With a Friend and a Stranger
When introducing characters, you want to keep the overall number of relationships and names to remember to a minimum. This is why many media start off with only a handful of primary characters, often three. There are many common "stock" variations on the genders and relationships of these few characters.
One of them is the friend and stranger dynamic. The protagonist will have a best friend, often a childhood friend. This dynamic is easy to show in the limited time you have to hook your audience, and easy to add depth to at a later time. The third character will be a stranger to the protagonist and his friend. His or her appearance will often serve to drive the plot, and his unfamiliarity with the characters and location helps justify Exposition
On occasion, it will be the protagonist who is the stranger, also acting as a Audience Surrogate
to understanding the setting as well as fulfilling the stranger role in this trope.
The stranger can also put a strain on the friends, since he or she changes their long-standing dynamic, especially if they become involved in a Love Triangle
Tropes that may play out in these scenarios when both the friend and stranger are female include Childhood Friend Romance
, First Girl Wins
, and The Dulcinea Effect
In Eastern RPGs
, this dynamic almost always appears as a (male) hero, his childhood friend, and a girl from nowhere (almost always female and a Mysterious Waif
This adheres to the 3 dynamics in Cast Calculus
. They may form a Power Trio
See also Two Guys and a Girl
, Tomboy and Girly Girl
. Compare to ¡Three Amigos!
. If the protagonist is the stranger, he's probably also a Rookie Red Ranger
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Anime and Manga
- Star Driver: Takuto, the stranger with Wako and Sugata (childhood friends).
- Outlaw Star: Gene, Jim, and Melfina.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has Simon and Kamina meet Yoko in the first episode.
- The Advanced Generation and Diamond & Pearl arcs of the Pokémon anime can fit, with Ash being the main character, Brock being the friend, and May/Dawn the stranger.
- Lupin III: Although the Childhood Friend aspect is usually overlooked, this trope is apparent in the way Lupin and Jigen are trusted allies, and Fujiko is the mysterious stranger, disrupting their camaraderie. Yes, this has fueled some Ho Yay.
- In the Mai-Otome anime, Arika is the stranger as a new student at Garderobe and Nina and Erstin are the friends. In the manga, "Manshiro" is the stranger, and Arika, Nina and Erstin are the friends.
- Kids On The Slope. Similar to the Buffy example, Kaoru is the New Kid and becomes becomes friends with childhood friends Sentaro and Ritsuko.
- In the first episode of Girls und Panzer, Miho meets Saori and Hana, who are already friends. In Little Army, she meets Hitomi and Chihiro early on.
- In Bleach, we have two friends and two strangers: Ichigo meets the strange Shinigami Rukia on the first episode. Then we have the other two protagonists, Orihime and Chad, who he has known for a longer amount of time, and then there's also a second stranger who gets introduced a couple of episodes later, Ishida.
- Katekyo Hitman Reborn!: If you don't count Reborn, who's the mentor, this series plays it straight with Tsuna, Gokudera (the stranger) and Yamamoto (the friend).
- An interesting example with Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Keiichi, who seems to be the protagonist at first, is actually the stranger who moved into Hinamizawa about a month prior to the start of the series, while Rena and Mion have known each other for a longer amount of time.
- Cowboy Bebop has Spike and Jet working together when the series starts, joined in episode 4 by Faye Valentine.
- Axis Powers Hetalia gives us (at least during the main World War II plot) Germany, his self-declared friend Italy, and their new acquaintance Japan. An interesting example in that Japan is given a role as both a stranger to their friendship and a stranger to their Western cultures, giving the group an interesting dynamic, especially early on.
Film - Animated
- Monster House follows this dynamic to a T, with the protagonist DJ, his best friend Chowder, and Jenny, a girl they meet that day and who gets too close to the titular house.
- In Tangled, Rapunzel (main character) sets out on her adventure with the chameleon Pascal (friend) and Flynn Rider (stranger).
Film - Live Action
- In National Treasure, Ben tries to figure out the clues with his buddy Riley, and when they steal the Declaration of Independence, Abagail, a woman who worked with the document, gets dragged along for the ride.
- In "The Kings of Summer", Joe and his best friend Patrick won't tell Biaggio to leave, fearing what he is capable of.
- Calder, his childhood best friend Tommy and his comparatively new friend Petra in Blue Balliett's The Wright 3.
Live Action TV
- Pushing Daisies has Ned (main character), Chuck (childhood crush/neighbor), and Emerson (PI).
- Inverted in Haven, with Audrey as the protagonist and stranger and Duke and Nathan as childhood enemies who grew up together. Duke used to pick on Nathan because he was a "Troubled" child who couldn't feel pain, i.e. like say...Duke sticking a bunch of pushpins in his back for no reason. They hate to spend anytime near each other, but end up doing it a lot of the time after they both (separately) befriend the stranger, Audrey. Eventually, they start to rely on each other, if only to help out Audrey and the all the other Troubled people. By season two, they become a bit of a inverted functioning comic, Freudian, Fighter/Mage/Thief Power Trio as Magical Savior and Ego Audrey always comes up with the plans to help the troubled people that kinda make sense but shouldn't work, Nathan the logical Superego and Feel No Pain cop who is surprisingly willing trust Audrey and try the plans and Duke, the smugger Id who is almost always like - "Seriously? There's no way in hell...oh, it worked!" Nathan and Duke occasionally switch roles depending on their faith in the plan, but the Freudian dynamic between the three stays the same.
- Season Three has a bit of a reset, with Nathan again being distrustful of Duke, when he finds out that Duke's father wants Duke to kill Audrey and/or other Troubled people. Ironically, Audrey still trusts him as he understands what it's like to have a "destiny" in Haven that you don't necessarily want. She sees him as just another Troubled person.
- Lizzie McGuire: Lizzie (the main character), Gordo (the Childhood Friend Love Interest of Lizzie) and Miranda (the stranger).
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer starts out like this, with new girl Buffy becoming friends with childhood friends Willow and Xander. Slightly different in that the "stranger" is the protagonist, not one of the friends.
- The group grows and shrinks over the seasons, but these three remain the core. Creepy variant here is that Willow and Xander were actually already part of a Two Guys and a Girl group; Xander's best-friend-since-even-before-Willow, Jesse, gets turned into a vampire and staked in the premiere and is never mentioned again.
- Buffy replaces him, except she's Willow's best friend instead of Xander's, and their lives now revolve around her world-saving gig. It's kind of like a less-extreme version of that season four Mary Sue spell Jonathon did.
- Angel also starts out like this. Angel moves to LA and joins up with Cordelia, who he knew in Sunnydale for the three previous years, and "stranger" Doyle.
- What I Like About You: Holly (main character), Gary (the friend), and Tina (the stranger).
- Doctor Who (counting backwards):
- Doctor (main), Amy (friend), Rory (stranger).
- Amy (main), Rory (husband), Doctor (stranger).
- Rory (main), Amy (wife), Doctor (stranger).
- Doctor (main), Donna (friend), River (stranger).
- Donna (main), Doctor (friend), River (stranger).
- River (main), Doctor (friend), Donna (stranger).
- Donna (main), Doctor (friend), Martha (stranger).
- Martha (main), Doctor (friend), Donna (stranger).
- Martha (main), Doctor (friend), Jack (stranger).
- Jack (main), Doctor (friend), Martha (stranger).
- Rose (main), Doctor (friend), Sarah-Jane (stranger).
- Sarah-Jane (main), Doctor (friend), Rose (stranger).
- Doctor (main), Rose (friend), Harriet (stranger).
- Rose (main), Doctor (friend), Harriet (stranger).
- Doctor (main), Rose ([wished to be more than a] friend), Jack (stranger).
- Rose (main), Doctor ([wished to be more than a] friend), Jack (stranger).
- Doctor (main), Rose (friend), Mickey (stranger).
- Rose (main), Mickey ([ex-boy]friend), Doctor (stranger).
- All the way back to the beginning; Doctor (main), Susan (granddaughter), Ian and Barbara (strangers)
- H2O: Just Add Water has an all girl set-up for both main trios. Season 1-2 trio has Emma and Cleo as a set-up friendship, joined by new girl Rikki. Season 3 has the set-up restarted with Cleo and Rikki's friendship stabilized by two seasons, and Bella fills out the newcomer role.
- Power Rangers Jungle Fury has Casey (Rookie Red Ranger), Theo, and Lily (friends).
- Chrono Trigger has hero Crono, his childhood friend Lucca, and stranger Marle.
- While Video Game/PokèmonRedAndBlue has the titular "Red" and "Blue" being "rivals since they were babies" according to Blue's Pokèmon Doctor grandpa (Professor Oak), the second generation of games (Or at least the remakes, Heartgold and Soulsilver. It's unknown if Lyra existed offscreen in the original Gold and Silver) has Gold\Ethan as the main, Soul\Lyra as the childhood friend, and Silver\Kamon being an antagonist at the start, but mellowing out. In Video Game/PokèmonRubyAndSapphire, May meets Brendan (friend) a few minutes after she moved in Littleroot Town, but meets Wally (stranger) after becoming a Pokémon Trainer. Video Game/PokèmonDiamondAndPearl has Dawn (main), Barry (childhood friend), and Lucas (meets Dawn and Barry shortly before they become Pokèmon Trainers at age 10, even though he and Dawn may pass for twins due to being Schrödinger's Player Character Distaff Counterparts.) Video Game/PokèmonBlackAndWhite have Hilda (or Hilbert if his design Schrödinger's Player Character matches your personality\feels\playing style more.) (main), Cheren and Bianca (childhood friends), and N (Meets Hilda and Cheren after they become Pokèmon Trainers, looks like a rival at first, but turns out to be an anti-hero antagonist type, similiar to Death Note's L, or Sho Minamimoto. He might (fanonically) become Hilda's crush at the end.) The sequel just has Hugh following the player around to get a Purrloin back from Team Plasma, so no "stranger" here, unless you count Colress (N's "replacement") or Love Interests Yancy and Curtis (sometimes performing as TV presenters under the names of "Nancy" and "Christoph".) Video Game/PokèmonXAndY also has the main character being a new arrival to Kalos from the Kanto region, but they still meet Shauna and their Distaff Counterpart before meeting Trevor and Tierno.
- Skies of Arcadia has childhood friends Vyse and Aika, joined by newcomer Mysterious Waif Fina.
- Wild ARMs 5 has Dean and his friend Rebecca meet Mysterious Waif Avril.
- Final Fantasy III's remake for the DS starts the game out with childhood friends Luneth and Arc, who very quickly meet Ingus and Refia.
- Final Fantasy VII has this dynamic twice in your earliest parties. Childhood friends Cloud and Tifa are joined by stranger Barret and, later, Aeris(th).
- Final Fantasy X has a variation where the hero is the stranger, with Yuna, Waka, and Lulu filling in for the friends.
- In the sequel, Yuna and Rikku are the friends, with Paine as the stranger.
- Disgaea has our "hero" Laharl and his childhood friend... er, vassal, Etna. When they are joined by Flonne the main plot kicks off.
- Soul Nomad: Hero Revya, childhood friend Danette, and stranger Gig.
- The Legend of Dragoon switches this up with a guy from out of nowhere and the childhood friend being the Mysterious Waif. This holds until Rose joins the party, which results in the trope played fully straight with the previous guy from out of nowhere being an extra.
- Golden Sun: The Lost Age has Felix, the hero; Jenna, his sister; and Sheba, the girl from nowhere. (Literally.)
- A variation in Mass Effect, where Shepard and Kaidan had already been serving on the same ship for some time, run into Ashley very early in the game and bring her into the Normandy.
- In Dragon Age II, your first party members upon reaching Kirkwall are your siblings and Aveline, the latter of whom you met while fleeing Lothering.
- In World of Warcraft, you are the "stranger" to Fiona, Tarenar and Gidwin in their caravan quest chain in the new version of the Eastern Plaguelands. This dynamic happens quite often when guild groups queue in the Random Dungeon Finder and the empty slots are filled by randomly selected individuals.
- In Xenogears, Fei starts adventure with his mentor Citan and the mysterious mecha pilot, Elle. In a major subversion, Elle is totally not a stranger to him and Citan is... not exactly his friend.
- In Ar Tonelico 2, Croix is the main character, Luca is the friend, and Croix' boss Cloche is the stranger.
- In Tales of Graces, The hero Asbel and his brother Hubert meet the stranger Sophie at the beginning of the game.
- Master Of The Monster Lair starts the game with Owen, who starts adventuring with a magic talking shovel and soon meets an intelligent slime named Gloop. After completing the second floor of the dungeon he's joined by his childhood friend, Kate.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender : The main trio for Book 1 consists of Aang (stranger) alongside Katara and Sokka (sister and brother). As with Buffy, the stranger is the main character, though we're introduced to the siblings a few minutes before him.
- Aang is the titular character, but Katara just barely edges out the rest of the True Companions for the protagonist slot for at least the first season. (By season two we have a split storyline with Zuko as beta protagonist and Aang steps into his 'lead' shoes a little more, as do the others. Katara still leads the pack, though, as original viewpoint character.)
- The Legend of Korra follows suit - new Avatar Korra quickly teams up with pro-bending siblings Mako and Bolin.
- Megas XLR, with all of its anime tropes being parodied, plays this one rather straight. It begins with Coop and his Hetero Life Mate Jamie, who are soon joined by Kiva, considerably more intelligent supersoldier future chick.
- Mighty Max does this in reverse. Max, despite being the main character, actually starts out as the stranger in the group, while Norman and Virgil have been good friends for thousands of years.