Sliding Scale of Realistic Versus Fantastic
Just as the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
determines the 'mood' of a series, this scale determines how much a particular series is unlike reality in relation to the natural laws, general conditions, and probabilities of Real Life
. Stories also vary greatly in their realism concerning human behavior, but that trope has yet to be created.
There are cases where the writers believe in something which most of the audience consider unrealistic; these should be judged according to the audience' standards, for no one knows exactly what a writer believes. There are cases where they got their facts wrong. If it's obviously deliberate laziness, the work deserves a place at the fantastic end, even if it's unintended.
There are also stories in which the precise cause of things is never delineated: both a naturalistic (positivist) and a supernatural explanation is possible.
Not to be confused with Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness
- a time-travel story with rigorous rules
can be fairly Hard but decidedly Fantastic, for example. Sliding Scale of Like Reality Unless Noted
charts the degree to which a work of fiction set in what is ostensibly a "modern", Earthly environment departs from Real Life
A story's way of dealing with Back from the Dead
can often be a very good - but not the sole or final - indicator:
- Mundane: Death is final. No one ever comes back from the dead.
- Unrealistic: If anyone comes back, it's from Not Quite Dead or from improbably surviving events that should have killed them (but, of course, they Never Found the Body).
- Unusual: People can outright come Back from the Dead, somehow, but it's a very rare occurrence.
- Fantastic: It's difficult to come Back from the Dead and it has certain requirements.
- Surreal: Death lasts about a minute.
The existence or non-existence of sentient extra-terrestrial life
is another indicator of where a work might belong on the scale:
- Mundane: Since neither sentient nor non-sentient extraterrestrial life has been proven to exist in real-life as we know it, the issue is moot and completely irrelevant in this work.
- Unrealistic: Works in this category mimics real-life as we know it, and any indication on the existence of extra-terrestrial life is deliberatively left vague.
- Unusual: Sentient extra-terrestrial life can decidedly exist, but it is not the center theme of the work.
- Fantastic: The existence of sentient extra-terrestrial life, and the far-ranging implications it brings with it, could be a center pillar of the work.
- Surreal: Non-undercover aliens are commonplace and there's probably one in your workplace.
Some works can rank one or two steps up or down this basic scale.
Please list examples in an alphabetical order.
- Mundane: There is nothing that cannot be explained by contemporary science and nothing ever happens that could not conceivably occur in Real Life as we know it. A Dream Sequence is the only way in which the otherwise hyper-realism in the work can be subverted. The irrevocable and often brutal nature of mortality is often emphasized, if not the center-point of the story. The depiction of social injustices, such as exploitation of the poor on behalf of the rich, is another common thematic element. Films in this category may often be pretentious creations, often trying to be True Art. About the most 'fantastic' thing that happens here is a Contrived Coincidence or two designed to bring as much bad luck (or good luck) to the characters as possible. Science Fiction and Fantasy are by definition ruled out from belonging to this category.
- Unrealistic: The trappings of realism are there. The technology and the settings depicted do have their counterparts in, or are based on, Real Life as we know it, but the presentation is over-the-top. On very, very, rare occasions there may happen what would reasonably seem to be supernatural events, but we are never given a full explanation of what actually did transpire. Depending on the genre, expect either lots of crazy stunts and polished dialogue, and the notion of realism will almost certainly take a back seat to the Rule of Cool, Rule of Funny, or the Rule of Sexy. American Soap Operas also fit, because reality makes a lot of exceptions for the Rule of Drama.
- Examples: Most mainstream Hollywood movies/television series, and the overwhelming majority of action movies and comedies.
- Apocalypse Now
- Bourne series
- The Chronicles of Riddick, in contrast to the Death is Final setting of its precedent, Pitch Black.
- Criminal Minds
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and all its spinoffs.
- Dallas and Knots Landing
- Desperate Housewives is a cross between Unrealistic (most of the actual plots) and Unusual (narrated by a deceased character).
- Everybody Loves Raymond
- Forrest Gump
- JAG, NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles
- The Deer Hunter
- The ''cinematic'' James Bond, with few exceptions, belong here.
- Law & Order: in its various incarnations is borderline mundane.
- The Mentalist
- LawProcedurals, such as: L.A. Law, The Practice and Shark
- The Lethal Weapon series firmly belongs in this category.
- Medical Dramas often belong in this category but they often differ in terms of realism: e.g. while ER is borderline mundane, House is at the higher end of unrealistic.
- The Millennium Trilogy
- Murder, She Wrote, and a lot of similar shows
- Police Procedurals, such as : Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and The Closer
- Prince of Tennis (at least at the beginning ; it becomes more and more fantastic after)
- Prison Break
- Professional Wrestling
- Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, where the plots are generally realistic, just contrived.
- The West Wing, although it has mundane plots and settings, and thus is borderline realistic, the main characters are portrayed as over-the-top know-it-alls and the processes in which the federal government works is extremely simplified for dramatic purposes.
- Yamakasi, a French film about Le Parkour, borders between unrealistic and mundane.
- Unusual: The world is mostly semi-realistic, but it does contain more than just a few minor fantastic hiccups. It may be Twenty Minutes into the Future or contain some Applied Phlebotinum which doesn't quite fit into conventional science. Supernatural events may occasionally happen, though they may fall under Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane. Some 'hard' science fiction shows that are based on extrapolations of existing technology may fit on the upper end of this.
- Examples: Horror, Low Fantasy, Magic Realism, "Hard" Science Fiction ("Softer" science fiction with only a few unrealistic elements may also qualify.).
- Ace Attorney (because of spirit mediums, channeling and the like)
- The Adventures of Pete & Pete (the show anyway, the original shorts were definitely surreal.)
- Armored Trooper VOTOMS
- The Back to the Future trilogy
- Grave of the Fireflies, narrated by a dead character. Take out the narrator, and the film would have been in the Mundane territory instead.
- Indiana Jones, semi-realistic with the addition of some supernatural elements.
- Karlsson on the Roof is another Astrid Lindgren character who should fall into to this category as well. Much like Pippi, he lives in a mundane world where his ability to fly thanks to a propeller on his back is about the only unusual thing occurring.
- Metal Gear
- Neon Genesis Evangelion. Twenty Minutes into the Future plus forty meter tall Eldritch Abomination clones disguised as Humongous Mecha fit this category rather snugly. End of Evangelion and Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0 however take it to the next level at minimum.
- Orion's Arm borders unusual and fantastic. Everything in it is possible though, albeit just, within known physics.
- Pacific Rim
- Pippi Longstocking, only the title character (save her father to a lesser extent) does possess any fantastic abilities while the rest of the characters and the world in which they inhabit seem to be rather mundane.
- Pushing Daisies may fit here since aside from the protagonist's power to bring people Back from the Dead, the world is generally realistic.
- Power Rangers RPM, unlike the original Go Onger below, falls between fantastic and unusual while bordering more on the unusual side.
- Red Dead Redemption, aside from the DLC Undead Nightmare, which moves straight into fantastic, is realistic enough storyline-wise (Unless you think there's no possible way so much crap can happen in one guy's life.) Dead-Eye may be explained away as John Marston just being a damn good shot, but what can't be explained are such things that are optional encounters, like carrying a rabbit's paw to increase the amount of loot gotten off of killed enemies, a possible blessed object reducing the chance of enemies shooting at you, and of course The Strange Man, who only responds to questions with answers that provide more questions.
- The Hunger Games, while containing futuristic technology, is apart from that fact, fairly realistic.
- The Seventh Seal, is set in an otherwise realistic medeival Crapsack World of Black and Gray Morality haunted by the plauge, and in which Death is personified.
- The Suite Life on Deck: Was Mundane to start with, but then you get plotlines like sentient robots who created themselves trying to take over the ship, having to travel into the future to prevent the ship from an alien invasion, and having to fend off an ancient curse put on you by a dead queen's crown.
- Watchmen: Almost anything fantastic, futuristic or supernatural, can be (directly or not) brought down to Dr. Manhattan's powers - though they're huge. The rest is slightly unrealistic Alternate History.
- The Dark Knight Saga fits here because of some slightly futuristic technology and being explicitly not set in our world. But save for a very few elements, The Dark Knight would have been unrealistic instead.
- Fantastic: The rules of the real world, as we know it, no longer takes precedence, or may in some cases no longer be applicable at all. Divine intervention, magic or superscience are the prevailing paradigms by which a world in this category functions. Creatures exist that shouldn't exist in Real Life, and the setting might not take place on Earth at all. What ultimately sets Fantastic apart from Surreal is that these paradigms do have a certain internal consistency.
- Examples: Most Speculative Fiction, including most Comic Books, Fairy Tales, Heroic Fantasy and "soft" Science Fiction.
- Attack on Titan
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel are on the far end of Fantastic, approaching Surreal territory.
- Cardcaptor Sakura
- Ghost in the Shell
- Crash Bandicoot
- Death Note
- Digimon borders between fantastic and surreal.
- Discworld is bizarre enough to be surreal, but its internal rules and logic keep it in the Fantastic realm.
- Most of the Disney Animated Canon. Beauty and the Beast is a (if not the) prime example of internal consistency in a fantastic story where the background and the basic rules concerning the magic spell which transformed the prince to a beast (and his servants to house objects), and how it can be undone are disclosed in the opening narration.
- Doctor Who is probably between Unusual and Fantastic on the definition, because while some stuff is semi-realistic in a few episodes, the effects of half the alien technology and generally setting may as well be magic as explained by Techno Babble.
- Donkey Kong Country is borderline fantastic and surreal. There is no explanation why the apes and crocodiles can walk and talk or why they wear clothes.
- Franken Fran
- Gargoyles is possibly between fantastic and surreal.
- The Harry Potter series.
- Haruhi Suzumiya: Haruhi's powers are borderline surreal, but it's at least based on Haruhi's mood so it's not completely rule-less; Nagato, Asahina's and Koizumi's are Fantastic; and Kyon is Mundane.
- Hellboy. Both the comics and movies.
- The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!
- Jackie Chan Adventures.
- Johnny Test.
- The Legend of Zelda has game rules and a pretty typical fantasy background.
- The Lord of the Rings and other works by J. R. R. Tolkien, which are set in a vaguely defined mythical past include (relatively uncommon) magic and fantastic creatures.
- Marvel and The DCU. In fact, most superhero comics (and other superhero fiction, such as TV and films) where the hero and villain are explicitly powered.
- Mega Man Zero
- Mortal Kombat
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Except for Pinkie Pie. She lies in Surreal.
- Peter Pan
- Phineas and Ferb has a lot of elements of surrealism, but ultimately falls around here.
- Pokémon, which blends realistic elements with magic (and technology that might as well be).
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica
- Ranma ˝. There's just way too many fantastic elements for it to be merely unusual, but there are some rules (e.g. the cursed springs), so it's not completely surreal.
- Roommates It's weird enough to be Surreal but has a defined rule-set (meaning it runs on story, trope and belief) to bind it all together.
- Sesame Street.
- The Sonic the Hedgehog series lies squarely here. Arguably not Sonic the Hedgehog (2006).
- Stargate SG-1, and its spin-offs Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe. Although some episodes in the early seasons of SG-1 could be classified as Unusual.
- Star Trek in its various incarnations, although it varies by series (and episode).
- Star Wars
- Super Mario Bros. and Wario Land have internal rules, else they wouldn't be playable, but these rules make no logical sense and the background is pretty surreal so they're borderline. The earliest games can also be considered surreal, but later games start to establish moderately consistent rules.
- Thomas the Tank Engine is somewhere between unrealistic and surreal. Somewhere.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Of course, the Toon World is mostly surreal, but there are rules regarding the interactions of the "real" and toon worlds.
- Surreal: The world has (almost) no rules or internal logic whatsoever. Anything can (and frequently does) happen, often with little or no explanation. Expect things to run on nonsensoleum. Anything set in the afterlife falls to this category.