dr. Doom teaming up with a different supervillain and/or team each issue. The Sinister Six, the Circus of Crime, the (original) Masters of Evil, Magneto...
- DC's Great Ten miniseries did this - every issue focused on a different member of the titular team. Since the series was cut short due to weak sales, Mother of Champions and Socialist Red Guardsman shared the last one.
- Marvel Comics' Solo Avengers and DC Comics' Teen Titans Spotlight showcased various members who didn't already have their own series. However, during the former's first year or so, the rotating protagonist in question would star the issue's back-up feature, as Hawkeye was the star of the lead feature.
- The first six issues of Marvel Comics' Young Avengers each focus on a different member of the team.
- Heroic Publishing's Champions series mostly uses this kind of format.
- This is the hook for the latest version of Heroes for Hire: Misty Knight uses her contacts to "maximize the potential of [her] address book", calling in favors from different heroes in every issue. The only constant besides Knight herself is Paladin.
- In the Vocaloid Fan Fic Good Night, nearly the entire cast trade off the narration role. In the order of doing so for the first part, Tei, Len, Haku, Kiru, Rin, Luka, Gakupo, Neru, Hankyou, Gumi, Miki, Gakupo(?), and Meiko.
- The Elemental Chess Trilogy never puts any single character in the driver's seat for more than once chapter at a time.
- In the Mass Foundations series, the Courier, Ethan Sunderland and Eric Grimes are the protagonists of the first and second entries respectively.
- Gensokyo 20XX is a variant of this, with a different character narrating the events of certain chapters from their POVS.
- The Jurassic Park films.
- In the first film, the main characters are Grant, Ellie, Ian, Hammond, and the kids.
- In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Ian is the main character, Hammond and the kids get cameos, and there is a new set of supporting characters.
- In Jurassic Park III, Grant is the main character again, Ellie has a minor role, and there is yet another new set of supporting characters.
- The Pusher trilogy follows a different character in each film. Each protagonist is in all of the previous films and none of the future films.
- The Wheel of Time practically has this as its hat. Every chapter is from a character's perspective (or sometimes a few characters - the intros especially). While there's a single in-universe messiah character - the Dragon Reborn - he has two buddies note who have nearly as much influence on the world as he does, and then nearly every other character with authority gets at least a scene or two, but often many recurring ones. It got to the point that the minor characters' rotation sometimes overshadowed the main plot!
- A Song of Ice and Fire has each chapter from a different point of view character, with that character's name or description as the title of the chapter. The first book starts with a small number of recurring POV characters, and each subsequent book adds or subtracts a few.
- In Catch-22, Yossarian is the protagonist, but every chapter is titled and focused on a different character (Milo gets three), and Yossarian is often Out of Focus for long stretches.
- Each chapter in Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Fay novels concentrates on a different character.
- The Valley Of Horses alternates chapters about Ayla and Jondalar until they meet; it's third person narration.
- In Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic series, each of the books focuses on one of the four main characters as they live together, learn magic, and become a family, though each book also features scenes from the perspectives of other characters and their own subplots. The second series, The Circle Opens follows the same format, except the characters are four years older and leave to go travel with their teachers. The latest book, The Will of the Empress is the only one save Sandry's Book which deals with each of the four characters relatively equally.
- Harry Turtledove's Alternate History novels use this trope to explore different aspects of the world, e.g. a war may be narrated from the perspective of officers and grunts and civilians on different sides. Each chapter includes multiple passages centered around different viewpoint characters.
- The Animorphs books follow a pattern to determine who the protagonist is. Originally the Token Non Humans, Ax and Tobias, only got half as many books because it was assumed they would be less popular; it turned out to be quite the opposite, however, and the pattern eventually changed.
- The Everworld books rotate point of view between the four main characters. Senna also gets a book, which results in Jalil having one fewer than the others.
- In The New Prophecy, the second Warrior Cats Myth Arc, each book features the POV of Leafpool and one of the main cast (Brambleclaw, Squirrelflight, Stormfur, or Feathertail).
- The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling has protagonists in the double digits, although Krystal Weedon appears to be the heroine for large sections of it.
- Elantris by Brandon Sanderson does this - each chapter is from the point of view of Raoden, Sarene, or Hrathen, rotating between them until the end, where the breakdown of this rotating scheme is one more clue that things are (as usual for a Sanderson novel) going totally haywire around 5 chapters before the end.
- None of the others commit to this trope as fully as Elantris, but other Sanderson works feature at least a downplayed version. Warbreaker follows two royal sisters who can both be considered protagonists, and the Mistborn trilogy clearly has Vin as the main protagonist, but in individual books other characters receive equal-ish billing with her: Kelsier in The Final Empire; Elend and Zane in The Well of Ascension; and Elend, Spook, and Sazed in The Hero of Ages.
- The Stormlight Archive has a number of protagonists, but each book puts one character's backstory center stage (The Way of Kings focused on Kaladin, Words of Radiance on Shallan).
- Fat rotates every chapter between each of the three protagonists, with the exception of three chapters, one of which is Grenville's recipe for boiling an egg, one of which is an anger management guide and the last of which is a newspaper article about Grenville's not-a-rampage at the Well Farm.
- Similar to the Batman example in Western Animation, The Dresden Files always has the story told from the point of view of Harry, but generally focused on a different person in his (vast) retinue of friends, allies and enemies. Murphy, Thomas, Elaine, and Michael Carpenter are the rotating allies, while the Denarians, the Red Court of Vampires, the Faeries, and other unexpectedly recurring creatures/foes form the rotating enemies.
Live Action Television
- Star Trek
- LOST may be the most famous example, with almost every episode focusing on a different member of the ensemble cast's flashbacks, later flashforwards and flashsideways.
- Band of Brothers: while Dick Winters qualifies for the central character of the series, in most episodes the plot instead focuses on one of the other members of Easy Company.
- Skins combines this with Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: every episode is named after the character that episode is focused on. It even introduces a new cast every two years.
- As If, the proto-Skins, did this too.
- Degrassi fits this to a T. The limelight focuses on the characters on the A plot and minorly on the B plot, and the other characters are barely even mentioned.
- Misfits also does this.
- The 2004 version of Battlestar Galactica switched focus fairly regularly.
- The Wire rotated between having protagonists at the Homicide Unit, The Major Crimes Unit, The Pit, the docks, the corners and Hamsterdam, the elections, the schools and the newspaper.
- 6 Degrees did this for its first season, with each of its six episodes focusing more heavily on one of the main students. This was dropped for the second season.
- A bizarre example occurs in the third season of Farscape: Crichton is 'twinned', and the two Crichtons then get separated, each taking half the cast with them. For much of the season, episodes alternate between following the Moya-Crichton and the Talyn-Crichton.
- "The Cosby show" became this in its last two seasons. All the regulars would get their days in the limelight, and in the end, Bill Cosby himself was the only one, who appeared in every single episode.
- Dino Attack RPG does this regularly, seeing as it is written by multiple people on a forum that does not allow one user to make two posts in a row. Basically, this means that one player writes a post depicting a certain series of events from the point of view of a character. The next post, written by another player, is written from the point of view of a different character, which depending on the circumstances can range from further explaining the events written by the last person to being entirely unrelated.
- Considering this is an RPG in which every player has Loads and Loads of Characters, a single post can include segments focusing on several different people in different places, doing things that may or may not be related.
- Dragon Quest IV is divided into chapters, with each one starring a different protagonist. Originally, you didn't even get to see the main hero/heroine until you reached their chapter; later versions added a Prologue.
- Mass Effect 2 is like this: each character on your crew gets an (optional, but skip it at your own risk) personal loyalty mission, which is custom-tailored to their combat style and inconspicuously reveals enough of their backstory and personality to make you care about them.
- Final Fantasy IV: The After Years
- Final Fantasy VI as well; in the first half of the game the story frequently switches from one character to the next, and there is no clear protagonist.
- Final Fantasy XII Each of the six main characters more or less have a period where the story focuses on them although Vaan, Ashe and Balthier do have more focus then Basch, Fran and Penelo.
- Final Fantasy XIII switches between at least three groups of main characters all the time, mixing them up every now and then to let each one to interact with every other. It also loves to shift the leader role (the only character you control in combat) about, making sure you don't get too comfortable with any given combination of skills and classes. Once you leave Cocoon and reach Pulse, the full party is assembled, and all six characters start getting relatively equal time, though Lightning eventually establishes the protagonist role once again.
- Odin Sphere. Each of the first five "books" features a different character, and the sixth book rotates between all of them for the finale.
- Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom takes place over three generations, with a different protagonist and variations in the cast for each.
- Suikoden III Has a trinity sight system where the player chooses one of three characters to play as, they ultimately have to play as all of them eventually to progress the story. But choosing who to play as first is optional; there are also three un-lockable characters as well. Obtaining them either has to do with meeting them, or by doing a special task.
- Occurs in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, where the plot focuses on different members of the large party at certain stages (Sveta is arguably the most important character overall, but doesn't join until the halfway point) and the Heroic Mime main character never gets extra focus, unlike Isaac and Felix in the first Golden Sun games.
- Recent story arcs of Rumors of War pair up characters for their day in the limelight. It makes for a veritable Cast-Go-Round, not unlike a Soap Wheel. The most recent (read: third) arc explored some of the consequences and repercussions of the very first story arc through the use of several Whole Episode Flashbacks (Chapters 13, 15, and 17).
- Homestuck's Geodesic Cast has led to rotations within rotations: cast focus typically rotates between:
- One of the other three Kids (which is in itself on a rotating basis: during Act 5-2, for instance, this has rotated from Jade to Dave to Rose).
- Various Trolls
- Other characters (rotating between the Exiles, the Guardians, Doc Scratch, the villains... and so on). Four Lines, All Waiting is a simplification of the situation. So do many MSPAFanVentures, which are in the same style as Homestuck. Examples are Be The Seadweller Lowblood and Adult Stuck.
- Superego, itself an MSPA Fan Adenture, rotates between its ten characters and their experiences in a not-quite-normal hospital.
- The Meek shifts its focus between the travelling Angora, the emperor Luca, and the rogue Soli.
- This is how things work in Arthur, so different members of the cast get their own Episode Title Cards.
- The Transformers does this in similar vein to Star Trek and Stargate, Optimus Prime plays the role of Captain but each episode may focus the Autobots as a team or a specific (group of) Autobots rather than Optimus Prime as a protagonist.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold has an interesting variation on this trope, where Batman remains the protagonist nearly all of the time, each episode focuses on him teaming up with a different obscure character from the DCU. Though in some episodes (like "Aquaman's Outrageous Vacation!") even Batman himself gets pushed into the background.
- Season 1 of X-Men: Evolution.
- Justice League and, particularly, Unlimited are the kings of this trope, focusing on new previously-obscure DCU characters (both villains and heroes) in every episode. Although The Question does get a Character Focus, too, what with being the Ensemble Darkhorse.
- Episodes in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic focuses on one of the Mane Six or two, or the Cutie Mark Crusaders, either as a group or on one of their members.
- Goof Troop has this format, and the show's tone changes significantly depending on who's in focus. Max's episodes are more exciting and have more wit-based humor, Goofy's tend to be the most light-hearted and silly, Pete's are often just plain sadistic, though he does usually deserve it, if not for his episodes then for PJ's which spend much time not being funny at all. It's not uncommon for the episode forms to overlap, and everyone is capable of starring in heartwarming episodes (though Pete does it significantly less often than the other three). It also gives A Day in the Limelight to its secondary characters.
- Thomas the Tank Engine follows this dynamic (in part due to being adapted from the lead-less The Railway Series novels), with every main engine (along with several supporting ones) getting a spotlight episode on a regular basis. Some seasons tend to give Thomas the lion's share of lead roles (especially later on) but many other engines still get their turn.